Memorial Day in California

Places to Have Fun on Memorial Day and Ideas for Getaways

American Flags Flying
Adapted from Arden/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

There's no better way to celebrate Memorial Day than by gathering with friends and family with some good music and chilled drinks in the sunshine state of California.

Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May. It was created to honor not only those who died in wars or serving their country but also serves as a day for personal remembrance for lost loved ones. It's also a three-day holiday weekend that signals the start of the summer season.

Top Memorial Day Activities in Northern California

Although San Francisco is alive on Memorial Day weekend with your choice of activities, you can still remember our fallen soldiers without going into the city. Find a festival that meets your group's interests, keep it low-key and head to the flea market, or try all of these fun things to do in Northern California.

In San Francisco, you can go bargain hunting at Treasure Fest (formerly called the Treasure Island Flea Market), an event held on the last full weekend of every month that hosts crafters, artists, vintage collectors, food trucks and gourmet entrepreneurs. Or join the festivities at the Carnaval Festival and Parade. On a more serious note, you can honor our military heroes at the Memorial Day Commemoration at the Presidio.

Napa Valley hosts the BottleRock Music Festival, a food and music fest. In Morgan Hill, it's time for the Mushroom Mardi Gras.

Memorial Day Fun in Southern California

Put on some sunscreen and head to the county fair or celebrate with a bang by watching the fireworks at Sea World. Wherever your three-day weekend takes you, you won't be short of relevant activities to choose from and fun places to go in southern California: 

In Topanga, you can enjoy the Topanga Days County Fair. Summer Nights Fireworks begin Memorial Day weekend at Sea World San Diego. Or head for Palm Springs where the Palm Springs Air Museum celebrates the spirit of Memorial Day in a special way: A World War II-era B-25 Mitchell bomber airplane drops thousand of red and white carnations to salute fallen comrades.

If you're looking for more places to celebrate Memorial Day in the Los Angeles area, check the full listing of things to do for Memorial Day in Los Angeles.

Memorial Day Fun in the Rest of California

If you're in northern or central California, check out Mule Days in Bishop or go to Bradley for the summer campout festival Lightning in a Bottle an annual event that features music, art, yoga, and education on wellness and sustainability.

For a touch of something different, head to Humboldt County to see (and cheer for) the unique, human-powered vehicles that compete in the Kinetic Grand Championship. Great Memorial Day Getaways in California

Have a three-day weekend? Get a little further away from home than usual and head to one of these few places that would make a great Memorial Day Getaway:

  • Catalina Island: An extra day on Catalina is always welcome, and you don't have to worry about driving home in traffic - just take the boat.
  • Eureka: It's not the quirky science-infested town from the TV show, but a nice little place on the northern coast that's filled with charming Victorian-style homes.
  • Rent a Houseboat: For an excellent beginning-of-summer blowout in a warm year, grab some friends and rent a houseboat on Lake Shasta or the Sacramento River Delta.
  • Mount Lassen: This volcano last blew its top in 1915, but you'll still find plenty of fire and brimstone simmering beneath the surface - and some great scenery all around.
  • Mendocino: Pretty scenery and relaxing surroundings make "Mendo" a good place to rest up before a busy summer.

Memorial Day on California Highways

The California Highway Patrol always increases their presence on highways during Memorial Day weekend, so you'd be prudent to keep your speed in check.

Even though those alcoholic beverages consumed at a Memorial Day barbecue seem like fun, don't get in the car afterward. Of course, you can use a ridesharing service, but if you find yourself intoxicated and your vehicle far from home, California's AAA offers their Tipsy Tow program on Memorial Day for anyone in California, whether or not they're a member. Just call 800-222-4357 (AAA-HELP) and tell them you need a "Tipsy Tow." They'll tow you, your friends and anyone else (up to 5 miles).

Memorial Day weekend is also one of CalTrans' favorite times to work on road projects, which in some years has included closing the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Visit their website to check for road closures or call 800-427-7623.