12 ways to celebrate Memorial Day this weekend

(From time to time, we look into the subject of frugal travel and vacation ideas. Holly Johnson's post on How to save money on family vacations is one example. This year, we thought it would be fun to find some frugal and interesting ways to celebrate Memorial Day around the country. We'd love you to share your tips for a frugal Memorial Day weekend in the comments!)

Memorial Day is when, collectively, we remember the men and women of the armed forces who died while serving our country. Virtually every town and hamlet across the nation has something planned to honor our nation's heroes, so it shouldn't be too hard to find some kind of Memorial Day event near you.

If you are traveling, though — or just looking for a different way to start the summer — read on for some of the best Memorial Day weekend events and interesting things to do across the country.

But heck, armchair traveler, you might want to plan a visit to some of these places just because! (Not to mention the fact that they're free or super cheap!)

Floating Lantern Ceremony

Honolulu, Hawaii

Cost: Free

When: Monday, May 25, 2015 (6:15 p.m.)

Write a message of remembrance

A moving, cross-cultural ceremony meant to honor our fallen servicemen and women (and include other loved ones) takes place at Ala Moana Beach in Oahu. About 6,000 wooden lanterns are made and given on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the event. You can write your own message of remembrance on a lantern and place it in the water during the ceremony. If you can't attend the event, you can watch the ceremony online.

There is no cost to participate in the event, but donations are welcome.

Golden Gate Park Band Patriotic Music Concert

San Francisco, California

Cost: Free

When: Sunday, May 24, 2015 (1:00 p.m.)

Take in a concert in the park

Enjoy the inspiring, patriotic music of the Golden Gate Park Band (now in its 133rd season). This 30-member band of professional musicians has been offering free weekly concerts in San Francisco since 1882!

For the Memorial Day weekend concert, they have scheduled more than an hour's worth of patriotic marches, folk songs, and a special Armed Forces salute — a medley of all the traditional songs of each branch of the military.

Although every concert is free, the band does accept donations.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes Station, California

Cost: Free

When: Friday, May 22 (9:00 a.m.)

Enjoy the Pacific seashore

If you like the beach, but prefer the crashing waves of the Pacific, Point Reyes National Seashore is a beautiful place to enjoy the holiday.

This naturalist's heaven offers glimpses of wildlife, including seals and sea lions, and many species of plants too.

The Friday before Memorial Day, Point Reyes National Seashore will hold a ceremony to honor those who died while part of the Coast Guard's life-saving crews that operate in this area. You can participate in free programs from rangers. Hiking, kayaking, and biking allow up-close views of this beautiful scenery as well.

Crystal Park (Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest)

Dillon, Montana

Cost: $5/vehicle

When: May 15 to October 15 (depending on weather and road conditions)

Dig for quartz crystals

Our servicemen and women died to preserve our freedoms; so if you want to mark the holiday by being a rugged individualist, you might like to visit an interesting state or national park.

If you happen to be located in the northern part of the country, how about digging for quartz crystals in the middle of some jaw-dropping scenery in southwestern Montana?

Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is next to Yellowstone National Forest and sports majestic mountains, lush valleys, and plenty of trees. The area is also known for gold-panning and invertebrate fossil-hunting. Be prepared for some no-frills campsites, though!

Mount Rushmore

Keystone, South Dakota

Cost: Free to enter, but there is a parking fee

Visit the memorial

You've seen pictures of Mount Rushmore, but have you had the chance to look at the giant faces of four of our presidents in person?

Any idea how many tons of rock dynamite removed to make these carvings? 450,000 tons.

You can go to the Visitor's Center for more information on how (and why) Mount Rushmore was carved. (To get a closer look, you can walk the short Presidential Trail.)

You can also visit the Sculptor's Studio where the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, spent time creating a scale model of Mount Rushmore.

Certain parts of the park allow recreational rock climbing. While camping is not allowed in the Mount Rushmore Memorial area, there are ample opportunities to camp in the Black Hills.

Great Salt Plains State Park

Jet, Oklahoma

Cost: Free

When: April 1 through October 15

Dig for selenite crystals

If digging for quartz crystals in Montana sounded interesting but you're nearer to the heartland on the Memorial Day weekend, there is another unique experience to be had in Oklahoma.

Imagine the sun reflecting off a sea of salt as you dig for hourglass selenite crystals — the only place in the world you can dig for them, mind you.

If you imagined a headache from the sun's glare, you'd be smart to include sunglasses and hats in your packing list.

Each person can dig up to 10 pounds of crystals and carry them out of the park. But what else should you remember or include?

  • Since there is no shelter (also no trees or bathrooms), it's a good idea to bring some sort of sunshade and remember that you'll have to answer nature's call elsewhere.

  • Bring a bunch of water. In addition to drinking water, you will also need some water to gently wash the soil from the clusters of crystals as you pull them from the holes.

  • For the digging, bring a large shovel and several small shovels. You might want some sort of sifting device too, like an old window screen. (A salad spinner?) A child's wagon is helpful to haul your supplies.

  • Since this isn't clean work, you will want an extra set of clothes.

The Alamo

San Antonio, Texas

Cost: Free to enter the Alamo shrine and the museum (The tour is not free.)

When: Any day — except Christmas Eve and Day (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Memorial Day)

Visit the Alamo Shrine and Museum

Over 2.5 million people visit a former Spanish mission in San Antonio. By remembering the Alamo, you'll remember the courage of the Alamo defenders who lost their lives, including the famous ones: James Bowie, William Travis, and Davy Crockett. But you'll also learn more about the Texas Revolution and the history of Texas itself.

This year, a gush of fans will no doubt appear as the stars of the 10-hour TV series “Texas Rising”  (Bill Paxton, Ray Liotta, Brendan Fraser, Olivier Martinez, and Kris Kristofferson) march down the red carpet for the premier at 6:00 p.m.

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

Tuskegee, Alabama

Cost: Free

When: Saturday, May 23 (9:00 a.m.)

Memorial Day Fly-In

If aviation is one of your interests, don't miss this historical celebration where the first African American pilots were trained during World War II. The Memorial Day weekend fly-in occurs the Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. While the Friday night events require a ticket, Saturday does not. You and your family can see aviation exhibits, tour Hangar #1 and #2, and even take a helicopter ride (not free).

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Buxton/Nag's Head, North Carolina

Cost: Free

Enjoy the Atlantic national seashore

If a sandy beach and briny air sound refreshing, consider soaking up some rays at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

One of the oldest forms of fishing is using a cast net. You can pre-register for this free workshop at the Ocracoke Visitor Center up to the Saturday before the event.

If casting nets isn't your thing, hiking, fishing, and just sunning yourself on the beach are also available.

The two lighthouses — Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras Lighthouses — are open to climb and get a birds-eye view of the Outer Banks.

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park

Fredericksburg, Virginia

Cost: Free

Memorial Day Program

Further north, in Virginia, an annual, 30-minute, free Memorial Day program honors those who have lost their lives. And this area should know. During the Civil War, over 100,000 casualties were experienced here, during an 18-month period.

This is the second-largest military park in the world, so it takes time to do it justice. Visit one or both of the Visitor Centers (Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville).

There are driving tours and walking trails available. But for an extra-moving experience, attend the Fredericksburg National Cemetery Illumination, held in the evening on the Saturday prior to Memorial Day. Over 15,000 candles illuminate the final resting place of those buried here. Every 30 minutes, Taps is played.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Cost: Free (There is a fee to enter the museum.)

Tour the battlefield

Maybe touring the bloodiest battlefield of the Civil War doesn't sound like much fun. However, especially if you like history, viewing the various sites of the Battle of Gettysburg is a fascinating look at what is considered to be the turning point of the Civil War.

The soldier's national cemetery at Gettysburg allows you to contemplate a Memorial Day beyond a day of barbeque and the promise of summer.

Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address at the dedication of this cemetery a few months after the battle.

Each Memorial Day, this will be the 148th actually, there is a free Memorial Day parade and ceremony. Gettysburg also offers free ranger-guided programs (you can also pay for a personal guided tour)

National Mall and Memorials

Washington, D.C.

Cost: Free (except for the foot massage you'll want at the end of the day)

Tour the memorials

It's hard to imagine a more honoring tribute than to visit our nation's memorials, especially the ones that honor those who served (and died) in service to our country. As you walk (and walk) through or around the memorials, you can also enjoy a beautiful part of D.C.

Remember to bring very comfortable shoes. It's a very long walk to see all the memorials.

If you are in D.C. the night before Memorial Day, don't miss the free National Memorial Day concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

You can also watch the National Memorial Day Parade as it goes by all the monuments.

No matter where you find yourself on Memorial Day, enjoy it guilt-free. It's a great day to be alive. But, please also remember those who have sacrificed for you!

Have you visited any of these locations? Any tips for our readers? Any other places to enjoy a free or inexpensive Memorial Day?

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5 years ago

The day before the Concert on the Capitol they do a full dress rehearsal which they say is just like the Sunday night show. Probably not as many people.

5 years ago

Staying at home, either going for a run outside or to the gym depending on the weather, grilling for dinner, and taking it easy.

5 years ago

I live in Texas so my family and I have been to the Alamo multiple times. It is a neat experience to see it, but if you do go, just be prepared to walk quite a ways to it or pay to park in a garage since it is right near the Riverwalk. Be prepared for long lines to get into the Alamo, especially on the weekends. The Alamo is apart of the Mission Trail as well, which features 4 other Spanish missions with 20 miles of hike and bike trails from beginning to end. All are free to get… Read more »

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl
5 years ago

Unless you live in or near most of these locations, it will be QUITE expensive to visit them, so the “free” attractions will cost you an arm and a leg to get there/stay there. One of my friends had a great idea one Memorial Day Weekend. He had a cookout and asked all of us to bring items to put in care packages to send to our troops. He sent out a list of desired items and we all wrote messages of thanks in cards in each package we put together. This was a great way to honor our troops,… Read more »

Sam Nichelson
Sam Nichelson
5 years ago

Aweome places to visit for memorial day. Even better the majority of them are free. I will probably just go out to the beach or something of that nature. I never really considered seeing this kind of stuff on a day like this. Thanks for posting

5 years ago

If this is a memorial for United States military, the Alamo doesn’t fit on this list. At the time it was a revolution of Texas against Mexico, resulting in Texan independence. The troops at the Alamo were not fighting for the USA. Texas did not become part of the United States for another 10 years.

5 years ago

My husband a friend and I are going to visit the Willamette National Cemetery and BBQ later. Both my husband and friend’s father served in WWII and visiting the cemetery is a nice way to honor them (though neither is interred there) and all who served. I love cemeteries, I find them beautiful and peaceful.

We live in the came city the cemetery is located so its a quick drive.

Linda Vergon
Linda Vergon
5 years ago

(This comment came from Jim, a reader of our daily newsletter.)

A thought: Honor rather than ‘celebrate’ Memorial Day… Jim

Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
5 years ago

Great ideas for memorial day and I like how most of them are free. I have friends in America who like to get together during Memorial Day and just get ingredients together to cook a large homely mean. We have similar holidays in the UK and having a free alternative to celebrate a holiday just makes things easier.