Looking for the ultimate long-weekend escape? Relax! Budget Travel has done all the homework. Whether you're craving one more trip to the beach or are searching for the perfect end-of-summer festival, getting away has never been quicker, easier--or more affordable.
Labor Day weekend may be just around the corner, but it's not too late to plan the perfect three-day getaway. From coast to coast, there are plenty of free and budget-friendly activities to choose from. Whether you're in the mood for a Jazz Festival in Chicago, a quirky traditional event held every year in Park City, or an American music extravaganza in Virginia Beach, we've rounded up eight exciting events and festivals around the country you won't want to miss.
Lake Tahoe: For carnivals, races, and family-friendly fun
Take the kids to the South Lake Tahoe Community Fair at the Heavenly Mountain Base Lodge for carnival rides and a ride on the 40-foot-tall Ferris wheel. You can also enjoy live music with an impressive fireworks display over the lake Sunday night starting at 8:30 p.m. On Saturday, Aug. 31st, you'll have the opportunity to board one of South Shore's two Mississippi paddlewheeler boats, the Tahoe Queen or the M.S. Dixie II, for the 21st annual Great Lake Tahoe Sternwheeler Race, a unique only-in-Tahoe experience that can be yours for from $25 per person including brunch and drink specials. If you'd rather be a spectator, cheer runners on from the sidelines as they compete in the second annual Heavenly Mountain Run, racing from the California Base Lodge at 6,565-feet all the way up to the Tamarack Lodge at 9.150-feet. Another notable weekend event is the 4th annual Sample the Sierra Festival on Sept. 1st from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., where you can sample fresh farm-to-table food and wine creations by local chefs and farmers.
The Jersey Shore: For beachside water parks on the pier
The beaches along the Jersey Shore have definitely bounced back from last year's storm damage with style--some of them even made our list of America's Most Awesome Boardwalks, and Ocean City, N.J. was featured as one of BT's favorite beach towns. This Labor Day weekend, pay a visit to one of New Jersey's many beachside waterparks, like Raging Waters and the Ocean Oasis Waterpark & Beach Club at Morey's Piers in Wildwood, for a fun way to cool off in the hot summer sun, whether you prefer to relax in the lazy river or take on adrenaline-pumping attractions like the Cliff Dive slide and WipeOut. Waterpark passes start at $39 for adults and $35 for children under 48". Seniors over age 65 get in free with a valid photo ID. Families with toddlers and small children should opt for Asbury Splash Park--try the $50 family fun pack that includes four passes to Asbury Splash Park, four passes to the onsite mini-golf course, four beach access passes, a daily parking pass, and discounts at vendors along the boardwalk. Admission to Asbury Splash Park costs $5 for adults, $9 for children, or $20 for a family day pass for two adults and two children.
Baltimore: For high-speed racing through the city streets
Kids 12 and under get in free (with a general-admission-paying adult) to watch the Grand Prix of Baltimore, an event held from Friday to Sunday where you can see sports cars tear their way through the 12-turn, two-mile track along Baltimore's harbor at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. Enjoy live musical performances by local bands, and treat the kids to family-friendly activities, Radio Disney shows, an obstacle course from the Port Discovery Children's Museum, and special insider access to the Baltimore Convention Center, where they can get an up-close-and-personal look at the race cars before they go out. Check out the Autobahn Indoor Speedway in the Esskay Family Fun Zone for a chance to drive high-speed electric go-karts from Italy--go-karts for children ages 8-13 go up to 25 miles per hour while the ones for ages 13 and up can go as fast as 50 miles per hour. Children must be at least eight years old to drive go-karts; races are $15 each. Adult general admission to the Grand Prix of Baltimore starts at $25 for a three-day ticket.
Washington D.C.: For free concerts and kayaking on the Potomac
Each year on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, the National Symphony Orchestra performs a free concert for the public on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol at 8 p.m. While no tickets are required, it is recommended that you get there early to get a good spot--gates open as early as 3 p.m. and you can watch them rehearse at 3:30 p.m. The 25th Annual DC Blues Festival is slated for Saturday, Aug. 31st at the Carter Barron Amphitheater from noon to 7:30 p.m., with performances by Fast Eddie & the Slowpokes, Austin "Walkin" Cane, and Albert Castiglia among others. You'll also have the opportunity to attend vocal, guitar, and harmonica workshops led by talented Blues artists at the John Cephas Workshop Stage. The DC Blues Festival is free and open to the public. Want to enjoy the great outdoors during your long weekend? Consider renting a kayak or canoe from the Thompson Boat Center for a totally different view of the city from the Potomac. Canoe rentals cost $14 per hour or $35 for the day and can hold up to three adults or two adults and two small children. Rent a single kayak for $15 per hour or $35 per day, or a double kayak for $20 an hour or $45 per day.
Chicago: For free art fairs and a jazz festival
The 35th annual Chicago Jazz Festival takes place this year from Aug. 29th to Sept. 1st at its new home in Millennium Park. Admission is free and you'll have the chance to view performances by The Frank Russell Band, the Charles Lloyd Quartet, and Donald Harrison among others. During the weekend from Friday to Sunday, Washington Park is home to the 24th Annual African Festival of the Arts, a three-day event featuring exhibitions by Chicago's best artists and the music of Brandy and Otis Clay. General admission tickets cost $20 for adults; family and weekend passes are available for $30. If you believe that one man's junk is another man's treasure, you may want to check out Remix Chicago, (formerly known as Ravenswood Remix), a recycled art fair on Saturday and Sunday where artists showcase their original, hand-made art, clothing, jewelry, and crafts made from used or recycled goods. You can even attend free one-hour workshops and learn how to get in on the eco-friendly action by creating new items from old or used materials.
Virginia Beach: For three days of bands on the beach--and a half-marathon
Music lovers, rejoice! For three days over Labor Day weekend (Fri-Sun), more than 30 bands will take the stage for the Verizon Wireless American Music Festival, playing all kinds of music--rock and roll, jazz, blues, country, and R&B--by local, regional, and national bands on a giant beachfront stage on 5th Street as well as several outdoor stages at the 17th Street Park, the 24th Street Park, and the 31st Street Park. Highlights include three big-name bands that will highlight each night: Fuel opens for Daughtry on Friday night, Smash Mouth opens for the Barenaked Ladies on Saturday night, and Third Eye Blind performs with Robert Randolph & the Family Band on Sunday night. Tickets cost $15-$20 in advance and $20-$25 at the door depending on the performance. Those seeking a more active vacation can sign up for the Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half-Marathon, a race through the streets of the city on Sept. 1st, that raises money for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. Registration prices may vary; check the website for more details.
Miami: For brunches and bike rides on the beach
Miami is the perfect place to party year-round, and Labor Day weekend is no exception. Each year Nikki Beach Miami hosts its Labor Day Endless Summer Party, a farm-to-table Sunday brunch featuring made-to-order omelettes, crepes, Belgian waffles, rotisserie free range roasted chicken, slow roasted prime rib, hand-rolled sushi, and among other culinary delights, a dessert station loaded with everything from macaroons to French apple tarts. The event takes place Sunday, Sept. 1st, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with live music and beach-side entertainment while you eat. From $49.95 per person; Mimosas, House Champagne, and gourmet Blood Mary's cost an extra $7 each with the purchase of a brunch ticket. Should you suddenly have the urge to work off everything you've just eaten, take Miami's public bike sharing program, Decobike Miami Beach, for a spin, and rent a bike anywhere from 30-minutes to a full day. 30-minute passes are available for $4; one-hour passes for $6; two-hour passes for $10, four-hour passes for $18; and one-day passes are available for $24. Looking for a calmer beach experience? Stake out the perfect spot on any of Miami Beach's seven miles of sand. The best part: it's free.
Park City: For historic parades and the Running of the Balls
Labor Day is more commonly referred to as Park City Miner's Day in this part of Utah--a tradition dating all the way back to 1898. Each year there's a celebration in honor of the area's rich mining heritage, complete with a community pancake breakfast, live music, races and games for the kids, the Funky 5K Fun Run, and the annual Miner's Day Parade down Historic Main Street. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the celebration is the annual Running of the Balls, a charity fundraising event held on Monday at 10:45 a.m. where participants "adopt" a ball for $5 (or 5 balls for $20), and watch in awe as thousands of them are released down Main Street, racing to the bottom of the hill. The first ten to reach the bottom of the street are tracked, earning their owners a grand prize of airline tickets, season ski passes, or any number of other donated surprises.