It’s time to enjoy the outdoors, so our list of the best places to travel in May includes national parks — one of the oldest, Yosemite, along with an introduction to the newest, New River Gorge, in West Virginia. Greater Zion is home to Zion National Park, and if you prefer wine with your scenery, why not plan a visit to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Small towns are blossoming in spring, and we present Cashiers, North Carolina and Greenville, South Carolina along with perennial favorites, San Antonio and Williamsburg. Oceanside, California has a walk-on role in a new movie. When an island vacation is called for, consider San Juan, just a few hours from Miami, or a bit further away, Madeira, Portugal. Italy’s Amalfi Coast welcomes fewer visitors in May before the summer tourist season.
Related: The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2022
Located in southern California about 40 miles north of San Diego, Oceanside is known for surfing beaches, the harbor, and one of the longest over-water wooden piers on the West Coast. Another claim to fame is its role in the original “Top Gun” and the restoration of the Graves House which was featured in the film. Situated at the new Mission Pacific Hotel, the house will debut as “The Top Gun House” in May to coincide with the release of “Top Gun: Maverick.” Nearby, The Seabird Resort is set on the coast with private balconies, spa, and Pacific views. For some time away from the beach, visit the Oceanside Museum of Art, shop at Tremont Collective, and enjoy dinner at Valle, with flavors inspired by Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe.
Greater Zion, Utah
This region in southwest Utah is known for its natural beauty and outdoor activities that include boating, hiking, mountain biking, paddle boarding, and scuba diving (you read that right!) in Sand Hollow State Park. Zion National Park offers much to do all day and stargazing at night. This year, the IRONMAN World Championship is moving from Kona to St. George, and triathletes from around the world will compete on May 7. The three-day Festival of the Americas at Kayenta Art Village, May 13-15, features Native American jewelry, weaving, metalwork, sculpture, beading, pottery, paintings, and Native foods as well as dancing, storytelling, and traditional drumming. Tuacahn Amphitheater offers Broadway-style musical performances throughout spring and summer. With May temperatures warming, consider glamping at Under Canvas Zion, about 20 miles from the national park, or stay in St. George at Red Mountain Resort.
New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, West Virginia
The nation’s newest national park and the first in West Virginia, New River Gorge is an ideal destination for spring travel. In May, whitewater rafting season launches with some of the best rapids on the East Coast. Hiking, fishing, backpacking, climbing, and scenic drives are more ways to enjoy the park’s mountains and breathtaking gorge views. Nearby, the charming town of Fayetteville offers places to stay, shop, and dine. Pies and Pints and Wood Iron Eatery are local favorites. Stay at Airbnbs like the Modern Bungalow, Charming Barn Loft, or Secluded Yurt, or rent a cabin at Country Road Cabins or Opossum Creek Retreat. Charleston, West Virginia has the closest airport to the park, about 70 miles northwest.
Yosemite National Park, California
Warm, dry weather, flowing waterfalls, and spring flowers make May a beautiful time in Yosemite. Summer crowds are a month away, and you can enjoy the park’s natural beauty as well as the Yosemite History Center and Yosemite Climbing Museum & Gallery. This year, a reservation will be required to enter the park between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. from May 20 through September 30, 2022. Reservations will be available on recreation.gov beginning on March 23. For a truly luxurious experience, stay at Château du Sureau, an elegant boutique hotel set on nine acres among the Sierra Nevada foothills. The Relais & Châteaux resort is just 16 miles from Yosemite, with ten guest rooms, Elderberry House Restaurant, a spa, outdoor pool, and expansive gardens.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Whether you travel to San Juan for the beaches, hotels, casinos, or for a poolside piña colada, the cocktail that was created in San Juan in 1954 at the Caribe Hilton (according to most sources), you’ll want to plan a day in Old San Juan. Stroll along its cobblestone streets to see the five-centuries-old La Fortaleza, once a fortification for San Juan and now the official residence of Puerto Rico’s governor. Pastel-colored buildings, historic churches, colonial era homes, and Old World ambiance take you back to another time. Stay in Viejo San Juan at the Palacio Provincial, set within a historic building. Or for beachfront luxury, stay just steps from Condado Beach at La Concha Resort, featuring three pools, fitness center, wellness program, and on-site Casino de Mar. The adults-only Condado Ocean Club is another beachfront option.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy’s Campania region includes about 34 miles of stunning coastal terrain and seaside towns perched on towering cliffs. Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello each offer something special for visitors, from ancient cathedrals to secluded beaches, piazzas, and delicious cuisine. May is considered the best time to visit, with mild, dry weather in the 70s and fewer crowds than in summer months. Enjoy the views on a hike or stroll through the towns on your way to an aperitivo or shopping trip. Hotels, villas, and B&Bs offer a range of places to stay, and for a memorable experience, consider family-run Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel & Spa, set in a 17th-century monastery restored into 20 sea-view guest rooms and suites, with a Michelin-starred restaurant and plush spa.
Part of an archipelago in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa, Madeira offers a mild climate and warm weather in May. It’s about two hours by air from the Azores and mainland Portugal or a ferry ride from Spain’s Canary Islands. Lush and tropical year round, Madeira’s flowers are at their best in spring for the annual Madeira Flower Festival from May 5-29. The cultural event features performances by folk groups, music, a parade with flower-decorated floats, and floral installations throughout Funchal. Visitors can enjoy the views with hikes along the sea cliffs or on levadas, channels originally built to transport water. A stroll through the historic capital city of Funchal is another way to enjoy Madeira’s centuries-old buildings and colorful street art.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Within 30 minutes of Portland, the Willamette Valley is home to more than 700 wineries producing a range of varietals and its famed Pinot Noir. A drive among rows of grapevines with stunning views of the valley is a great way to spend spring days — tasting, exploring, and learning about the area’s wines and outstanding restaurants. May is Oregon Wine Month featuring new releases, special tastings, and events. Stay in one of the many hotels, inns, or B&Bs, and relax at day’s end with a delicious dinner — accompanied by local wine, of course. A favorite is the Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg where you can wander among sculptures and admire their collection of art throughout the inn. With an Alaska Airlines mileage number, travelers can check a case of wine for free from four Oregon destinations.
Greenville, South Carolina
Visit this southern destination in May when temperatures are in the 70s, and the weekly Main Street Saturday Market brings more than 75 vendors, music, and more to the heart of downtown. Come in May not just for southern hospitality — although there’s plenty of that to go around — but for the annual Mother’s Day weekend Artisphere with more than a hundred pop-up galleries and demonstrations from glass blowers, chalk artists, musicians, and street performers. Memorial Day Weekend is the time for the Scottish Games, events, and competitions. Start your trip to the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains in Greenville, but don’t leave without seeing the waterfall in the heart of town at Falls Park on the Reedy, with the best view from the pedestrian-only Liberty Bridge.
Located on the Virginia Peninsula bordered by the York and James Rivers, Williamsburg is home to Colonial Williamsburg, a restored historic area where guests can learn about life in the early days of the U.S., visit art museums, and choose from a variety of tours. Spring brings weather in the 70s along with flowers, and a great place to see them is the Williamsburg Botanical Garden. Visit Williamsburg’s parks and hiking trails to enjoy balmy weather and scenery or take the family to Busch Gardens for shows and thrill rides, including the new, record-breaking Pantheon. Water Country USA, Virginia’s largest water park, reopens for the season on May 14. Stay at Kingsmill Resort for golf, tennis, spa, and waterfront dining on the James River at James Landing Grill.
Cashiers, North Carolina
Located in southwestern North Carolina’s Jackson County, Cashiers is home to some of the oldest mountains in the world as well as waterfalls, lakes, and stunning scenery. May is ideal for being outdoors, and hikers will enjoy the two-mile trail on Whiteside Mountain and an excursion to Whitewater Falls. Panthertown Valley also features scenic views, hiking, and biking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Starting Memorial Day weekend, Groovin’ on the Green concerts feature live music. Stay in Cashiers at the iconic High Hampton, an elegant estate offering a charming inn, golf course, spa, and a variety of outdoor activities. Set on a private lake, the property was restored during 2020 and 2021, thoughtfully maintaining its historic beauty while adding modern comforts.
San Antonio, Texas
Spend a spring day along the River Walk, biking, strolling, kayaking, or canoeing. May weather in the mid-80s is ideal for visiting the San Antonio Zoo and Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch as well as exploring the Natural Bridge Caverns for a tour of underground natural formations formed over millions of years. Families will also enjoy the entertainment and rides at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Seaworld. Return to the 15-mile waterway in the evening for dinner, shopping, and a stay at Thompson San Antonio – Riverwalk for their spa, cocktails, pool, or all-day Landrace, helmed by James Beard Award finalist chef Steve McHugh.