Labor Day weekend: Travel, sales, entertainment

Labor Day weekend is your last, best chance to be a beach bum before summer comes to an end.

Story highlights

  • You can live it up at the LA County Fair
  • Or you can stay home and watch a lot of football (or Netflix)
  • Finishing up your back-to-school shopping is also a possibility

(CNN)Labor Day weekend. Summer's last hurrah. It's your last chance to relax on a beach or hike your favorite trail before the burdens of autumn fall upon us.

So you definitely don't want to screw this weekend up.
    Here's what you need to know to do Labor Day right this year.

    Why celebrate labor anyway?

    Where did the idea of taking a day off to celebrate the contributions of working people come from anyway? Well, um, we don't know for sure. It originated in the early 1880s from somebody in a union. Either Peter McGuire of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Union or Matthew Maguire of the International Association of Machinists. We'll just let the historians hash that one out.
    But anyway the idea picked up steam and in 1894 President Grover Cleveland and Congress worked out a deal to make it a national holiday.

    What can you do?

    But that's enough history. You want to know what you can do this weekend!
    Going to be near New York this weekend? Check out the West Indian American Day Carnival in Brooklyn. Billed as the "greatest carnival in North America," it features Caribbean music, food and a parade with steel-pan and calypso bands strutting their stuff in outlandish costumes.
    Elaborate costumes are just part of the fun at New York's West Indian American Day Carnival.
    If the weekend finds you in Los Angeles, head to the LA County Fair. There you can ride La Grande Wheel, eyeball prehistoric dinosaurs, listen to concerts by acts such as Bad Company, Camila and the Isley Brothers; and eat pretty much whatever you desire, deep-fried and on a stick.
    But not all of the Labor Day weekend fun is on the coasts. There's stuff going on in other parts of America, too.
    Into sci-fi, animé, cosplay and all that crazy stuff? Check out Dragoncon in Atlanta, one of the country's biggest pop culture conventions.
    Stormtroopers are always a hit at Dragoncon.
    Or take part in Blobfest, a Philly suburb's celebration of the 50s sci-fi flick "The Blob," which was filmed in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. There's a street party, a filmmaking contest for amateurs and The Run-out, a re-enactment of a scene from the movie where the monster shows up at a movie theater and everyone runs like hell to get out.
    For reasons not totally clear, we're also a nation that likes to celebrate the working man and woman by... racing rubber duckies. No really, it's true. There's a ton of rubber duck races across the country this weekend, from Colorado to Alaska, Ohio to New Hampshire. Someone please let us know how that tradition started.
    Looking for something really different? Something that's more of an acquired taste? Head up to Wisconsin's state Cow Chip Throw and Festival and toss around a few cow patties.

    What can you watch?

    What's there to watch this Labor Day weekend? Sports. Lots of sports. Yeah, there's some Netflix and Hulu and Amazon stuff too, but mostly sports. And when we say sports, we really mean football. Real college football. None of this State U. vs. Sisters of the Poor stuff either. This opening weekend of the college football season features impressive matchups like Notre Dame vs. Texas, Georgia vs. North Carolina and defending national champ Alabama taking on USC. (Somebody pinch me!)
    The Alabama Crimson Tide will start defending its national championship this Labor Day weekend against USC.
    OK, OK, there's more to sports (and life?) than football. For tennis fans, the US Opens kicks off. Let's see if Novak Djokovic can defend his title. And if Serena Williams can shake off her recent Olympic disappointment.
    For race fans, the Southern 500 blazes away under the lights in Darlington, South Carolina, and this year most of the race cars will be sporting retro paint jobs. Sweet!
    And there's about six crucial series in major league baseball that people might want to keep an eye on this weekend.

    What can you eat?

    Most of us -- about 67% -- will spend some part of this weekend with family and friends at a backyard barbecue, according to one survey. (The same survey says about 20% of people will be doing chores. Can you kill-joys stay away from our gatherings, please?)
    Holidays were made for grilling burgers in the backyard.
    Worried about what to bring to that Labor Day cookout you managed to get invited to, or even worse, don't know how to cut it? Don't sweat it. Recipe super site has a full page dedicated to new culinary takes on burgers, potato salad and other cookout staples.
    If you're not too hot about hot dogs and you're up to your ears in corn, there are plenty of fresh summer foods that can take the heat. Try throwing some tomatoes and zucchini on the grill for a more veggie-friendly recipe, and watermelon and nectarine for a refreshing, caramelized treat.

    What can you buy?

    Labor Day is the last chance for back-to-school shopping for some folks, but even if you're not in the market for backpacks and pencils, retailers are offering deals a plenty this weekend.
    Time to sharpen your skills! See what we did there?
    Amazon's offering 70% off fashion items, Walmart's taking 60% off grills and accessories and Sears is offering 60% off mattresses, according to DealNews.

    How will you get there?

    If you're driving to your destination, you'll pay more at the pump. Gas prices have been rising for the past two weeks; the current nationwide average price is $2.22, according to AAA. But hey, that's still 27 cents less than what you paid last year.
    Heck, these will be the lowest gas prices we've seen at Labor Day since 2004, so stop complaining, gas up and go! And most of you will. AAA says 55% of Americans are more likely to take a road trip this year because of the lower gas prices.
    Gas prices are cheaper than they were last Labor Day, but fatal accidents are on the rise.
    And if you do drive, be careful out there. Fatal vehicle accidents are up 9% over last year, says the National Safety Council.
    Leaving on a jet plane? Airport security lines seem to have shortened quite a bit from the nightmare waits travelers endured back in the spring. But there will still be a ton of people in the skies this weekend.
    Lines are getting  shorter at airport security checkpoints.
    About 15.6 million people will fly to their destination this Labor Day weekend, up 4% from last year, according to Airlines for America. And delays caused by hurricanes on the East Coast and in Hawaii could ripple into travel headaches for you, even if you're nowhere near those places, so be prepared.
    Whatever you end up doing, be safe and have fun!