Best U.S. Vacation Destinations for History Buffs

Boston Public Garden foot bridge at night

American history has many varied chapters. If you’re planning your holiday destinations around those sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of all things historic, there are several spots all over the US tailor-made for you. History is not only about names, dates, and places.

Perhaps you want to awe at a building, take in the lessons of artifacts at a museum, or feel what it’s like to eat the same meal in the same space as an influential figure did decades or even centuries ago. There’s art, music, poetry, cultural icons, and spaces that exude all that and more.

Savannah Sorrel-Weed House

Battlefields and boardwalks, concerts and cuisines, tours and trends, meditative spaces, and museum accounts are only part of what makes a city or a place a part of history. Maybe Elvis performed there. Perhaps Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there. Or one of the greatest decades, movements, or messages got its start in the spot on which you now stand. It’s more than a building or a monument. Sometimes, it’s the spirit of a space, the feeling of a moment, or the heartbeat of a city that makes an area a historic place to visit.

1. Boston, Massachusetts

This historic northeast city is more than fall foliage and iconic crew races. Beaming with history everywhere, visitors can check out the first public school, library and park in the country. Walk in the footsteps of history as you follow the red line on the Freedom Trail and awe at Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church. Whether you spend the afternoon in Boston Common, eat at Faneuil Hall or take in historic Bunker Hill or the JFK Presidential Library, Boston offers history dating all the way back to a ship filled with tea.

Paul Revere House in Boston

2. Charleston, South Carolina

Looking for beaches and beauty? Check out Charleston. This spot in the southeast of the country provides entry to the feel of the antebellum world of the ‘Old South.’ Visit the multiple mansions, spend time at The Battery or get your history on at Fort Sumter or the McLeod Plantation Historic Site. Or maybe you choose to drink sweet tea on a porch and step into a world of southern charm and hospitality.

3. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The site of the deadliest Civil War battle entices visitors each year. Stand in the National Military Park and feel the words of President Lincoln’s historic address. The city of Gettysburg offers more lessons and milestones surrounding this intense Civil War battle.

4. Honolulu, Hawaii

Go for the waterfalls and volcanoes but stay for the history. Check out the messages and lessons of Queen Liliuokalani. Stand in respect overlooking the USS Arizona Memorial and watch the video at Pearl Harbor that tells the story of how the United States entered into World War II.

5. New Orleans, Louisiana

The Big Easy: Head to the south of the United States to spend some time in New Orleans. Eat Cajun and Creole food, get covered in the powdery goodness of Café du Monde’s beignets and watch the riverboats making their way on the Mississippi. Listen to jazz, take in the sights and sounds of Bourbon Street, check out the heritage of the Garden District and stand amidst countless decades of history in the French Quarter’s Jackson Square. Visiting in March? Be prepared to embrace the magic and madness of all things Mardi Gras.

6. New York City, New York

The Big Apple: New York City is home to millions. Whether you take in the sights or people-watch in Central Park, you’ll be a part of history. Climb the heights of the Empire State Building, wander across the Brooklyn Bridge, board the Staten Island Ferry to go past the iconic Statue of Liberty or head to Ellis Island and the National Museum of Immigration. Take a tour through the Lower East Side or Harlem and spend some time visiting the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Take in a Broadway show or ride the subway up to 161st Street to catch a Yankees game. New York City oozes history and culture in every block and in every bagel.

7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

City of Brotherly Love: Philadelphia offers visitors a chance to spend time in the seat of signing. Check out Independence Hall and the National Constitution Center. Visit the original document of the Declaration of Independence and learn how that historic Liberty Bell got its crack. And of course, somewhere in the midst of history, take a bite of your first Philly Cheesesteak.

8. San Francisco, California

When visiting the Pacific Coast, head to northern California for some time in Frisco. Wander and wind along Lombard Street, awe at the architectural design of the Golden Gate Bridge and figure out your own escape from Alcatraz. Take in a chocolate at Ghirardelli, get your own account of iconic neighborhoods like Haight-Ashbury and Chinatown and spend some time learning about the history of the counterculture and hippie movement of the 1960s.

9. Savannah, Georgia

Known for its impressive welcoming approach and southern hospitality, Savannah, Georgia is a special southern spot. Here visitors can check out Forsyth Park and awe at what was once known as the center for the antebellum elite. Drink sweet tea and chat with locals as you dine on delicious fare of the southern comfort variety.

Savannah riverscape at sunset

10. St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine view of Matanzas River and Castillo de San Marcos

St. Augustine, Florida is the nation’s oldest city. Here visitors can visit the oldest schoolhouse and the oldest fort – Castillo de San Marcos. While taking in the aromas of salty sea air, wander over through the lighthouse that was built in the 1500s. Spend the afternoon relaxing while taking in the history and culture of one of Florida’s most well-known spots.

11. Washington DC

The District: America’s capital city is home to the White House, the Capitol building, and all things politics. The streets drip with history as visitors take in the lessons and learnings from monuments, memorials, and museums. Check out the Pentagon, spend an afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery, or stand in the footsteps of history anywhere along the National Mall. To get the best vantage points for the famed Cherry Blossom Festival, visit the DC area in springtime.

US Capitol

12. Williamsburg, Virginia

Spend some time diving into the history of America’s beginnings in colonial Williamsburg. This city, known as a ‘living history museum,’ embraces the start of the colonies and takes visitors straight back in time. To invest further in colonial culture, take an easy day trip to Jamestown.