By Randy Yagi
Summer has arrived and there is no time to waste when planning your next vacation. For something new and different, why not try visiting a destination that’s steeped in American history? Some are fairly obvious, such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. For a different and broader perspective, here are five of the best American history vacation spots in five different sections of the country.
With a history as a trading post that dates all the way back to 1634, Green Bay is the oldest settlement in Wisconsin and among the oldest in the Midwest. Located along the western shores of Lake Michigan, Wisconsin’s third largest city was once a part of New France during the pre-colonial period, which covered a large swath of the Midwest and as far south as Louisiana and as far east as Newfoundland. Today, the city is best known as the home of the 13-time world champion Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL), the third oldest franchise and America’s only professional sports team that operates as a non-profit and is owned by its faithful legion of fans; often affectionately referred to as Cheeseheads. The Packers’ Lambeau Field is one of the world’s most revered sports venues and easily the city’s top attraction for visitors, in addition to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, Hinterland Brewery in the new Titletown District and the must see Packers Heritage Trail, which connects many of the city’s historic sites. Green Bay also has a wealth of other historical attractions to consider, such as Heritage Hill State Historical Park, a 48-acre site with over 25 historical attractions, Neville Public Museum, Oneida Nation Museum, historic Meyer Theatre and Bay Beach Amusement Park, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Recommended lodging in Green Bay includes the historic Hotel Northland, as well as more modernized hotels like Hyatt Regency Green Bay, the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center Green Bay and the fabulous new Lodge Kohler, opening in July.
Related: 7 Most Photogenic Cities In The US
Founded in 1636 by political and religious leader Roger Williams, Providence is among the oldest cities in America and the most important settlement of the colony of Rhode Island, a member of the original 13 Colonies. Situated along its namesake, Providence River, at the head of the breathtaking Narragansett Bay, Providence has long been a vital seaport in the Northeast and its bay waters were the setting for the Gaspee Affair, one of the earliest conflicts that led to the Revolutionary War in 1772, an event that’s also known as Rhode Island’s own Tea Party. Although much of the oldest portion of the city has been rebuilt due to storm damage and historic floods, the city that calls itself the “Creative Capital” still possesses several buildings of historical and cultural significance. This includes the First Baptist Church in America established in 1638, Providence Arcade, the oldest indoor shopping mall in the country, Providence Athenaeum, America’s fourth oldest library and Brown University, America’s seventh oldest institution of higher education and one of the eight prestigious Ivy League institutions. Other notable attractions include a tour of the city’s riverfront with Providence Riverboat Company, the magnificent City Hall building, Old State House, Johnson and Wales University, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum and Roger Williams Park, featuring one of the oldest zoos in the country. Among the notable places to stay in Rhode Island’s capital city include Hilton Providence, Dean Hotel and the historic Biltmore Hotel, a member of the Historic Hotels of America.
World renowned for its iconic suspension bridge, a crooked street and cable cars climbing halfway to the stars, San Francisco has made a very rich contribution to American history. Founded as a Spanish mission just days before the Declaration of Independence, this historic seaport city grew rapidly after the discovery of gold in 1848 to become the largest city west of the Mississippi and remained so until it was surpassed by Los Angeles in the 1920s. More than 200 years later, several prominent structures still remain from its early days, like the Spanish Mission Dolores founded in 1776, the city’s oldest building, the 1776 Presidio of San Francisco, Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Lotta’s Fountain and the Civil War-era military installations at Fort Mason and Fort Point. Many of the City by the Bay’s best known attractions are also historically relevant, such as the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, featuring a blend of family-owned restaurants and contemporary establishments like the new China Live, the world’s most photographed bridge – the Golden Gate Bridge – and the infamous former federal penitentiary on Alcatraz Island, whose notorious inmates included Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Mickey Cohen and the Birdman of Alcatraz. For historical accommodations, visitors can stay at surviving structures of the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, such as the Palace Hotel, Hotel Majestic and the Fairmont San Francisco. Other prominent options located in the Fisherman’s Wharf area include the Argonaut Hotel, housed within a building built in 1907 and Fairmont Heritage Place, in addition to modernized choices nearby like Hotel Zephyr and Hotel Vitale.
Founded in 1610, Santa Fe is America’s oldest state capital, the highest in elevation and the oldest European-established community west of the Mississippi. Universally acclaimed for its distinctive Spanish Pueblo and Territorial architectural styles, Santa Fe retains its 400-year history through landmarks like San Miguel Chapel, the oldest church in the U.S., and Palace of the Governors, the country’s oldest continuously occupied public building. In the 19th century, the capital city played a vital role in the expansion of the American Southwest, in part due to the opening of the legendary trade route, the Santa Fe Trail in 1821 and decades later, the emergence of the railroad into New Mexico. Within a few years, the City Different constructed several more notable structures, like Loretto Chapel, best known for its Miraculous Staircase in 1878 and Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in 1886. Important events in American history continued to follow in the 20th century, such as the development of Santa Fe’s art community, a Japanese-American internment camp erected during World War II and the testing of the first atomic bomb at the Los Alamos Laboratory, located near historic Bandelier National Monument. In addition to its wealth of historical sites, what makes Santa Fe such an exceptional destination is its world-class culinary and arts scene, impressive collection of amazing hotels and a growing number of world-class attractions, including Canyon Road, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art, the stunning Santa Fe Opera and the cutting edge art experiences at Meow Wolf.
Founded in 1632, Williamsburg served as the capital of the Virginia Colony when the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. Situated upon the picturesque Virginia Peninsula in southeast Virginia, Williamsburg is one of the three colonial communities that form the Historic Triangle, along with the equally important settlements of Jamestown and Yorktown. Today, the colonial section of Williamsburg is known as the “world’s largest history museum”, with 173 acres beautifully restored to its original 18th century elegance, townspeople dressed in the fashion of its day and family-friendly activities like guided tours and historical reenactments. Among other popular activities in the Williamsburg area are breathtaking tours of Berkeley Plantation, Shirley Plantation and Westover Plantation, Virginia wine tasting at Upper Shirley Vineyards and Williamsburg Winery, golf at Golden Horseshoe Golf Club, cooking demos with Chef Travis Brust at Taste Studio, bike touring with Basket & Bike, Segway excursions with Patriot Tours & Provisions and libations at Copper Fox and Silver Hand Meadery. For suggested lodging, try staying at the stunning, five-star Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg Lodge or the superb Wedmore Place, located at Williamsburg Winery. No trip to Williamsburg would be complete without visiting the other two settlements of the Historic Triangle – Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement of the Americas established in 1607 and Yorktown, the historic site for the surrender of General Cornwallis and his British troops in 1781.
Related: The Historian’s Guide To New England