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5 Must-Visit U.S. Destinations For History Buffs

By Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Combine a love of history with the lure of travel by exploring these urban destinations that bring the past to life. To enhance your visit, consider staying in one or more of the authentic Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

San Francisco, California

Fifty years ago, Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was epicenter for an impromptu gathering of 100,000 young people who brought the world's attention to the counterculture. Wear a flower in your hair and pay tribute to a seminal moment known as the Summer of Love that changed the course of the 20th century. The movement expressed through music was embodied by local artists: Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin & Big Brother and The Holding Company. Head for Golden Gate Park to soak up psychedelic poster art and more artifacts at a Summer of Love retrospective exhibit at de Young Museum, take in a concert at the Fillmore, or just show up for one of the free guided walking tours from San Francisco City Guides. Refresh your 1960s history on the SFTravel website and note that Historic Hotels of America has eight properties in the City by the Bay.

#1   Boston/Cambridge MA
(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Boston, Massachusetts

Step out on the Boston Common to explore The Freedom Trail, a free, self-guided walking tour encompassing 16 significant Revolutionary sites along 2.5 miles. Highlights include the sites of the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, the Paul Revere House and the Old North Church, where the famous Midnight Ride story indicates that patriots hung two lanterns in the steeple to forewarn the arrival of the British by sea on the 18th of April in 1775. This red brick paved trail takes visitors right past Ye Olde Union Oyster House (1826), America's oldest continuously operating restaurant. Also on the Freedom Trail is Omni Parker House Hotel (1855), the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States and one of seven Historic Hotels of America located in downtown Boston. Day-long side trips from Boston can include Concord and Lexington, Salem, and Plymouth. For more information, the official tourist board is

Independence Hall of Philadelphia
Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. (credit: Thinkstock)

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

To visit Philadelphia is to follow in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers who convened the Constitutional Convention here. Home to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, America's fifth most populous city is central to the American story. The National Park Service refers to one particular chamber as "the birthplace of the nation." Historians are in heaven on earth upon entering the Assembly Room, where George Washington's "rising sun" chair dominates the scene. An actual inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence and an original draft of the Constitution are displayed. Afterwards, find out how the Liberty Bell got that crack. AKA Rittenhouse Square, an early 20th century landmark hotel for short-term or extended stays, is a Historic Hotels of America member. For more information about Benjamin Franklin's beloved City of Brotherly Love, go to, the official city tourism bureau.

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Washington, D.C.

As the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. holds wide appeal for visitors from across all 50 states, offering free admission to memorials and buildings connected to all three branches of government. Remember to pack your most comfortable footwear to ensure getting to all eight must-see monuments and memorials on the National Mall, including those that pay tribute to presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, as well as American veterans and Martin Luther King, Jr. Watch currency being minted at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, admire Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, see the site of Lincoln's assassination at Ford Theater, and plan ahead to request a tour of the White House. Historic Hotels of America lists 10 options in Washington, D.C. and the official tourism office has an online section on history and heritage at Destination DC.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

It wasn't until 1803 that the American flag was raised in this strategically important former French- and Spanish-controlled city at the Mississippi River delta. History buffs are drawn to the authentically unique multi-cultural heritage of New Orleans. still apparent in its architecture, music, customs, traditions, and food. Take a deep dive to connect with history on a horse and carriage tour through the colorful heart of the French Quarter beginning at Jackson Square, wander through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 for a who's who of the tombstones, and visit Preservation Hall which is dedicated "to protect and honor New Orleans Jazz." Stay in one of six picturesque landmark properties from Historic Hotels of America and get inspiration about this magical destination from the local visitors bureau.

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