BEST Historical Places to Visit in the USA | 10 States for History Buffs

The United States is a relatively young country, but there are plenty of historical places in America where you can learn about and experience the past. The USA is less than 250 years old, but in that short time, the country has rapidly changed and grown into one of the strongest nations in the world.

For history lovers, there are so many historical places to visit in the USA and so much to learn about the red, white and blue – from sea to shining sea. 

This travel guide to the best historical places to visit in the USA includes a list of the best states and districts to visit and what to see in each of them to feel immersed in the history and culture of the United States. 

Top 10 Historical Places to visit in the USA

Each corner of the country has something unique to offer history buffs. From the stunning national parks to cities that have been around since before the USA was founded, there are some incredible historic places to visit in the United States.

So, which states offer the best historical experiences? Here are the 10 best states and places in the USA for history enthusiasts to visit.

1. Washington, D.C.

While technically not a state, Washington, D.C. is unquestionably one of the best places to visit for American history.

As the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. is teeming with some of the best history museums, monuments, and historic sites in the United States. And the best part is, many of them are free to visit! 

The District of Columbia is only 68.35 square miles, but there are hundreds of historic landmarks and places to explore. In fact, one of the best things about Washington, D.C. is that history happens daily in the halls of Congress and the West Wing.

So, if you’re planning a trip to the US capital to learn more about the country’s history and government, here are the best places for history in Washington, D.C. to take your family.

The White House 

The White House in Washington DC
The White House is one of the most historic sites in the USA.

No trip to Washington, D.C. is complete without a visit to the White House. The White House is where the magic happens.

Every president since John Adams has lived in the building, and it’s where the leaders of the free world have made crucial decisions regarding the country’s fate.

While you cannot just walk into the White House, tours of this famous landmark in the United States are possible. To do so, you’ll have to contact your congressional representative’s office to schedule a reservation and free tour.

During the tours, you’ll see the State Dining Room, the White House Family Theater, and much more. 

But even if you don’t schedule a tour, it is still fun to walk by the front of this historic home and government building where so much of US history has taken place.

The Smithsonian 

The Star Spangled Banner inside the Smithsonian in Washington DC - one of the best places in the United States for history
The Smithsonian includes many of US historic artifacts, including the original Star-Spangled Banner.

Washington, D.C. is excellent for families because most historic sites and museums are free to enter, including the Smithsonian buildings. The Smithsonian comprises 21 museums, most of which are in the city.

You can visit the American History Museum where the original Star-Spangled Banner is on display. 

Other incredible museums within the Smithsonian include the African American Museum, the Air and Space Museum, and the Museum of Natural History, which is often a favorite for kids.

National Mall

the World War II Memorial in Washington DC with the Washington Monument in the background
The National Mall and its many monuments is one of the best places in the US to learn about history.

The National Mall in Washington, D.C. is home to numerous memorials dedicated to the nation’s former presidents as well as war veterans and those who lost their lives in battle. 

Spend a day walking the national mall and admiring the many monuments, from the iconic Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, to the monuments for World War II, and the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. 

The memorials are outside and open 24 hours per day, so you can visit anytime without thinking about tickets. 

2. Virginia

The Commonwealth of Virginia is just south of Washington, D.C. and is full of additional historical sites dedicated to American history.

Many of the historic sites in Virginia offer visitors a glimpse into the past in a hands-on and unique way. 

One of the original 13 states in the United States, Virginia was founded in 1607 and was home to the first original English settlement in the New World. It also served as a battleground and the homeplace of many important events during the birth and shaping of the USA.

You can easily visit Virginia and Washington, DC on the same history trip in the United States. And, if doing so, here are some of the most important places to visit for US history in Virginia. 

Arlington National Cemetery

hundreds of graves at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia
Arlington National Cemetery is a somber and historic place to visit in the US.

If you’re in D.C., cross the Arlington Memorial Bridge, starting at the Lincoln Memorial, and head to Arlington National Cemetery. Here, you can see over 400,000 graves of military men and women who died in major wars or those who have served in the US military.

Stay long enough to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which happens at least every hour. 

Also, plan to visit the grave of John F. Kennedy, one of only two US presidents buried in the national cemetery. 

Virginia Historic Triangle

From Northern Virginia, head about three hours south of Washington, DC to see the Historic Triangle of Virginia. The triangle consists of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, three cities that all have great historical significance.

Begin your visit at the first English settlement in what would become the United States. Historic Jamestowne is often referred to as the birthplace of America.

Jamestown was the first permanent settlement established in the U.S., and incidentally happens to be where the United States first celebrated Independence Day with the nation’s first firework display

In Jamestown, you can also visit the Jamestown Settlement and Museum, a living history museum with replica ships and historic reenactments of daily settlement life.

A horse drawn carriage in front of the Governors Mansion in Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg is the largest living history museum in the world.

Colonial Williamsburg is another one of the best historical places to visit in the United States. As the largest living history museum in the world, Colonial Williamsburg features dozens of preserved colonial buildings spanning 301 acres.

Visiting this fascinating historical site is one of the best things to do in Williamsburg with kids.

Families can learn about early colonial life and trades through hands-on activities. There are also historic interpreters dressed in period costumes who interact and engage with guests as they tour the different buildings in the museum town.

Finally, Yorktown, the third town that makes up the Historic Triangle, is also worth a visit. It is home to the American Revolution Museum and the Yorktown Battlefield, where the British soldiers surrendered, thus ending the war and creating a new nation.

Historic Jamestowne and The Yorktown Battlefield are both part of the National Park Service.

3. Massachusetts

One reason the U.S. has its history is because of the Revolutionary War. It was, after all, how the United States became a country after declaring independence from England. And 

Massachusetts is one of the best historical places in America to learn about the revolution. 

Massachusetts played a major role in the American Revolution. The Battle of Lexington and Concord, which took place in 1775, is considered to be the first battle of the war.

The state’s capital city, Boston, was also the site of the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party – which further fueled and ignited the desire to separate from England. 

A great state to explore for history buffs, here are some of the top historical places to visit in the USA that are located in Massachusetts.

Boston’s Freedom Trail

A historic building along Freedom Trail in Boston
The Boston Freedom Trail takes you by many of the most historic buildings in the US city.

Boston is without question one of the most historical cities in the United States. And the best place to soak in the experiences of the past is the Freedom Trail and Boston National Historical Park.

At the National Historic Park you’ll see many historic sites like the Paul Revere House, the Bunker Hill Monument, the Old North Church, as well as other important locations of the American Revolution.

The trail is about 2.5 miles long, and you can go on a guided tour at 11 a.m., noon, and 1 p.m. 

Additionally, the Boston Tea Party Museum is a great place to visit in Massachusetts with kids

Boston is also a terrific place for music lovers.

The Boston Pops Orchestra has been around since 1885 and still produces incredible performances today. The best time to see a show is Independence Day. You’ll hear “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and see a spectacular fireworks display following the concert. 

Plymouth, Massachusetts

Old cottages in Plymouth Massachusetts
Plymouth, Massachusetts is a great place to learn about some of the earliest European settlers in North America. | Photo by Klawson from Pixabay

Of course, all Americans remember learning about the pilgrims who founded the Plymouth Colony so many centuries ago. For this reason, Plymouth, Massachusetts is an exceptional place to visit for history buffs in the United States. 

The first English settlers arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. On their journey to their new home, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact, which is considered to be the first written constitution of a self-governing colony in North America.

Plymouth is a popular tourist destination, with many historical sites and attractions. Some of the most popular attractions include Plymouth Rock, the Mayflower II, and the Plimoth Patuxet. 

4. Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is another state with a rich history. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was signed in this historic state.

Its capital city of Philadelphia, also served as the temporary capital of the United States for about 10 years before permanently moving to Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1682 by William Penn, a Quaker who wanted to create a colony where people could practice their religion freely, Pennsylvania has both important religious and political significance in the United States. 

And while it is a home to some of the largest cities in the United States (as well as some of the most under-rated), there are communities in Pennsylvania where a simple life without technology or modern advancements are still the way of life.

So, if you want to check out some of the United States’ historic places in Pennsylvania, here’s where to go.

Philadelphia’s Historic District

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia
The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia are famous historic landmarks in the United States. | Photo by Linda Crouse from Pixabay

Philadelphia’s Historic District contains iconic sites and famous landmarks like the Liberty Bell.

Across the street is Independence Hall, where the first continental congress convened and the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and created the Constitution. 

The Betsy Ross House is another popular historic site to visit in Philadelphia’s Historic District where it is said that the seamstress sewed the first US flag. 

If visiting Pennsylvania with kids, Philadelphia is an incredible and historic city to explore.

Gettysburg National Military Park and Battlefield

an old cannon at Gettysburg
Gettysburg is a must-visit for lovers of Civil War history. | Photo by John Kostyk from Pixabay

While Pennsylvania holds a lot of early US history, it is also a key state for Civil War history. 

Outside Philly, you can see numerous historical sites from the Civil War. The most notable may be the Gettysburg National Military Park and Battlefield. It’s located about 140 miles west of Philadelphia near the Maryland border.

In Gettysburg you’ll see and learn about the turning point of the Civil War. Around 50,000 soldiers were injured or killed here, making it a sobering monument and experience. 

Gettysburg is also the site where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address. 

5. New York

You may know New York City for its bright lights, sports teams and celebrities, but the Big Apple – and the entire state of New York – is terrific for history buffs.

Another one of the original 13 colonies, the state’s Ellis Island was often the first stop for immigrants to the United States. It is also home to some of the most iconic landmarks in the entire country – if not the world. 

With famous places like the Statue of Liberty, Time Square and the Empire State Building, New York is a must-visit for history lovers.

Statue of Liberty

The statue of Liberty at night as seen from the Staton Island Ferry
The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom and democracy and one of the best historic sites in NYC.

A historical visit to New York should start at the Statue of Liberty. This gift from France has stood tall in the New York Harbor since 1886 and is one of the first things you see when arriving in New York City by boat.

The statue holds a torch in one hand and a tablet in the other which bears the date of the Declaration of Independence. 

Every year, millions of people visit Lady Liberty, which has become a worldwide symbol of freedom and democracy.

9.11 Memorial and Museum

The 9-11 Memorial in NYC
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is another somber place to visit that recounts and honors the lives lost in one of the darkest moments in US modern history. | Photo by Jericho Cervantes from Unsplash

Another worthy site to see in New York is the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. This exhibit shows that significant events don’t just happen in the distant past — they often occur in our lifetimes. 

At Ground Zero, you can see reflecting pools where the Twin Towers once stood before September 11, 2001. Along the sides of the memorial, you’ll find the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the terrorist attacks in 2001.  

Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library

You can see US historic sites outside Manhattan, as well. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library is just one of the historic places in the United States you’ll find in other parts of New York. 

The library and museum are in Hyde Park, New York about 100 miles north of NYC.

There, you can learn about the life of President Roosevelt, who led the country during critical times like the Great Depression and World War II, and is widely considered one of the most influential presidents in American history.

6. California

The East Coast contains much of America’s early history, but there’s still plenty to see on the West Coast. California is a popular tourist destination because of Disneyland, Legoland and the beaches.

But history buffs will appreciate San Francisco because of Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and other historical places you can visit in San Francisco with kids.

Additionally, California’s history was very much shaped by westward expansion and the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. 

Plus, you can go any time of the year because of San Francisco’s mild climate, even in the summer and winter. 

Alcatraz Island

A spiral staircase and prison cells inside a prison block in Alcatraz
Alcatraz is a fascinating place to visit off the coast of California. | Photo by Klemens Kopfle from Unsplash

Alcatraz Island features one of the most famous prisons in the world. This penitentiary, which was considered very difficult to escape from, once housed notorious criminals like Al Capone.

The prison closed in 1963, and today the island is a popular tourist destination. You can tour the cells at Alcatraz and learn about the history of the prison once called “The Rock”.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco at sunset
The Golden Gate Bridge is not only a USA landmark, it also has historic significance. | Joseph Barrientos from Unsplash

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is a popular backdrop for screensavers and postcards because it’s so majestic and iconic.

The famous suspension bridge is internationally recognized and tells the story of the United State’s transition in the 1900s into an engineering and industrial country. 

Besides the bridge, there’s a whole park, Golden Gate Park, for your family to explore. It features a Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences, and more. 

7. Florida

The Deep South has numerous historical locations for your family to visit, starting in Florida. 

While many people think of Disney World, Universal Studios, and the state’s many popular beaches when they think of Florida. 

The state also plays a significant historical role. It is home to one of the oldest cities in the Americas and the nation’s oldest continuously occupied city, St. Augustine. It also was settled by the Spanish long before England colonizers settled in what is now New England.

Here are a couple of the must-visit historical places in the United States that are found in Florida.

JFK Space Center

The space shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center in Florida is a great place to learn about the space race and the United States’ significant role. | Photo by Stemsnation from Pixabay

Space lovers will enjoy the John F. Kennedy Space Center, home to NASA, on Merritt Island. Your family can tour the center and see attractions like the Rocket Garden. Your space cadets can also participate in astronaut training simulators. 

It is a great place to learn about the history of space exploration and the role the United States has played in the discovery and exploration of the final frontier.

St. Augustine

a colonial street in St. Augustine Florida
St Augustine, Florida is a beautiful, historic city in the United States. | Photo by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

Jamestown may have been the first English settlement, but European settlers came from Spain long before the British did. The Spanish settled the town of St. Augustine in 1565.

The town has a complicated and messy history, like many of the other settlements in North America, where colonizers clashed with the original indigenous tribes already occupying the area. 

The area which was the town’s first settlement is now the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Within the park, there are excavations, blacksmith exhibits, Spanish lookout towers and more. 

While the town is one of the best places to visit for history, it is also one of the best Christmas destinations in the United States, as well.

8. Texas

Texas is rich in history because it used to be its own country, the Republic of Texas, for about 10 years. During this time, Texas fought a war of independence against Mexico and won. Ultimately, the United States annexed Texas in 1845, expanding the size of the country significantly.

Today, Texas is one of the most populous and most diverse states in the nation, and it’s a wonderful place to learn about history.

If you’re interested in visiting Texas for its unique historic places of US significance, here are a few places to explore. 

The Alamo, San Antonio

The Alamo in San Antonio - one of the best historic sites in the USA
The Alamo is a small but historical building in the heart of San Antonio, Texas. | Photo by Wolfgang R Zissler from Pixabay

Texas broke away from Mexico, leading to the Texas Revolution and historical battles like the Battle of the Alamo.

Nowadays, you can visit the Alamo and remember its importance by taking a guided tour of the small church and the battlefield located in the heart of San Antonio. Visiting the Alamo is a Texas bucket list must!

Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site

If you love presidential history, travel an hour north of Dallas to see the birthplace of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower was born in the small town of Denison, just south of the Oklahoma border and an hour north of Denton

Visit the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site and take a self-guided tour of his childhood home. You can explore Eisenhower’s most significant accomplishments as a World War II commander and president. 

Fort Worth Stockyards, Fort Worth

The  Fort Worth Stockyards in Fort Worth Texas one of the most historical places to visit in the USA
A National Historic District, the Fort Worth Stockyards is one of the best historical places to visit in the USA.

Another unique and historic place to visit in Texas, the Fort Worth Stockyards is a National Historic District located just north of downtown Fort Worth – a sister city with Dallas.  

Here you can learn about the history of Fort Worth and how the city developed as a final stop along the Chisholm Trail, which was used by cowhands driving cattle from Texas to Kansas.

A visit to the Stockyards to see a live cattle drive through the streets is one of the best free things to do in Fort Worth. It is also one of the best places to buy gifts and souvenirs from Texas, like cowboy hats and boots. 

9. Tennessee

Tennessee is a terrific place to visit for US history because it has a more recent and contemporary history your parents and grandparents will remember.

The state is considered the birthplace of country music and it is where numerous musicians have gotten their start. 

Of much greater importance though, Tennessee played a significant role in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Here are a few places to visit in Tennessee that have historic significance to the United States.

Memphis

The sign for Lorraine Motel in Memphis
The historic Lorraine Motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum. | Photo by Simon Ray from Unsplash

Memphis is home to the National Civil Rights Museum. Here, you can learn about the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr., Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders and many more.

The museum takes you on a journey starting in 1619, when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the American colonies.

The exhibits show the battles Black people have overcome in the past 400 years to gain freedom and equality.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis. The Lorraine Motel, where he was shot, is now part of the museum.   

Graceland

Just outside of Memphis, you can tour Graceland, the legendary home of Elvis Presley. The mansion has a museum dedicated to the king of rock ‘n’ roll and live concerts to this day. You can send a love letter to Elvis and see the iconic outfits he wore in his performances, as well. 

Many credit Presley as inventing rock ‘n’ roll and pushing the envelope when it came to performance, dance, and music. 

10. Georgia

Georgia is just south of Tennessee, and is another one of the pivotal states when it comes to civil rights and the fight for racial equality in the United States.

The Peach State has a ugly history rooted in slavery and slave trade.

While you can still find historic plantations where kidnapped and enslaved people were forced into hard and intense labor, you can also find the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and museums and monuments dedicated to the civil rights leader and his important contributions to society.

Atlanta

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is a wonderful place to dive into the history and fight for equality in the United States. | Photo by Simon from Pixabay

Like Tennessee, Georgia also has a museum dedicated to the civil rights movement with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. 

Atlanta is admittedly one of the most underrated cities in the United States. It is the birthplace of MLK and home to the national park with his namesake.

Here, you can learn about Dr. King, see where he grew up and visit the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached, among many other fascinating attractions.

Warm Springs

FDR was born in New York and spent his presidency in D.C., but he had a home in Warm Springs, Georgia, called the Little White House. Here, you can see his vacation getaway. 

You can take a guided tour and explore his life and presidency at the FDR Memorial Museum.

If your family enjoys camping, spend time at the F.D. Roosevelt State Park, about 20 minutes west of Warm Springs. 

Savannah

A fountain in Savannah George
Forsyth Park Is A Great Place To Start Your Historic Walking Tour through Savannah. | Photo By MadSkills From Pixabay

Finally, spend some time exploring the beautiful southern city of Savannah. There are so many things to do in Savannah centered around the historic events that have taken place there.

The port city was a major hub for the slave trade in the early days of the United States. Visit the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters to see the stark contrast of life for the enslaved versus the slave-owners.  

Given its dark history, Savannah is often considered one of the most haunted places in the country, and ghost tours are a great way to learn about the history in an engaging way.

A Young Country Filled With History

The U.S. is relatively young, but every state has numerous historical sites that are significant to the United States.

Beyond the history of European colonization in North America, you’ll find many fascinating states like New Mexico and Oklahoma, where the history of the Indigenous Americans plays a key role. 

Additionally, the geological history of America is proudly on display in the country’s many national parks.

From the first national park of Yellowstone, to the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Mesa Verde, there is so much history and culture which can be explored in the United States’ park system. 

However, for those most interested in how the United States came to be, these 10 states above are some of the best historical places in America for your family of history buffs to visit. There’s something for everyone, whether you enjoy studying presidents, wars, space exploration, or the Civil Rights Movement. 

Immerse yourself in history throughout the United States to appreciate the past and make memories in the present.

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Have a question or suggestion for any of these historical places to visit in the USA? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

About the author of this guide to the best historic places to visit in the USA: Cora Gold is the Editor in Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine, Revivalist. She loves to write about travel, family and adventure. Follow Cora on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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