30 of the Best Historic Towns in America for a Charming Getaway

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Interested in a summer vacation or quick getaway that explores a bit of American history with a side of small-town charm? Here are the best historic towns in the US to add to your upcoming travel plans!

 

Read Next: 30 Historic Cities in the US to Explore on Your Next US Getaway

 

 

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Best Historic Towns in the US for US Getaways and Weekend Trips

 

 

The Best Historic Towns in the US

From the east coast to the west coast, from north to south, here are the best historic towns in America. Which one will you visit next?

 

 

Annapolis Maryland 

 

Annapolis, Maryland, USA downtown view over Main Street with the State House.

 

Annapolis, MD is the perfect getaway for history buffs, especially those who like military history.

 

Although Annapolis was long inhabited by Native Americans, it was first settled by the colonists in 1651. It became the capital of Maryland in 1695 and was briefly the capital of the United States from 1783 to 1784.

 

The Maryland State House, one of many historic attractions in Annapolis, was the site of two very important events in American history: George Washington’s resignation as the Commander in Chief of the Continental army in 1783 and ratification of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, in 1784.

 

Another important military site in Annapolis is the United States Naval Academy. Founded in 1845, it prepares officers for the Navy and Marine Corps. The Academy’s immaculate campus sits on the Severn River at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and is open to visitors during the day. Take a guided tour to get the most out of your visit.

 

Annapolis also has a number of historic sites dedicated to African American heritage. Annapolis Harbor was the arrival point for dozens of slave ships coming from western Africa. One of the most famous sites is at the Annapolis City Dock, where you can see the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial. Alex Haley was the author of the book Roots, which recounted the story of Kunta Kinte, who was sold into slavery from Annapolis Harbor in 1767.

 

Visit Annapolis to see these and dozens of other sites that played an important part in American history!

 

Contributed by Stephanie from Poppin’ Smoke.

 

 

Bodie, California

 

Bodie, on the border of California and Nevada, is one of the best preserved Ghost Towns in the United States. It was founded during the Californian Goldrush and was inhabited until the 1970s.

 

Bodie State Historic Park in California is not a functional town anymore, however, it’s a historical gold-mining ghost town. It’s an interesting place, where you can walk down the deserted streets of a town that once had a population of nearly 10,000 people. You can feel a true atmosphere from wild-west movies.

 

The first gold mining camp in Bodie was established in 1859. In 1876 was discovered a profitable deposit of gold-bearing ore, which transformed Bodie from a small mining camp to a boomtown. In 1879, Bodie had around 2,000 buildings and a population of 5,000–7,000 people. The gold mining in Bodie was profitable until the beginning of the 20th century. The decline started around the year 1912. The last mine was closed in 1942.

 

Bodie is 2 hours and 45 minutes’ drive from Yosemite and 2 hours and 15 minutes’ drive from Lake Tahoe. Beware that the last 3 miles are on a dirt road and can be tough to ride during bad weather conditions.

 

You will see many interesting historical buildings from the gold rush times including a bank, museum, stamp mill, graveyard, post office, church, and various abandoned cars, and machinery. You will experience the true wild-west gold rush atmosphere as seen in many famous movies. All the buildings are in walkable distance. You can buy a map for $2 at the entrance.

 

Contributed by Matěj Halouska from Czech the World.

 

 

Brenham, Texas

 

Bluebonnets And Red Barn In Washington County - Chappell Hill - Brenham - Texas

 

Brenham is a small town just an hour northwest of Houston, making it the perfect day trip for those looking to escape the big city and experience a piece of rural Texas history.

 

One of the best things to do in Brenham is to visit Washington-on-the-Brazos, the birthplace of Texas. This is the spot where a group of delegates met on March 2, 1836, to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico, sealing the state’s fate. They drew up a constitution and established a national government to rule the nation of Texas (that remained an independent country for 9 years).

 

Washington-on-the-Brazos remains a popular museum. Visitors can visit a recreation of the building where the declaration was signed as well as the Barrington Living History Farm to experience life in the 1800s. It’s the perfect family activity but it is interesting for all ages. 

 

Every Fourth of July there is a celebration here with fireworks and locally made Blue Bell Ice Cream served. Visiting on March 2 (which remains officially Texas’ Independence Day) is also a great way to experience Texas history where it happened. 

 

When in town, one must visit the Historic Downtown. Historic buildings now house bed and breakfasts, antique shops, and restaurants. Adjacent to downtown is the Brenham Heritage Museum offering rotating exhibits focused on local history.

 

Whether for a day trip or a weekend, a visit to Brenham is to walk through the history of Texas.

 

Contributed by Erin Mushaway from Sol Salute 

 
 

Cripple Creek, Colorado 

 

Cripple Creek, Colorado 

 

Cripple Creek is a small town in central Colorado known for gambling and gold. The town became a hotspot in October 1890 when Bob Womack discovered an ore deposit and set off the last great gold rush in the state.

 

Thousands of hopefuls flocked to the area, dreaming of striking it rich, increasing the population from 500 to over 10,000 in just three years. Disaster struck in 1896 when half the town was destroyed in a fire….with the other half being destroyed in another fire just four days later.

 

Unwilling to give up, residents rebuilt the town and became a substantial mining community that yielded over $500 million worth of gold before the bust hit in 1918. Residents began leaving due to the unprofitability of mining until the population reached a low of 425 in the 1970s. 

 

Now, the population has climbed back up around 1,000 and the town has become famous for its ghost towns, gold mines, filming locations, and festivals. When visiting, one should buy a ticket on the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, a sightseeing train ride that takes visitors on a ride through Cripple Creek’s history, passing abandoned gold mines, mining sites, and ghost towns.

 

Visitors can tour the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine to see the inner workings of a live and active mining operation. Also, make sure to visit the Cripple Creek Heritage Center to see the state of the art historic displays and films about the history of the area.


Contributed by Erin Tracy from Traveling Thru History.
 

 

 

DeSmet, South Dakota

 

Desmet South Dakota
Photo by Sam Glauser. Reused with permission.

 

DeSmet, South Dakota, is located in the eastern part of the state a couple of hours’ drive from Sioux Falls. If you’re a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder from the Little House on the Prairie series of books and the tv show, it’s an area you’ll want to see as you make your way to some of the popular destinations in the state like Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park.

 

DeSmet is a small town of around 1,100 people and a former home to the Ingalls family. The city was founded in 1883, though the Ingalls moved there in 1879 lured by the Homestead Act and the opportunity for their own land. 

 

Tour the Ingalls Homestead, where you can see two homes where the family once lived and you can even take a horse-drawn carriage ride to a one-room schoolhouse and see what it was like in class. Not far from the homestead is DeSmet cemetery where the family is buried.

 

Next, visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society where you can see the one-room schoolhouse where Laura and Carrie went to school. You can also see the Surveyor’s house where the family once lived and visit a small museum packed full of pictures and memorabilia once owned by the family. Tour the nearby Ingalls’ family home in town that Pa built after Laura and Almonzo moved into a home of their own. 

 

There are a lot of precious Ingalls family memories in DeSmet. It has a quaint small-town feel and it is worth a stop when you visit South Dakota.

 

Contributed by Sam Glauser of My Flying Leap

 

 

Edgartown, Massachusetts

 

aerial view of edgartown martha's vineyard massachusetts usa

 

The land that became Edgartown in Massachusetts was bought in 1642 by a Puritan who came from England during the early settlement of the Massachusetts colony. Incorporated in 1671, the town was named after Edgar, a son of the then King of England. Unfortunately for the Puritans, the child had already died but the news was slow to travel in those days. 
 
The town became very wealthy in the 19th century thanks to the booming whaling industry. As a center of the whaling industry, ships from all over the world docked in Edgartown Harbor. Wealthy sea captains built large Greek revival houses for their families in Edgartown. When the heyday of whaling declined, so did the fortunes of Edgartown.
 
In 1969, Edgartown came into the international spotlight again because of an incident involving Ted Kennedy. The Kennedy family was very famous in the 1960s for tragic news. John F. Kennedy was assassinated while serving as president and Robert F. Kennedy assassinated while running for the presidency.  The youngest Kennedy brother, Ted, was a US Senator and expected to run for the presidency himself. 
 
Unfortunately, it all went wrong after a house party in Chappaquidick one summer night. Chappaquiddick is a part of Edgartown which is occasionally connected to it when the beach connecting Chappaquidick to Edgartown isn’t eroded by storms. Ted got lost on Chappaquidick on his way back to downtown Edgartown and took a wrong turn off a small bridge into a body of water.
 
He left the scene abandoning his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne to drown. When the body was found the next morning, the news made international headlines. Ted continued to be a senator for Massachusetts for nearly 50 years but his dreams of the presidency were over. 
 
The beautiful white sea captains houses from the 19th century are still maintained today and provide the town with an elegant air. There are lots of hotels, restaurants, and boutiques in the town because Edgartown is a popular summer holiday destination.
 
People still visit Chappaquidick also because a large part of it is preserved as a nature reserve with beautiful beaches. Since the 2017 movie, Chappaquidick, a small memorial has been erected for the memory of Mary Jo Kopechne.

 

Contributed by Shoba from Martha’s Vineyard Tourist

 

 

Galveston, Texas

 

USA - Texas - Historic Homes in Galveston

 

A barrier island measuring 210 square miles and just about 50 miles south of Houston, Galveston has lots of history to share with its visitors. Its first signs of settlement are dated to 1528 by European pirates but it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the Europeans started to colonize Galveston. 

 

By the mid-1800s the city expansion brought many firsts to the state of Texas, Post Office, Naval Base, Hospital, Opera House, Country Club to name a few. This catapulted Galveston to become the largest city in Texas.

 

Then in 1900, a hurricane called The Great Storm devastated the city and between six thousand and eight thousand people we lost. The number is unknown due to so many people drowning and never showing up. That were so many victims that the authorities were not able to give them a proper burial. Some of them were buried at sea but the tide would bring the bodies back to shore so the bodies were burned. There are lots of stories around the storm and many believe that some of the buildings and streets are hunted.

 

With 60 Structures on the National Register of Historic Places, Galveston’s architecture is rich in history and beauty. The variety of attractions would delight anyone.

 

The Strand District was also known as the Wall Street of the South and it’s located between 20th and 25th street in downtown, this is where some original European architecture buildings were transformed into restaurants and boutique shops.

 

The Bishop Palace is another must-see, home of one of the most affluent families in Galveston this magnificent structure serves as a museum and is in the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Tall Ship Elissa is the oldest ship of its kind sailing, built-in 1877 this barque serves as a museum and it offers sunset trips some parts of the year.

 

Patricia Martin from Travel Fam Life 

 

 

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

 

Gatlinburg cityscape Tennessee

 

The gateway to visiting Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is a mountain resort town in eastern Tennessee. The town is located along the historic Indian Gap Trail, which Cherokee and other Native American hunters used to traverse the area for centuries.

 

A white South Carolinian settler named Ogle and Cherokee workers started to clear land for the town in the early 1800s, but Ogle died. Martha, his widow, brought their extended family to the area and began the construction of the first building in the town in 1806. Many of the first settlers to move into the town were veterans of the War of 1812.

 

Today the town is one of the best getaways in the South. Make sure to visit the Gatlinburg SkyLift and the Ole Smoky Whisky Distillery.

 

Editor’s Choice

 

 

Independence, Oregon 

 

Independence Oregon
Photo by Michelle C. Reused with permission.

 

Thanks to its namesake, the small, historic town of Independence, Oregon is the place to be on the 4th of July. Located about an hour south of Portland and just across the river from Salem, Independence is a hidden gem in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. 
 
 
Pioneers from Independence, Missouri first settled in Independence in 1847 by way of the Oregon Trail. Others moved into neighboring, Monmouth, in 1853 and established the oldest public college in Oregon, Western Oregon University. 
 
Monmouth and Independence sit shoulder to shoulder, with populations hovering around 10,000 each. Interestingly, Monmouth happened to be the last dry town in Oregon (alcohol was not officially allowed until 2002). As a consequence, there is no shortage of stories of debauchery coming out of Independence, where regulations were much less conservative.
 
With a lush, fertile landscape, Independence has made a name for its hops production, both now and in previous centuries. From the 1890s to the 1940s, it was “Hop Capital of the World.” Today, Rogue Brewery’s farm and tasting room is near the town, as well as a growing number of scenic vineyards. 
 
The Willamette River runs past the historic town center, which boasts a variety of eateries, antique shops, and a beautiful park. Downtown Independence was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, preserving architectural styles from Victorian, Gothic, and Spanish Colonial in the district.
 
Sites of interest include the Independence Heritage Museum and several historic homes, which can be seen on an easy self-guided stroll.
 

Contributed by Michelle C. from IntentionalTravelers.com.

 

 

Jacksonville, Oregon 

 

Jacksonville, Oregon 

 

Jacksonville is a historic Gold Rush town dating back to the 1850s.  Originally known at Table Rock City, it is located in the foothills of the Siskyou Mountains along the Rogue River Valley in Southern Oregon

 

In the 1880s Jacksonville was one of Oregon’s major cities.  However, just a few years later in 1884 a more efficient railroad was built that bypassed the town, favoring nearby Medford instead.  This ended the gold mining boom and caused Jacksonville to lapse into a financial depression.

 

But all was not lost as the city became frozen in time.  This was eventually its savior when in 1962 the entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark as an intact example of a late 19th century Gold rush town.

 

Today, it is a thriving, cultural town to explore, with no franchises or chains.  Only independently owned businesses are found here amongst authentic historical buildings, maintaining that personal small-town charm.

 

Built between 1870 and 1876 by Cornelius C. Beekman for his family, who were the only family to ever reside here and lived here until post World War 2.  The house still remains entirely furnished with family artifacts, demonstrating the family’s Victorian-era lifestyle.

 

Dating back to 1863, Beekman Bank has survived numerous fires over the years.  During the prime gold boom years, approximately $40 million in gold passed through the counters of this bank, worth around $1 billion today. 

 

To discover more about Jacksonville’s interesting history, take a historical tour.  During the day there are regular narrated trolley tours of the city.  Or for a spookier experience, in the evening you can join a Haunted History Walking Tour with costumed tour guides.

 

Contributed by Sophie from We Dream of Travel

 

 

Jekyll Island, Georgia 

 

Jekyll Island, Georgia 

 

Jekyll Island in south Georgia is one of my favorite historic towns to visit in America. From 1886 to 1942, the Jekyll Island Club was “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.” Club members were the most wealthy families in America, like the Rockefellers,  Vanderbilts, and Morgans.
 

Participating in the first transcontinental phone call (along with San Francisco and New York) and the secret meetings to form the Federal Reserve were two examples of the power and history of the Jekyll Island Club.

 

Today, a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures occupy the former club grounds. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark, one of the largest ongoing restoration projects in the southeastern United States, keeps these winter mansions, aka cottages, preserved for the public.

 

Visitors can dine in the Grand Dining room of the Club House, stay in the San Souci cottage (the first condo in America), or take a guided tour of the entire site from the Jekyll Island Museum.

 

Entry to the island is $8/car, which you access to the historic district. However, a trip to Jekyll Island can be so much more. Other historic sites on Jekyll Island include the Wanderer memorial, the last major slave ship to land in America, and the ruins of the colonial Horton House.

 
Jekyll Island has over 20-miles of bike trails all through the historic district, as well as connections to the Horton House and Wanderer site. Jekyll Island is a beautiful destination for history fans, whether you tour by car, bike, or even horse-drawn carriage.
 
Contributed by Jenn and Ed Coleman from Coleman Concierge
 
 

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

 

North Carolina - USA - North Carolina - Morning time at Kitty Hawk fishing pier along North carolina's Outer Banks

 

One of the most lovely towns in the Outer Banks area of North Carolina, Kitty Hawk is famed as the site of the Wright Brother’s first flight. However, that technically took place in neighboring Kill Devil Hills. The Wright Brothers sent their telegram letting the world know the flight had taken place from Kitty Hawk since it was the nearest settlement. Kill Devil Hills would be incorporated fifty years later.

 

Make sure to visit the historic Kitty Hawk pier, visit nearby Nags Head to see the wild horses, and of course make a stop in Kill Devil Hills at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. You can also visit several important historic lighthouses in the area. 

 

Editor’s Choice

 

 

Lexington, Massachusetts 

 

Lexington Massachusetts Minute Man National Historical Park

 

One of the best historic towns in the USA is Lexington, Massachusetts, a must-see for any American history buff.  It’s where the first shots were fired to start the American Revolutionary War, in the Battle of Lexington, on April 19, 1775. This is also known as the “shot heard around the world.” 

 

The battle and then war led to America separating from England and becoming its own country, so Lexington’s place is in history is significant. 

 

Paul Revere and William Dawes also rode the famous ride from Boston to Lexington to alert colonists that the British were coming, made famous by a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.   

 

In addition to the town’s historical significance, it is also one of the most quintessentially picturesque New England towns in the area.  

 

About 10 miles from Boston, Lexington’s top spots to visit are the Battle Green in the town center, the Old Burying Ground, and the Hancock-Clarke house, which includes period furnishings and portraits.  On Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts, the third Monday of April each year, the Battle of Lexington is reenacted on the town green. It’s a great time to visit Boston, as it is also the same day as the Boston Marathon.

 

Lexington has a visitor’s center with a complete listing of all there is to see in Lexington and the neighboring town Concord, which also has a host of historically significant sites. But the best way to see it all is with a ride on the Liberty Ride Trolly Tour. 

 

The 90-minute driving and light walking tour, led by a guide in costume, takes you through the history of Lexington and Concord. Tickets can be purchased at the Visitor’s Center in town.  

 

For a lovely meal or even to spend a night or two in Lexington, the Inn at Hastings Park is a fantastic spot to stay and dine right off the green. For more American Revolution history, the Freedom Trail Walking Tour in Boston is the perfect add on to any stay or visit to Lexington.

 

Contributed by Keri from Bon Voyage With Kids.

 

 

Medicine Park, Oklahoma

 

USA - Oklahoa - the historic town of Medicine Park

 

Oklahoma’s first resort town, Medicine Park was founded just a year after Oklahoma became a state. Many of the buildings in the town are made from locally sourced cobblestone and date back to the town’s founding. Of course, there’s a lot of fun, modern kitsch to explore as well. 

 

One of the best weekend getaways in Oklahoma, make sure to stop by the waterfall,  visit the nearby Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, and the Holy City of the Wichitas.

 

Editor’s Choice

 

 

Mystic, Connecticut

 

The Old Ship in Mystic Seaport Connecticut

 

Famous for more than just its pizza, Mystic is a gorgeous town on the water complete with a vintage seafaring history that would make Herman Melville proud.

 

To learn about the town’s nautical history dating back to the late 1700s, including the shipbuilding industry that was vital to the town’s success, head to the Mystic Seaport Museum. There are several important historic spots in the town to visit as well, most of which are actually historic boats docked in the port!

 

Editor’s Choice

 

 

Natchitoches, Louisiana 

 

Natchitoches, Louisiana
Photo by The Hangry Backpacker. Reused with permission.

 

Natchitoches (pronounced: NACK-uh-tish) is the oldest settlement in the State of Louisiana. It is also the oldest European settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, founded in 1714 and settled even earlier. 
 
Today, Natchitoches is a small city in northwestern Louisiana known for its picturesque old town, the best meat pies in the world and a popular Christmas festival. Downtown Natchitoches is one of the biggest tourist draws in North Louisiana. Front Street is the “main drag” in Downtown Natchitoches, with the perfect setting of historic buildings, local shops, restaurants, and bars along the river.

 

Tourists interested in history can visit the old French fort, Fort St. Jean Baptiste, located along the barely-moving Cane River. There are several beautiful panations in the area that welcome visitors. Downtown Natchitoches is built in the Louisiana French style with old buildings, stately southern homes, beautiful churches, and plenty of wrought iron surrounded by centuries-old live oaks.

 

The Natchitoches meat pie is the famous creation of Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen. This restaurant has been a staple of the city for decades, and the famous meat pies attract thousands of tourists on their own. Meat pies are a necessity for a true visit to Natchitoches. Dirty rice and potato salad perfect pairs, and strawberry shortcake or bread pudding is the best way to cap off a visit to Lasyone’s.

 

For history, great food, and a healthy serving of old Louisiana culture in a picturesque setting, Natchitoches is one of the best historic towns to visit in the USA. 

 
Contributed by John Paul from The Hangry Backpacker.

 

 

Oak Ridge Tennessee 

 

Chapel on the Hill Oak Ridge Tennessee

 

Oak Ridge, Tennessee is so different from other historic American towns because in terms of “history” it’s fairly young. Also known as Atomic City and the Secret City, Oak Ridge is also referred to as the “birthplace of the atomic bomb.” It was in Oak Ridge in the 1940s that key components of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan were manufactured. 

 

The town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee was established in 1942 specifically as part of the Manhattan Project. It was a full-scale city built from scratch in the middle of nowhere under complete and total secrecy. Only the 75,000 resident employees knew it existed and no one there even knew the full purpose of his/her job–to produce the world’s first atomic bomb.

 

After the war, though Oak Ridge’s purpose had been fulfilled, residents remained and the city was officially founded in 1959. 

 

Today, visiting Oak Ridge, Tennessee is a must for any history enthusiast. There are still a number of Manhattan Project sites to visit in Oak Ridge–nuclear reactors, uranium processing plants, and a captivating bus tour led by the United States Department of Energy, to name just a few maintained as part of the National Park Service.

 

You can tour the Museum of Science and Energy and check out modern-day memorials to Oak Ridge’s atomic history such as the Secret City Commemorative Walk and the International Friendship Bell, a gift from Japan to Oak Ridge to symbolize peace. 

 
Contributed by Ashley Smith from Destination: WWII.

 

 

Oatman, Arizona

 

Burros (Donkeys) in Oatman Ghost town in Arizona, USA

 

Oatman, Arizona, was founded in 1906 and was a thriving gold mine town until 1942 when the last mines closed down. Although most residents moved out of the town after the last mines closed, one particular type of resident decided to stay: the burros. The burros that were brought to the town by early prospectors continue to live there today. They roam the streets freely and have become the town’s main tourist attraction. 

 

The burros aren’t the only attraction in Oatman, though. While you’ll probably want to spend some time photographing these cheeky locals, there are other things you shouldn’t miss.

 

Perhaps the most popular – and most entertaining – is the wild west show, which takes place at 1.30 PM and 3.30 PM every day. If, like us, you’re using Oatman as a stopping point on a road trip from California to Arizona, try to time your stop here with the first show. If you do, you’ll also be able to grab lunch at The Durlin Hotel, the only historic two-story adobe building in Mohave County.

 

If you have time, head upstairs and stop by the Oatman Gold Museum. This unique museum showcases the story of Oatman, how it became a thriving gold town, and, finally,  how it went from that to the ‘ghost town’ it is today.

 

Contributed by Jodie from Ala Jode.

 

 

Ouray, Colorado

 

Ouray, Colorado

 

Located in Colorado, Ouray is a mountain town with a rich mining history and stunning natural beauty. Ouray was named after the Ute Native American chief of the same name who was a prominent figure in the community during the arrival of miners in the late 1800s.

 

They came to the area to mine silver which had been recently discovered. There were other towns in the area which also accommodated miners but Ouray became an epicenter for cultural and social activities. Partly because it is sheltered from the elements by the surrounding mountains. Thus many buildings were erected to facilitate the flourishing town – many of which still stand today.

 

As mining ebbed and flowed over the years Ouray secured itself as a destination in and of itself for its picturesque setting and historical charm. It has even been nicknamed the Switzerland of America.

 

Today, you can explore the history of Ouray by visiting the Ouray County Museum where you will find architects for local native groups and the mining era. Otherwise, a historical walking tour is a great way to gain insight into the town’s colorful past. 

 

The Million Dollar Highway which stretches between Ouray and Silverton is one of the most scenic in the nation. It got its name because of its hefty price tag at the time of its creation during the mining era. It’s a beautiful scenic ride that’s well worth the trip!

 

Contributed by Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel

 

 

Pensacola, Florida

 

Sunrise on the Pensacola Beach ferris wheel on Santa Rosa Sound in Pensacola Beach, Florida

 

Pensacola was established in 1559 by Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna but due to several factors the first settlers were forced to leave the area and it wouldn’t be resettled until the late 17th century.

 

The “City of Five Flags” is often is considered to be the first multi-year European settlement in the contiguous United States. Residents are so proud that you’ll even see a welcome sign in downtown Pensacola that cites the city as “America’s 1st Settlement.”

 

While Pensacola is known as a resort destination, downtown is the place you should visit if you want to explore 450 years of history behind the city. Pensacola Historic District is filled with the kind of quaint, charming buildings including Weaver’s Cottage, Old Christ Church, and Charles Lavalle House.

 

Since five different and distinct cultures influenced everything in the area, visiting it is one of the best ways to better understand how they co-existed and borrowed from each other.

 

You may start at Plaza de Luna with the waterfront monument and explore the heart of Downtown Pensacola along Palafox Street. Also, make sure to spend some time at Ferdinand Plaza where Spain formally transferred Florida to the United States in 1821.

 

No trip to Pensacola is complete without visiting Fort Barrancas that once guarded the entry to Pensacola Bay. Here you can go on a self-guided tour or opt for a ranger-led tour. Aside from historical immersion, there is a hiking, a picnic area, and an onsite bookstore.

 

Another great attraction just a stone’s throw from Fort Barrancas is the National Naval Aviation Museum. Stationed next to the Naval Air Station, it’s one of the best places to catch the Blue Angels practicing their aerobatic performances.

 

While the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, come early if you want to catch a glimpse of the Blue Angels. The museum itself is free and features more than 150 historic aircraft from WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

Contributed by Ivan from Mind The Travel

 

 

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

 

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA townscape.

 

Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a fantastic place to visit if you’re interested in history, as it is very historic, and is a little more off the beaten path than some other destinations.
 
Just over an hour north of Boston, Portsmouth is a port town that was first founded in 1623. This was New Hampshire’s first settlement and its second oldest city. In 1653 it became a city, and was named after Portsmouth, England. This busy colonial seaport then served as the seat of New Hampshire’s provincial government up until the American Revolution.
 
Colonial History comes alive in Portsmouth. The Strawbery Banke Museum is one of the top historic attractions (and its name comes from one of the settlement’s original names, Strawbery Bank). The museum is a 10-acre outdoor history museum that shows what life was like for those who lived here way back when.
 
In between enjoying delicious restaurants, quaint shops, and local craft beers, you can continue to explore history as you experience Portsmouth. The downtown area has many areas that feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.
 
You can truly walk into the past with one of the areas many historic walking tours. There are so many things to do in Portsmouth, NH for history lovers and all types of travelers.
 
Lastly, head to the nearby town of New Castle so that you can visit Fort Constitution. Built in the 1700s and known as Fort William and Mary, Fort Constitution was the subject of Paul Revere’s ride in December 1774, and, according to some, the first overt act of the Revolutionary War.
 
 
Contributed by Amy Hartle from New England With Love.
 
 

Santa Fe, New Mexico 

 

New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico USA

 

Santa Fe, New Mexico is the oldest state capital in the US.  Santa Fe was established in 1610 making it the second oldest city in the US.  Based in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, it is also the highest capital in the US at 7,000 feet.

 
Santa Fe is a great city to visit especially if you are into the art scene and getting outdoors.  This old historic town has world-renowned art galleries and plenty of independent galleries as well with an emphasis on local artists and history.
 
One of my favorite things to do is to go hiking in Santa Fe.  Santa Fe is a hiker’s paradise with so many different trails to choose from in the city and the surrounding area.  You will find hikes for every level of physical activity.  One of the most popular trails is the Dale Ball Trail Network.
 

Dale Ball Trail Network is a series of trails that can be picked up from downtown Santa Fe.  The trails are extensive and connected so you can do one or several at a time.  The North Loop is a 4.4-mile easy trail where you can take your dog.  The South Loop is a bit harder and hilly and is about a 5-mile loop.  

 
Contributed by Nicole LaBarge from American SW Obsessed
 
 

St. Augustine, Florida 

 

St. Augustine, Florida 

 

St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest city in the US and was founded on September 8, 1565, by Spanish admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Florida’s first governor.  He chose the name because his ships started landing there eleven days earlier on the feast day of St. Augustine. 
 
Throughout the centuries it has passed from the Spanish to pirates to the British back to the Spanish and became the territory of Florida in 1821.  
 
With so many years of history, there are a lot of historic attractions to choose from, but three that are really great are visiting Castillo de San Marcos, a ghost tour, and climbing the St. Augustine Lighthouse.  This way you get to learn about a lot of different types of history while getting to see the area in different ways, too. 
 
The Castillo is right in the heart of St. Augustine where you can learn about the earliest years of the city and how the fort was used.  A ghost tour will show you the darker side of the city and the ways it developed while taking you to a variety of historic sites like the fort, two different cemeteries, and a few historic homes with remarkable histories. 
 
Finally, the lighthouse out on Anastasia Island will help you learn about the maritime history of the area.
 
 
Contributed by Megan from Red Around the World.
 
 

Tarpon Springs, Florida 

 

Tarpon Springs Florida on Foggy Winter's Day

 

If it’s a unique culture you’re looking for, history lovers will be surprised and delighted with the unexpected Greek sponge-diving culture they’ll find in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

 

Situated on a quiet part of central Florida’s Gulf Coast, there is no other place like this in Florida, or in the US. The town’s Greek heritage dates back to the 1800s when heavy metal dive helmets, lead-weighted boots, and hand-driven air pumps were the technology of the day.

 
Tarpon Springs became famous at the turn of the 20th century when an entrepreneur discovered that selling the local sponges that thrived in the area’s warm sea would make him wealthy. Soon sponge hunters came from Cuba, Key West, and the Bahamas using only glass-bottomed buckets and spears to harvest sponges. Experienced sponge divers from Greece were eventually hired making harvesting more efficient.
 
 
There are lots of unique and interesting things to do in Tarpon Springs. A highlight of any visit is walking the sponge docks where the working dive boats are docked, or chatting with men stringing sponges on their boat deck — it’s a visual photo feast. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral is also a must-visit to learn more about the local culture.
 
 
Being a unique epicenter of Greek culture, this is also a great area to enjoy traditional Greek food at one of the restaurants in downtown Tarpon Springs. With its history, sponge diving culture, and some of the best Greek food you’ll ever have, a visit to Tarpon Springs is a must on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
 
 

Contributed by Lori from Travlinmad.

 

 

Temecula, California 

 

Temecula, California 

 

Originally inhabited by Indians, Temecula became a mission outpost in April 1859, establishing it as a center of commerce. This area of cattle ranches and granite mines became a booming town by the late 1800s, as a stop on the rail line that connected San Diego to San Bernardino.

 

Today, Temecula stands as a vision of the Old West. Some of the buildings in Old Town are historic while others were part of a development plan in the 1980s. Old materials were sourced from around the U.S. to carefully curate period-appropriate architecture. This successful venture made Old Town Temecula the charming place it is today and a great USA trip idea.

 

Situated around a historic square, points of interest include the First National Bank of Temecula on the corner of Main and Front Streets. It opened for business in 1914, served as a bank until 1943, and now houses a Mexican restaurant. The Mercantile Building, built by Philip Pohlman around 1890 on a lot he won in a raffle, was constructed of bricks from an abandoned brickyard and mail-ordered storefronts!

 

You can experience history by staying in Hotel Temecula. Originally built as the Welty Hotel in 1891 to accommodate weary travelers, it has been a schoolhouse, post office, general store, and United States border patrol office over the years. Today, Hotel Temecula has been lovingly restored and welcomes guests into antique-filled rooms. After you’re done visiting Old Town, don’t forget to go wine tasting.

 

Contributed by Jenifer Byington of The Evolista

 

 

Titusville, Florida 

 

Long exposure shot of a rocket launch from the Space Coast of Florida. Seen from Titusville.

 

Originally named Sand Point, Titusville was founded in 1867 by Confederate Colonel Henry Theodore Titus. He and his wife planned to build the town on land that they owned. They built a store, hotel, and laid out many of the town’s streets. In 1873, the name of the town was changed to Titusville, supposedly after Titus won a domino game against Captain Clark Rice.

 

Titusville grew over the years, especially after it was connected to other major cities by railroad. World War II also affected the city; after enemy ships were sunk off the nearby beaches a boat construction company built hundreds of landing craft. The 1960s perhaps created the biggest changes when Kennedy Space Center was built to join the “Space Race.”

 

To learn more about the native people of the area, we recommend visiting Seminole Rest on Canaveral National Seashore. The historic site was once inhabited by the Timucuan Indians and they left a large mound of clam and oyster shells behind, as well as other daily items.

We also recommend visiting the Pritchard House Museum in downtown Titusville. This historic home was built in 1891 and had a member of the Pritchard family living in it until 2005 when the county purchased the home for historic preservation. You can tour the home which has many original pieces and really get a feel for how life in Titusville once was.

 

Of course, a visit to the Kennedy Space Center is a must. Get there early because you will be there all day. There are a ton of buildings and areas that tell the history of space exploration and pay homage to the many involved in early space programs.

 

Contributed by Vicky Sosa from Buddy the Traveling Monkey.

 

 

Traverse City, Michigan 

 

Point Betsie Lighthouse Traverse City Michigan

 

Founded in 1852, Traverse City was once only accessible by water. Today, though, you can easily get into the quaint historic town by road (as well as by sea if that still takes your fancy) and explore its present-day draws as well as it’s significant history.

 

Sixth street, in the Central Neighborhood of the city, is where the Perry Hannah House can be found,. This massive and intricate house was built by the founder of the city in the late 1800s. While the Hannah family was obviously quite well off, not everyone at the time was.

 

Over in what is known as Slab Town you can still find Sleder’s Family Tavern which once provided entertainment and lifeblood to the working-class people of the city. And still can provide plenty of enjoyment today.

 

Outside of town, but only a short drive up the spit of land Traverse City sits below, is the Mission Point Lighthouse. As one might expect from a city that could once only be accessed by boat, this lighthouse was an integral part of early life in Traverse City and was built shortly after the city’s founding.

 

As you’re in the car, you might also take a drive around the wineries of the region. Though not quite as old as Traverse City itself, the region has been producing wine for nearly a century and is a welcome addition to a warm day by the lake.

 

Contributed by Caitlin Boylan from The Country Jumper

 

 

Virgin City, Nevada 

 

Virgin Mary, outside an 1866 historic church building found in Virginia City, NV, listed as #301 on the American Presbyterian and Reformed Historic Sites.- SOME NOISE

 

Virginia City, Nevada is located southeast of Reno but it is quite literally a world away. This town might have otherwise been a ghost town but it has been resilient and thrives today as a tourist destination.
 
Visually it feels like you stepped back in time in the mining boom years that made this one of the wealthiest cities in the United States due to the discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859 but it has evolved to create it’s own unique modern personality as well. 
 
The city’s population peaked at about 25,000 residents in the 1870s and quickly declined once the ore deposits were depleted. Today, Virginia City is an extraordinarily well-preserved example of a mining boomtown that while some might consider it a ghost town … is actually full of life.
 
With only 855 residents today – and probably even more ghosts that still hang around the abandoned mine tunnels, bordellos, and saloons, the city is now one of the most unique attractions in Nevada.
 
While some destinations might want to preserve their history as a museum, folks here embrace the rough and tumble nature of their history.
 
As such, along with bars where you can grab a shot of whiskey or a root beer the town is legendary for their festivals and events that include the annual Cattle Drive and Rodeo Parade, Annual International Camel and Ostrich Races, Annual World Championship Outhouse Races, and of course the legendary “Testicle Festival” where people from all over the country gather to enjoy some tasty “Cowboy Caviar!”
 
When you visit though, don’t forget to go below the surface too. Virginia City’s mine tours are a fantastic way to cool off on a hot day and step back in time to better understand what it was like for the men who built this town laboring deep under the earth hoping to strike it rich.
 
 
Contributed by James Hills from ManTripping
 
 

Williamsburg, Virginia

 

The Governors Palace, Williamsburg, Virginia

 

If you had to think of the most important British colony in America, you would probably think of Jamestown. Founded in 1607, Jamestown was the first permanent Engish speaking colony in the “New World”. However, that is where most history books stop. We never hear about what happened after Jamestown, the first capital of the Virginia Assembly.

 

In 1699, Williamsburg was founded as the capital of the Virginia colony. The colonial leaders decided to move the capital from Jamestown to a place that was called the Middle Plantation, five miles inland between the York and James Rivers. The new capital was renamed to Williamsburg to honor England’s reigning monarch, King William III.

 

With careful planning, Williamsburg became one of the most important cities in the British colonies of America. Not only was it a center of political, religious, economic, and social life in Virginia, but it also became one of the best places for education.

 

The famous College of William and Mary was founded in 1693, and have educated influential leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe. In 1780, the capital was moved to Richmond, which continues to be the capital of Virginia. Williamsburg reverted to a quiet college town with only around 15,000 residents today.

 

If you visit Williamsburg today, there are several attractions you cannot miss. First, it is the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, a place that features interesting historical facts and evidence of the colonial era. The second place is the Governor’s Palace, the official residence of the Royal Governor of the colony of Virginia. 

 

Contributed by Sean from Living Out Lau

 

 

Woodstock, New York

USA - New York - Woodstock

 

One of the cutest historic towns in New York, its namesake music festival isn’t the only history tiny Woodstock boasts, though you can certainly indulge in it while you’re here! Outside of town, you can visit the field where the festival was held as well as visiting the Museum at Bethel Woods. 

 

Even if you aren’t interested in music history, you can (and should!) enjoy a few days in town. There’s a lovely charming-meets-hippy vibe with lots of local shops to peruse as you walk around and explore.

 

Make sure to check out Wagwear, the second location of this local NY upscale dog clothing boutique. It’s one of my favorite New York souvenirs!

 

 

More USA Travel Resources

 

USA - Colorado - Stephanie

 

Thinking about exploring the US this year? For trip ideas, check out the best historic cities in the US and the best scenic drives in the US for great road trip ideas. 

 

If you want to base your trip on great cultural activities, check out the best museums in the US and the best American living history museums.

 

 

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

 

Before you leave for your trip make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be hanging out in cities where tourists can be the victims of pickpockets or if you’ll be doing exciting outdoor activities. 

 

I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for two years, and I happily recommend them.  If you get sick, injured, or have your stuff stolen, you’ll be happy to have the ability to pay for your medical bills or replace what’s stolen or broken.

 

 

Pin this Guide to Visiting the Best Historic American Towns for Your Travels!

 

Best Historic Towns in the US for US Getaways and Weekend Trips

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