Bring the rich culture and heritage of the United States to life with immersive experiences, guided tours, and more.
While jetting off abroad to experience the sights and sounds of other countries is great, when was the last time you explored your own backyard? No, we’re not talking about your actual backyard—we’re talking about the rich culture and historic sites of the United States of America. There’s an easy (and often extremely affordable) way to travel the country and soak in all the heritage: By visiting National Historic Landmarks, which are historic sites deemed by the good people at the National Park Service to illustrate and encapsulate a particular piece of the heritage of the United States.
The first National Historic Landmark was established in 1804 with a simple wooden post that the Corps of Discovery—a unit of the United States Army led by the famous explorers Lewis and Clark—placed to commemorate the passing of Sgt. Charles Floyd. These days, though, there are over 2,600 National Historic Landmarks in the United States, all of which come in different, unique forms. Some are significant buildings, structures, or objects, while others are vast historical sites or even entire districts. Each represents an “outstanding aspect of American history and culture,” according to the National Park Service, which is why we put together this short list of some of the best National Historic Landmarks you absolutely need to visit.
National Historic Landmark Experiences
New York City Statue of Liberty National Monument – If you’ve been to New York City, you’ve probably seen it from afar; if you haven’t visited, you’ve definitely seen it in pictures. We’re talking, of course, about the world-famous Statue of Liberty National Monument. Originally a gift to signify the friendship of the people of France and the United States, it’s now known around the globe as a symbol of democracy and freedom.
And, luckily for you, Statue City Cruises is the only authorized official provider of tickets to both the monument and Ellis Island. (Pro Tip: Be aware that street vendors do not sell genuine Statue of Liberty tickets, so don’t get scammed.) Tickets are available for visitors to explore the grounds of the monument as well as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. In fact, you can also check out “the other side of Ellis Island” by embarking on a 90-minute guided tour of the unrestored Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital Complex—essentially, a time capsule into the island’s heyday. Plus, it’s possible that one of your ancestors made their way through those very doors back in the day, since more than 100 million Americans are able to connect their lineage to an immigrant who stopped at this island before bravely settling somewhere in the United States.
Alcatraz Island on San Francisco Bay – You might have a perception of Alcatraz Island as just a prison, famous for its (nearly) inescapable design. However, if you dig a little deeper, the site reveals a complex history and natural beauty, as well as stories of American incarceration, justice, and humanity. This relatively tiny island—named after the archaic Spanish word for “pelican”—was at different times a fort, a military prison, and a maximum-security federal penitentiary. Best of all, as the official operators in partnership with the National Park Service, Alcatraz City Cruises offers exclusive, in-depth visits to Alcatraz. There are tickets available for purchase for a variety of experiences, including a sail through the beautiful San Francisco Bay, round-trip transportation to the island, and outdoor National Park access, as well as Alcatraz Night Tours, which feature cell door demonstrations, talks with historians, and beautiful silhouettes of the sun setting on the Golden Gate Bridge.
More National Historic Landmark Tours to Discover
- California’s Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Historical Park – You’ve seen the picture, you know the name—and you might have even borrowed her look for a Halloween costume! Rosie the Riveter is a stalwart symbol of American civilian determination and grit during the Second World War, and now you can conjure the tremendous efforts and achievements of United States civilians during World War II by learning how they lived and worked on the home front at California’s Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Historical Park in Richmond, California.
- New York City’s Federal Hall – Located in the heart of New York City’s Financial District—less than a block away from the New York Stock Exchange—Federal Hall is a museum and memorial to the origins of our great nation. In fact, it’s where George Washington took his oath of office, and it’s the location of the first Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices. (Pro Tip: Don’t forget to snag a photo with the iconic statue of George Washington before you leave.)
- Pennsylvania’s Edgar Allan Poe House – Though born in Boston, the six years that American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe spent living in the state of Pennsylvania were “his happiest and most productive,” according to the National Park Service. Visitors of the Edgar Allan Poe House are invited to reflect on Poe’s inimitable creativity, and picture the world-renowned writer penning masterpieces in his modest Philadelphia home.
- Georgia’s Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park – If you’re in Atlanta, Georgia, visiting the hometown of Martin Luther King, Jr.—the central figure of the modern civil rights movement—is a must. The National Historical Park encourages visitors to hear his story, walk in his footsteps, and experience the church where it all began. Destinations include the BEHOLD Monument, the “I Have A Dream” World Peace Rose Garden, MLK’s Birth Home, Fire Station No. 6, the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, The King Center, Dr. & Mrs. King’s Tomb, and Freedom Hall.
- Hawaii’s USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor Naval Base – Soak up some sun and history with your next trip to the islands of Hawaii by checking out the USS Arizona Pearl Harbor National Memorial, where visitors can learn about the attack that triggered the United States’ entry into World War II. Embark of the USS Arizona Memorial Program, facilitated by the National Park Service in partnership with the US Navy, which includes a Navy-provided boat shuttle to the memorial, time exploring the memorial, and a return trip back to the Visitor Center.
- Texas’ The Alamo – The Alamo Mission—also known as Misión San Antonio de Valero—is the site of one of the major turning points and pivotal events in the Texas Revolution, the Battle of the Alamo. Visit the San Antonio grounds where American folk heroes James Bowie and Davy Crockett died, and reflect on the site’s rich history.
- Florida’s Ernest Hemingway House – For literary buffs, visiting the home of the late, great Ernest Hemingway is a bucket list item. Located in Key West, Florida, the gorgeous villa exudes luxury—especially for the day and age in which it was built—and would be a must-see destination even if it weren’t the home of one of the most important writers of all time.
- Oregon’s Fort Astoria Site – As the primary fur trading post of John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company, Oregon’s Fort Astoria was a hotly contested site of competition between the British and American forces during the War of 1812, and was instrumental in leading to the resolution of both Nations’ disputed claims to the Oregon Country.