10 Historical Events Across America

From the Colonial East to the Wild West, step back in time at some famous—and not-so-famous—destinations.


Experiencing the United States’ past isn’t hard to do, whether you prefer remembering our Colonial roots, witnessing the nation’s birth, reliving Western expansion or recalling more recent times. Here are some first-rate historical destinations to consider when making your vacation plans. All are annual events; so don’t worry if you can’t make it this time—there’s always next year.

1. Independence Day Celebration

In Washington, D.C., the Fourth of July begins with a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives and ends with one of the largest fireworks displays in the country. In between, attend the National Independence Day Parade or catch a concert with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Capitol Building. Free admission.

2. Independence Day at the William Paca House

For a more low-key Fourth of July celebration, head to Annapolis, Md., to the home of William Paca, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Now a museum, the site hosts a Naturalization Ceremony for new citizens, Revolutionary War encampment, live musical entertainment and children’s activities. Free admission.

3. Jamestown Day

Celebrate the founding of the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown, Va. In May, the site of the Jamestown excavation features costumed interpreters, Virginia Indian presentations, 17th-century trade demonstrations and public archaeology. Head next door to the Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum, to view a Powhatan Indian village, Jamestown fort and period ships. Admission is $14 for adults, $6.50 for children ages six and up. Package deals are available.

4. Boston Tea Party

Each December at Boston’s Old South Meeting House, hear Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and others argue over what to do with three shiploads of tea. You can even add your own voice to the historic debate. Then march with the Sons of Liberty, hatchets and torches in hand, to the docks to destroy the tea. Tickets are $6.

5. Chestertown Tea Party Festival

Boston wasn’t the only city attacking tea. Legend has it that the leaders of Chestertown, Md., following Boston’s example, threw tea into the Chester River. The whole scene is reenacted each May, right down to period costumes, working muskets and a reproduction schooner in the harbor. Free admission.

6. Gold Rush Days

Sacramento, Calif., recalls its 1850s boom era each year with Gold Rush Days during the Labor Day Weekend. The streets of the city’s historic district are covered in dirt, and horse-drawn carriages become the preferred mode of transportation. Costumed reenactors pan for gold, shoot it out in gunfights, play period instruments and more. Admission is free.

7. Gettysburg Civil War Battle

During the Fourth of July weekend, the town of Gettysburg, Pa., commemorates the Civil War battle that made it famous. The three-day event is packed with reenactments, demonstrations and living history programs. Witness battles such as Picket’s Charge, sit with Confederate leaders as they draft battle plans or walk through military camps to experience 1860s military life. Prices range from $12 for a child’s one-day pass to $54 for an adult three-day pass. [Read more about Gettysburg.]

8. Old Oregon Trail Ride

Near Baker City, Ore., retrace the footsteps of the pioneers who traveled west on the Oregon Trail. Ride in historic wagons on a five-day journey in June over old trails and freight roads, and then sleep under the stars. The exact route varies from year to year. Registration required; costs range from $75 to $185. Beforehand, stop by the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center just north of Baker City.

9. Little Bighorn Days

Just south of Hardin, Mont,, is the Little Bighorn Battlefield, where the Northern Plains Indians defeated Custer and the U.S. Army in 1876. Each June, you can relive Custer’s Last Stand as descendants of the U.S. troopers, Indian warriors and scouts involved in the battle retrace the action, using a script based on Native American narratives. Admission is $20 for adults, $8 for children ages 5 and up.

10. Bridge Crossing Jubilee

The march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., for African-American voting rights was a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. Each March, the men and women who took part in 1965 are remembered during a three-day festival in Selma. The centerpiece is a march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge led by local and national dignitaries. Free.

Destinations: Sacramento, Boston, Gettysburg, Washington

Themes: Historical Vacations

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Sightseeing

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