As Independence Day approaches, families, road-trippers, and travelers of all types start thinking the same thought: “You know, we really should go somewhere patriotic this summer.”
Then a lot of them think a corollary: “But I really don’t feel like going to Washington, D.C.”
Totally get it. Washington in the summer is good for two things: sweat and lines. If you’d rather avoid both, and still get your fill of history, scenery, and heritage this July 4, here are some decidedly non-Washington sites to visit.
Bunker Hill, Boston, Mass.: We have some bad news: The site of the battle where “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” became part of the lexicon is actually Breed’s Hill, where a 221-foot-tall granite obelisk marks the site of the first major conflict of the American Revolution. Part of a larger Revolutionary War tour of Boston, the Breed’s Hill site includes the monument on one side of the street and an small museum and interpretive center across the street. Think of the tour as an excuse to walk around one of America’s most walkable cities; stroll towards the Charles River and you’ll come to the U.S.S. Constitution and the main visitor center; cross the Charles and you can visit the Old North Church, Paul Revere’s Home, Faneuil Hall, and more – just in time for lunch at Quincy Market.
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Md.: Okay, Baltimore is practically Washington, but by the time you make it through the lines at the Washington Monument you’ll have toured Fort McHenry and will be well on your way to crabcakes and an Orioles game. The birthplace of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a compact and well-maintained historic site with the usual historic-park stuff – an introductory film in the visitor center, a few exhibits, and a gift shop – followed by a self-guided fort tour. Summers bring out ranger talks and re-enactments, plus concerts, a living American flag, musket and artillery demonstrations, and twilight tattoo ceremonies (bugle calls, not permanent ink). Plan on two hours to tour the fort.
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, Put-In Bay, Ohio: The memorial itself is a 352-foot-tall Doric column that towers over the Lake Erie island and commemorates Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British in Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Unusually for a war memorial, the monument celebrates the long-lasting peace between Britain, Canada and the United States. More than that, it’s a great reason to visit Put-In Bay in the summer – like you need another one.
Fort Sumter National Monument, Charleston, S.C.: The site of the first shots of the Civil War, today Fort Sumter is a well-preserved monument to the bloodiest conflict in American history. In addition to an informative and well-stocked museum, there are walking tours, an excellent assortment of artillery pieces, and great views of Charleston Harbor. After touring Fort Sumter, head down the shore to the Charleston Naval Shipyard, where the fascinatingly strange Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley is on display. And after that, it’s food.
National World War I Memorial and Museum, Kansas City, Mo.: A striking monument set on a hill in a spacious downtown park, the WWI memorial was built in 1921, completely refurbished in the ‘90s and was designated the nation’s WWI memorial and museum in 2006. With its combination of early 20th-century architecture and design and a modern, comprehensive, fascinating, well-curated, educational, and totally can’t-miss museum, the National WWI Museum may be America’s most fully realized war monument. And since this is Kansas City, it can absolutely be followed by food.
Manzanar National Historic Site, Calif.: Can a resettlement camp, a reminder of one of our greatest missteps as a country, be a patriotic destination? Of course; patriotism isn’t perfect, and the Manzanar War Relocation Center is a reminder of that. One of 10 camps at which Japanese-American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II, Manzanar isn’t easy to get to – it’s about 220 miles from anywhere, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in eastern California’s Owens Valley – but it’s worth a Fourth of July trip. The best-preserved of the WWII internment camps, the Manzanar site features two rebuilt barracks and a mess hall, a visitor center with numerous exhibits, an explanatory film and a driving tour of the remainder of the camp, including the camp cemetery. It’s there to help you remember some things that other countries, under similar circumstances, would rather have you forget; think about that as you visit.
Martin Luther King National Historic Site, Atlanta: It’s hard not to be stirred as you visit the multiple locations of the MLK National Historic Site, but you have some work to do if you want to see everything. Arrive early, go to the information desk located inside of the visitor center and sign up for a tour of MLK’s boyhood home. (Tours are limited to 15 people and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis on that day.) Then head to the International World Peace Rose Gardens, the MLK gravesite, and finally the recently restored Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. King’s father preached, Martin Jr. was baptized, and where the younger Rev. King delivered some of his most famous sermons. That should take the better part of a morning – longer depending on your tour time – leaving you lots of time to grab some sweet-potato cheesecake at the Sweet Auburn Bread Company.
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