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10 U.S. Cities for History Buffs

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    Time Travels

    En español | Who doesn’t like a sprinkling of history — political, social, cultural, you name it — to season a great vacation? So many cities beyond the usual suspects are jam-packed with stories and sites from our American past. Try some of these locales as you travel the country.  

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    Montgomery, Alabama

    Pay homage to those who changed American history in the city that serves as the cornerstone of the civil rights movement. The Rosa Parks Museum, Civil Rights Memorial Center and Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, are all within walking distance of each other (and not far, ironically, from the First White House of the Confederacy). Lay your hand on the engraved black granite of the Civil Rights Memorial, designed by Maya Lin. Pledge to work for justice, equality and human rights by adding your name to the Wall of Tolerance digital display.

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    Nashville, Tennessee

    Venture back to vinyl at RCA Studio B, where Elvis recorded more than 200 songs and Dolly Parton, the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison laid down hit tracks. Sit down on an original oak pew in Ryman Auditorium, which was home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-74 and today hosts weekly shows year-round. Take one in, then head for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for a look at Carl Perkins’ blue suede shoes and Elvis’ gold piano (which is up for auction in November if you have $700,000 to spare).

     

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    St. Augustine, Florida

    St. Augustine is the oldest town in America. (It beats Jamestown in Virginia by more than 40 years.) Begin your visit by looking out over the sparkling Matanzas Bay at Castillo de San Marcos, a painstakingly preserved 17th-century fortress. Meander on streets lined with historic buildings, majestic old oaks and swaying palms. Take a quick tour of Flagler College, whose main building is the former Hotel Ponce de Léon, a Spanish Renaissance Revival-style resort built in 1888 and named after the first Spaniard to set foot in Florida.

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    Charlottesville, Virginia

    Revive the spirit of a favorite Founding Father at Monticello, the plantation house Thomas Jefferson built in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You’ll be fascinated by both the grand house — filled with 18th- and 19th-century innovations such as a seven-day calendar clock and a polygraph device the president used to make copies of letters as he wrote them — and Mulberry Row, where various archaeological excavations have revealed much about the slaves who lived and worked on the plantation.    

    Revive the spirit of a favorite Founding Father at Monticello, the plantation house Thomas Jefferson built in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You’ll be fascinated by both the grand house — filled with 18th- and 19th-century innovations such as a seven-day calendar clock and a polygraph device the president used to make copies of letters as he wrote them — and Mulberry Row, where various archaeological excavations have revealed much about the slaves who lived and worked on the plantation.                

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    Newport, Rhode Island

    Looking for some out-of-the-ordinary “open houses” to inspect? Newport’s opulent Gilded Age real estate should fit the bill. The builders of these palatial dwellings — robber baron families of mining, railroad and steel fortunes — dubbed their megamansions “summer cottages,” but you wouldn’t exactly call them that. One of the grandest is the Breakers, built in Italian Renaissance style by the Vanderbilt family. You may have seen the exterior of Rosecliff in scenes with Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby. It’s modeled after a corner of Versailles where King Louis XIV of France enjoyed retreating from the pomp of court life.

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    New Orleans, Louisiana

    There’s more to this city than parades, parties, beads and booze. Wander the French Quarter, the city’s oldest neighborhood and a blend of Spanish, French, Creole and American architectural styles. St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest Catholic cathedral in the U.S., is here. Significant battles of the War of 1812 and the Civil War were fought in New Orleans. More recent battles have been against hurricanes and floods.

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    San Antonio, Texas

    Feel the spirit and learn the history of the small band of soldiers who fought against impossible odds while trying to protect their freedom at the Alamo. After you explore the cathedral (beautifully lit at night) and the Long Barrack, stroll over to the River Walk to take in early Texan and Mexican architecture.

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    Salt Lake City, Utah

    In the heart of Mormon country, you can visit the house of Brigham Young, founder of the city, first governor of the Utah Territory and husband to 55 wives (54 of whom converted to Mormonism). You can't enter the Mormon Temple, but you can tour Temple Square and hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse on some Thursdays.

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    San Francisco, California

    Birdman (and psychopath prisoner) Robert Stroud — stripped of his feathered companions (some 300 in all) when he moved from Leavenworth to Alcatraz in 1942 — spent 17 years here, in one of the most notorious federal penitentiaries in U.S. history. Take a boat out to the legendary island that also served as a Civil War fort and a military prison. Go during the early evening for a unique view of the city at sunset. Grab a view of the Golden Gate Bridgefrom the Presidio, a National Historic Landmark District, which operated as a military facility for more than 200 years.

     

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    Honolulu, Hawaii

    There’s only one royal palace in the United States: Iolani, where King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani governed Hawaii until 1891. You can visit moving 20th-century landmark at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, where 1,177 officers and crewmen lost their lives on Dec. 7, 1941. Climb the Aloha Tower, a lighthouse that has greeted hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Honolulu since 1926, as its 40-year-older counterpart, the Statue of Liberty, has welcomed immigrants to New York.

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