Historic getaways are nothing new (pun intended!), but it’s relatively easy to get stuck in a rut; you’re either visiting whatever’s close, or heading into the big U.S. cities that lay claim to some of the most important historic sites, museums, and other attractions in the country.
So we’re going to take those major cities off the table -- we assume you know about Boston and its tea party, and Philadelphia's link to the Constitution -- and move on to smaller historic towns. We’re focusing on six very historic, definitely adorable, and undeniably quaint places you might not have visited before. Or as we like to think of them, places you should absolutely visit in 2016.
Some consider Williamsburg, Virginia to be a tourist trap, but history aficionados, families, and plenty of others love it here. The town is genuinely historic, but it pulls double-duty as a town-wide theatrical stage. Dozens of period actors — that’d be the Revolutionary War period — stroll the streets and staff the stores of Colonial Williamsburg, where you can walk in the steps of our Founding Fathers. If you’re not already a Colonial history buff when you arrive, you will be by the time you leave.
Hotel Pick: The Historic Powhatan Resort is just five miles from the center Colonial Williamsburg — and a historic landmark itself. Be sure to visit the manor house, which was built in 1735, and explore the resort’s network of hiking trails, which wind past several historical buildings.
New Orleans is jazz. New Orleans is Bourbon Street. New Orleans is party-central, come Mardi Gras (and Jazz Fest, and multiple other events). But historic? Well yes, yes it is. NoLa is absolutely overflowing with sites (and sights) of historical significance, from St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, to the grand old homes of the French Quarter. And of course, there’s plenty of cultural history here in our nation’s Creole capitol, so be sure to try the local cuisine and spend at least one evening at a local club, where blues, rock ’n’ roll, and jazz matured.
Hotel Pick: The French Quarter is full of historic hotels, but we’re partial to the Hotel Monteleone, which is a national literary landmark and home to the circus-themed Carousel Bar.
If we’re talking historic, we can’t miss New England, where the settlers first set up shop in the New World. Home to nearly four centuries’ worth of history, Portland, Maine is a wonderful assortment of charming architecture (one look at the gambrel roof on the Tate House Museum, and you’ll see what we mean) and Americana (we’re looking at you, Breakwater Lighthouse).
Hotel Pick: Due to historic disasters, like the Great Fire of 1886, historic hotels can be hard to find in Portland. Thankfully, the Portland Regency Hotel and Spa has weathered the years in the heart of Old Port.
Dive into the antebellum south in Savannah, Georgia, where the state’s sophisticated upper-class first gathered. Settled in 1773, this is where Georgia’s elite built quaint squares, comfortable townhouses, and the kind of sprawling southern mansions that would make Scarlett O’Hara feel at home. Over the centuries, a few things have changed, but much of Savannah has stayed the same: polite, sophisticated, and a little bit eccentric, this historic town will welcome you with typical southern charm.
Hotel Pick: The Dresser Palmer House is a charming, historic bed and breakfast in an Italianate townhouse that dates back to 1876. The 16 rooms are each decorated differently but share a similar historic feel, many with four-poster beds, antique-style wood furniture, fireplaces, and patios.
Nantucket is a popular vacay destination, for sure, but did you know it’s also a historic whaling town? This sleepy little island in Massachusetts, which once made its fortune during the U.S. whaling era, now offers history lovers a glimpse into a past of cobblestone streets, traditional New England architecture, a quaint harbor, and of course, the town’s whaling history, courtesy of the Whaling Museum (housed in a restored candle factory dating to the mid 1800s).
Hotel Pick: The historic district, or harbor area, is the place to be, and our area pick is the charming Union Street Inn, just three minutes’ walking distance to downtown, and the only inn on the island to offer a full, hot breakfast.
Combine the words “Texas” and “history”in a sentence and you’re probably going to dream up scenes of saloons, shoot-outs, and the Alamo. But Houston earned its historic due as the final site (and triumphant end) of the Texas-Mexico standoff, during the Battle of San Jacinto (now chronicled at the San Jacinto Museum of History). Houston also wows with the Battleship Texas, which served in WWI and WWII, and is now an at-anchor museum in La Porte.
Hotel Pick: Not everything is bigger in Texas. Case in point: Hotel Granduca, which — with 122 classic Italian guest rooms and suites — is relatively small by Houston standards, and has a decidedly boutique vibe.