50 U.S. presidential sites to visit
Has Presidents Day got you feeling patriotic? If you're looking for inspiration to make the most of your long weekend, check out Lonely Planet's 50 Best U.S. Presidential Sites to visit in honor of the national holiday (there's even a bonus pick for the District of Columbia).
Harry S Truman has no site here. ‘Dixiecrats’ opposing his civil rights legislation managed to keep him off the presidential ballot, as an incumbent, in 1948. Learn more at the museum of the Alabama Department of Archives & History.
Pictured: The Alabama Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. (Feb. 7, 2012)
The first president to visit Alaska, Warren Harding arrived in 1923 to drive the final golden spike of the Alaska Railroad at Mears Memorial Bridge at Nenana (between Denali and Fairbanks); some say he missed the spike on his first two tries. Two weeks later Harding died.
(July 15, 1923)
Hoover Dam, Boulder Dam, Hoover Dam – that’s more or less how the naming of this striking, if controversial, dam at the Arizona/Nevada border has gone. Franklin Roosevelt, by some accounts, had ‘Hoover’ struck from its name out of spite; Hoover’s name was restored (after FDR’s death) in 1947. By the way, the Arizona side has free parking, but Nevada’s has the ‘Dam t-shirt’ shop, tours and bad coffee.
Pictured:The Arizona Intake Towers at the Hoover Dam in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona. (July 30, 2007)
In Little Rock, the William J Clinton Presidential Center – for the guy also known as Bill – has 80 million pages of documents, two million photos and, hey, one of Lance Armstrong’s jerseys. Bill’s birthplace 100 SW of Little Rock in the town of Hope was recently added to the National Park System as the wordy-named President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site.
Pictured: President Clinton holds an umbrella under the porch of his childhood home in Hope, Ark. (March 12, 1999)
Just 15 minutes from Disneyland is a presidential site too intriguing to drive by: Richard Nixon’s birthplace, museum and library, in Yorba Linda. How does such a place handle probably the least graceful job exit in US political history?
(March 31, 2011)
The rotunda of the state capitol in Denver features portraits of all US presidents.
The only president born in the Constitution State was George W Bush, who was born in New Haven, and lived (briefly) in the New York City suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut. A ridiculous number of other famous people have lived there, although none in log cabins.
Pictured: George W. Bush with his mother, Barbara Bush and his father George Bush posing for a portrait in New Haven, CT April 1947.
Brandywine Springs Park in Wilmington is the location where George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette met to discuss the Battle of Brandywine attack plan. Should have stuck around longer: the Americans got whipped, leaving Philadelphia open to British attack.
Pictured: Delaware State House, Dover, Delaware (undated)
We know about the president’s plane, but what about train? US Car #1 – at Miami’s Gold Coast Railroad Museum – was a done-up 1928 Pullman carriage that severed First Transport Needs from 1942 to 1954. The interiors are closed for renovation, but you can see the platform where Truman stood to hold up the famous ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ journalistic goof in 1948.
(Nov. 4, 1948)
Franklin Roosevelt first bathed in the natural springs of Warm Springs in 1924 to help strengthen himself from polio to take a shot at Washington. It worked. He’d return until his death in 1945. You can visit the site at the Little White House.
(April 12, 2004)
Get an ice cream cone at 1633 King St in Honolulu and imagine it’s a president serving you. Barack Obama’s first job as a teen was at this Baskin Robbins – now a bona fide presidential historic site.
Pictured: President-elect Barack Obama, holding his daughter Sasha, places an order at Kokonuts Shave Ice and Snacks while on vacation in Hawaii Kai, Hawaii. (Dec. 26, 2008)
Benjamin Harrison admitted Idaho to the US in 1890, then visited to plant an oak outside the state capitol a year later. Sadly a 2007 expansion of the building meant moving B-Har’s oak to near a parking garage on 6th St. Go see it.
Pictured: The Idaho statehouse in Boise, Idaho (Dec. 11, 2009)
Many sites are around Lincoln-obsessed Springfield are in the walkable downtown, including the Lincoln Home, where Abe and Mary lived from 1844 till 1861. Perhaps most memorable though is Lincoln’s Tomb at nearby Oak Ridge Cemetery.
(Aug. 15, 2011)
Lincoln was born in Kentucky and rose to fame in Illinois, but he grew up in Indiana. Visit the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, four miles south of Dale in the hilly Ohio River region to the south. (Oct. 3, 2007)
His name will forever be linked to the Great Depression’s ‘Hoovervilles,’ but Herbert Hoover wasn’t a bad guy. And a visit to the museum at his birthplace home in West Branch, just east of Iowa City, talks up his post-WWI humanitarian efforts that apparently ‘saved Belgium.’ In all, a pretty nice break from I-80. (undated)
Dwight Eisenhower’s boyhood home, museum and library in once-rowdy Abilene is a nice relief from I-70?s monotony. Grab some free sugar cookies at the visitor center, made with Ike’s wife Mamie’s recipe.
Pictured: An alfalfa dehydrator rising behind the statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower in Abilene, Kan., is a reminder that Abilene is farm country as well as the boyhood home of our 34th president.(June 12, 1997)
Abe, along with the Confederate president Jefferson Davis, was born here. In Hodgenville, via Hwy 61 from Louisville, you can sing Abe a happy 202nd birthday (as of February 12) at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, with a reconstructed log cabin that every president to follow wished they had been born in. (Jan. 11, 2008) .
Leave it to New Orleans to offer this. Andrew Jackson supposedly met pirate Jean Lafitte at the present-day Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street to plot the (unnecessary) Battle of New Orleans against the British. Who cares if it’s true after a few drinks?
Pictured: Bar patrons sit inside the Old Absinthe House decorated with football helmets in New Orleans. (Jan. 22, 2010)
Now in danger of collapsing, the Jed Prouty Tavern in Buckport has helped visiting presidents get tipsy since 1798. First Drinkers have included Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler, not exactly a who’s who in American politics, but hey it’s history.
Pictured: The Knott House in Kennebunkport, Maine. (2008)
It’s unlikely you’ll get an invite to Camp David, the presidential retreat since FDR set it up, but anyone can visit its location amidst Catoctin Mountain Park, at the eastern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Pictured: Motorists drive by the entrance sign to the Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, Md. (Oct. 2, 2002)
In Brookline, visit the modest three-story house where JFK was born in 1917, and take a self-guided walking tour of the Kennedy’s old neighborhood. (June 19, 2002)
Michigan’s lone president, a Wolverine football player with a tendency to fall, was actually born Leslie King. In Nebraska. But the Gerald R Ford Museum in Grand Rapids is worth seeing; Ford is buried here and the museum does an excellent job covering the Watergate era that led to his brief presidency after Nixon’s resignation.
Pictured: The casket containing the body of former U.S. President Gerald Ford is carried into the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ford's body was transported to the museum after a funeral service in Washington, DC, earlier in the day. (Jan. 2, 2007)
Twelve days before the assassination of William McKinley, his squirrely VP Theodore Roosevelt made his most famous speech – ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ – at the Minnesota State Fair. Gentle diplomacy, with military threats lurking. He’d make do with that in the years to come.
Pictured: The Minnesota State Fair is advertised at the fair entrance in Falcon Heights, Minn., between Minneapolis and St. Paul. (July 23, 2008)
Its website won’t even mention his name, but the Rosalie Mansion in Natchez served as Ulysses S Grant’s army’s headquarters during the Union’s crushing string of victories in 1863.
Pictured: Melrose antebellum mansion, part of Natchez National Historic Park in Natchez, Mississippi. (undated)
Just outside Kansas City, the Truman Home in Independence (under renovation but should be reopened in spring) is where, you could say, the ‘buck stopped’ -Harry and Bess lived here following his White House days. There’s also a 2.7-mile historic walking trail that takes in his museum and the soda fountain where he first worked. (undated)
At Marias Pass, at the south edge of Glacier National Park on Hwy 2 and the Amtrak line, a 60-foot granite obelisk stands, built in tribute of Theodore Roosevelt’s national forest policies.
Pictured: Glacier National Park, Montana offers views like this at Olson Creek drainage with the Goat Haunt Ranger Station in the foreground. (undated)
Some 16-day periods are more important than others, and Gerald Ford’s first 16 days – the only ones he lived in Omaha – are very important to that city, who tributes the Nebraska-born, Michigan-raised president. His first home burned down in 1971, but there’s a rose garden at Ford’s birthsite to see.
Pictured: Omaha resident Deanna Stevens and her 13 month-old daughter, Kate, place a flower by a plaque marking Gerald Ford's birthplace, in Omaha, Neb. (Dec. 27, 2006)
(use same text as for arizona but different pic:) Hoover Dam, Boulder Dam, Hoover Dam – that’s more or less how the naming of this striking, if controversial, dam at the Arizona/Nevada border has gone. Franklin Roosevelt, by some accounts, had ‘Hoover’ struck from its name out of spite; Hoover’s name was restored (after FDR’s death) in 1947. By the way, the Arizona side has free parking, but Nevada’s has the ‘Dam t-shirt’ shop, tours and bad coffee.
Pictured: Millions of gallons of water flow through the upper Nevada penstock of the Hoover Dam in Hoover Dam, Nev. as part of a Bureau of Reclamation safety test. (Feb. 26, 2004)
Franklin Pierce is generally in the running for top worst US president. Ask why at the Franklin Homestead in Hillsborough.
Pictured: A banner promoting an exhibit dedicated to New Hampshire's only born president Franklin Pierce, hangs outside the Tuck Libriray in Concord, N.H. (July 14, 2004)
Before the Boss, Grover was the word in Jersey. The portly moustached president – and the only one to have two, non-successive terms OR to be wed in the White House – was born in Caldwell, where you can visit the Grover Cleveland Birthplace.
Pictured: The gravestone of former President Grover Cleveland at the Princeton Cemetery of Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, N.J. (April 21, 2006)
Most of the rough riders, yes those Teddy Roosevelt rough riders, hailed from the Land of Enchantment, as immortalized in this collection of tidbits in Las Vegas. Ted himself came for a reunion in 1901.
Pictured: Two bugles--one Spanish, one American--from the Spanish-American War of 1898 are among the most prized possessions of the Rough Rider Memorial Collection in the City of Las Vegas, NM Museum. (Nov. 17, 1998)
George Washington became the first president of the USA – not in Philadelphia or DC, but on New York City‘s Wall Street. The Federal Hall, with a statue of George out front, is an often-seen-but-misunderstood presidential site in Lower Manhattan. (March 5, 2007)
An often-overlooked fact: the president in the White House when the Civil War ended was from the south. Andrew Johnson. Visit the replica of Lincoln’s successor’s birthplace at Raleigh’s Mordecai Park.
Pictured: A statue of Presidents from North Carolina, Andrew Jackson, top, James Polk, left, and Andrew Johnson, stands on the grounds of the state capitol in Raleigh, N.C. (Dec. 14, 2010)
The only state to get credit for a presidency, other than a swing state in an election, is North Dakota, which Theodore Roosevelt credits for his rise to the White House (never mind the assassination of his boss William McKinley in 1901). You can see the cabin where he stayed at the incredibly underrated, wildlife-rich badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Pictured: Teddy Roosevelt's Maltese Cross log cabin built from hand-hewn timbers and chinked with mortar. (undated)
Of all things, seven presidents were born in Ohio (Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, McKinley, Taft, Harding) — and when Virginia’s not looking, Ohio likes to call itself the ‘Mother of Presidents.’ (Interesting to note: three died in office, three were one-termers and the other a drunk.) Who to tribute? Hayes, definitely Rutherford B Hayes. His election in is the probably single-most contested presidential vote in US history and his presidential library/museum in Fremont – opened 23 years after his death –is the first one.
Pictured: Spiegel Grove, the Fremont, Ohio home of the 19th U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife Lucy. (June 26, 2007)
The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City (a city we’ve dubbed ‘Real Chill’) features two presidents in its hall of chap-and-spur heroes, Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, with a particularly humbling sculpture of the bare-faced pre-presidential Lincoln.
Pictured: The Oklahoma City skyline at dusk from across the Oklahoma River. (undated)
Visit the ‘Hoover-Minthorn Home’ in Newberg, where an orphaned 11-year-old Herbert Hoover moved from Iowa to live with this aunt and uncle.
Pictured: Portland, Oregon skyline with Mount Hood in background. (undated)
The most famous presidential speech was made at Gettysburg’s Soldiers’ National Cemetery by Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863. Read full address here. Only takes a minute.
Romantic president fans, get thee to Newport’s St Mary’s Church, where JFK and Jackie wed in 1953.
Pictured: President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, accompanied by Charles Bartlett and his wife, of Chattanooga, Tenn., leave St. Mary's Church in Newport, Rhode Island after Mass. The chief executive and first lady are vacationing at her parents� home. The Bartletts are their guests. (Oct. 1, 1961)
No one is 100% sure what state Andrew Jackson was born. Technically in the Waxhaws area on the North and South Carolina border, most believe his swagger steers southward, as does his birth right. His legacy here is now tributed by Andrew Jackson State Park.
Pictured: Aerial shot of Charleston , South Carolina (undated)
Its Black Hills – a setting for Sioux ceremonies, deception, wars, gold rushes and, later, men of stone. Built between 1927 and 1941, Mt Rushmore is the quintessential American president site – and the busts of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theo Roosevelt makes more of an impression that some would think. Afterwards get fudge in touristy Keystone. (undated)
Outside Nashville, the home of Andrew Jackson (the Hermitage) unveils a bit of behind-the-scenes from a man who won New Orleans from the British after the War of 1812 was over, and launched a little pro-wrestling flair while in DC. (June 25, 2007)
Most locals would give the presidential nod to the Republic of Texas’ president Sam Houston – perhaps for the La Porte’s San Jacinto Monument, where the future-pres Sam Houston shouted ‘remember the Alamo’ in 1836, or Huntsville’s Sam Houston Memorial. It may be a bit macabre, but we’ll vote with the site of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, particularly for the fascinating Sixth Floor Museum, set in the Book Depository made famous the November 22, 1963.
Pictured: People gather at Dealey Plaza in commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (Nov. 22, 2008)
Ulysses S Grant once stayed at Brigham Young’s old house Beehive House, decorated in the period – that’s sorta presidential. (May 8, 2006)
In 1923, vice president Calvin Coolidge was sworn to presidency, by his father, in a postcard-perfect village in a remote gorgeous valley. More-fun-than-you’d-think guided tours of Calvin’s home in Plymouth Notch take in a series of historic buildings that look straight out of the 1920s (because they are).
Pictured: Visitors cross the road in Plymouth Notch, Vt., where this weekend a hometown celebration for President Calvin Coolidge, who was born on the 4th of July in 1872, will take place. (June 25, 2010)
The state gave us eight presidents, and ahem Williamsburg’s Presidents Park, but the top one is Thomas Jefferson’s eccentric European-meets-American home Monticello in Charlottesville, aka ‘Back of the Nickel’ house. Interesting back-up is the Confederate White House in Richmond.
Pictured: Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home (undated)
Ulysses S Grant bunked in Officers Row at Fort Vancouver before he took Vicksburg – the designated Grant House was built in his honor long afterward.
Pictured: Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant poses for Mathew B. Brady in this 1864 file photo.
It’s a temple of president memorials, not to mention the president’s home. Jefferson’s is lovely, but none can compare with a climb up the steps to admire Abe’s immortal determination at the Lincoln Memorial. (Feb. 12, 2009)
Every president from Dwight Eisenhower to W (George W Bush) has stayed in the presidential suite of the Greenbrier, a National Historic Landmark in White Sulphur Springs (and hotel since 1778). And, hey, the hotel threw a party for ‘president ocho’ Martin Van Buren in 1837.
Red tulips at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia. (undated)
Named for fourth president James Madison, the state capital Madison apparently was the place for those with presidential connections to drop by for a Midwestern shave. Read this fun 1922 account of the city’s oldest barber at the time, who shaved a few future presidents at the Park Hotel (now a Best Western). They tell me there’s a salon next door, but for an ‘old school shave’ go to College Barber Shop on State St.
Pictured: The Wisconsin State Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. (Dec. 24, 2011)