In a relatively “young” country like the United States, history can sometimes seem a little shallow. But there are thousands of places in America where the memory of the past runs deep. Here’s a look at America’s historic districts, and some of the best ones to add to your travel bucket list.
What Is a Historic District?
Historic districts are designated groups of buildings, properties, and locations that have historical and/or architectural significance. These places can be designated on federal, state, or local levels. Criteria differ for each kind of designation, but all of America’s historic districts are beautiful and meaningful pieces of history.
At the federal level, historic districts are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Register catalogs America’s historic places that have been deemed worthy of preservation. As of the end of 2020, the list comprised more than 96,000 entries.
Other historical places are recognized on state or local levels, with local designations offering the most protection since land-use decisions are often made at the local level. Across the US, there are more than 2,300 local historic districts.
Historic districts embrace solid placemaking principles and help communities preserve their unique, distinctive character.
Best Historical Places To Visit in the US
With so many fascinating historic districts in the United States, it can be difficult to know which ones to check out. To get you started, here are five of the most iconic historical places the nation has to offer.
- Historic Downtown District – Savannah, Georgia
The historic district of Savannah, Georgia is the quintessential image of the American South. With its moss-draped oak trees, distinctive architecture, and history dating back to 1733, Savannah is an experience you won’t want to miss.
- Old City – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Old City encompasses iconic historic landmarks like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. It also includes sites like Elfreth’s Alley, a historic street established in 1703.
- Santa Fe Historic District – Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the US, and that rich history is present to this day. Founded in 1610, the original settlement featured adobe houses that circled a main plaza—one that “remains essentially intact and is the heart of the historic district.” Explore this district for a taste of southwestern history.
- Beacon Hill – Boston, Massachusetts
Beacon Hill is a protected historic district laced with early American history, landmarks like the Boston African American National Historic Site, and beautiful examples of Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, and Federal architecture.
- King William Historic District – San Antonio, Texas
The King William District features gorgeous houses, parks, the Johnson Street pedestrian bridge, and the King William River Walk. Once agricultural land belonging to the Alamo, this area developed during a period of international influx, and became a home for many European immigrants, from Germany in particular. The district remains marked by a charming blend of various cultural influences.
6. Allegheny Commons Park- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Allegheny Commons Park was established in 1867 and is known as Pittsburgh’s oldest park. Located on the north side, it features mature canopy trees, a beautiful promenade, and the gorgeous Lake Elizabeth. The park also houses the National Aviary—one of the largest aviaries in the United States.
7. Broadway Theater and Commercial District-Los Angeles, California
The Broadway Theater and Commercial District is located in the historic center of downtown Los Angeles. There are twelve magnificent cinemas, department stores, and restaurants where visitors can admire the charm of old Hollywood.
Here at Scenic America, we’re working to preserve historic districts, as well as roads, landscapes, and towns that define our nation’s visual character. Read about our principles of conservation, see what we’ve accomplished in 2021, or sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on our work and how you can help.
Scenic America’s mission is to preserve and enhance the visual character and scenic beauty of America. Donate today to help us protect our beautiful places and the heart of our country’s character!