With the Fourth of July coming right up, we decided to celebrate the history of the US by looking at the most All-American cities, listed in chronological order. These cities are marked by their long histories and variety of cultural traditions. They’ve weathered the storms of time and offer a bounty of fascinating sights and sounds, like historical sites and popular festivities that reflect the overall diversity of the USA.
1. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Founded in 1610, Santa Fe is both the capital of New Mexico and the oldest state capital in the United States. Its deep cultural history lead UNESCO to designate it a Creative City in Design, Crafts and Folk Art in 2005. The city has long been a destination for artists, and has numerous museums and art galleries that exhibit both contemporary and historical works. Learn about Santa Fe’s early history at the New Mexico History Museum. Architecture buffs can marvel at the still-standing San Miguel Chapel, which is considered the oldest standing church in the US, or the colonial buildings on display at El Rancho de las Golondrinas. Summer attractions include performances by the world famous Santa Fe Opera, and festivals and events like the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. If you’re in Santa Fe on July 4th, make sure you grab yourself a hot stack of pancakes at Pancakes on the Plaza, a favorite annual event for locals.
2. Boston, Massachusetts
Site of the famous Boston Tea Party and the infamous Boston Massacre, Boston has seen its fair share of important historical events since its founding in 1630. To this day, it continues to be a hub—“the Hub”, more precisely—for education, with over 50 universities or colleges located in Metropolitan Boston. It has a storied sports history: Fenway Park, the home stadium of the Boston Red Sox, was erected in 1912 and is the oldest sports arena or stadium in the US of all the four major leagues (NBA, NHL, NFL, MBL). If you happen to be a sports nut, Boston can provide you with plenty of opportunities to take in a game, whether it’s hockey (Bruins), basketball (Celtics) or baseball (Red Sox). Boston has a thriving Theater District, a registered historic site in its own right, and many museums, symphony halls and opera houses. See historic properties and objects of the New England region at Historic New England. Be sure to visit the many historical sites in the Boston National Historical Park and along The Freedom Trail. Treat your eyes to a spectacle on the Fourth of July at the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.
3. Charleston, South Carolina
The oldest city in South Carolina, Charleston was founded in 1670 and originally named Charles Towne, after King Charles II of England. A harbor city like Boston, Charleston held strategic military importance throughout early US history, Charleston Harbor being the site of the first shots of the Civil War. Popular historic sites include the Exchange and Provost, built in 1771, and the Powder Magazine, constructed by colonists in 1713. The city gained quite the reputation as a party city in the 1920’s—the sultry dance hit “The Charleston”, popular at speakeasies, was named after the city. Charleston remains a pillar of culture and the arts, with a unique combination of influences from around the world. The Spoleto Festival USA, a 17-day art festival, is considered one of the best performing arts festivals in the world. Come by the city in January and you can take part in the Lowcountry Oyster Festival by helping shuck 80,000 pounds of oysters. Celebrate the Fourth by enjoying famous local seafood and watching the fireworks over Charleston Harbor.
4. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia was founded in 1682 and holds a deeply symbolic place in our country’s history. It was the meeting place of the Founding Fathers, and was the site of the signing of both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Philadelphia’s architecture is similarly important to US history. The city brought row houses to the US, and many buildings date back to the colonial era. Major attractions, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the First Bank of the United States, can be found in Independence National Historical Park. While you’re checking out the famous museums in the city, you can do your best Rocky imitation by running up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Check out the Philadelphia History Museum for a fun look at the history of native Philadelphians. For fans of the arts, there is the Academy of Music, the oldest still-running opera house in the United States, and the Walnut Street Theater, American’s oldest theater. Philadelphia is also famous for its public art, soul music and of course, the Philly cheesesteak. It’s one of only a few cities that can claim to have teams in all four major sports: the Phillies (MLB), the Flyers (NHL), the Eagles (NFL), and the 76ers (NBA). From July 1 to July 7, the city hosts a range of fun activities in honor of the Fourth, including free concerts, fireworks and a parade. Check out the full list of events here. For more information on Philadelphia’s top attractions, be sure to visit the official convention and visitor’s site.
5. Detroit, Michigan
Detroit, known as the Motor City or Motown, was founded in 1701 and earned its nickname due to the success of its auto industry. Detroit became the automotive headquarters of the US, with the Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Chrysler and Packard holding offices or factories in the city. Detroit isn’t just about cars though; it is the birthplace of Motown Records and a center for blues, jazz, soul and rock n’ roll. John Lee Hooker became a long-term resident after moving from Mississippi, and other famous locals include Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Temptations. Originally a French city in the Province of Quebec, Detroit was incorporated into the US in 1796 under the Jay Treaty and became an important element of the Underground Railroad. The city was once called the “Paris of the West” for its illustrious architecture, and many of the churches, theaters and mansions built in the 19th and 20th century are still standing today. The Detroit International Riverfront is a global attraction, hosting events like Detroit River Days and the North American International Auto Show. Stick around the riverfront on the Fourth of July to see the famous fireworks show.
6. New Orleans, Louisiana
“The Big Easy”, and the home of Mardi Gras, New Orleans was founded in 1718, switching between Spanish and French rule until 1803, when the Louisiana Purchase gave it to the US. The city has an incredibly diverse culture due to heavy influences from French, Creole, Spanish, Irish and African immigrants. New Orleans is world renowned for its dialect and food, especially Cajun dishes like gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish bisque. For dessert, try beignets—a Creole delicacy. You can take advantage of the many historical sights by visiting the French Quarter, which holds centuries-old places like the Old Ursuline Convent, Jackson Square and the Napoleon House. Bourbon Street is where New Orleans comes alive at night, and you can find dozens of nightclubs and bars lining the streets. Since jazz music was born in New Orleans, you should take the opportunity to catch a show at Preservation Hall. Check out the annual Go Fourth on the River celebration by watching the fireworks show from a riverboat, and enjoying free music and local food.
7. San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio has been a major military city for most of its history. Along with the historic Alamo, the city is also home to Fort Sam Houston, Lackland Air Force Base and Randolph Air Force Base. Founded in 1718, the city is famous for its many historical buildings and monuments, including the Cathedral of San Fernando (the oldest cathedral in the US), the Majestic Theater, and the Menger and Fairmount hotels. For outdoor sightseeing, be sure to take a ride down the River Walk and later, visit the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Enjoy the regional Tex-Mex cuisine and catch a San Antonio Spurs game while you’re at it. July 4th in San Antonio is sure to be a blast as the city hosts its annual celebration, with food, games, music and fireworks.
8. Savannah, Georgia
James Oglethorpe founded Savannah, the oldest city in Georgia and its first state capital, in 1733. It is a popular destination for its many historical landmarks, and beautiful riverfront and coastal islands. The city is also famous for its hospitality and is sometimes called the “Hostess City of the South”. Fans of architectural history can visit the historic district, with city squares dating back to the founding. These squares are full of old buildings and monuments, such as the Beach Institute, the monument to General Nathanael Greene, and the Owens-Thomas House. Nature lovers can enjoy the Savannah Riverfront and Forsyth Park, as well as nearby coastal islands like Tybee Island, home to the Tybee Island Light Station. For your Fourth of July fun, take in the fireworks, music and food along Savannah’s Riverfront.
9. Richmond, Virginia
Capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Richmond was founded in 1737 and was the site of several famous historical events, including the signing of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. It was also the capital of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. The Jefferson Davis Monument is one of many statutes dedicated to Civil War participants on Monument Avenue. Another major historic district in Richmond is Jackson Ward, which was often called the “Black Wall Street” and the “Harlem of the South”, a hub of African-American culture and finance. Richmond is a vibrant arts city, offering theaters, opera houses and notably, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, a community arts organization. Celebrate your Fourth of July in Richmond with burgers, fries and fireworks.
10. San Diego, California
The youngest city in the top 10, San Diego was founded in 1769 and is home to the southernmost mission in California’s El Camino Real mission trail. After the Mexican-American War, San Diego was ceded to the US as a part of Alta California. Both the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 and the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935 were held in San Diego, and some of the expo structures are still standing in Balboa Park. Visitors flock to San Diego’s warm beaches and the city’s world-famous San Diego Zoo, as well as historical attractions like the Old Town State Historic Park, which contains many buildings that date back to the Mexican era. For a fun look at history take in a History Happy Hour at the San Diego History Center. The city has a strong sports history and is currently home to the Chargers and Padres. You’ll be sure to get your fireworks fix this Fourth of July at one of the numerous displays going on around the city.
Photo Credit: 4th of July from the Official U.S. Navy Page