8 Destinations that Embody the American Spirit

With Independence Day coming soon, AAA Colorado is sharing a list of favorite destinations that embody some aspect of the American Spirit. You will find a mix of stops across the U.S.; some are well-known classics, while others are less-visited gems. Learn more about how America came to be what it is today by visiting one or more of these locations that each showcase American history or legends in their own unique way.

A street in Colonial Williamsburg - Photo by Joe Ross

A street in Colonial Williamsburg – Photo by Joe Ross

Colonial Williamsburg – No place better highlights the spirit and daily life of colonial America than Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. It’s a must-see if you love colonial and Revolutionary War history. Part historical town, part theatrical production, Williamsburg gives people of all ages the chance to see what life was like for early patriots during the days leading up to and during the American Revolution.

Williamsburg is a “living-history museum” with reconstructed buildings, courtyards and colonial-style restaurants that you can eat in and inns that you can stay in for a more “authentic” experience. While there, you’ll see plenty of interesting demonstrations showcasing life in the 1700s, and learn about the events that led the early colonists to revolt against the British crown.

Mt. Rushmore – One of the most popular destinations for road trips in the country, Mt. Rushmore welcomes nearly 3 million visitors every year to see the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt carved out of a mountain of granite. At one point, the face of Susan B. Anthony was proposed to join the four presidents, but was nixed after a bill passed allowing federal funds to only be used to complete the heads of the four presidents that were already started.

In fact, Mt. Rushmore was originally conceived and always meant to help promote tourism in South Dakota, and it is certainly accomplishing its purpose. Set amid the Black Hills and near Badlands National Park, Mt. Rushmore is one of the best places in the country for blending America’s natural beauty with American history.

The Alamo – In 1836, about 200 volunteer soldiers lasted 13 days while defending the Alamo versus a Mexican army numbering in the thousands. Today, the Alamo has been converted to a lovely museum, gardens, and exhibits showcasing how Texas symbolized for many toughness and the “frontier spirit” during the 1800s and helped usher in the exclusively-American cowboy age.

If you’re interested in the Wild West, or if you’re just visiting San Antonio, the Alamo is a wonderful stop that encourages guests to visit with its free admission. The memory of the Battle of the Alamo endures as a testament to both Texan and American resistance against oppression and a symbol for how hard Americans will fight for their freedom.

The Liberty Bell – Photo by Bev Sykes

Independence National Historic Park – Sometimes Philadelphia can be overlooked for its part in the Revolutionary War, but the City of Brotherly Love was a major player in the cause throughout the war, with many sites that hosted the birth of our nation.

Independence National Historic Park is a small section of Philly that houses important historic structures like the First Bank of the US, the First Continental Congress, a Ben Franklin museum, the Liberty Bell, and its crown jewel, Independence Hall, the building where the American forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Take a historical tour of the streets that Franklin and many other revolutionaries walked on a daily basis as they created a new nation with a new government for the people, by the people.

The Pony Express Museum – This small museum in St. Joseph, KS provides an interesting history about the Pony Express’s short life through a variety of exhibits and events. The Pony Express was created out of a need to communicate faster with the west as the Civil War loomed in the east. It was made up of a team of horse-and-riders that would cover relay segments of a 2,000 mile trail as they carried saddlebags of mail across the rugged western United States.

Over the years, many have romanticized the Pony Express for its unique place in American history, but this fascinating collection of truth, legend and lore will provide a more complete understanding of this famous mail service and its short-lived life.

Gettysburg – Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania is the site of one of the most famous battles of the Civil War, and today remains a top site for Civil War-buffs and visitors of all kinds. While visiting, you’ll drive along the paved road overlooking the park and battlefield, and see landscape that is very similar to what the soldiers present during the battle actually saw. Park services have been doing their best to preserve the natural elements of the area and return them to what they would have looked like in 1863 to help commemorate the battle.

The recently completed multi-million dollar visitor center provides a fascinating look into the historical significance of the Battle at Gettysburg, a 20-minute video narrated by Morgan Freeman, and abundant information on how differences between the North and South led up to the Civil War, climaxing at this battle. It’s a poignant reminder of how freedom and equal rights are forever embedded in the American way of life, no matter the cost.

Tombstone, AZ Postcard - Photo by Noe Alfaro

Tombstone, AZ Postcard – Photo by Noe Alfaro

Tombstone, AZ – Tombstone is forever embedded in American lore as the deadliest town of the Wild West and continues today as one of the most authentic western towns left in the United States. You can go there today to witness its mentality and walk the same streets as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, and even visit the site of the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Legendary for epitomizing the “never back down” mentality of the American West, the town itself is the main attraction, having kept or rebuilt many buildings with the typical western town façade. But today it is also packed with museums, gunfight shows, stage coaches, saloons, ghost tours, and more. If you are fascinated by the American West, this town should be at the top of your list of places to visit and get a real sense of what it might be like to live in the Wild West back in the 1880s.

United States Air Force Academy – Immerse yourself in American military tradition and history at the Armed Forces academies, such as the nearby U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. At the Air Force Academy, visitors are welcome to explore limited sections of the grounds, including the famous Cadet Chapel, walking trails with scenic views of the base, and an informative visitor center. Stop by the visitor center for a fascinating look at the history of the Air Force from its early days as a part of the U.S. Army, and how it has become its own branch and an integral part of the U.S. military since 1947.

If traveling in the eastern United States, check out the other military branch academies such as West Point in West Point, NY, the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, and the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.