Top sights for a state-cation
Alabama: Rosa Parks Library and Museum, Montgomery
Known as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, it would be outrageous (and impossible) to ignore the vast amount of history in this intriguing capital. Stop by numerous sites dedicated to its past on your way to the Rosa Parks Library and Museum. Part of the Montgomery Campus of the Troy State University, the museum is situated near to where Rosa Parks courageously made her stand that would change America’s history. Inside, you’ll learn about the former seamstress’ life, plus the courage of early civil rights fighters.
Alaska: Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau
It might seem odd that America’s biggest state has a tiny capital, but good things come in small packages, right? Accessible only by flight or boat, stunning scenery and wildlife are in abundance here but Mendenhall Glacier is a sight to behold. The 13-mile long icy spectacle northwest of downtown offers walking trails, kayaking and rafting tours but be warned, the water is very cold! See more beautiful natural wonders in the US here.
Arizona: Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix
Get out of the heat and into the, erm, museum. The Musical Instrument Museum to be precise. Filled with almost 7,000 artifacts and memorabilia from around the world, you don’t have to be a music maestro yourself to be swept away by one of Phoenix’s top attractions. A self-guided tour where you’ll travel the world through music will definitely hit all the right notes.
Arkansas: State Capitol building, Little Rock
You can’t miss the glistening gold cupola sitting atop the beautiful State Capitol building in the heart of Little Rock, but it’s not just the exquisite exterior that’ll draw you near. A free tour takes you through permanent exhibits such as Arkansas at War and Mentors & Models, while the grounds offer a trail of memorials dedicated to different historic events.
California: California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento
All aboard the state capital’s railroad museum! This wonderful, huge exhibit space is dedicated to the West’s illustrative railroad history with restored engines, artwork and interactive stations all begging to be wowed at. The highlight is the 19-strong collection of steam locomotives dating back to 1862, including the 40-ton Central Pacific Railroad No.1 Gov Stanford (pictured). If you’ve got kids with you, don’t miss The Magic of Toy Trains exhibition. The museum is open with safety measures in place but excursion train rides are temporarily suspended.
Colorado: Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver
No matter what season it is or which flowers you love best, this diverse expanse of florals and gardens will leave you feeling bloomin’ lovely. Sitting pretty in York Street, boasting 18 collections spread over 24 acres, there is plenty to see and do. Once you’ve seen the arid plants that thrive in the Colorado climate in the Gardens of the West, take in the water gardens, the ornamental and the internationally inspired gardens. Don’t forget your camera!
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Connecticut: Mark Twain House and Museum, Hartford
Follow in the footsteps of the nation’s famous author, Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), by visiting his home: The Mark Twain House and Museum is a novel way to spend an afternoon. Within the three-story, 25-room historic Gothic mansion you’ll see the grand hall, library and even the billiard room where Twain wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Prince and The Pauper, among others. Learn about the author’s life and legacy (by guided tour only and with advance purchase tickets), before checking out the museum next door.
Delaware: Air Mobility Command Museum, Dover
Dubbed a ‘must stop’ by visitors, Dover’s Air Mobility Command Museum is bursting with over 30 aircraft of all sizes including helicopters, fighters and even a Second World War bomber. As well as exciting exhibits and artifacts, the Control Tower, Commemoration Park and simulators will wow – and admission is free. From April to October, the museum has an Open Cockpit Day on the third Saturday of the month, where you can access many of the planes up close.
Florida: Wakulla Springs, near Tallahassee
OK, so strictly speaking Wakulla Springs isn’t exactly in Tallahassee but it’s not far off. Just 14 miles south of the state capital in Crawfordville lies this state park that boasts the world’s largest and deepest freshwater springs. Offering a glimpse of old Florida, you can swim, snorkel or take a guided boat tour to witness manatees, alligators and turtles in their natural habitat (see pandemic restrictions here). Film fans will also appreciate its stint on the silver screen: it’s where the underwater scenes of the Creature from the Black Lagoon were filmed and Tarzan.
Georgia: Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta
Love sealife but don’t like getting wet? Head to Georgia Aquarium which has enough fresh and saltwater habitats to keep everyone occupied for hours. The largest indoor facility of its kind in the Western Hemisphere is home to more than 100,000 creatures, including whale sharks, Beluga whales and dolphins. The resident penguins will also leave you in a flap (in a good way).
Hawaii: USS Arizona Memorial, Honolulu
Whether you’re a history buff or not, you can’t visit the site of one of the most pivotal moments in US history without doing a tour of Pearl Harbor itself. Choose one of the guided tours and call into the museums, stop by the USS Arizona Memorial (pictured) via a US Navy shuttle boat and watch out for droplets of oil that still seep from the doomed ship, 79 years on, creating rainbow swirls on the water’s surface.
Idaho: Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise
This rugged state capital has its fair share of outdoor highlights, including Kathryn Albertson Park and the Boise River Greenbelt, but it’s at Old Idaho State Penitentiary where you’ll experience a unique day out. The old prison, opened in 1872, was fully functioning until 1973, and is an iconic piece of Boise’s history. The site has 30 historic buildings, including cell blocks and gallows, and features many permanent and new exhibitions detailing the untold stories of inmates and their lives of crime.
Illinois: Lincoln Home, Springfield
Abraham Lincoln’s presence lingers everywhere in the city he called home, and a tour of the 16th President’s house, plus several other historic sites dedicated to him and his time in office, shouldn’t be missed once it reopens fully. Tickets to tour Lincoln’s 12-room home are free and highlights include the exquisite formal parlor, sitting room and Lincoln’s bedroom. The nearby presidential museum uses special effect theaters and interactive exhibits to keep you hooked, and you might run into the man himself as performers re-enact his life.
Indiana: Indianapolis Zoo, Indianapolis
You’ll go ape if you don’t make time for Indianapolis Zoo. Home to one of the largest groups of orangutans in North America, you can get right up close to the intelligent creatures and also interact with bottlenose dolphins thanks to a unique underwater viewing dome. When you’re done with monkeying around, hit the rides. Kids will love the Kombo Family Coaster, where safari-themed cars twist and turn along a 656-foot-long (200m) track. Don’t miss ZooBoo if you’re visiting this autumn, with special events and pumpkin-themed activities.
Iowa: Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, Des Moines
Just because the Iowa State Fair has packed its bags for another year doesn’t mean a riot of color and fun can’t be had in the state capital. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden has a specific display for fall over its seven acres. Don’t miss the iconic geodesic tropical conservatory or the Gardeners Show House, while the Meredith Terrace café offers fantastic views of downtown Des Moines to enjoy with your coffee and cake.
Kansas: State Capitol building, Topeka
Kansas’ gleaming State Capitol building is striking, from the two stories below ground right up to the magnificent 306-foot (93m) dome. Drenched in beautiful frescoes and adorned in crystal and gold leaf paint, the stunning building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Don’t miss a tour of the dome (running with restrictions). It’s 296 steps to the top, but it’s worth it for the breathtaking bird’s-eye views of the city.
Kentucky: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort
Wet your whistle at the oldest continually operating distillery in the US. The Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Trace Tour captivates you immediately with the evocative smell of bourbon sleeping inside aging barrels. You’ll head inside the Blanton Bottling Hall and see signature bourbons getting filled and packaged, before sampling some of the fine stuff yourself. There’s also a Barrel Tour and a National Historic Landmark Tour, but don’t worry, you won’t miss out on tasting, you get complimentary drinks on those too.
Louisiana: USS Kidd military museum, Baton Rouge
Those who live here, and those who visit, all rave about the USS Kidd military museum. Recognized as one of the most authentically restored vessels in the world and you’ll see for yourself when you step onboard. The attached Veterans Museum showcases artifacts and exhibits that serve as a reminder of the sacrifices and service of Louisiana’s Navy veterans. You’ll find more about the world’s most famous ships here.
Maine: Fort Western Living History Museum, Augusta
There’s something ever so intriguing about seeing how our ancestors lived in decades gone by, and this living history museum is no exception. The 18th century National Historic Landmark is America’s oldest surviving wooden fort, and offers its visitors a unique insight into New England life over the last 300 years, particularly during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Tours of the fort, store and house are guided by historic interpreters in period dress, and if you time it right, you might see musket and cannon firing.
Maryland: Ego Alley, Annapolis
As the self-declared ‘Sailing Capital of the US’, a day out at the US Naval Academy would be first choice. However, as it’s closed due to COVD-19, you can still get your fill of the sea at Ego Alley in the heart of Annapolis. Wander and watch boats parade around the basin or get on the water yourself onboard the Harbor Queen tour boat or take the wheel of the elegant Schooner Woodwind (pictured). That way, you can sail past the Naval Academy and learn all about the state’s naval history anyway.
Massachusetts: Freedom Trail, Boston
Ask anyone what’s the best thing to do in Boston and they will all say the Freedom Trail. If it’s your first time in the city, a self-guided 2.5-mile stroll or tour (check which tours have resumed) takes in 16 landmarks such as the grand Massachusetts State House (pictured) and the USS Constitution, helping you sightsee as you retrace the historic steps of America’s Founding Fathers.
Michigan: Potter Park Zoo, Lansing
It may be 100 years old, but the Potter Park Zoo still creates the same animal magic as it did for visitors when it first opened. If you’re there this autumn, you’ll get to see Jaali, a male black rhino calf (pictured), born in December 2019. He made his public debut in spring and has been showing off to all his fans. The zoo is also home to more than 160 different species of animals, from red pandas to snow leopards and more. The zoo, as with all included in this feature, is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Minnesota: Science Museum of Minnesota, St Paul
For a science lesson you’ll definitely pay attention to, head to the Science Museum of Minnesota that sits in an idyllic location on the riverfront in downtown. Engage in exciting interactive exhibits and see collections showcasing everything from dinosaur fossils to ancient ceramics, plus a topical study on viruses. On every weekend throughout October, the Ancient Caves film takes you on an adventure to explore the geology and climate science found in caves all around the world.
Mississippi: Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, Jackson
There are more than 20 different museums in Jackson that all rate highly among visitors, but the one to make a beeline for is the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Highlighting the fight, strength and sacrifices of those involved in the freedom struggle in eight interactive galleries, you’ll come away feeling moved by their courage. Look out for This Little Light of Mine, a dramatic sculpture (pictured) that encircles seven of the galleries and glows brighter as people draw near.
Missouri: Missouri State Penitentiary, Jefferson City
How’re your nerves? Fancy spending a few hours in prison? OK, so the history (or ghost, if you’re up for it) tour of the Missouri State Penitentiary is hardly like being locked up but it will evoke plenty of worried thoughts. Once named the ‘Bloodiest 47 acres in the US’, you’ll walk the same halls as notorious prisoners like James Earl Ray and Sonny Liston, see the gas chamber where 40 dangerous inmates were executed and learn about the riots and escape attempts from a former inmate.
Montana: Mount Helena City Park, Helena
Go back to nature and tackle one of several trails in Mount Helena City Park. Towering 5,468 feet (1,666m) above sea level, those who have hiked up have been handsomely rewarded with breathtaking views. As a city park, there are easy trails and some not so easy. You can even tackle parts on horseback. The 1906 Trail offers the most direct route to the top of the mountain, following the limestone cliffs before passing the Devil’s Kitchen – a distinctive cave in the cliffside. After endless photos, head down the Hogback Trail, which features lots of unexpected twists and turns and more, you guessed, stunning scenery to snap.
Nebraska: Sunken Gardens, Lincoln
A real treat for the senses, take a stroll around Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens. A standout attraction here, especially when the flowers are in full bloom, it doesn’t only showcase a kaleidoscope of color, but its flora and fauna also fill the air with a sweet fragrance. Keep an eye out for vivid butterflies that call the area home, as well as Koi ponds and small waterfalls. Visitors love the peace and relaxation the gardens offer away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and say it’s a treasure. Go and see for yourself…
Nevada: Nevada State Museum, Carson City
Leave the gambling to the experts across the state and focus on money of an ancient sort at the Nevada State Museum. You can’t miss Coin Press No.1 (pictured) as you enter through the former Carson City Mint building, where coins were minted from 1870 to 1893. The rest of the museum boasts 11,000 square feet (1,022sqm) of permanent exhibition space bursting with regional artifacts and displays that celebrate the history of the area, but the highlight is the 13-foot (4m) articulated mammoth skeleton in Nevada’s Changing Earth exhibit.
New Hampshire: McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, Concord
A place with a name like Concord is crying out for you to enjoy some aviation-style attraction, and where better to spend a few hours than the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. An interactive space museum and planetarium, it appeals to all ages as you experience life in orbit and see unique NASA artifacts up close such as a space toilet and treadmill.
New Jersey: Old Barracks Museum, Trenton
Go back in time to 1777 and learn all about the American Revolution at the Old Barracks Museum. Located in the heart of Downtown, a costumed guide will recruit you into General George Washington’s Army before taking you around the expertly restored buildings including the officers’ quarters and grounds (advance tickets only). Listen to historic tales from the Battle of Trenton and more, as you try on coats, hats and uniforms worn by regiments in the past.
New Mexico: Canyon Road, Santa Fe
This unique, lively district in downtown Santa Fe is dedicated to art. Canyon Road is packed with over 80 art galleries, plus boutiques and restaurants, while sculptures line the street, drawing you in whether you’re an art fan or not. Featuring artworks from all over the world, from traditional to abstract, a pleasant stroll down here will easily fill an afternoon. If you want expert guidance on the artists, join a Canyon Road Art Tour.
New York: USS Slater, Albany
Climb aboard the last Destroyer Escort still afloat in America, the USS Slater. Moored on the Hudson River in Albany, the restored ship, that served in the US Navy during the Second World War, offers 90-minute guided tours (now running again). Thanks to informative, engaging and hands-on (which kids will love) exhibitions, you’ll learn how the sailors worked, hear sounds of a working ship and re-live a piece of US history.
North Carolina: North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh
The exterior of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, with its huge protruding globe, is enough to make you stop and stare, and is a photo opp in itself. But step inside and you’ll be swept away in a world of dinosaurs, whale skeletons, live animals, walk-through dioramas and theaters, special exhibits and science talks. Download the app before you go, it acts as a guide so you won’t miss a thing, and what’s more, it’s free to enter. (Find more free attractions in every US state here).
North Dakota: North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, Bismarck
There’s no better place to learn about your surroundings than at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. Located inside the grounds of the State Capitol building in a super-smart Northern Lights atrium, you can travel through time past a life-size skeleton of a T-Rex, to seeing rare beadwork and pottery created by indigenous peoples, plus the world’s biggest giant squid fossil. This well-respected museum covers all aspects of the state’s history through specimens and artifacts, 3D displays and interactive exhibits. You’ll be a North Dakota expert when you finally prise yourself away.
Ohio: Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Columbus
Seeing the colorful flowers and landscaped grounds of the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens makes for a blooming lovely day out, whatever the weather or season (you’ll need to reserve tickets first). Kids will be entranced by the butterflies and fish pond, while vibrant plant-packed biomes and exotic gardens, beautiful artwork and a fancy light show at the John F. Wolfe Palm House will stop you in your tracks. Don’t leave without buying a nature-themed gift at the shop.
Oklahoma: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City
Don your spurs and shout ‘yee-haw!’ as you saddle on up to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. You might be lucky enough to time your visit with one of the many events that honor the western legacy, but if not, there’s plenty of other artifacts and exhibits to get your teeth into. Don’t miss the galleries that showcase life as a cowboy, plus films and art that depict the early days of the Wild West.
Oregon: Enchanted Forest, Salem
Don’t think this attraction is only for kids! Adults are transfixed on the magic these creative worlds offer too. The Enchanted Forest is split into mini villages such as Storybook Lane, where you can crawl through Alice in Wonderland’s Rabbit Hole, and Tofteville Western Town, where you can usually try your luck at the shooting range or remote control boat (temporarily closed). Grown-ups will enjoy belly-busting laughs at the Comedy Theater, while the Fantasy Fountains water-light show puts on an epic display for all.
Pennsylvania: National Civil War Museum, Harrisburg
Boasting the best Civil War collection in the world, the National Civil War Museum also claims to be the only one that presents a balanced, unbiased look at the conflict. From before the war, during it and even the tensions and actions that followed, the museum covers the carnage through artifacts, (sometimes bloody) dioramas, battle scenes, weapons, uniforms, theater footage and eerie audio triggered by sensors as you walk by. It’s an experience that really hits home, no matter where you’re from.
Rhode Island: Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence
One of the country’s oldest zoos, having first opened its doors in 1872, the Roger Williams Park Zoo is more than just a great place to see animals. Sure, it has monkeys, big cats, African bush elephants, zebras and even bears for you to gasp at, but it also has a zipline ride, train, wetlands and walking trails as well as a typical Rhode Island farmyard for the youngsters. Meet and greet the likes of camels, seals and giraffes – who might pinch a leaf or two off you! You can discover more places to go wild here.
South Carolina: Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden, Columbia
At the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden you can see the world’s nature in one afternoon. Visit African forests, Australian plains and Carolina’s bogs, and see all the nature and wildlife that goes with them, in this 170-acre delight. Think lions, koalas, baboons and giraffes, not to mention a splash zone, lush woodlands, themed gardens, historic ruins and rare plant species, all gagging to be gawped at and snapped. Even the location is a beauty – it sits along the Lower Saluda River.
South Dakota: South Dakota National Guard Museum, Pierre
Packed with artifacts, memorabilia, war vehicles (think airplanes and tanks) and exhibitions both inside and outside, this military museum not only teaches its visitors but also inspires them. Honoring the National Guard members both past and present, one of the most moving tributes is the write-ups of all the South Dakotans who died in the Second World War.
Tennessee: Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville
It goes without saying that you should fully embrace Music City in all its glory. Hit the Honky Tonks and scoff the famous hot chicken, but also make time for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (reservations are encouraged). The 350,000 square feet (32,516sqm) it occupies is packed to the rafters with artifacts, music memorabilia, two theaters and rotating exhibitions. Don’t miss Sing Me Back Home, a permanent installation that takes you on a journey through the evolution of country music.
Texas: State Capitol and Visitors Center, Austin
A registered Historic Landmark, you can’t help but be lured into the magnificent State Capitol and Visitors Center (restrictions are in place). When running again, join a tour of the Crypt, Rotunda and Statuary Hall, before heading to the Senate and House Galleries – for which you’ll need separate passes. If Congress is in session while you’re there, you might see history being made. On your way out, stop by the US Botanical Garden nearby, it’s beautiful.
Here are 40 more reasons to visit the Lone Star State
Utah: Natural History Museum of Utah, Salt Lake City
In a state famous for its spectacular canyons and arid landscape, it might seem odd to head inside, but bear with us. The Natural History Museum of Utah, set in the foothills above Salt Lake City, introduces you to the palaeonotolgy of the area with more than 5,000 artifacts and engaging exhibitions, and lets you journey to the top of a three-story indoor canyon. Don’t miss the Antarctic dinosaur fossils that have never been seen before. Make sure you head up to the observatory deck for breathtaking views across the land before you leave too.
Vermont: Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, Montpelier
It may be the smallest state based on population, but its locals sure know how to welcome their visitors. Not least by tempting you to try maple syrup at one of the area’s many sugarhouses, including Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, Vermont’s oldest maple farm. Take a tour and learn about Vermont’s harvesting tradition. Don’t forget to buy a bottle or two to take home.
Virginia: Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond
The Virginia Museum of Fine Art holds some pieces that are 5,000 years old. Precious works of art from different cultures all over the world are showcased here, and you can see them all for free. An exciting new exhibition Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities is on until January 2021 and shouldn’t be missed. You’ll dive into one of the most astonishing underwater discoveries of all time. While Fabergé fans will see the largest public collection outside of Russia.
Washington: Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Olympia
For a serene day out, Olympia’s Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is both vast and pretty – especially on an autumn day. With over 3,000 acres of salt and freshwater marshes, grasslands and forest land providing a resting and nesting spot to a wide variety of migratory birds and wildlife, you won’t want to forget your binoculars. Some visitors have spotted a baby eagle and some seals at the refuge, run by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
West Virginia: West Virginia State Museum, Charleston
Sitting next to the Capitol State building near the Kanawha River, the West Virginia State Museum takes you back in time with a series of cool, interactive exhibits that tell the fascinating history of West Virginia. From the prehistoric period right through to the present day, you’ll see dancing, costumed fleas (yes, really!), a recreated coal mine complete with evocative sounds of dripping water, battlefield murals and more. You’ll definitely need a few hours here to explore it all.
Wisconsin: Chazen Museum of Art, Madison
Whether it’s paintings, sculptures, photography, drawings or print works that float your boat, the Chazen Museum of Art located in the University of Wisconsin–Madison will not disappoint. Having just reopened, permanent and rotating exhibits showcase American and European artworks and you can take a guided tour for the lowdown on the history of some 20,000 works of art across all genres.
Wyoming: Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Cheyenne
A dazzling display of award-winning plants, flowers, shrubs and trees await you in this tranquil space, and you can easily spend a whole day here. The Paul Smith Children’s Village is a big hit with kids of all ages thanks to a wetlands area, sheepherder wagon, secret garden and giant Jenga. But it’s the Shane Smith Grand Conservatory that really draws in the (socially-distanced) crowds. A 34-foot (10m) palm tree takes center stage among the lush tropical collection, while the art of the Bonsai House never fails to impress. If you pass the Navy submarine periscope, have a little peep to see incredible views of the city. Love a crowd-free city? Find more underrated cities in the US here.
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