National Historic Landmarks: 2,600 Locations and Counting

From sea to shining sea, these are 15 of America’s best historic landmarks

Since 1960, the National Historic Landmark program has marked around 2,600 locations of special significance to the foundation and development of the United States. The sites range from The Alamo in San Antonio to the Historic Williamsburg in Virginia.

Almost all locations are found within the U.S., its territories, or areas the U.S. used to control such as the Federated States of Micronesia. Only one site lies in a completely sovereign nation that has never experienced any U.S. administration—the North African country of Morocco. 

Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize the U.S. as a sovereign nation by order of Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah on December 20, 1777. Due in part to the treaty of peace and friendship the two nations signed in 1786 (which created the longest unbroken diplomatic relationship in U.S. history), Morocco bestowed a sprawling mansion (now called the Tangier American Legation) upon the young nation in 1821.

The mansion is situated in the medina or walled city of Tangier, once Morocco’s diplomatic capital. The building has served many purposes throughout the years including acting as a consulate, espionage headquarters, and Peace Corps training facility. It became a historic landmark in 1982 and is still officially owned by the U.S. It is leased to the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies which continues the nearly 250-year friendship between the two countries.

National Historic Landmarks Program

National Historic Landmarks are historic properties that illustrate the heritage of the United States. The over 2,600 landmarks come in many forms: historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts. Each National Historic Landmark represents an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.

King Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. King Ranch

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 5, 1961

Location: Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, Willacy Counties, Texas

Description: In 1853, Captain Richard King purchased a creek-fed oasis in the Wild Horse Desert of South Texas. King now covers 825,000 acres—more land than the state of Rhode Island. Over 160 years, King Ranch led some of the first cattle drives, developed the Santa Gertrudis and Santa Cruz breeds of cattle, bred the finest Quarter Horses, and produced champion Thoroughbreds—all under its iconic Running W® brand. Today’s King Ranch is a major agribusiness with interests in cattle ranching, farming (citrus, cotton, grain, sugar cane, and turfgrass), luxury retail goods, and recreational hunting.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Tombstone Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona

Description: It would be hard to get more Old West in Arizona historical towns than Tombstone (The Town Too Tough To Die). It is one of the most frequented destinations in the state for history buffs since this is home to the famous OK Corral where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday gunned down the ornery Clanton-McLaury gang. But there’s a lot more to Tombstone including a rich silver mining history and clashes with the Apaches.

Tombstone has done much to preserve its Old West atmosphere. The main street is still dirt and cars must share the road with horses, Western wear shops, restaurants, and saloons line the wooden sidewalks. Historic sights include the Birdcage Theater and Tombstone Courthouse.

Fort Adams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Fort Adams

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 8, 1987

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The second largest bastioned fort in the US, Fort Adams was the key to Narragansett Bay area defenses, from 1799 to 1945. It was designed to be the most heavily armed fort in America and to garrison 2,400 troops. Three tiers of guns defended Narragansett Bay’s East Passage. Situated at the mouth of the Newport Harbor, the fort offers a panoramic view of both Newport Harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. USS Lexington 

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 31, 1903

Location: Corpus Christi, Nueces County, Texas

Description: The Fore River Shipyard of Quincy Massachusetts built U.S.S. Lexington for the US Navy in the early days of World War II with the ship being commissioned in 1943. Named to commemorate the earlier Lexington which had been lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington would serve the US Navy until the 1990s. Lexington was decommissioned in 1991. During its career, it received eleven Battle Stars and the Presidential Unit Citation. It was donated as a museum ship and is moored in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Breakers

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 12, 1994

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue along the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer cottages and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in the turn of the century America. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

Read more: Newport Cliff Walk: Ocean Views, Mansions and more

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Alamo

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

Description: In San Antonio, five missions were constructed between 1718 and 1720. Appropriately, the first of these was Mission San Antonio de Valero, later to be known as the Alamo. Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. It was a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission-turned Texas fort. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

Read more: Remember the Alamo?

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Williamsburg Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Williamsburg (City), Virginia

Description: Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum with 301 acres featuring iconic sites, working tradespeople, historic taverns, and two world-class art museums. The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699 and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.

Read more: Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Skyline Drive

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 6, 2008

Location: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Description: The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain-top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. 75 scenic overlooks offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Read more: Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Painted Desert Inn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Painted Desert Inn

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: Navajo County, Arizona

Description: In its almost 100 years overlooking the Painted Desert, the inn has undergone many changes. The original building from the early 1920s was made of petrified wood. Today’s adobe facade dates to the 1930s renovation of the Painted Desert Inn.

The national historic landmark functions only as a museum now, with no overnight accommodation and food service. Interior displays highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and Civilian Conservation Corps. There are also restored murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Mount Washington Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Mount Washington Hotel

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: June 24, 1986

Location: Carroll, Coos County, New Hampshire

Description: While the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods is tucked away from the main drag, it’s almost impossible to miss it with Mount Washington hovering over like a halo. Once you walk into the lobby, you’re transported back to 1902 when the hotel first opened. It’s even rumored that the owner’s wife, Carolyn, still lives in the hotel (don’t worry, a friendly tenant), and ghost aficionados jump at the opportunity to book her old quarters in Room 314.

Read more: The Uniqueness of the White Mountains

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Palace of the Governors

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Description: Downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors on the plaza is one of the most iconic sites in the city. The oldest continuously inhabited building in the United States, it’s perhaps best known for the Native American market beneath its portal. But inside is a historic gem as well—the New Mexico History Museum which covers centuries of life in Santa Fe and hosts exhibitions related to the tri-culture of the Native Americans, Spanish, and Anglo peoples and cultures of New Mexico.

Read more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

The Strand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Strand Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 11, 1976

Location: Galveston, Galveston County, Texas

Description: Galveston’s Historic Strand District, or The Strand, is the heart of the island and a great place to shop, dine, and be entertained. Fronting Galveston Bay, The Strand is a National Historic Landmark that harkens back to Galveston’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the buildings here are more than a century old, stunning in their detail and craftsmanship. Storefronts here are a mix of antique shops, art galleries, souvenir shops, and more. The Strand serves as the commercial center of downtown Galveston. Places of interest include the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center and Museum, Pier 21 Theater, the Texas Seaport Museum, and the tall ship Elissa.

Read more: I Still Dream of Galveston

Presidio la Bahia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 24, 196767

Location: Goliad, Goliad County, Texas

Description: Presidio La Bahía is a fort located in Goliad, Texas. Its official name is Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía and it was built and utilized by the Spanish Army. The fort was originally founded in 1721 and it was home to many Texas Revolution conflicts including the Battle of Goliad and the Goliad Massacre.

Mesilla Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Mesilla Plaza

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: La Mesilla, Dona Ana County, New Mexico

Description: Mesilla did not become part of the United States until the mid-1850s but its history begins with the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe. Soon after, the sleepy border town would become one of the most important towns in the West, playing a key role in Western expansion. By the mid-1800s, Mesilla’s population had reached 3,000 making it the largest town and trade center between San Antonio and San Diego and an important stop for both the Butterfield Stage Line and the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Lines.

Read more: La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience

Worth Pondering…

The past itself as historical change continues to accelerate has become the most surreal of subjects—making it possible to see a new beauty in what is vanishing.

—Susan Sontag