14 Must-See National Historic Landmarks (Must-See + Photos)

From sea to shining sea, I’m sharing America’s best historic landmarks

While there are more than 87,000 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places which is America’s official list of historic properties only about 3 percent of those are National Historic Landmarks. The Alamo, Savannah Historic District, Keeneland Race Track, Historic Williamsburg, Hubbell Trading Post, and more are all National Historic Landmarks.

Each of these Landmarks is an exceptional representation of an important chapter of American history. The town of Telluride joined this preeminent group of America’s most special places in 1961 when it was designated a National Historic Landmark as one of the most important places associated with mining history in the United States. Hall’s Hospital, now the home of the Telluride Historical Museum was built in 1896 and is one of the oldest buildings in Telluride. It is also designated as a National Historic Landmark and is a contributing structure to the Town’s status as a National Historic Landmark District.

From Old Ironsides to the Grand Canyon Depot these 14 landmarks are just some of the must-see sights that help us appreciate America’s beauty and resiliency while reconciling its past and honoring those who lived here before the New World was built. Be sure to stay in a local campground or RV park to get the full local, often historic, experience.

There are over 2,600 National Historic Landmark sites in the United States and the federal government owns fewer than 400 of them. Roughly 85 percent of them are owned by private citizens, organizations, corporations, tribal entities, or state or local governments—or sometimes a combination.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. USS Alabama

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: January 14, 1986

Location: Mobile, Mobile County, Alabama

Description: Displacing more than 44,500 tons, USS Alabama Battleship measures 680 feet from stem to stern—half as long as the Empire State Building is tall. Armed with nine, 16-inch guns in three turrets and 20, 5-inch, .38-caliber guns in 10 twin mounts, her main batteries could fire shells, as heavy as a small car, accurately for a distance of more than 20 miles.

Her steel side armor was a foot thick above the waterline, tapering to one half inch at the bottom. Her four propellers, each weighing more than 18 tons, could drive her through the seas up to 28 knots (32 mph). Loaded with 7,000 tons of fuel oil, her range was about 15,000 nautical miles. 

Read more: Lucky A: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Hubbell Trading Post

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 12, 1960

Location: Ganado, Apache County, Arizona

Description: Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The Arizona historical site sells basic traveling staples as well as Native American art just as it did during the late 1800s.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Jekyll Island Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: June 2, 1978

Location: Jekyll Island, Glynn County, Georgia

Description: In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to become an exclusive winter retreat known as the Jekyll Island Club. It soon became recognized as “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.” Club members included such notable figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, and Marshall Field. Today, the former Club grounds comprise a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark is one of the largest restoration projects in the southeastern United States.

Read more: Celebrating 75 Years of Jekyll Island State Park: 1947-2022

USS Constitution © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Constitution (Frigate)

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

Location: Charlestown Navy Yard, Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Description: USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat. Naval officers and crew still serve aboard her today. 

The wooden-hulled, three-mast USS Constitution was launched from Hartt’s shipyard in Boston’s North End on October 21, 1797. It was designed to be more heavily armed and better constructed than the standard ships of the period.

The greatest glory for USS Constitution came during the War of 1812. It was during this war in the battle against the HMS Guerriere the ship earned the nickname Old Ironsides when the crew of the British ship noticed their canon shots simply bounced off the ship’s strong oak hull they proclaimed: “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!”

Read more: The Storied History of Old Ironsides

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Keeneland Race Course

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

Location: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Description: Since opening in October 1936, Keeneland has been unique in the Thoroughbred industry. Keeneland is the world’s largest and most prominent Thoroughbred auction house and hosts world-class racing twice annually during its boutique spring and fall meetings. Owners, trainers, riders, and fans from all over the world travel to Lexington each year to participate at Keeneland.

Read more: Keeneland: A Special Place

Grand Canyon Depot © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Grand Canyon Depot

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

Location: South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Coconino County, Arizona

Constructed in 1909-1910, Grand Canyon Depot is part of the Grand Canyon National Park Historic District and is a National Historic Landmark. Designed by architect Francis W. Wilson of Santa Barbara, California, the log and wood-frame structure is two stories high. Originally, the downstairs was designated for station facilities, and the upstairs was for the station agent’s family.

Just beyond the depot is the El Tovar Hotel built in 1905 by the railroad. The El Tovar is the signature hotel along the rim. The railroad built the depot five years after the hotel and placed it conveniently close for the rail passengers.

Read more: Making a Grand Trip Grander

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. And 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 trades people, 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

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Savannah Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 13, 1966

Location: Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia

Description: Walk down the cobblestone streets of Georgia’s first city, a place filled with southern charm. Steeped in history and architectural treasures, Savannah begs to be explored by trolley and on foot. Much of Savannah’s charm lies in meandering through the Historic District’s lovely shaded squares draped in feathery Spanish moss—all 22 of them.

Tumacacori © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Tumacacori Museum

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

Location: Tumacacori, Santa Cruz County, Arizona

Description: The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

Read more: Tumacácori National Historic Park: More Than Just Adobe, Plaster & Wood

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

Yuma Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Yuma Crossing and Associated Sites

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 13, 1966

Location: Yuma, Yuma County, Arizona and Winterhaven, Imperial County, California

Description: The Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma.

The park is located on a portion of the grounds of the old U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. This site is significant in the history of the Arizona Territory. The purpose of the Park is to protect its historic structures and interpret the diverse history of the site.

Many of the original structures from that time are still standing. 

Read more: The Yuma Crossing

Worth Pondering…

Most people’s historical perspective begins with the day of their birth.

—Rush Limbaugh

Lucky A: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Dive into history as you explore the “Mighty A”: 79 years strong and open to the public for tours

Visitors walk the decks and cabins in respectful silence. They read the historic papers and scan the old photographs and try to imagine what it was like. But it’s impossible to envision the roaring thunder and smoke, the ear-shattering shouting and scrambling, the unspeakable horror and death that happened on the USS Alabama, not once but through 37 months of active duty. She earned not only nine battle stars but also the nickname “Lucky A” from her crew of 2,500 because she emerged unscathed from the heat of each battle. The Alabama saw action in the Atlantic for a year before joining the Pacific Fleet in mid-1943.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There she fought at such key locations as Leyte, the Gilbert Islands, and Okinawa. The Alabama served in every major engagement in the Pacific during World War II. After the signing of the war-ending surrender documents in September 1945, the Alabama led the American fleet into Tokyo Bay. The sixth vessel to bear the name, Alabama, the battleship was launched February 16, 1942.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first Alabama, a 56-ton Revenue Cutter built at New York and acquired in 1819 at a cost of $4,500, was active in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in the 1820s. The second and third Alabama (1849 and 1861), both U.S. Steamers, also pre-dated the American Civil War. The Legendary Confederate Commerce Raider, CSS Alabama, captured or sank 69 Union ships during the War Between the States. The fifth Alabama, BB-8, was a battleship commissioned in 1900, and was a member of the Great White Fleet. She was the flagship for Division 1, Battleship Force, Atlantic Fleet, during World War I.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Displacing more than 44,500 tons, the USS Alabama Battleship measures 680 feet from stem to stern, half as long as the Empire State Building is tall. Armed with nine, 16-inch guns in three turrets and 20, 5-inch, .38-caliber guns in 10 twin mounts, her main batteries could fire shells, as heavy as a small car, accurately for a distance of more than 20 miles.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Her steel side armor was a foot thick above the waterline, tapering to one half inch at the bottom. Her four propellers, each weighing more than 18 tons, could drive her through the seas up to 28 knots (32 mph). Loaded with 7,000 tons of fuel oil, her range was about 15,000 nautical miles. The USS Alabama was built to fight.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1964, a campaign was launched to bring the “Mighty A” home to Alabama, as a memorial to the state’s sons and daughters who had served in the armed forces. Alabama school children raised almost $100,000 in mostly nickels, dimes, and quarters to help bring her home to her final resting place.

On January 9, 1965, the “Mighty A” was opened to the public as an independent agency of the state of Alabama. Since then, more than 14 million visitors have walked her decks and stood in awe of her majestic presence.

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While onboard, see the museum displays and hear first-hand the remembrances of crew members who served aboard the Alabama. A continuous-running film showcases the recollections—some humorous, many poignant and painful—of the crew. The interviews are interspersed with startling footage of aircraft attacks.

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The submarine USS Drum (SS-228), a World War II veteran with 12 Battle Stars, joined the USS Alabama on July 4, 1969. The USS Drum is credited with sinking 15 ships, a total of 80,580 tons of enemy shipping, the eighth highest of all U.S. submarines in total Japanese tonnage sunk.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2001, Drum was moved onto land for permanent display, the project winning several engineering awards. USS Drum is the oldest American submarine on display in the world.

At the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, the World War II battleship and submarine are the highlights of the bayside park. Many historic warplanes are also on display. A Vietnam Memorial and a Korean War Memorial honor veterans of those wars on the park grounds.

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On self-guided tours of the 175-acre military attraction you can view the cockpits of some two dozen aircraft, check out tanks from years gone by, inspect a Vietnam patrol boat, and take the controls of a lifelike flight simulator.

Worth Pondering…

You can talk about teamwork on a baseball team, but I’ll tell you, it takes teamwork when you have 2,900 men stationed on the USS Alabama in the South Pacific.

—Bob Feller (1918-2010), all-star pitcher, Cleveland Indians