Whether you’ve seen them in person or not, you’ll undoubtedly recognize these wonders from East Coast to West Coast.
Although it’s the roads, mountains, plains, and rivers that carve out America’s landscape, the true mile markers of the country are found within the United States’ best landmarks. Imagine San Francisco without the Golden Gate Bridge or New York City without the Statue of Liberty. Impossible. These symbols have become icons for the country, offering glimpses into the country’s proud past while symbolizing its strong future. From the tallest manmade monument in the Western Hemisphere to the limestone-inlaid mission that begs to be remembered, these 15 must-see American landmarks symbolize the full American story.
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The Statue of Liberty
WHERE: New York City
Dedicated to the United States on October 28, 1886, as a gift from France, The Statue of Liberty is a near-universal symbol of freedom and democracy, standing 305 feet and 1 inch high on Liberty Island. You can get a sense of the thrill millions of immigrants must have experienced as you approach it on the ferry from Battery Park or Liberty State Park and see the statue grow from a vaguely defined figure on the horizon into a towering, stately colossus.
WHERE: Nevada and Arizona
Holding back the mighty Colorado River, this massive feat of engineering creates hydroelectric power and helps provides water for seven states and a portion of Mexico. In 2010, the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge opened to allow for faster travel through the area. But it’s still worth stopping to admire the Art Deco wonder and tour the facilities.
Related: Nevada Travel Guide
The Freedom Trail
WHERE: Boston, Massachusetts
This path through central Boston provides a chance literally to walk in the footsteps of America’s forefathers. It leads past locations where much of the drama that would bring about the American Revolution unfolded, from Faneuil Hall to the Old North Church to the site of the Boston Massacre.
Related: The Best Things to Do in Boston
WHERE: St. Louis, Missouri
Independence National Historical Park
WHERE: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
No other single park in the United States holds more historical significance than this Philadelphia historic district. It was here that the Declaration of Independence was signed, George Washington was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, the Constitution was ratified, and our nation came into being. The park includes the Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall, Congress Hall, the National Constitution Center, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, the Independence Visitor Center, and more.
Golden Gate Bridge
WHERE: San Francisco, California
The suspension bridge connecting San Francisco with Marin County, completed in 1937, is a triumph in just about every way. With its 1.7-mi span and 746-foot towers, the Golden Gate Bridge is both beautiful and durable—it was historically built to withstand strong winds and was undamaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. The bridge’s walkway provides unparalleled views of the Bay Area.
WHERE: South Dakota
Amid South Dakota’s Black Hills, 60-foot-high likenesses of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt are carved into a massive granite cliff; the result is America’s most famous memorial. The majestic faces are dramatically illuminated at sunset each night.
WHERE: San Antonio, Texas
This one-time Franciscan mission stands as a monument to the nearly 200 Texan volunteers who fought and died here during a 13-day siege in 1836 by Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna. The Texans lost the battle, but they ultimately won their bid for independence with “Remember the Alamo” as their rallying cry.
The National Mall
WHERE: Washington, D.C.
Washington’s Mall is surrounded by a collection of great American landmarks, with the Capitol at one end, the Lincoln Memorial at the other, and the Washington Monument and Vietnam Memorial (among many others) near at hand. There are also nearly a dozen museums bordering the Mall.
WHERE: Charleston, South Carolina
The first shots of the Civil War were fired on this fort on a man-made island in Charleston’s harbor. The 34-hour battle that ensued would result in defeat for the Union and turn Fort Sumter into a symbol of Southern resistance. Today the National Park Service oversees it, with rangers giving interpretive talks and conducting guided tours.
Related: The Best Things to Do in Charleston
Crazy Horse Memorial
WHERE: South Dakota
Once completed, this depiction of Tasunke Witko (a.k.a. Crazy Horse)—the Oglala Lakota warrior who famously defeated Custer in the Battle of Little Bighorn and devoted his life to protecting his people—will be the largest structure in the world. Although this controversial monument is set on the land once taken from the Lakota people, the monument’s original sculpture Korczak Ziolkowski claimed his goal was to “create a means to keep alive his culture and heritage.”
Wright Brothers National Memorial
WHERE: Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
This American landmark wouldn’t exist—nor would modern aviation, for that matter—without the brilliant ingenuity of two brothers from Ohio. Wilburn and Orville swapped their bicycle shop for the windy shores of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina to test their flying machine, changing history with 12 seconds of powered flight. The monument stands atop a hill overlooking the original Wright brother’s runway, where visitors can walk the distance of that first flight.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
WHERE: Honolulu, Hawaii
The December 7, 1941, attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor was undoubtedly one of the most critical moments in U.S. history. Not only did it lead to the country’s subsequent entry into WWII, but it also solidified American resolve and united the country in a way that has yet to be replicated. The Pearl Harbor National Memorial today acts as a symbol of that resolve, as well as a place of remembrance for the men and women who lost their lives during the Pacific War, often best depicted at the USS Arizona Memorial located within the national memorial.
Related: The Best Things to Do in Oahu
Grand Ole Opry
WHERE: Nashville, Tennessee
Dubbed the “home of American music,” the Grand Ole Opry has given rise to some of the country’s most iconic artists, from Dolly Parton to Charley Pride. It all began in 1925 with a local radio broadcast but has since grown into one of the most sought-after stages for live entertainment. Catch a performance at this historic venue or book a backstage tour to get a behind-the-scenes look at the stories, names, and lyrics that have made this Nashville gem such an American icon.
National Memorial for Peace and Justice
WHERE: Montgomery, Alabama
Not all of America’s history is coated in pride, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, is a stark reminder that this young nation still has much to learn. This somber memorial opened in 2018 as the nation’s first memorial dedicated to its history of racial inequality. Each of the 800 corten steel monuments that stand on the site represents a U.S. county in which a racial terror lynching took place and is engraved with the names of each county’s lynching victims. It was the hope of the memorial’s creators that it would help the country “enter an era of truth-telling about racial injustice.”
Related: Fodor’s Alabama Travel Guide