We all do it: Upon hearing the name of a specific city, we immediately picture an equally specific landmark. But did you know you can visit and explore many of these landmarks? In fact, they make great highlights to any family vacation. Here, we’ve compiled what we think are the 10 best U.S. landmarks. Try to include one on your next family getaway!
Written by Karon Warren
Statue of Liberty, New York
Families can check out the statue as part of one of the many harbor cruises available (think Grey Line Tours), which will take you near Liberty Island and provide plenty of photo ops. However, to really experience this national treasure, book a cruise and tour through Statue Cruises, where you sail to Liberty Island and climb 354 steps to check out the view from atop the statue's crown. In addition, every ticket to Liberty Island includes a stop at Ellis Island, where visitors can explore the American Family Immigration History Center and search for their ancestors using the interactive database. The Statue of Liberty is open seven days a week, but check the Statue Cruises Web site for specific dates and times of available excursions.
NOTE: The Statue of Liberty is currently undergoing extensive interior renovations, so crown tickets are not available at this time.
Nearby Hotel: New York Marriott Marquis
Washington Monument, D.C.
Situated in the corner of a right angle between the U.S. Capitol and the White House, the Washington Monument is easy to spot in downtown D.C. Dedicated in 1885 and opened to the public in 1888, the Washington Monument stands at 555-feet, 5 1/8-inches tall, with walls constructed of white marble, blue gneiss and granite.
For those who prefer to admire it from afar, you can snap some photos of the monument from the National Mall. However, the more adventurous won't be able to leave without enjoying a view from the top. Doing so means climbing 896 steps. No, not really. An elevator takes visitors to an observation level, where they can take in panoramic views of the nation's capital.
The monument is open for visitors from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily. While free tickets for same-day visits can be obtained at the Washington Monument Lodge along 15th Street starting at 8:30 a.m., these tickets sell quickly. It's recommended that you pay a small fee and reserve timed-entry tickets in advance. Otherwise, you might miss your chance to fully explore the monument.
Nearby Hotel: Omni Shoreham Hotel
The Gateway Arch, St. Louis
A four-minute journey takes visitors to the apex, where they can walk along the observation area, take in the views and snap unforgettable vacation photos of downtown St. Louis, the Mississippi River and the neighboring state of Illinois. Hours for the Arch are seasonal, so check the Web site for current operating hours during your visit. While entrance into the Gateway Arch is free, there is a cost for tram tickets to the top of the interior. Purchasing tickets in advance is recommended.
Nearby Hotel: Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Guests of San Francisco can admire the bridge from one of the parking lots on either side of the bridge, but a better option is to take a stroll through the groomed gardens on the southeast side of the bridge. Additionally, there are a number of walking, biking and hiking trails on the south side of the Golden Gate, all free of charge. Visitors can get even closer by actually traversing the bridge on one of two sidewalks.
NOTE: Due to ongoing maintenance and construction projects, access to sidewalks may be restricted. For the most up-to-date access information, visit the Golden Gate's Web site prior to your visit.
Nearby Hotel: Argonaut Hotel
Space Needle, Seattle
When visiting the Space Needle, guests must purchase tickets to the observation deck. A 43-second elevator ride whisks passengers up 520 feet to the observation deck, where they can take in 360-degree views of the Seattle area. For a more leisurely visit, consider a meal at the SkyCity Restaurant, which revolves around the structure at 500 feet above ground level.
Although this landmark is open year-round, there are occasions when it closes for special events, holidays and/or maintenance, so check the Space Needle Web site before planning your visit.
Nearby Hotel: Hotel Monaco Seattle
Mount Rushmore, Keystone, S.D.
During a visit to Mount Rushmore, visitors can enjoy a 30-minute guided tour along the Presidential Trail to the base of the mountain as they learn about the natural and cultural history of Mount Rushmore and its surroundings. A 15-minute Sculptor's Studio Talk delves into the tools and techniques used in the carving of the sculpture. Weather permitting, you can also enjoy a 45-minute evening program, which takes place in the park's outdoor amphitheater. Those interested in the Black Hills and the American Indians who called this area home will enjoy the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village in the first section of the Presidential Trail. An audio tour is also available for rent.
Due to its location, the summer months are Mount Rushmore's busiest tourist season, though the memorial is open year-round with the exception of Dec. 25. While it's free to enter the park, there is a fee to park your car.
Nearby Hotel: K Bar S Lodge
Hoover Dam, Nevada-Arizona Border
Guided tours of both the dam and the adjacent powerplant are offered year-round with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Summer is the busiest time of year for Hoover Dam, and January and February are its slowest months. Visitation hours change with each season, so before heading to the dam, check its Web site for a current operating schedule, as well as limitations on vehicle access.
Nearby Hotel: Desert Rose Resort
Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles
After the Los Angeles development became a casualty of the Great Depression, the city acquired Hollywoodland's property in 1944. In 1949, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce removed the letters spelling "land," and repaired the sign. The sign received official landmark status in 1973 from the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board; in 1978, the old sign was completely scrapped and replaced with a modern structure made of concrete, enamel and steel.
Today, the Hollywood Sign stands on Mount Lee, which is not accessible to the public. If you want to get a postcard-quality shot of the sign, head to one of two sites: Griffith Park Observatory or the Hollywood & Highland Center.
Nearby Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Hollywood Walk of Fame
Empire State Building, New York
Guests can visit the Empire State Building year-round, both day and night. Hours are 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, with the last elevator ascending at 1:15 a.m. Tickets are required to access either or both observatories; to enhance your visit, you also can rent an audio tour. Prior to going up to the observatories, visitors are subject to security screening similar to that at airports. Visit the Empire State Building's Web site for detailed information on guidelines and restrictions.
Nearby Hotel: Casablanca Hotel
U.S. Southernmost Point, Key West, FL
The Southernmost Point is situated on the corner of South and Whitehead streets, just a few-minutes' walk from downtown Key West and most of the city's major attractions. The bonus for families? There's no cost to visit, nor is there a limit on visiting hours, though you'll definitely want to see the landmark during daylight hours. However, the Southernmost Point is crowded throughout the day, so it's best to stop by early in the morning. Capturing a snapshot as the sun rises definitely makes for a memorable photo!
Nearby Hotel: Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa
St. Louis Cathedral - New Orleans
There are two onsite gift shops where visitors can purchase religious and spiritual items, giftware, and keepsake gifts. While there is no charge to visit the cathedral, donations are welcome to sustain the ministry of the cathedral and to support the cathedral upkeep and maintenance.
Nearby Hotel: Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign, Nev.
To visit the sign and get a photo commemorating the trip, visitors can park in an adjacent lot free of charge. NOTE: You can only enter the parking lot when traveling south on Las Vegas Boulevard, heading away from Mandalay Bay and toward the Las Vegas Outlet Center. Otherwise, you will need to make a U-turn past the sign and come back to the parking lot.
Nearby Hotel: Mandalay Bay Hotel
Cloud Gate (The Bean) - Chicago
Visiting Cloud Gate is as simple as visiting Millennium Park, which is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. There is no admission fee.
NOTE: After getting your photo at Cloud Gate, head to nearby Grant Park to see the Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain. Open seasonally (spring to fall) from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., this impressive fountain puts on a water display every hour, on the hour, for 20 minutes. Beginning at dusk, lights and music accompany the water display.
Nearby Hotel: Hyatt Chicago Magnificent Mile
The Alamo - San Antonio
The Alamo welcomes visitors free of charge year-round (excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with summer hours until 7 p.m. A 45-minute audio tour is available for $7 per person. Guests can also take the guided Official Alamo Battlefield Tour for $15 per person.
Nearby Hotel: Hyatt Regency San Antonio
Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon
When visiting the South Rim, plan a stop at the Desert View Watchtower located at the eastern end of the South Rim. Designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter and built in 1932, the Watchtower provides magnificent views of the Colorado River, Chuar Butte and Cape Royal in the North Rim. The Watchtower is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nearby Hotel: El Tovar
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