Top 10 Places for Educational Vacations
You have so many options for how you spend your vacation time. Of course you could lounge on the beach. But as a college student, you could use your vacation as an opportunity to learn. Make the most of your vacation this year by traveling to some of the country’s most famous historical spots. Whether you’re a history buff, a photographer, or an amateur chef, there’s plenty to take in. Here are a few educational vacations where you could learn a lot.
Journey to the District of Columbia to explore the nation’s political heart. Catch a glimpse of the White House, stroll past the Library of Congress, and take a tour of the Capitol building. Then traverse the National Mall to see some of the city’s most famous monuments including the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Consider honoring our veterans at the Arlington National Cemetery and visiting well-known neighborhoods such as Georgetown and Dupont Circle. Then slip out of the city for a day trip to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, which includes museums, a tour of the house and grounds, and a staff dressed like people who lived through the revolution.
Yosemite National Park, CA
Dubbed “the Incomparable Valley” by 19th-century visitors, Yosemite was once a haven for artists, writers, photographers, and intellectuals who sought to capture the natural beauty that has made this California nature reserve so internationally famous. Take advantage of the park’s beautiful campgrounds and extensive hiking trails. Make stops at Nevada Falls, the Cathedral Lakes, Mariposa Grove, and the Sentinel Bridge to get a feel for the breathtaking landscape that inspired so many generations of American artists.
Philadelphia boasts some of the most historically significant sites in the US. First, check out the Liberty Bell and see first-hand the bell that rang for freedom during the revolutionary era and the abolition movements of the 19th century. From there, walk across the street to visit one of the country’s most important buildings: Independence Hall. Originally the Pennsylvania State House, it was in this building that America’s founding fathers debated and signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Then journey to the nearby Betsey Ross House, and explore the famed seamstress’ 18th century home. Finally, take a tour of the Franklin Institute Science Museum, housing the Benjamin Franklin Memorial and the designs of one of the country’s greatest innovators.
New York, NY
Delve into the busy streets of New York and experience the fast pace of the country’s most populous city. Visit Manhattan’s highly lauded museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Then take the subway down to Greenwich Village to visit Merchant’s House, a historic home featuring original furniture and adornments from the 1830s. After exploring the vestiges of upper-class 19th century society, head to Ellis Island to learn about early European immigrants’ arrivals in the US. Search for the names of your ancestors in the site’s extensive records and finish by visiting New York’s famed sentinel: the Statue of Liberty.
San Antonio, TX
Tour some of San Antonio’s historic Spanish missions including the famous Alamo. One of the most crucial buildings in Texas’ history, it was here that Mexican fighters massacred Texan rebels during the Texan Revolution. Then watch a show at the city’s ornate Majestic Theatre, tour the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, and venture into the Natural Bridge Caverns beneath the Natural Bridge Mining Company for a look into the early American mining industry. Finish the trip by journeying one story below downtown San Antonio and exploring the restaurants and shops dotting the San Antonio River Walk.
Consider journeying to the “windy city” to explore the famous architecture and rich history of the largest city in the Midwest. Begin the trip with a Chicago River boat tour of the city’s skyline. Then visit the home of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and explore the space where he spent the first twenty years of his career and developed “Prairie Style” architecture. After completing a tour of Wright’s home and studio, head to the city’s North Side to listen to some live music or catch the Uptown Poetry Slam at the Green Mill jazz club, once the stomping grounds of the famous Chicago gangster Al Capone. Finish up the trip with a stop at Wrigley Field, one of the country’s oldest baseball stadiums and home of the Chicago Cubs.
Travel first to Oahu to visit Pearl Harbor, the only naval base in the US designated as a National Historical Landmark. Stop by the memorials to three warships sunk in World War II. Then check out the Pacific Aviation Museum, and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park. Next, consider flying over to the Big Island, Kona, to walk through the national park Puuhonua o Honaunau, a site once inhabited by early Hawaiian lawbreakers. The park boasts temples, royal grounds, and Hawaii’s “Great Wall.” Finish the trip with a tour of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You can cover the park quickly by car, or hike and camp on site.
The California Coast
Spend a week long vacation driving up California’s scenic Pacific Coast highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Along the way, stop by some of the state’s 21 Franciscan missions to see how the region looked before it became a part of the US in 1848. Then stop by Hearst Castle in San Simeon to learn about one of this country’s greatest media moguls. Heading north, spend some time exploring the famed beaches of Big Sur to see the giant redwoods of Muir Woods. In San Francisco, tour Alcatraz, America’s infamous island prison.
Santa Fe, NM
Explore the country’s oldest capital city and the place that inspired some of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s seminal works. Visit Santa Fe’s impressive artistic hubs, including the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art, and Canyon Street, famed for its array of hundreds of galleries and studios. After exploring the city’s art districts, consider visiting the San Miguel Mission. Constructed between 1610 and 1626 and credited as the oldest operational church in the US, the mission offers a unique view of the city’s early roots.
Colonial Williamsburg, VA
Colonial Williamsburg is regarded as one of the must-see historical sites in the US. This living museum is filled with actors depicting the era of the Revolutionary War. Guests can visit colonial homes, blacksmith shops, old-style taverns, and the Governor’s Palace among other popular attractions. The town offers a journey into America’s revolutionary and colonial past and is conveniently situated next to the early colonial settlement Jamestown, which was the first permanent British settler colony in North America.
No matter where you go this summer, take the time to learn something about your destination -- its history, its culture, and the people who live there. When you come back to school, you'll have a wealth of knowledge to share from your educational vacations.
Written by Christie Greeley
Christie is a double major in English and History at Vassar College and a contributor to Forward Thinking, the Ashford University blog.