Cities across the national offer adventures to the past
Today’s travelers are experience junkies and want unique, local and authentic experiences that connect to the heart and soul of destinations they visit. For international visitors coming to the United States, discovering the country’s history and unique heritage through interesting destinations and attractions will provide cultural insights and create a fulfilling trip. Throughout the United States, several destinations have capitalized on their rich heritage by engineering engaging and immersive experiences in collaboration with their area suppliers and inbound operators. Together, IITA members offer visitors the chance to go behind the scenes, get hands-on, meet an expert or experience firsthand the essence of America.
Venture to the Old West
For international visitors, the allure of the Old West is a key draw that evokes cowboys on the frontier. Two destinations that connect visitors to this period in American history are Deadwood, South Dakota and Wichita, Kansas.
The Gold Rush is front and center in Deadwood as you relive the days of the town’s founding. You can become immersed in the Gold Rush days by meeting Con Stapleton, the town’s first constable. He is responsible for maintaining law and order in this anything goes frontier town. Since you are new arrivals looking to make your fortune during the Gold Rush, he will help you navigate the town and attempt to keep you out of trouble and jail.
In Deadwood, travelers can also visit a real gold mine and try their hand at panning for gold in the creek just like the original 19th century arrivals. In addition, visitors may encounter famous residents Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
For travelers heading to the state of Kansas, the city of Wichita is another destination with rich Western history. In Old Cowtown, you will meet three of the city’s earliest residents who will recount the history, growth and settlement of this frontier outpost.
Town founder J.R. Meade (a fur trapper and outfitter) will recount the early days of the original settlement on the Plains and his trading with the Indians. Cattle driver Texas Red will recount the excitement and challenges of the cattle drives that made their way from Texas to Kansas.
Victoria Murdock, wife of the town’s newspaper editor, will discuss the success of the town and how she, as a proper Victorian woman, supports her husband and his business ventures. Victoria will also demonstrate the art of Victorian dress to familiarize people with the proper fashion styles of the era. You will see how this Cowtown called Wichita became so prosperous.
Another authentic must-see Wichita attraction is the Mid-America All-Indian Center. Here visitors will learn about the Plains Indian culture, history and traditions. The story of Native American artist Black Bear Bosin is also told at the Indian Center. He was a local Native American artist who created the city’s iconic symbol: The Keeper of the Plains.
In the evening, a stop at the Keeper of the Plains monument is a must-see experience. Here you will experience the presence of the four elements coupled with Native American traditions and music.
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have over 30 signature experiences.
At Fort Snelling, the original outpost in the Minnesota Territory, visitors go beneath the
surface and learn how archaeologists researched and reconstructed the post. Then you will go behind the scenes and meet the archaeologist for the Minnesota Historical Society. She will showcase how artifacts are protected and preserved after being discovered. Finally, you will have the chance to try your hand in the lab with identifying artifacts discovered in the field.
At FOCI, the Minneapolis Center for Glass Arts, visitors can get hands-on and create a piece of blown glass with an expert gaffer who guides them through the process to take home a one-of-a-kind self-made creation. Choose from a paperweight, shot glass or tumbler that will become your own unique souvenir.
St. Paul is the perfect spot to experience America’s pastime: baseball. The St. Paul Saints, an independent team, provides baseball coupled with in-game entertainment. Before the game, you can experience a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium where you learn about the history and fun of the team and its ownership with an official guide.
The Como Park Zoo, one of the country’s oldest zoos, is a must-see stop in St. Paul. Here you
will enjoy a behind-the-scenes experience before the zoo opens to the public. You begin by observing polar bears in an environment that stimulates their natural behaviors and instincts in the wild. Then you will have a guided tour and meet a zookeeper in the hoof stock area to feed the giraffes and hear about many of the zoo’s most famous inhabitants.
In Columbus, Ohio the Kelton House is not to be missed. It was a stop on the Underground Railroad and home to Sophia and Fernando Kelton and their children. While at the house, you call on Sophia—who shows you her home and talks about her family. She also has a secret that she may share if she feels she can trust you.
The Columbus food scene is another highlight to experience in the city. There are a variety of food tours and brewery experiences. However, on a stop at the North Market, you will discover fresh produce, food vendors and some gift items that will make great souvenirs from your time in the Ohio’s capital city.
East Coast Adventures
In Philadelphia, there is much to do and see after visiting the historic landmarks. The city is also the world capital of outdoor murals, which serve as both beautification and neighborhood revitalization projects. You may take a mural tour to see these masterpieces or, if you prefer, spend time with a mural artist. They will take you to see several murals to learn the design and development process. A third choice allows you to paint a mural and become completely immersed in the process.
Hilton Head Island, surrounded by the ocean, has a rich Civil War history due to Union occupation. As a result, the town of Mitchelville was established as the first self governed freed African-American community in the United States. You will learn about the history and daily life of Mitchelville’s occupants. Along the way, you will meet Harriet Tubman—who traveled to the island as a spy for the Union army—and discover how she helped her people become free.
In addition, the Gullah people of Hilton Head, who are descendants of slaves, provide several experiences tied to the history and customs handed down from generations. Take a Gullah tour to see the historic sights and neighborhoods on the island. You may also visit the Gullah Museum—one of the oldest structures on the island—and hear firsthand about the people who were instrumental in building the island.
Paducah, Kentucky—a UNESCO Creative City for Folk Arts and Crafts— is the home to the National Quilt Museum. It is a repository for some of the most amazing fiber art woven into quilts. Visitors can take an interactive tour of the quilts and learn about the artists who compete in competitions around the country. Then, head to the workroom to design, craft and stitch your own quilt square.
Another not-to-be-missed stop is the Metropolitan Hotel. This was the only Paducah hotel that welcomed black guests from the early 20th century until the dawn of civil rights during the era of Jim Crow. You meet Miss Maggie, the owner who will transport you back in time and recount the stories of her guests who stayed at the Metropolitan when preforming in town. Hear stories about Count Basie, Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, Thurgood Marshall, sports legends and other famous African-Americans who all stayed at the Metropolitan.
Head farther south to experience hospitality and more in Shreveport, Louisiana. For music lovers, the city has a rich history of influential artists. Stop at the Municipal Auditorium to see the home of the Louisiana Hayride, a popular radio show once called the “Cradle of the Stars.” For Elvis fans, the Municipal is a pilgrimage site as this is the spot where the King had his first professional performance that launched the legend. You may just get a special treat by an Elvis tribute artist.
Shreveport is also home to the American Rose Society. Here you will tour the gardens and learn how anyone can grow roses. You will also see several varieties of roses, learn about growing techniques and discover the world of rosarians who are dedicated to the cultivation of the perfect rose.
Each of the aforementioned destinations offers its own authentic experiences tied to the history, heritage and cultural attributes of their area. For international visitors, these sites
provide insights and connections to the fabric of America’s unique tapestry along with memories to be savored for a lifetime.