NEW YORK (MainStreet) – If your grand summer vacation plan was to get out and discover your nation's history, get in line.
We realize the kids are out of school, there's vacation time to blow and the weather is (in most cases) warm and sunny. We also realize that all of the above makes it an ideal time to visit some of the nation's historic sites and combine your vacation with a little bit of education. Just know that you're far from the only one with that plan this summer.
You're going to be competing with much of the vacationing world for roads, plane tickets, rental cars and other amenities. Chances are, that world is going to need a hotel room as well. If remaining hotel rooms are pricey or nonexistent, you may want to consider a vacation rental.
“Many of America’s historical towns have beautiful rental homes — charming properties with original features that are themselves a part of the history,” says Laurel Greatrix, TripAdvisor vacation rentals spokeswoman. “These properties are a great way to live like a local and feel a little more immersed in the town’s culture.”
Since they're often viewed as an option of last resort, vacation rentals tend to be incredibly affordable as well, especially for families or groups taking an extended vacation. As TripAdvisor points out, the average two-bed vacation rental near Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., is $1,453 a week, compared with $3,821 for two bedrooms in a three-star hotel. That's a 60% difference that you can cut a bit by downgrading hotel rooms, but vacation home owners and their rental partners are doing all they can to make vacation rentals more enticing. Vacation rental site HomeAway, for example, has added city guides, Uber car sharing services and Instacart grocery delivery to its app to make renters feel a bit more at home.
“Even though traveler demand for urban vacation rentals is growing, a lot of people still don’t realize it’s even possible to rent an entire home for an extended stay in a city,” says Brian Sharples, HomeAway co-founder and CEO. “We’re launching new specialized 'Cities' experience pages to help our millions of loyal vacation rental travelers discover the benefits of whole house rentals wherever they like to travel, not just in our traditional vacation destinations.”
With the help of TripAdvisor and HomeAway, we put together this list of 10 historical destinations just teeming with vacation rentals. In many cases, the accommodations have nearly as much history behind them as the sites themselves:
Historical importance:The Battle of Gettysburg, which took place in July 1863, turned the tide for the Union army and shifted the Civil War's momentum. The battle claimed more than 50,000 casualties, with hundreds of the dead buried at the Gettysburg National Cemetery grounds where President Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address.
Where to stay: Gettysburg isn't short on affordable, historic lodgings. A three-bedroom log cabin dating back to 1790 and once owned by Pennsylvania abolitionist and Congressman Thaddeus Stevens starts at $175 a night, while a one-bedroom apartment in a Civil War-era rowhouse starts at $125 a night. If you have a larger group or a bigger budget, a 1799 three-bedroom stone farmhouse right on the battlefield goes for $375 per night, while a five-bedroom, five-bathroom Civil War-era farm in nearby Whitehall can be rented for $400 a night — if you don't mind sharing the property with a country store and a railroad museum inside a 1942 caboose.
Historical importance: You can oversimplify Charleston by boiling it down to Fort Sumter and the Civil War, but Charleston's been around long enough (founded in 1670 and named after England's King Charles II) to have withstood attacks from the British during the Revolutionary War and to draw its roots to French Huguenots, Sephardic Jews and West Indian settlers. It's difficult to tie your city to any one war when the French, Spanish and even the pirate Blackbeard have laid siege to it.
Where to stay: From inns in the French Quarter to luxury condos downtown, Charleston has a fairly diverse slate of offerings. But if you're in this for the history, a lone-bedroom loft in an 18th century warehouse downtown starts at $250, as does the one-bedroom guest house in the shadow of the historic William Pinckney Shingler House.
Historical importance: Where to begin? It was once the nation's capital. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed here, presidents George Washington and John Adams lived here (with their slaves) and Benjamin Franklin called it home (Franklin's still buried here). Betsy Ross sewed the first American Flag here. Seriously, just about any U.S. history book should have told you this by now.
Where to stay: Philly doesn't lack for vacation rentals of any kind, but this two-bedroom home in the heart of Old City historic sites, bars, restaurants, shops and galleries is a good start at $225 a night. A four-bedroom Center City brownstone throws in parking for $340 a night, while a two-bedroom 1700s Trinity house in Washington Square gets you the cobblestone streets, the cozy accommodations and the prime location for a starting price of $210 a night.
San Antonio, Texas
Historical importance: Remember the Alamo? No, not the car rental chain. No, not the indie movie theaters that serve beer. Yes, the one that Ozzy Osbourne was arrested for relieving himself on and where Pee Wee Herman discovered there was no basement. In 1836, more than 180 people died unsuccessfully defending it from the Mexican army during the Texas Revolution. Though the Republic of Texas would earn its independence from Mexico a few months later (in the Battle of San Jacinto and its battle cry of “Remember the Alamo”), it would be annexed by the U.S. less than a decade later, touching off the Mexican-American War.
Where to stay: San Antonio has some great history behind it, but its vacation rentals don't tend to. A one-bedroom condo downtown starts at $50, while a two-bedroom house on a three-acre gated estate in the heart of the Medical Center goes for $140 a night. That's not to say San Antonio homes are without their charms. An updated two-bedroom Craftsman home near the River Walk dating back to 1888 starts at $169 a night, while a room at a bed and breakfast built in 1904 fetches $125 a night.
Historical importance: C'mon.
Where to stay: If you want to be around monuments, museums and government buildings, you may want to give some serious consideration to this two-bedroom 1899 rowhouse on Capitol Hill starting at $235 a night. If that seems a bit steep, this two-bedroom Capitol Hill Victorian on 12th Street starts at $89 a night.
Historical importance: Massachusetts Bay Colony, Paul Revere's ride, the Boston Tea Party, the first shots of the Revolutionary War, the entire Freedom Trail. Don't worry: Anything we missed, someone in Boston will be more than happy to point out.
Where to stay: Why settle for walking the Freedom Trail when you can stay in one of its attractions? Just outside the Copps Hill Burying Ground stands a skinny, four-story townhouse dating back to 1874 that its original owner built just to block the view and sunlight from his brother's much larger house next door. The two-bedroom Skinny House or Spite House will run you $325 a night. If you're looking for something a little less costly, a one-bedroom houseboat on Boston Harbor goes for $250 a night, while a hotel-room-sized apartment in the Back Bay near Copley Plaza, Newbury Street and the Public Garden can be had for $149 a night.
Historical importance: Part of the “Historic Triangle” along with nearby Jamestown and Yorktown. Home to Colonial Williamsburg, basically a theme park for Revolutionary War buffs, Williamsburg has the added benefit of being close to Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Water Country USA and King's Dominion when the history lessons stop sinking in and you want to just get the kids (or yourself) on some rides for a few hours.
Where to stay: You're just wasting this whole experience by staying at a place that can only offer waffles and free Wi-Fi. Instead, you could be staying on a five-bedroom 18th century plantation house in the middle of 100 acres of woods, streams, fields and trails — land given by Chief Powhatan to Pocahontas and John Rolfe as a wedding gift in 1614. If the $400-a-night price is a bit off-putting, nights in a two-bedroom condo at the Powhatan resort start at $65.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
Historical importance: Sure, much of the history here is geological and dates back centuries, but Yellowstone was established as the nation's (and the world's) first national park by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.
Where to stay: Since the lodging in Yellowstone itself is either self-provided or rented through the National Parks Service, you're going to have to check out the broad spectrum beyond the park's borders. That could mean something as opulent as a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath Mission-style lodge that was featured on HGTV and costs $450 a night. That could also mean a large riverside teepee in Dubois with beds, an outhouse and a private fire pit for $58 a night. If you're just looking for a three-bedroom cabin near Yellowstone, however, those tend to run between $179 and $220 a night.
Historical importance: Welcome to the former capital of the Confederacy. If you're really into the Civil War, you're not going to skip not only the Confederacy's seat of government, but the place where emancipation of slaves first took root and where Abraham Lincoln walked the streets just days before he was assassinated.
Where to stay: A one-bedroom guest suite in a house where guests have access to not only the vegetable garden, but the site of Patrick Henry's “give me liberty or give me death” speech a block away isn't such a bad start at $125 a night. That same $125 will get you a two-bedroom condo with a lake view, though.
Historical importance: Founded by the French, once controlled by the Spanish, a battleground in the War of 1812 and the Civil War … oh, and there are the not-so-minor contributions to music, food and greater American culture.
Where to stay: The 1853-vintage, seven-bedroom Buckner Mansion would earn its $4,700-a-night rent on its luxurious period-appropriate amenities alone. But as the home of Jessica Lange's school for witches of FX's American Horror Story: Coven, it takes on some added cachet. That's not incredibly affordable for every budget, though, which leads us to a two-bedroom 1904 home in the University District that puts folks near the Audubon Nature Institute, zoo and street car for $350 per night.
— Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.