By Randy Yagi
The busy Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner and if you haven’t yet made plans for the big weekend, there’s really no time to waste. But this year, instead of the tried-and-true and the usual or obvious places, why not make this holiday weekend an especially memorable one by visiting a completely new destination with a rich American history? While traffic and crowds will be just about everywhere, especially at historic cities like Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., here are a few suggestions than might be a better alternative to spend your Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Bolstered by the world’s largest parade, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York City will have plenty of activities to enjoy over Thanksgiving weekend. But Upstate New York or more specifically Central New York shouldn’t be ignored, particularly at historic cities like Syracuse in the Finger Lakes Wine Region and the Capital District, which includes the charming city of Saratoga Springs and the capital city of Albany. In fact, what may come as a surprise to many, Albany is the oldest continuous settlement of the original 13 colonies and possibly the location for the first celebration of Santa Claus in America. One of the biggest incentives to visit Albany over Thanksgiving is to burn some calories at the 101st annual Troy Turkey Trot, one of the oldest and largest running races in the country, where thousands of people will participate in events like the 5K race, 10K race and the always popular Turkey Walk. Moreover, in this fascinating city steeped with history there are a number of prominent attractions to enjoy over the holiday weekend, especially in Downtown Albany, the oldest neighborhood in the city. Top sightseeing landmarks include St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Company Building (D&H), the stately Kenmore Hotel, the Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence, an important site spot along the legendary Underground Railroad, and a visit to the New York State Museum and the magnificent New York State Capitol, both located in Empire State Plaza. In the evenings, visitors can enjoy horse drawn carriage rides and dazzling light displays in Washington Park at the 21st annual Price Chopper/Market 32 Capital Holiday Lights in the Park or simply enjoy a quiet evening in historic lodging like the Morgan State House.
Founded in 1701 by French explorers, Detroit is the oldest major city in the Midwest, making it a particularly attractive place to visit over the Thanksgiving weekend. But the weekend starts quite early in the Motor City, as the festivities begin along Woodward Avenue on Thursday morning, with the America’s Thanksgiving Parade, one of the country’s largest, kicking off the holiday season, while across town, the Detroit Lions will host the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL’s 78th Thanksgiving Day Classic at Ford Field. The following day after the hearty Thanksgiving meals have been served, Detroit will offers all sorts of fun things to see and do all weekend long, including historical attractions like the vitally important Motown Museum, the location for the iconic record label’s first headquarters, the world renowned Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of America’s most prestigious museums founded in 1883 and in nearby Dearborn, the must-see Henry Ford Museum, which features several important artifacts from American history, such as Abraham Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theatre, John F. Kennedy’s Presidential limousine, a replica of Thomas Edison’s lab at Fort Meyer’s and the bus that Rosa Parks rode in 1955. In the evening, residents and visitors alike can enjoy many other attractions in the city, such as the dazzling Christmas tree and the Rink at Campus Martius Park, the Wild Lights at the beloved Detroit Zoo, world class, Las Vegas-style gambling at the MGM Grand Detroit and Greektown Casino, or a Detroit Red Wings home game at their new, state-of-the-art Little Caesars Arena.
Founded along the historic California Missions Trail that’s also famously known as the El Camino Real, the city of Monterey was the historic capital of California when the U.S. flag was first raised in 1846. With its spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean from its beachside location along the southern edge of its namesake bay, Monterey has been alternatively nicknamed California’s “first city” and the “cradle of history”, in that it was the historic site for the Golden State’s first theater, first newspaper, first public school and public library, among other significant landmarks. In fact, Monterey, particularly the Old Town Historic District, is second only to Santa Fe, New Mexico with the largest number of existing historical sites that’s west of the Mississippi. Again this year, many of the area’s best known restaurants will be hosting Thanksgiving meals, like Portola Hotel and Spa, Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa and the iconic Sardine Factory, in addition to nearby spots like Anton & Michel, Casanova and Grasings in beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Carmel Valley Ranch and the exquisite Lucia Restaurant and Bar at Bernardus Lodge in the breathtaking Carmel Valley. Among the suggested things to see with an historical twist include the world famous Cannery Row, the Monterey Custom House, Colton Hall, the first American public building and the landmark Carmel Mission, the second oldest of the California Missions founded in 1770. While in Monterey, visitors are also urged to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, often considered the best in the world.
The oldest continuous settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley, the original state capital and one of the oldest cities in the country, Natchez can offer a remarkably fresh and exciting experience over the Thanksgiving weekend. Located along the Mississippi River, Natchez is known as the Bed and Breakfast Capital of the South, and is well known for its incredible wealth of beautifully preserved antebellum mansions, some offering luxurious overnight accommodations filled with modern conveniences and classic Southern charm, such as Dunleith Historic Inn, Linden Antebellum Bed and Breakfast, whose front door was the inspiration for Tara in Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind, and the exquisite Brandon Hall Plantation, located near the beginning of the legendary Natchez Trace Parkway. In previous years, the Carriage House Restaurant at Stanton Hall, the recommended Castle Restaurant at Dunleith, Monmouth Historic Inn and Gardens and The Burn Bed and Breakfast have all offered superb Thanksgiving dining. While this charming city of just over 15,000 residents may not offer major attractions and weekend events like larger and more famous destinations, it makes up for it by providing a far quieter and much more peaceful atmosphere in which the celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with the family. Over Thanksgiving weekend, this fascinating city founded in 1716 will host its annual Christmas in Natchez, with the Lighting of the Tree and the Gumbo Cook-Off the Friday after Thanksgiving and brightly colored holiday lights on display through January 1. Other historical attractions to take in over the weekend include the mid-19th century St. Mary Basilica with its impressive stained glass windows, the Natchez National Cemetery, the final resting place of more than 7,000 military personnel, Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture (NAPAC), the Native American Emerald Mound Site, the magnificent Longwood mansion and last but certainly not least, a tour on the Mississippi River with “Jim Bob” Allgood, the friendly owner of Miss-Lou Tours and star of the popular TV series Redneck Adventures.
Critically important to birth of America, the Historical Triangle of Virginia, featuring the historic settlements of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, is easily among the the best places to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. After all, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas was established in Jamestown and the first Thanksgiving celebration may have been held at nearby Berkeley Plantation, with a feast held two years before the far more famous gathering in Plymouth, Massachusetts. But the Historic Triangle will also offer a weekend of fun-filled entertainment, including the Big Turkey Burn 5K on Thanksgiving morning, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, the must-see Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s oldest and largest outdoor living history museum, and the notable, three-day Food and Feasts of Colonial Virginia beginning Thanksgiving Day at the Jamestown Settlement. Visitors to the Historical Triangle should also consider visiting the nearby capital city of Richmond, with historical sites like St. John’s Church, the setting for Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, the state capitol building, home to the Virginia General Assembly, the oldest legislative body in North America, and the incomparable, AAA-Five Star Jefferson Hotel, which will be hosting a Thanksgiving Day brunch in its extraordinary Rotunda lobby, followed by the legendary hotel’s 31st Annual Tree Lighting on Monday, November 27.