On the 4th of July, fireworks and backyard barbecues get all of the love. But there’s more to Independence Day than skyrockets and baby back ribs. Re-ignite the patriotic flame on a visit to these favorite monuments to American history.

patriot1Photo: Curtis Cronn via Flickr

National Museum of American History
Dramatically renovated in 2008 to showcase what its website records as over 3 million artifacts that represent, pay tribute, and educate Americans (not to mention the many international visitors every year) about America, the Museum of American History is where patriotism lives. Head first to the major attraction on the second floor, the Star Spangled Banner Gallery where kiddo can glimpse one of Smithsonian’s most popular holdings. A little bit of fabric, striped with stars, you may know it—the American flag. This particular one, believed to have been glimpsed originally by Francis Scott Key at the Battle of Baltimore, was the inspiration for the National Anthem. Other museum must-dos include the First Ladies exhibit, American Stories where Dorothy’s ruby slippers share the spotlight with a piece of Plymouth Rock, and interactive play stations for two age groups, Wegman’s Wonderplace and Spark!Lab.

Constitution Ave., NW
Between 12th and 14th Sts. (Smithsonian)
Online:  americanhistory.si.edu

14248486676_7c86d57b10_zPhoto: scottmontreal via Flickr

Martin Luther King Memorial
Arguably the man behind some of the greatest and most noble moments in American history, this long-awaited National Mall area monument to Martin Luther King, Jr. is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.  As simple and unassuming as the man himself, the Memorial actually welcomes visitors to reflect on this Civil Rights era icon 24 hours a day and offers a range of programs from Films at the Stone, a series including family-friendly fare sponsored by The Memorial Foundation, to National Park service led tours, and a great bookstore to boot.

1964 Independence Ave., SW (Smithsonian)
Online: nps.gov/mlkm

mt-vernonPhoto: Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon
It’s hard to beat a rolling estate on the Potomac, where the youngest of Colonials roam free, while everyone learns a little something new about the life and times of the country’s first President. With an interactive museum included in the admission (think Valley Forge and 3D snow), Mount Vernon also offers myriad specialty tours, some featuring costumed re-enactors, along with access to the mansion and working Pioneer Farm. Reserve online for a discounted price (children 5 and under are admitted free), and check for special events throughout the year, including a Colonial Market and Fair in September.

3200 Mount Vernon Hwy. (Alexandria, Va)
Online:  mountvernon.org

6347587203_81a7a4e415_z (1)Photo: Roger W via Flickr

Gunston Hall
James Mason may not have made it to the Oval Office, but his contributions to our Nation’s history (and that of the State of Virginia) are important enough to make a short road trip to his Mason Neck estate worth the while, not to mention the still rural location and popular boxwood alleé make it a great trip for anyone who likes to just run around outside. Parents of toddlers on up should also take note of Summer Saturdays, themed visiting hours for families continuing through the month of August. Still on the agenda, local archaeological finds, entertaining in the 18th Century, and an opportunity to go back in time for a meeting with Mr. Mason about freedom of the press, and other interactive activities.

10709 Gunston Rd. (Lorton, Va)
Online:  gunstonhall.org


Photo: Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry National Monument
Perhaps the most stirring of American trivia is found at Fort McHenry, the defense of which during the 1814 Battle of Baltimore inspired The Star Spangled Banner. Hop on 95 North, and whiz through the tunnel of the same name to arrive at this star shaped fort on a hill, with a view of the bridge commemorating Francis Scott Key, you may have learned is our National Anthem’s songwriter. Young Revolutionary War buffs can take advantage of the National Park Service Junior Ranger program or catch a weekend drill, musket, and artillery demonstration by the Fort McHenry Guard.

2400 E Fort Ave. (Baltimore, Md)
Online:  nps.gov/fomc

13521925_10154415886197994_355098878228398282_nPhoto: National Archives Museum

National Archives Museum
Stroll around the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom and take a peek at America’s bedrock document, The United States Constitution. A marvel to all, the Constitution is actually among several seminal documents on view at the National Archives Museum located across the street from the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Both the original Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are housed here along with Democracy’s forerunner, the Magna Carta, currently on permanent loan. With a number of locations across the country, the National Archives and Records Administration manages a vast array of historical holdings from military service records to the contents of Presidential Libraries. Commemorating the 225th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights this year, the Archives features special exhibits geared toward all audiences titled Amending America installed here in D.C., as well as Houston, Tx., Independence, Mo. and Atlanta, Ga.

700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW (Archives)
Online:  Archives.gov

What is the most patriotic place you’ve been to? Tell us in the comments section below.

–Ayren Jackson-Cannady and Carolyn Ross