While public parks and monuments are a beautiful way to experience U.S. history, nothing feels quite as personal and intimate as a private tour of someone’s former home. Across the country, historic houses are open to the public, either because of the legacy of their owners or because of the building’s own important legacy.
For those interested in experiencing American history in a more unconventional way, here are seven gorgeous historic homes to choose from.
1. George Washington’s Home
Mount Vernon, Virginia
Located in northern Virginia, just a few miles from Washington, D.C., Mount Vernon is the former home of the nation’s first president. What started in 1734 as a 1.5 story house built by George Washington’s own father soon expanded under the president, who oversaw a transformation into the 21-room mansion visitors can see today. Tourists can explore Washington’s study, front parlor, kitchen, and bedrooms, as well as the surrounding gardens, farm, and distillery, followed up with visits to the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant and the museum and education center. Walking into this incredibly well-maintained landmark can feel a lot like taking a journey through time.
2. The Ernest Hemingway Home And Museum
Key West, Florida
Literary icon Ernest Hemingway lived in his Spanish Colonial-style Florida home throughout the 1930s, remodeling an 1851 structure into what it is today. Now a museum, the house has preserved the furniture and design of Hemingway’s lifetime, so visitors can walk through the same places Hemingway sat and wrote some of his most notable works, including To Have and Have Not, Islands in the Stream, and Green Hills of Africa. What sets this historic home apart from others is the estate’s approximately 60 wandering polydactyl (six-toed) cats, many of whom are descendants from Hemingway’s own six-toed cat, Snow White. Hemingway named all of his cats after famous figures, and the museum continues that tradition today.
3. Oheka Castle
Huntington, New York
In 1919, financier and philanthropist Otto Hermann Kahn completed the construction of his French-style chateau on Long Island, New York. The building remains, to this day, the second-largest private residence ever built in America. The 127-room mansion was the sight of incredibly lavish parties, attended by the rich and famous — celebrities, politicians, and royalty. Its parties were so notorious that Oheka Castle served as partial inspiration for the setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The estate is now a hotel and offers guided tours of its immense grounds. Modern visitors may recognize the building and landscape as settings in Citizen Kane, Succession, and Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” music video.
4. Iolani Palace
Unlike much of the world, the U.S. is home to very few actual palaces. One of the rare royal structures is thanks to Hawaiian monarchy, whose last reigning monarchs lived and worked in Iolani Palace until their overthrow. Built by King Kalākaua in 1882, the palace has undergone a restoration to honor the lives of its former occupants, and tourists can explore the building and its grounds, experiencing a piece of history unlike any other in America. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1962 as the country’s only official royal residence, no other historic home visit will compare.
5. Edsel & Eleanor Ford House
Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan
Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford and an executive of the Ford Motor Company, built his residence outside of Detroit, on the shores of Lake St. Clair. Edsel and his wife Eleanor were passionate art lovers, traveling across the globe to visit museums and galleries. Their love of design culminated in their Gaukler Pointe home, a beautiful, unique estate that looks straight out of a quaint United Kingdom village. After their deaths, the home was transformed into a museum, hosting guided tours and special events. The waterfront property was a gorgeous private residence, and it remains a must-see historical home for tourists.
6. Robert Lincoln’s Family Home, Hildene
In the early 1900s, Robert Lincoln, son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, built Hildene as a summer home. Robert was the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood, and his descendants remained at Hildene until 1975, after the death of its occupant. In 1978, Friends of Hildene, a nonprofit, formed in order to purchase the estate and transform it into a restored historical home. Today, the estate is home to farms, gardens, and trails, and it advocates for land conservation and sustainability. Visitors can explore an interior furnished almost exclusively with original Lincoln family furniture, as well as explore education centers that advocate for civil civic discourse, historic preservation, and civic responsibility.
No list of beautiful historic homes is complete without Elvis’s Memphis mansion. The property served as the private retreat for the king of rock ’n roll, as well as a home for his family. Elvis died at Graceland in 1977, and he remains buried on the estate, along with other Presley family members, in the Meditation Garden. Today, the estate is one of Memphis’s most popular tourist attractions. Visitors can explore both the building and the grounds, as well as the Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum, the Presley Motors Automobile Museum, and immersive Elvis Discovery Exhibits. The estate regularly hosts live music and other special events, making a tour of the estate feel like a tribute not just to Elvis, but to all music lovers.