It might surprise you to know that some of the most iconic city landmarks in the USA are actually urban national park areas, managed by the National Park Service. They include world-famous historic sites and architectural highlights in San Francisco and New York City, among many other cities.
Of the current 418 National Park Service sites in America, dozens are in cities. Even when visiting an American metropolis, there are usually urban national park areas you could easily visit within the city. Others, like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Death Valley, aren’t far outside city limits.
Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia
One of the most significant historic park areas in the entire USA, Independence National Historical Park encompasses several buildings that played important roles during the American Revolution and in the early days of the new republic.
The main attraction here is Independence Hall itself, where the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution were signed. Other important landmarks include the Liberty Bell and City Tavern, a popular venue among the revolutionaries.
Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York City
There are many urban national park areas that reference “liberty.” The most famous example has to be New York City‘s Statue of Liberty itself. Given as a gift to the United States by the people of France, it’s a world-renowned symbol of freedom.
Known officially as Liberty Enlightening the World, the statue is the main part of this national monument. The other part is Ellis Island, where 12 million immigrants passed through between 1892 and 1954.
The National Mall, Washington, D.C.
Containing many of the top attractions in Washington, D.C. the National Mall is one of the best urban national park areas anywhere in America. This is where you’ll find the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, as well as numerous superb Smithsonian museums.
The U.S. Capitol lies at its eastern end, while other
monuments such as the Thomas Jefferson Memorial lie just a short stroll away.
Another major highlight here is the White House, situated across Constitution
Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco
Yet another architectural icon in America, the Golden Gate Bridge is also within an urban national park area. This huge recreation area consists of a variety of sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can spend days exploring it.
Of course, the main highlight is the bridge itself. But other visit-worthy places include Alcatraz, Muir Woods National Monument, Fort Funston and the Presidio of San Francisco. Activities range from camping and hiking to learning about Native American history, Spanish colonialism and the development of San Francisco. It’s a marvelous place and one of the best urban national park areas in the United States.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, San Antonio
Comprising four Spanish missions in San Antonio, this is another exceptionally important national park site in a U.S. city. Dating from the late 1600s and early 1700s, these missions were established by Catholic missionaries as part of a Spanish colonization strategy.
Local people, threatened by raiding Apaches, deadly illnesses and famine, were offered refuge in the missions under certain conditions. They had to adopt Christianity as their religion, swear loyalty to the King of Spain and give up their lifestyle.
While you’re visiting this urban park, don’t miss the Alamo! The most famous of the San Antonio missions, it’s managed by the State of Texas. It lies in the heart of the city, a couple of streets from the renowned Riverwalk.
Pearl Harbor, Honolulu
This site is officially known as the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It is arguably one of the most famous urban national park areas in the U.S. You may not know it by its official name, though. The monument consists of many sites. The most well-known one is definitely the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu‘s Pearl Harbor.
This memorial marks the location of the sinking of the USS
Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. You can visit this
massively important historical site on a 75-minute tour.
Biscayne National Park, Miami
Located within eyesight of Miami, Biscayne National Park offers a peaceful escape from the busy city. This marine national park lies just south of the city and even offers views of the skyline. Protecting Biscayne Bay, it consists mostly of water. Land areas are the bay’s shoreline, a number of small islands and Elliott Key.
This is a fantastic park for water fun. Activities range from camping and kayaking to swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. A major highlight is the Maritime Heritage Trail. This signposted underwater diving trail that leads to half a dozen shipwrecks and a lighthouse.