Sometimes attractions are so universal, they become synonymous with their location.
When someone says the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge or the Lincoln Memorial, everyone knows they’re talking about New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Whether it’s a natural wonder like the redwoods of Northern California or a man-made marvel like Mount Rushmore, these signature attractions are big-name, big-reputation icons that define their destinations.
Williamsburg, Virginia, and Colonial Williamsburg get mixed up quite a bit. And that’s fair: Colonial Williamsburg is a living-history museum that encompasses part of a historic district within the city of Williamsburg. In the living re-creation of a Revolutionary-era town, horse-drawn carriages clop along the Duke of Gloucester Street, and guests can watch as craftsmen and artisans ply their trade. During an Apprentice Tour, a new group option introduced in June, guests can get their hands dirty making candles at the candlemaker’s, doing needlework at the milliner’s or working the bellows at the blacksmith shop.
“What the public demands nowadays, what they expect and what we’re working hard to curate is engaging, hands-on experiences,” said spokesman Joe Straw.
At the musket range that opened in March, visitors can learn about and fire the two most common guns of the era: a British military musket known as a “Brown Bess” and the popular 18th-century Fowler shotgun.
The village’s open-air Market House, the last major public structure to be rebuilt, celebrated its grand opening in November, and “it’s the commercial and social heart of the city,” Straw said. Every afternoon, guests can participate in real public auctions like those that would have been held daily in the 1700s. Visitors can bid on and buy items made by Colonial Williamsburg’s tradespeople, as well as re-created architectural elements, such as doors or old windows.
As recently as a century ago, old-growth coastal redwoods stretched from the Oregon border to south of San Francisco. Today, fewer than 5 percent of the original redwoods remain, and of those that do, nearly half are protected in Redwood National and State Parks’ 132,000 acres.
The parks can be a bit challenging for large groups to visit, mostly because of parking and maneuverability issues.
But there are still plenty of group options. The Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center offers interpretive exhibits, a film and ranger-led programs and talks during the summer. Prairie Creek Visitor Center also has ranger-guided walks and evening campfire programs in the summertime.
The center is located on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a 10-mile road that runs north-south through Prairie Creek State Park and is one of the best options for groups, Poole said. Today, the 30-minute drive includes several trailheads, a resident herd of elk and Big Tree Wayside, where visitors can try to wrap their arms and minds around Big Tree’s 68-foot circumference.
Depending on staffing, groups may be able to arrange special ranger programs. Several stables provide group horseback trail rides through the parks, and outfitters provide group kayaking and standup paddleboarding on Smith River or biking through the towering trees.
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Unlike most NFL teams and their stadiums, the Green Bay Packers and Lambeau Field “are owned by the community; we don’t have a billionaire owner,” said Brenda Krainik, director of marketing for the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau. The 80,000-person stadium is the physical testament to the fans’ sense of ownership, pride and community.
“Lambeau Field is sacred to football fans,” she said. “We learn that when we have so many tours that go through the stadium.”
The Classic Tour takes visitors to the atrium, a private suite and to field level to walk through the players’ tunnel, where they hear the sound of roaring fans and thumping game-day music as they walk onto the field. The Championship Tour adds the south end zone with some of the best views of Lambeau Field, and groups of 20 or more can book tours in advance.
The Packers Hall of Fame reopened in September with high-tech, interactive exhibits. In the circa 1960s re-creation of Vince Lombardi’s office, visitors can read digital versions of Lombardi’s letters on a touch screen built into a large conference table.
From late July through August, the public — including groups — can watch Packers training camp at Ray Nitschke Field and participate in a rich tradition; every day, a player chooses one child and rides that child’s bike (or carries them both) to practice. A trolley that leaves from training camp will take groups on an hour-long tour of the Packers Heritage Trail, which features downtown sites significant to the team.
More than the Louvre. More than the Arc de Triomphe. More than the Mona Lisa. More than perhaps anything in the City of Light, the Eiffel Tower says “Paris.” It’s a touch ironic then that what was intended to be a temporary installation has become one Paris’s most enduring and iconic attractions.
Since its inauguration, nearly 250 million people have visited the tower. Today, the monument gets about 7 million visitors a year, and nearly three-quarters of them come from around the globe, making it the most-visited paid attraction in the world, according to the organization that operates it.
The tower was built for the 1889 International Exposition of Paris to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, which marked the beginning of the French Revolution. Gustave Eiffel and his architecture company were already well known for their impressive ironwork and metal construction — Eiffel oversaw the internal construction of the Statue of Liberty from 1879 until its completion in 1883 — when exposition organizers chose Eiffel’s entry for the International Exposition.
The Eiffel Tower stands 1,063 feet tall with three levels open to visitors, including restaurants on the first and second levels. The first floor reopened in 2014 after a refurbishment project that installed a transparent floor 187 feet above the ground.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Nearly 3 million people visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial every year, and most of them pass through the gateway of Rapid City, South Dakota. The city is surrounded by attractions — Custer State Park, Bear Country USA, Black Hills National Forest, Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave, Wind Cave — but Mount Rushmore is probably the most popular.
When groups visit, they often don’t plan enough time, both to spend at Mount Rushmore and to explore the city and surrounding sites, said Julie Jones-Whitcher, director of tourism for the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau. Visitors often only allow a couple hours for the viewing veranda and lunch, but there’s more to do. The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center features exhibits and a film about the making of Mount Rushmore, and the half-mile Presidential Trail allows guests to get closer to the presidents as well as local wildlife. The Sculptor’s Studio, open in the summer, showcases Gutzon Borglum’s scale model, which “shows what Rushmore was supposed to look like; they were supposed to be the full bust from waist up,” Jones-Whitcher said.
Guests can also catch daily ranger programs, and the Evening Lighting Ceremony is a crowd favorite. Around sundown at the park’s amphitheater, rangers lead a program about the meaning of the memorial, show the film “Freedom,” and ask active military and veterans to help with the lowering and folding of the flag before lighting the memorial.