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5 National Convention Host Cities Worth Visiting (PHOTOS)

Posted: 09/05/2012 7:00 am

The 2012 Republican National Convention already wrapped up in Tampa, and the Democrats are rallying in Charlotte this week. Both cities are first-time hosts of the major political parties' biggest quadrennial affairs.

The conventions have a long history, dating back to the 19th century, and have convened their delegates in nearly every region of the United States (sorry, Pacific Northwest). Many cities have hosted multiple national conventions and witnessed history made and political careers launched. Their places in history vary, but they all have plenty to offer visitors who are looking to learn about the past -- or simply enjoy a vacation in the present.

Here at ShermansTravel, we took a look at some of those past centers of political power to see what historical sites remain and what current attractions continue to draw visitors. No matter how you vote or who you support, there's something for you to enjoy in these past convention host cities.

Be sure to check out the full list of national convention host cities on

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  • Baltimore

    <strong>Hosted DNC:</strong> 1832, 1835, 1840, 1844, 1848, 1852, 1860, 1872, 1912 <strong>Hosted RNC:</strong> 1864 <strong>Presidential Connection:</strong> Baltimore held the first ever Democratic National Convention in 1832, at which the Democratic Party formally adopted its name. Additionally, tributes to George Washington can be found throughout the city, like his dentures at the National <a href="" target="_hplink">Museum of Dentistry</a> and the <a href="" target="_hplink">first Washington monument</a> in the Mount Vernon neighborhood. <strong>Historic Appeal:</strong> Fort McHenry saw some of the heaviest fighting of the War of 1812 during the Battle of Baltimore. The brutality inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the Star-Spangled Banner after seeing the Stars and Stripes fluttering over the ravaged war zone. Many of the city’s historic sites from the war are included as part of the <a href="" target="_hplink">Star-Spangled Banner Pass</a>, which grants visitors access to the fort, the Maryland Historical Society, and the Star-Spangled Banner House, where the flag that flew over the fort during the battle was made. <strong>Campaign Stops:</strong> From August 31 to September 2, Baltimore sees a different kind of battle, as the <a href="" target="_hplink">Grand Prix of Baltimore</a> rolls into town for three days. With a one day ticket starting from $15, fans can watch drivers from the IndyCar and American Le Mans Series trade paint in Hondas, Chevrolets, and Ferraris as they thread their way from the Inner Harbor to Camden Yards. For a change of pace, <a href="" target="_hplink">Watermark’s Cruises on the Bay</a> recently launched the Raven, a 99-foot classically styled yacht that resembles the steamships of the 1900s. Departing from the Inner Harbor, the ship (along with others in the fleet) runs public cruises daily, including a National Anthem Tour By Sea that features a history lesson of Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812. <em>Photo: Visit Baltimore</em>

  • Chicago

    <strong>Hosted DNC: </strong>1996, 1968, 1956, 1952, 1944, 1940, 1932, 1896, 1892, 1884, 1864 <strong>Hosted RNC:</strong> 1960, 1952, 1944, 1932, 1920, 1916, 1912, 1908, 1904, 1888, 1884, 1880, 1868, 1860 <strong>Presidential Connection:</strong> Chicago has hosted an amazing 25 national conventions, the most of any American city, and saw the nominations of several future presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, William Howard Taft, Warren G, Harding, and Bill Clinton. More than 200,000 people gathered in Grant Park to witness Barack Obama’s acceptance speech on November 4, 2008. <strong>Historic Appeal:</strong> Cyclists can learn about President Obama’s life before the White House on a <a href="" target="_hplink">Presidential Bike Tour</a> through the Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods. Delegates at the 1892 Democratic National Convention toured the Jackson Park fairgrounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Chicago World’s Fair, which was held the following year. The Palace of Fine Arts from the Fair was eventually repurposed into what is today the <a href="" target="_hplink">Museum of Science and Industry</a>. <strong> Campaign Stops:</strong> Replace the drama of politics with the laughs of improv comedy at <a href="" target="_hplink">The Second City</a>. Comedians who honed their crafts at the famed improv theater include John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey. The <a href="" target="_hplink">Field Museum of Natural History</a> is displaying mummies that haven’t been seen by the public since the 1893 World’s Fair and has used modern science to create models of what those people <a href="" target="_hplink">would have looked like in ancient Egypt</a>. <a href="" target="_hplink">The Chicago International Film Festival</a>, the oldest competitive film festival in North America, runs from October 11 through the 25. <em>Photo: Flickr/Jazz hands it is</em>

  • Houston

    <strong>Hosted DNC:</strong> 1928 <strong>Hosted RNC:</strong> 1992 <strong>Presidential Connection:</strong> The 1928 Democratic Convention was notable for two reasons: It marked the first time since before the Civil War that the party convened in the South, and nominee Al Smith was the country’s first Roman Catholic presidential candidate. While hopes were high for adopted Texan George H.W. Bush in 1992, the convention ended up being the then-president’s swan song. <strong>Historic Appeal:</strong> A larger-than-life statue of Bush sits in downtown’s Sesquicentennial Park. The 7,800-acre George Bush Park – complete with hiking trails, a shooting range, and a 13-acre “bark park” named for Millie, Bush’s pooch while in office – is located to the west of the city. Guests of the <a href="" target="_hplink">Houstonian Hotel</a> might rub elbows with the former president and first lady at its private fitness club, where the pair retains membership; George and Barbara used the hotel as their formal residence in Houston from 1981 to 1992. For the full story on our 41st president’s life and accomplishments, the <a href="" target="_hplink">George Bush Presidential Library and Museum</a> is about an hour away in College Station, TX. <strong>Campaign Stops:</strong> Recently named “America’s Coolest City to Live” by Forbes, Houston earns points for a burgeoning food scene and a diverse array of museums and cultural pursuits. In April, <a href="" target="_hplink">Asia Society Texas Center</a> opened a $48.4-million, 40,000-square-foot headquarters that includes an art gallery and theater. The <a href="" target="_hplink">Houston Museum of Natural Science</a> inaugurated a 30,000-square-foot Hall of Paleontology in June. Come September, the free <a href="" target="_hplink">Blaffer Art Museum</a>, which showcases emerging and underrepresented artists, will unveil a top-to-bottom renovation. <em>Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau</em>

  • Los Angeles

    <strong>Hosted DNC:</strong> 1960, 2000 <strong>Presidential Connection:</strong> The Kennedys cast a long shadow on this perpetually sunny city, from the nomination of John F. Kennedy on day three of the 1960 Democratic National Convention to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy just after winning the California primary and addressing supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968. It stands to reason that the hallowed homeland of “Hollywood’s liberal elite” has never attracted a Republican convention, though it’s worth noting that Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Sonny Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many other stars-turned-statesmen were members of the GOP. <strong>Historic Appeal:</strong> California’s two presidential libraries lie just outside car-crazy La La Land’s bubble of lefty bumper stickers. In Simi Valley, <a href="" target="_hplink">The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library</a>, newly renovated and expanded in 2011, offers tours of the Gipper’s Air Force One plane. And in Yorba Linda, the <a href="" target="_hplink">Nixon Presidential Library & Museum</a> features a recently revamped Watergate exhibit that doesn’t shy away from confronting the hard truths of the scandal. <strong>Campaign Stops:</strong> This past March, more sluggish than a whistle-stop tour but faster than most legislation moves through Congress, a 340-ton granite boulder was transported 105 miles in 11 nights, from a quarry in Riverside to its new home at the <a href="" target="_hplink">Los Angeles County Museum of Art</a> (LACMA), where it has become “Levitated Mass,” a massive sculpture suspended above a long walkway. Looking for something a little less inert? Political flip-floppers of all stripes will enjoy the new “Transformers: The Ride–3D” at <a href="" target="_hplink">Universal Studios Hollywood</a>. <em>Photo: Flickr/Dittmeyer</em>

  • New York City

    <strong>Hosted DNC:</strong> 1992, 1980, 1976, 1924, 1868 <strong>Hosted RNC:</strong> 2004 <strong>Presidential Connection:</strong> While Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush were all nominated in New York prior to winning their elections, Theodore Roosevelt is the only president to lay claim to the city as his birthplace. <strong>Historic Appeal:</strong> Now a National Historic Site, <a href="" target="_hplink">Teddy Roosevelt’s birthplace</a> is a museum celebrating his life and achievements. On the other end of the spectrum is Ulysses S. Grant, who was laid to rest in New York (along with his wife, should anyone ask you who is buried in <a href="" target="_hplink">Grant’s Tomb</a>) in Riverside Park. Off limits to visitors, sadly, is one of the city’s most fascinating presidential sites. There is an abandoned train station under the Waldorf-Astoria hotel that had previously allowed Franklin D. Roosevelt to come and go without being seen in a wheelchair because of his battle with polio. <strong>Campaign Stops:</strong> While visitors are currently prohibited from entering the Statue of Liberty, the nearly $30 million renovation should be completed shortly, which would allow the interior to reopen later this year. Another attraction in New York Harbor has been undergoing renovations to the tune of $260 million. Governors Island, a former military base, has become a green oasis situated just a short ferry ride from Manhattan and Brooklyn. Already home to art installations, festivals, and historic building, the island’s infrastructure is undergoing major improvements to make it an even more desirable destination. <em>Photo: Flickr/strunkfacejones</em>


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