National Center for Civil and Human Rights

When you’re exploring our nation’s capital, suggests one historic-tour guide, don’t miss the chance to tour the Pentagon, explore the tucked-away Theodore Roosevelt Island—or stand in a parking garage in Arlington, VA.

“Many people don’t realize that the ‘Deep Throat’ garage—where Mark Felt met with Woodward and Bernstein—is still a working parking garage in Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood,” says Andrew Terranova, concierge at Philadelphia’s Hotel Monaco, and the guide for the nearby Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour. “A historic marker has been placed outside.

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No doubt, history can live on in the most unlikely locations—even in stately, landmark-filled cities such as Washington, D.C., and Philly, which both made the top five for historic significance among Travel+Leisure readers.

In the most recent America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 38 metropolitan areas for such cultural attributes as their art galleries, live music and architecture—and also how well they have preserved their pasts.

Certainly, some of the top 20 winners have provided the settings for various chapters in U.S. history, but the definition of “historic” need not be limited to monuments and museums. In some of the top 20 cities, you can step into another era just by pulling up a stool in the pub where Paul Revere used to be a regular, by checking into the hotel where famed gangster John Dillinger was captured, or by catching a concert where Elvis first performed for a crowd.

That offers a nice cover for anyone who likes to balance museum visits with historically legit downtime. “It’s more than the original buildings and period characters,” says Terranova. “It’s truly the spirit of the city. Sometimes you can’t touch it—it’s just a feeling.”

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