With Hispanic Heritage Month now underway, mark the month-long commemoration with a weekend trip. Hundreds of national park sites and cities nationwide, from Florida’s Ybor City to California’s Santa Barbara Mission, highlight the rich cultural heritage and contributions of Latino-Americans with roots in Spain, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South Americas. Here are some of our top picks for Latino-American heritage sites worth exploring in both the continental US and its territories.
1. San Juan, Puerto Rico
Go sightseeing in San Juan and explore colonial-era forts like Castillo San Cristóbal, powder houses, bastions and even an old city wall. Only 12 national park areas in the United States (and its territories) have been named World Heritage Sites; this is one of them. Dating back to the Spanish Colonial era, San Juan was one of the key frontiers of Spanish conquistadors due to its prime location at the western edge of the Caribbean.
2. Santa Barbara Mission, California
See the “Queen of All Missions” in Santa Barbara, CA. In the late 1700s, Spanish Franciscans founded the Santa Barbara Mission, the tenth of 21 missions to be founded by the order. Today, the mission continues to be an active church. Take a tour of the grounds, including the mission’s historic cemetery, which serves as the final resting place for Native Americans and early settlers of Alta California, as well as the historic garden, which contains plants representative of the Mission era (1769 to 1836), including olives, grapes and citrus trees.
3. San Antonio, Texas
Texas’ most-visited city is imbued with Hispanic heritage, having been founded by a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries in 1691. Some of San Antonio’s top attractions speak to its Hispanic and Latino heritage — see Historic Market, the largest Mexican shopping center in the city, and Mission Concepcion, founded in 1716 by Franciscan friars (and the best-preserved of the Texas missions). Plus, enjoy these other fun things to do in San Antonio, and chow down at the best San Antonio River Walk restaurants before checking into any of these San Antonio River Walk hotels.
4. Castillo de San Marcos (St. Augustine, Florida)
Constructed by the Spanish between 1672 and 1695, Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental US — complete with plenty of ghost tales. Located on the shores of Matanzas Bay in St. Augustine, FL, the fort’s dark history includes inquisitions, massacres, starvation and one twisted love triangle, in short a great lockdown investigation for the Ghost Adventures team. Learn all about Castillo de San Marcos’ history, as well as the unsettled spirits at the old St. Augustine fort.
5. Ybor City, Florida
Known as Tampa’s Latin Quarter, this historic neighborhood northeast of downtown had to make our list. Founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers and their thousands of immigrant workers predominantly from Spain, Cuba and Italy, Ybor City still holds tight to its cigar-making roots. Take a trip to Tampa to get a history lesson in cigar making — plus, sink your teeth into a Cuban sandwich at local favorites like La Tropicana.
6. El Morro National Monument
Head to New Mexico to see El Morro National Monument. In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors discovered this shaded oasis in the western desert; today, see graffiti left behind by previous visitors — signatures, names, dates and (sometimes embellished) stories of their travels on the great sandstone promontory.
For more places to visit nationwide, check out this list of American Latino Heritage sites.