4/26/2023 | By Kari Smith

If you’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a lifetime of travel, finding a new destination may feel challenging. Consider visiting these living history museums, all along the East Coast of the United States. They provide entertaining and informative travel options for senior adults, chances to learn something new and stimulate the brain in an enjoyable manner.

What is a living history museum?

Living history museums, also known as living museums, typically recreate a certain period of time in history, enabling visitors to experience the era in a more immersive manner. Living history museums are staffed by costumed historical interpreters, who depict life in that time period. They’re eager to answer guests’ questions, usually answering as if they really were the character that they portray.

Five top living history museums in the eastern U.S.

Many living museum destinations in the eastern United States, cover distinct time periods of U.S. history, notably:

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

The mission at Colonial Williamsburg declares, “That the future may learn from the past.” The sprawling acres of a re-created colonial town accomplishes its mission through historical preservation, research and archaeology, and public education and demonstrations.

Colonial Williamsburg, the largest U.S. living history museum, focuses on the years from 1699 to 1780, when Williamsburg played a significant role in the American Revolution and served as the capital of Virginia.

The area near Virginia’s coast features many historical sites, including the capitol, the governor’s palace, and a public armory. The immersive experience boasts period attractions such as carriage and wagon rides, fife and drum marches, livestock displays, and traditional eateries. Colonial Williamsburg also shares relevant information on indigenous peoples and Blacks.

Visitors can also explore “America’s Historic Triangle,” which includes nearby Jamestown and Yorktown, too.

Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia

George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Just south of Washington D.C. in Fairfax County is George Washington’s Mount Vernon. This American landmark on the Potomac River was the home and estate of the first U.S. president, George Washington, and his wife, Martha. The grounds include the mansion, the historic area (including over a dozen outbuildings), four manicured gardens, the tombs of George and Martha Washington, and a farm. Less than three miles from the main estate are reconstructions of George Washington’s Distillery where whiskey is still made today, and a working gristmill, which are open seasonally.

The Mount Vernon experience also includes a museum and education center with galleries and theaters, shops, a restaurant, and a food court.

Click here for a look at Colonial Williamsburg’s accessibility options.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, Virginia

Old Sturbridge Village

blacksmith Sturbridge Village, one of the many living history museums on the U.S. east coast, by Ritu Jethani.

Old Sturbridge Village is a 200-acre re-creation of an 1830s New England town. The village includes over 200 acres and 40 historical buildings in rural Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Structures include homes, trade shops, water-powered mills, a country store, and a working farm. The area is staffed with costumed historians, including tradesmen such as a blacksmith, a potter, and a printmaker. Musicians and storytellers share period-specific experiences, and farm animals include cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, and horses.

The aim of the Village is to use its specialty programs (such as agriculture, horticulture, and trades) and historic property to educate the public.

The Village also offers lodging packages, including the Couple’s Homestead Package, which offers a full 18th-century historical experience doing things such as cooking over a hearth fireplace and working outside.

Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts

Frontier Culture Museum

The open-air living history museum of Frontier Culture Museum in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia shares the formation of American folk culture through the blending of diverse immigrants and indigenous people. It highlights settlements from England, Germany, Ireland, and West Africa, along with a Native American Ganatastwi, and tells how the people’s contributions impacted the colonies as well as today’s nation.

The self-guided tour moves along an approximately two-mile paved walking path through 11 permanent exhibits, with costumed interpreters communicating the story behind them.

Golf carts are available for rental for those who may have mobility issues. Some areas, such as the gardens and pastures, are only accessible via the lawn. Visit here for tickets, policies, and accessibility.

Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton, Virginia

Genesee Country Village and Museum

Founded in 1966, the 600-acre Genesee Country Village and Museum is the largest living history museum in New York. It preserves the architecture of the region in a historic village that has been re-created as a backdrop for telling the story of American history in the 19th century in that area. The John L. Wehle Gallery and the Genessee Country Nature Center and working farm enrich the experience with exhibits and educational program. More than 68 buildings and 20,000 artifacts tell the stories of the first settlers to the region. Visitors can also take part in workshops, like crafting and baking, for an even more immersive experience.

The seasonal property opens early May.

Genesee Country Village and Museum, Mumford, New York

Being physically active, keeping your mind stimulated, and staying connected with social activities all act to stimulate the brain. Add this to the relaxation and fun of exploring a new area, and they add up to the fact that traveling back in history is an exciting and perhaps even healthy choice for your next destination!

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith