Here in America, tomorrow is a federal holiday, observed by private banks and public schools alike. Originally established by the U.S. Congress in 1880 to commemorate George Washington, the first President of the United States, Washington's Birthday has since been renamed Presidents' Day  and shifted to the third Monday of February – which typically falls between Abraham Lincoln's birthday (February 12) and Washington's (February 22). In honor of Presidents' Day, I'll be discussing the country's top historical sites and presidential attractions with Michelle Wargo and Mary McBryde on Heartbeat Radio for Women  tomorrow (Monday) at noon EST (9 a.m. PST) – as part of Michelle and Mary's four-hour “Presidents' Day Special” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST (7 to 11 a.m. PST). Although I hope you'll tune in to the live stream, I thought I'd offer a taste of tomorrow's interview by exploring the homes of the first six U.S. presidents – all of which are open to visitors.
Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens: 
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, Virginia, 703/780-2000, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily November-February, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily March and September-October, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily April-August, $15 adults, $14 seniors 62 and over, $7 children 6-11, children under 6 free
Once the home of George Washington , America's first president (1789-1797), and his wife, Martha Washington, Mount Vernon is now one of the most popular historic estates in America. Situated along the banks of the Potomac River, about 16 miles south of Washington, D.C., Mount Vernon was the Washingtons' home from the time of their marriage in 1759 until the president's death in 1799. Expanded from 2,000 to 8,000 acres during Washington's time, the estate was eventually opened to the public in 1860, and since then, nearly 80 million visitors have toured the property, which now includes the lovely red-and-white mansion, several outbuildings (such as the kitchen, greenhouse, stables, and slave quarters), four different gardens, a four-acre working farm, a slave memorial, and the final resting place of George and Martha Washington.
Other diversions include the “National Treasure Tour” (9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. daily Mar.-Oct., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily Nov.-Dec., $5 pp), an hourlong walking tour that includes historical tidbits about the locations used in the film National Treasure: Book of Secrets; the Ford Orientation Center, which features a 20-minute action-adventure film about Washington's life; the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, which presents numerous theaters and galleries; George Washington's Distillery & Gristmill (daily Apr.-Oct., $4 adults, $2 children 6-11, children under 6 free), a water-powered mill located three miles south of the estate; and narrated sightseeing cruises (10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. Tues.-Sun. May-Aug. and Sat.-Sun. Apr. and Sept., $9 adults, $5 children 6-11, children under 6 free) on the Potomac River. At Mount Vernon, you'll also find several on-site shops and eateries, and be advised, too, that annual passes ($25 adults, $10 children 6-11), which allow unlimited daytime admission for one year, are additionally available.
Adams National Historical Park: 
135 Adams Street, Quincy, Massachusetts, 617/770-1175, park and visitor center 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily mid-April to mid-November, visitor center 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday mid-November to mid-April, $5 adults, children under 16 free
Made even more popular by the eponymous HBO miniseries, the ever-pensive John Adams , America's second president (1797-1801), and his son John Quincy Adams , America's sixth president (1825-1829), are now celebrated at the Adams National Historical Park. This property encompasses two main sites: the birthplaces of both presidents as well as Peacefield, which includes the Old House, home to four generations of the Adams family (from 1720 to 1927), and the Stone Library, containing more than 14,000 historic volumes.
To visit these three historic homes, you must join a ranger-led tour during the open season (mid-Apr. to mid-Nov.). To do so, simply park your vehicle in the parking garage behind the visitor center (1250 Hancock St.) – which houses exhibits, public restrooms, and a bookstore – and then hop aboard a trolley bound for the Presidential Birthplaces. Following a half-hour guided tour of the birthplaces, you will take the trolley to the Old House, for an hourlong guided tour of the property. Just remember that the tours, which can each accommodate a maximum of 10 visitors, are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Weekends are typically the busiest time for the park, so plan your trip accordingly, and remember that large bags and backpacks aren't allowed in the homes. Note, too, that the Adams National Historical Park offers an annual pass ($10 for up to four adults) and honors the America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes  ($80 per annual pass, $10 per lifetime senior pass, free lifetime pass for disabled individuals).
931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, Virginia, 434/984-9822, hours vary daily, $22 adults March-October, $17 adults November-February, $8 children 6-11, children under 6 free
Perched on a mountaintop outside Charlottesville, Virginia, the 5,000-acre Monticello plantation was once the home of Thomas Jefferson , America's third president (1801-1809), the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the founder of the University of Virginia . Built and furnished over the course of four decades by Jefferson himself, Monticello is truly a masterpiece. In fact, this amazing estate is the only historic house in America included on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites .
The basic admission to Monticello includes a guided 30-minute tour of the first floor of Jefferson's former home, highlighting his original furniture, art, books, and inventions. Also included with the price of admission is a visit to the Mountaintop Hands-on Activity Center (10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily Apr. 16-May 1, June 4-Sept. 5, and Oct. weekends) as well as the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center, which features an introductory film, the interactive Griffin Discovery Room, and four imaginative exhibits that explore Jefferson's words, his architectural skills, his use of Monticello as a laboratory, and his legacy of liberty. With admission, you can also take two 45-minute seasonal tours: the Plantation Community Tour (11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Feb.-Mar.), which focuses on the experiences of the slaves who lived and worked on the plantation, and the Gardens and Grounds Tour (10:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 1:15 p.m., 2:15 p.m., 3:15 p.m., 4:15 p.m., and 5:15 p.m. daily Apr.-Oct.), which explores Monticello's grove, gardens, and orchards and celebrates Jefferson's lifelong interest in botany, gardening, and agriculture.
While visiting, you can also participate in various lectures, workshops, and events, plus opt for special tours, such as the Behind the Scenes Tour (10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily, $37 pp), a guided one-hour tour that takes small groups to little-seen areas of the house, including the second-floor bedrooms and third-floor Dome Room. Unfortunately, though, this tour is not wheelchair-accessible. Be advised, too, that annual passes ($50 pp), which cover the basic house and grounds tours, are available for all ages.
11407 Constitution Highway, Orange, Virginia, 540/672-2728, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily November-March, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily April-October, $16 adults, $8 children 6-14, children under 6 free
Formerly the home of James Madison , America's fourth president (1809-1817) and the so-called “Father of the Constitution,” and his vivacious First Lady, Dolley Madison, the Montpelier estate was owned for more than 120 years by the Madison family, from 1723 to 1844. In fact, President Madison grew up at Montpelier, lived here during his marriage and after his presidency, and even died in his on-site study. Nestled amid the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the recently restored Montpelier estate encompasses the Madison mansion as well as several historic buildings, active archaeological sites, 2,650 acres of gardens and forests, a freedman's cabin and farm, the new Visitor Center and William duPont Gallery, the Madison family cemetery, the slave cemetery, and the 1910 Train Depot and segregation exhibit. Admission to Montpelier includes access to all of these sites, plus any themed tours, the Civil War Trail, the hands-on restoration tent and archaeology lab, and seasonal cooking demonstrations.
Ash Lawn-Highland: 
1000 James Monroe Parkway, Charlottesville, Virginia, 434/293-8000, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily November-March, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily April-October, $10 adults, $9 seniors 60 and older, $5 children 6-11 and local residents
Owned by James Monroe , America's fifth president (1817-1825), and his wife, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, from 1793 to 1826, Ash Lawn-Highland was opened to the public in 1931 by philanthropist Jay Winston Johns and, upon his death in 1974, bequeathed to the College of William and Mary  – alma mater of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe – in 1974. Since then, the college has adhered to Johns' request “to operate this property as a historic shrine for the education of the general public” by continually preserving, restoring, and interpretating the unique character of the Monroes' former estate.
Today, visitors will encounter the historic house (now a museum, filled with examples of Early American and Victorian architecture and decorative arts), a 535-acre working farm, and a gift shop featuring books, craftwork, presidential china, and Monroe memorabilia. Here, you can also participate in workshops ($15-20 adults, $10-15 students) that teach 18th- and 19th-century skills such as candlemaking, paper-quilling, ornament making, and open hearth cooking; note that the price for these workshops includes a house tour. Ash Lawn-Highland also presents a variety of special events throughout the year, including sheep-shearing demonstrations, a wine festival, an opera festival, and celebrations of the Monroes' wedding day and birthdays. If you plan to visit the property for several different events, consider purchasing an annual pass ($34 adults, $17.50 children).
As a child, I remember being particularly enamored with Mount Vernon and Monticello, but of course, presidential homes are just some of the engaging historical sites in America. For more history-related travel ideas, consult guidebooks like Moon Virginia  and Moon New England , or stay tuned for tomorrow's post .
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of the Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens  / Text © 2011 Laura Martone
Laura Martone is Moon’s American Nomad  and the author of Moon Florida Keys , Moon Michigan , Moon Baja RV Camping , and the upcoming Moon New Orleans, which will be published in Winter 2012.