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Top 10 National Convention Host Cities

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The 2012 Democratic and Republican National Conventions will be held in Charlotte and Tampa, respectively. 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. Some of these delegate destinations have not seen a convention since before the Great Depression, while others welcomed the political machines during the current economic downturn. Our top 10 national convention host cities have seen their fair share of political drama, backstabbing, and glad-handing. 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. As thousands of people descend on Charlotte and Tampa, we turn the spotlight on some of the other cities that have hosted the presidents.

See what makes these cities so historic and entertaining in our National Convention Host Cities slideshow.

Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, vacation packages, and more travel deals.

Baltimore

Hosted DNC: 1832, 1835, 1840, 1844, 1848, 1852, 1860, 1872, 1912
Hosted RNC: 1864 

Presidential Connection: 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 Museum of Dentistry and the first Washington monument in the Mount Vernon neighborhood.  

Historic Appeal: 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 Star-Spangled Banner Pass, 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.  

Campaign Stops: From August 31 to September 2, Baltimore sees a different kind of battle, as the Grand Prix of Baltimore 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, Watermark’s Cruises on the Bay 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.  

Jethro Kang

Chicago

Hosted DNC: 1996, 1968, 1956, 1952, 1944, 1940, 1932, 1896, 1892, 1884, 1864
Hosted RNC: 1960, 1952, 1944, 1932, 1920, 1916, 1912, 1908, 1904, 1888, 1884, 1880, 1868, 1860 

Presidential Connection: 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. 

Historic Appeal: Cyclists can learn about President Obama’s life before the White House on a Presidential Bike Tour 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 Museum of Science and Industry

Campaign Stops: Replace the drama of politics with the laughs of improv comedy at The Second City. 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 Field Museum of Natural History 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 would have looked like in ancient Egypt. The Chicago International Film Festival, the oldest competitive film festival in North America, runs from October 11 through the 25.

Mike Barish

See our Chicago destination guide for general trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, vacation packages, and more travel deals.

Cincinnati

Hosted DNC: 1856, 1880
Hosted RNC: 1876 

Presidential Connection: Cincinnati’s presidential connections all seem to come in threes. The city has hosted three national conventions. Additionally, three presidents have called Cincinnati home: Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and William Howard Taft. 

Historic Appeal: Check out the William Howard Taft National Historic Site, a two-story Greek Revival house where the former president was born and raised. Restored to its original splendor, visitors can tour Taft’s birthplace, four period rooms that reflect his family life, and an education center with family artifacts and an animatronic figure of William Taft’s son Charlie, which tells his family’s history.  

Campaign Stops: At the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, felines now have a new home in the form of Cat Canyon. Opened on June 30, the renovated exhibit allows visitors to peer into the eyes of a Malayan tiger (separated only by an inch of glass), and includes an outdoor area that showcases white tigers and snow leopards in their natural setting. Also newly opened is the American Sign Museum, which recently moved to its new home in Cincinnati’s Camp Washington. Housed in a former clothing and parachute factory, the exhibit displays signs and advertisements from the past, including neon billboards and classic painted banners.  

Jethro Kang

Denver

Hosted DNC: 2008, 1908 

Presidential Connection: The Mile High City hosted the Democratic National Convention twice – 100 years apart. In 1908, Denver was the first western city to host a convention for a major national party, and it was the first to accredit women. In 2008, the Rocky Mountain capital made history when Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, an African-American, won the nomination for president. The convention also saw the late Massachusetts Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy deliver a poignant speech before the delegates, paraphrasing his brother’s 1961 inaugural address and his own 1980 convention speech.  

Historic Appeal: Denver had only been a city for 50 years when it hosted the 1908 Democratic National Convention. To accommodate the large crowds, the convention would bring, the city built the second largest auditorium in America (after New York’s Madison Square Garden). Denver’s Municipal Auditorium, now named the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, is part of the city’s performing arts complex – the largest under one roof in the United States – with ten performance spaces on a 12-acre site. 

Campaign Stops: History Colorado Center, a 200,000-square-foot, $110.8 million museum, just opened in April 2012. This new cultural attraction hosts high-tech and hands-on exhibits that immerse visitors in stories of Colorado’s past. The museum highlights a wide spectrum of historic accounts. Exhibits allow visitors to experience pivotal moments in the Centennial State’s history. In 1858, William Green Russell, a miner, discovered a small gold deposit in what is now Confluence Park. This event triggered the Gold Rush of the late nineteenth century and the founding of the city of Denver that same year. Located on Denver’s 850-mile bike trail network, the river park is surrounded by attractions. Ride the Platte River Trolley to the Downtown Aquarium to see stingrays and sharks, The Children’s Museum of Denver, or dine in the nearby neighborhoods of Riverfront, LoHi, and Highlands.

Zoë Mintz

See our Denver destination guide for general trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, vacation packages, and more travel deals.

Houston

Hosted DNC: 1928
Hosted RNC: 1992 

Presidential Connection: 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.  

Historic Appeal: 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 Houstonian Hotel 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 George Bush Presidential Library and Museum is about an hour away in College Station, TX.  

Campaign Stops: 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, Asia Society Texas Center opened a $48.4-million, 40,000-square-foot headquarters that includes an art gallery and theater. The Houston Museum of Natural Science inaugurated a 30,000-square-foot Hall of Paleontology in June. Come September, the free Blaffer Art Museum, which showcases emerging and underrepresented artists, will unveil a top-to-bottom renovation.

Liz Webber

See our Houston destination guide for general trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, vacation packages, and more travel deals.

Los Angeles

Hosted DNC: 1960, 2000  

Presidential Connection: 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. 

Historic Appeal: California’s two presidential libraries lie just outside car-crazy La La Land’s bubble of lefty bumper stickers. In Simi Valley, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, newly renovated and expanded in 2011, offers tours of the Gipper’s Air Force One plane. And in Yorba Linda, the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum features a recently revamped Watergate exhibit that doesn’t shy away from confronting the hard truths of the scandal.  

Campaign Stops: 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 Los Angeles County Museum of Art (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 Universal Studios Hollywood.

Darren Frei

See our Los Angeles destination guide for general trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, vacation packages, and more travel deals.

Miami

Hosted DNC: 1972
Hosted RNC: 1972, 1968 

Presidential Connection: South Florida’s presidential history is murkier than the water in the Everglades. Miami hosted the conventions that led to the nominations of George McGovern, a Democrat, and Richard Nixon, a Republican. Nixon defeated McGovern in one of the largest landslides in American history before leaving the White House in shame. Additionally, President-elect Franklin Roosevelt escaped an assassination attempt in Miami in 1933.  

Historic Appeal: Coffee lovers and conspiracy theorists will enjoy a visit to Little Havana. Many people believe that the CIA trained Cuban exiles to assassinate John F. Kennedy, a theory that was explored by author Joan Didion, who claimed that Cuban-Americans considered JFK to be the second-most hated man in Miami (after Fidel Castro). The Miami Beach Convention Center, site of all three of the city’s national conventions, still plays host to major events, including Art Basel, the internationally renowned contemporary art festival. 

Campaign Stops: Wearing white is very chic on South Beach, but it’s also trendy at Jungle Island, where they’ve added a white lion, two royal white tigers, and two snow tigers to their new exhibit. Two of Miami’s most prominent universities are celebrating the city’s diversity through exhibits featuring artists that represent the city’s Caribbean and Latin influences. Frost Museum of Art at Florida International University is showcasing Jamaican artists, while the Lowe Museum of Art at the University of Miami is home to an exhibit of Mexican devotional works.

Mike Barish

See our Miami destination guide for general trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, vacation packages, and more travel deals.

 

New York City

Hosted DNC: 1992, 1980, 1976, 1924, 1868
Hosted RNC: 2004 

Presidential Connection: 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.  

Historic Appeal: Now a National Historic Site, Teddy Roosevelt’s birthplace 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 Grant’s Tomb) 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. 

Campaign Stops: 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.

— Mike Barish

See our New York City destination guide for general trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, vacation packages, and more travel deals.

 

Philadelphia

Hosted DNC: 1936, 1948
Hosted RNC: 1856, 1872, 1900, 1940, 1948, 2000 

Presidential Connection: Philadelphia hosted the first ever Republican National Convention in 1856, followed by five more, most recently in 2000, at which George W. Bush was nominated. The city is also home to the National Constitution Center, where President Barack Obama gave his speech on race in 2008, and where former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush both received the Liberty Medal for their work with victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Southeast Asian Tsunami.  

Historic Appeal: As the nation’s former capital, Philadelphia has a number of “White Houses” within its limits. The President’s House, home to George Washington and John Adams from 1790 to 1800, is now an exhibition on slavery, and the Deshler-Morris House in Germantown, the oldest official presidential residence (which also served as George Washington’s summer retreat) are both open to the public.    

Campaign Stops: Feel the passion of “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen,” a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit at the National Constitution Center. The show captures The Boss’ career from his early days to his anthems with the E Street Band, and includes more than 150 artifacts like guitars, outfits, and handwritten lyric manuscripts. Just across the Delaware River, Adventure Aquarium is currently holding an exhibit on the Megalodon, a gigantic prehistoric shark that ruled the oceans more than two million years ago. Guests can enter its gaping jaws through a 60-foot-long sculpture, touch a full set of its razor-sharp teeth, and find out what modern species are related to this ancient beast.

Jethro Kang

See our Philadelphia destination guide for general trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, vacation packages, and more travel deals.

St. Louis

Hosted DNC: 1876, 1888, 1904, 1916
Hosted RNC: 1896  

Presidential Connection: William McKinley won the nomination for president here in 1896 during the city’s only National Republican Convention. The 25th president eventually led the nation into the Spanish-American War and the modern era of American history. Woodrow Wilson, the nation’s 28th president who led the nation during World War I, won his nomination in a landslide vote: 1,092 ayes to 1 nay.  

Historic Appeal: Ulysses S. Grant is known as the 18th president and the Civil War general that led the Union forces. In St. Louis, visitors can follow in Grant’s footsteps. At White Haven, the national historic site for the president, his family life is on display with many free activities. Grant’s Farm, a 281-acre farm and petting zoo, was owned by the former president in the 1850s. Now part of the Anheuser-Busch family, a remnant of Grant’s residency remains. Grant’s Cabin (nicknamed Hardscrabble by the former president), a home that the former president built in three days for his family, sits on the property.  

Campaign Stops: After closing its doors for over twenty years, the Peabody Opera House re-opened in October 2011. The 3,100 seat venue with 12 luxury boxes and a two-story lobby constructed entirely of Tennessee and St. Genevieve marble hosts Broadway, theatricals, and concerts. St. Louis is known as a baseball city, but it’s also home to the World Chess Hall of Fame. Originally a museum in the basement of the organization’s headquarters in New Windsor, NY, followed by a brief stint in Miami, the museum opened in September 2011 in St. Louis’ Central West End. It houses a permanent collection, temporary exhibitions highlighting the great players like Bobby Fischer, historic games, and the game’s cultural history. Admission is free.

Zoë Mintz

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