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From palaces to presidios: 5 attractions to immerse yourself in the Asian and Pacific Islander experience

May 08, 2021
5 min read
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May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. It's a time to celebrate those who descended from the Asian continent and the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

In 2021, the celebration is particularly noteworthy amidst the increase in anti-AAPI hate crimes across the U.S.

There are many ways to recognize the rich history and culture of the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have contributed to America’s diversity. One of those ways is to visit one of the parks, memorials or historic sites spread across the U.S. that tell the stories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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While visiting a city's AAPI district (i.e. Chinatown in New York or Japantown in Los Angeles) is an easy way to experience that subgroup's culture, there are many places to immerse yourself that are under the radar.

Here are five of those lesser-known sites that you can visit this month, or any time of year.

Related: Review of Hotel 50 Bowery, a Hyatt hotel that pays tribute to its Chinatown neighborhood

Niles Canyon Transcontinental Railroad Historic District

Where is it: Between the towns of Sunol and (Niles) Fremont, California

Niles Canyon Transcontinental Railroad (Photo by Michael Marfell/Getty Images)

If you've ever taken a train that crisscrosses the continental U.S., it's likely the hands of Chinese laborers that helped build it.

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Completed in 1870, the Niles Canyon Historic District is the final segment of the First Transcontinental Railroad which provided the first-ever rail connection between the San Francisco Bay area and the rest of the U.S.

Thousands of Chinese laborers were forced to construct this section of the railroad and it's considered to be one of the most significant engineering achievements of the 19th century.

Today, Niles Canyon is incredibly well preserved and is a transit lover's dream. In fact, it's one of the only remaining railroad corridors that has not been substantially altered for modern transportation projects.

Related: California dreaming? 10 cool towns to visit in the Golden State

Presidio of San Francisco, CA

Where is it: San Francisco, CA

Presidio in San Francisco, CA (Photo by DianeBentleyRaymond/Getty Images)

The Presidio of San Francisco, now a park, is located at the mouth of the San Francisco Bay. It's a major recreation hub with an idyllic setting near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge offering miles of trails, a golf course and various scenic overlooks.

Previously, the Presidio served as a military outpost, playing a pivotal role in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. In fact, this was the headquarters for the U.S. Army command responsible for forcibly removing 120,000 Japanese Americans and people of Japanese descent from their homes.

Related: 6 great road trips from San Francisco

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Where is it: Seattle, WA

Seattle Chinatown (Photo by Bruce Yuanyue Bi/Getty Images)

The Wing Luke Museum is housed in a three-story building first built by Chinese immigrants in 1910. It has the distinction of being the only community-based museum in the U.S. exclusively dedicated to the history of AAPI immigrants.

Located in the heart of Seattle's Chinatown, the museum houses exhibits and art showcasing the history of immigrants to the area, including Bruce Lee memorabilia.

Seattle's Chinatown, along with the surrounding neighborhoods, eventually became one of the most diverse immigrant communities in the U.S., with people from China, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines and various Pacific Islands living together alongside African Americans.

Related: 8 fun things for families to do in Seattle

Iolani Palace

Where is it: Honolulu, HI

Iolani Palace in Honolulu, HI (Photo by gregobagel/Getty Images)

Hawaii was first settled by Polynesian voyagers as early as 400 C.E. before being exploited by U.S. interests in the late 1800s.

The Iolani Palace is the only royal palace in the U.S. and acts as a symbol of the former Hawaiian kingdom before U.S. forces overthrew it. The palace was the official residence of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s last two monarchs: King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani.

The grounds around the palace are considered to be the site of an ancient heiau (place of worship). Today, the palace has been partially restored including the first and second floors, which are open to the public.

Related: I visited a reopened Kauai in Hawaii — 5 things to know before you go

Butte-Anaconda Historic District, Montana

Where is it: Butte, Anaconda and Walkerville, Montana

Butte, Montana (Photo by Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/Getty Images)

In its heyday in the early 1900s, this area of Montana produced one-third of the entire world's copper and was one of the centers of the U.S. labor organizing movement.

Chinese immigrants played a huge role in mining, with their arrival in the Butte area in 1868. However, they were eventually forced out of the industry, as economic depression heightened anti-Chinese sentiment. As a result, Chinese immigrants began opening various businesses -- from noodle parlors to laundry establishments -- to support the local community (and themselves). Thus, a Chinese enclave began to form.

Today, the Butte-Anaconda Historic District is a well-preserved reminder of the town's mining prosperity and highlights the Asian experience in Montana.

Interestingly, the Pekin Noodle Parlor in Butte is not only still in the original building, but it's also considered the oldest continuously operating Chinese restaurant in the U.S.

Related: 6 of the best Colorado ski towns

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023