Skip to site content
group travel leader select traveler small market meetings

America’s religious heritage

Courtesy PA Dutch Country CVB

Look close enough, and you’ll find that cities all around America were built on a heritage of faith.

It’s hard to miss the impact that faith and religion have had on this country as you explore the rich cultures and heritage that grace the corners of America. According to the World Heritage Center, approximately 20 percent of sites named on the official World Heritage List have some sort of connection with religion or spiritual matters.

Religious heritage sites across the country range from sanctuaries of worship to attractions that provide a glimpse into the spiritual lives of the Founding Fathers. Part of the beauty of these sites comes from how prominently they proclaim that religion and history are so delicately entwined. Although many have tried to unravel the religion from the history over the years, these religious heritage sites remind us that America’s history cannot be separated from its spiritual past.

[ San Francisco ]

Although many people view this metropolis as a melting pot for pop culture and eccentric characters, San Francisco’s history can be traced back to one small church standing alone on the West Coast. In 1776, Father Junipero Serra founded Mission Dolores, forever establishing this region with a deep religious heritage all its own.

“There have been books written about all the different religious heritage sites of San Francisco,” said Laurie Armstrong, director of media relations for the San Francisco Travel Association. “I think people don’t realize the depth and diversity of it. There are so many different types of people here with so many types of backgrounds, and that really began with the 1845 gold rush when, almost overnight, thousands of people arrived in San Francisco with their gear and headed up for the foothills. A lot of them stayed and really took this city from being a small fishing village to a major metropolitan city.”

From trekking out to where San Francisco began at Mission Dolores and visiting the first cathedral in California at Old St. Mary’s to exploring the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco is rich in multicultural religious heritage. But a trip to the City by the Bay wouldn’t be complete without attending a service at Glide Memorial Church, as seen in the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness.”

“They do Sunday morning celebration, and they are just famous for being uplifting and spirited and diverse,” said Armstrong. “I’ve sat in a service before and looked around and thought, there are literally people of every age and race here.”

[ Washington, D.C. ]
Religious heritage runs deep in our nation’s capital and, in most cases, is written on the walls for all to see. Groups can explore their faith by gazing at one of the Gutenberg bibles (the first book printed on a printing press) at the Library of Congress or proudly stand in the room where the House of Representatives meets to see the nation’s motto in big, bold letters proclaiming “In God We Trust” behind the speaker’s chair.

“There are so many stories behind the people of Washington, D.C., that expose a lot of our Christian heritage,” said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association and owner of the website “For example, the Jefferson Memorial. If you walk inside, by the statue, there are four inscriptions above the Jefferson statue, and all of them reference God. If you go to the Lincoln Memorial, you will see significant references to God and the Bible. Religion has played a very significant part in our nation’s history.”

The Washington area is one of the few places you can get such expansive religious heritage combined with such a rich patriotic culture. A trip to nearby Mount Vernon Estate will expose George Washington’s personal religious history. On a tour of his home, visitors can hear Washington’s farewell address, which mentions religion and morality as the pillars the country was founded upon.