Experience Rock History Firsthand: 10 Legendary Music Havens in the USA

If you love music, there are plenty of destinations in the USA you can visit, and luckily most are affordable.

So, if you want to take a break from concerts and festivals, here are ten legendary places to check out.

1. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a museum dedicated to everything rock, located at 1100 Rock and Roll Blvd. in Cleveland, Ohio 44114. It’s open daily from 10AM-5:30PM (except till 9PM on Wednesdays.) Admission is $22 for adults, $17 for seniors, $13 for those ages 9-12, $18 for Cleveland residents and free for members and those ages 8 and under. Patrons can spend five hours or two days viewing the museum (two-day passes are available,) and all funds go towards the education, preservation and celebration of rock & roll music. Click here to check out hotels near the Rock Hall (including special packages which consist of tickets, hotel pricing an amenities.)

The museum features special exhibits year-round, both permanent and temporary, including 3D films and documentaries, interactive visual presentations, artifacts from legendary artists and shows, and events/concerts (which I recommend planning your trip around, as you get to witness live performances and the museum together.) Click here to view upcoming events.

2. Woodstock Museum

If you’re a fan of rock & roll, certainly you’ve become familiar with the infamous Woodstock festival of 1969. Located at 200 Hurd Road in Bethel, NY is the Bethel Woods Center of the Arts, a museum and concert venue located at the original Woodstock location. Here, attendees, fans and those interested in Woodstock’s history can experience firsthand stories, educational dialogue and more, through interactive media displays an exhibits. The arts venue also features various concerts and events, especially during spring and summer seasons. To make the most of your trip, especially if you’re traveling from out-of-state, I recommend visiting on the same day as a special event or concert; some events are free to attend with ticket admission. (For a list of upcoming events/concerts, click here.)

The Museum is open year-round except January-April 1st. Its hours are Thursday-Sunday from 10AM-5PM until May 27th and Monday-Sunday from 10AM-7PM until September 5th. The summer season is busiest, so it is recommended to purchase advance tickets online or over-the-phone if you plan on attending then. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $11 for ages 8-17, $6 for kids ages 3-7, $13 for senior citizens and free admission for those under 2. On Saturdays, a bus service is available from Port Authority NYC and Middletown, NY. If you plan on staying a few days, check out Valley Brook Inn and Cottages in Wurtsboro, NY, the Best Western Monticello in Monticello, NY or the Villa Roma Resort and Conference Center in Callicoon, NY.

3. Strawberry Fields (John Lennon Memorial)

Located in NYC, Strawberry Fields is a memorial to the late-Beatle, John Lennon. The site marks the place where Lennon was killed as he walked home. Specifically, the memorial consists of a black-and-white mosaic engraved in the ground, as well as a plaque which lists those who made donations to the site. It’s located at Central Park West between 71st and 74th streets and is free to visit year-round. People have come here from all over the world to pay homage to the great artist with flowers and keepsakes, although there tends to be a public gathering on the dates of his birth (10/9) and death (12/8.) To get the full experience, I recommend visiting (or at least checking out from afar) the Dakota Apartments, where Lennon and Yoko lived; these are located adjacent to the park.

Even if you aren’t the biggest Beatles’ fan, the location of the monument is worth checking out simply for its convenient location (Central Park); there are plenty of awesome statues and landmarks to see in this area, and Strawberry Fields is just one of them. If you are a Beatles’ fan, this location is a must-see. (There are plenty of places to stay in the city from hotels to hostels. If you’re looking to save money, I recommend checking out Couchsurfing or AirBnB.)

4. Graceland

As you most likely already know, Graceland is known as the heart and home of Elvis Presley. It’s located in the Whitehaven community at 3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, TN. The large, white mansion and 13-acre estate has become an infamous landmark for Elvis fans and Memphis itself. It provides extensive tours of Elvis’s once-home, from his beginnings through his rise as a musical icon. Fans will enjoy interactive video, photos, memorabilia, costumes and more. The Mansion itself reflects how Elvis lived with family in friends, the Car Museum displays over 33 vehicles owned by him, Graceland Crossing exhibits specific costumes and wardrobe worn by the musician, while fans can even board either of his two custom jets, one of which features a living room, private bedroom, conference room, and more.

In addition, Graceland is about four miles north of Mississippi an about twelve miles away from Downtown Memphis, which is convenient if you want to explore the area at length. I recommend checking out the Arcade Restaurant, located at 540 South Main Street in Memphis, where Elvis used to drink malts in his youth. Graceland is open year-round; click here for the hourly and ticketing schedules. If you’re looking to get the full, accommodated Elvis experience, I recommend staying at the Heartbreak Hotel, located across the street from Graceland.

5. Continental “Riot” House

Originally known as the Continental Hyatt House, the “Riot House” became a more fitting nickname in the 1960s and 1970s. Located on 8401 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, CA, the Riot House became infamous for the many musicians who stayed and partied there. Supposedly some of the infamous antics included Axel Rose throwing steaks from his balcony to fans below in 1986, Keith Richards mooning outsiders from Room 1015, Jim Morrison being evicted for hanging out the window by his fingertips and Led Zeppelin riding their motorcycles in the hallways, throwing TVs out the window and renting six floors of the hotel. (And of course, there are the groupies.) It was referenced in Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” and was referenced in movies like Almost Famous, Rock Star and This is Spinal Tap.

The Hyatt House was renovated and renamed as Andaz West Hollywood in 2009, but it still retains its legendary status. By the front desk a poster hangs that reads, “Be kind to this customer. He may just have sold a million records.”

6. Memory Motel

Located at 692 Montauk Highway in Montauk/Long Island, NY, the Memory Motel was made famous in 1976 when the Rolling Stones named a song after it (featured on the Black and Blue album.) Supposedly the band wrote part of the song at the motel bar, while they also stayed at Andy Warhol’s nearby home. The song itself runs a rare seven minutes and features both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on vocals.

Currently the motel still exists at the same location, in the center of Montauk’s historical village, one block away from the ocean/beach. The motel features live music, their “world famous bar,” and the same jukebox from the 1970s.

7. Whisky a Go-Go

Located at 8901 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, CA, Whiskey a Go-Go has been a legendary venue for many up-and-coming bands, beginning in the 60s with Buffalo Springfield, The Doors, The Byrds, Alice Cooper and Them (Van Morrison), to The Kinks, Slade, Led Zeppelin and The Who, to Patti Smith, The Police, Talking Heads and The Runaways, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Soundgarden and more. It’s speculated that the art of go-go dancing originated here.

Conveniently, the Whiskey is located on Sunset Strip, in close proximity to the Riot House (mentioned above.

8. Chelsea Hotel

Located at 222 West 23rd Street, between 7th and 8th avenues in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, NYC, the Chelsea Hotel has a reputation of hosting and providing refuge for many renowned artists, poets, writers and musicians. Built in 1883, it became known as a music haven in the 60s and 70s: Bob Dylan wrote songs here; Sid Vicious allegedly stabbed and killed his girlfriend Nancy here in 1978; Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Patti Smith, and more, all have passed through, created and/or resided here.

Said Patti Smith of this hotel: “The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe… so many transient souls had espoused, made a mark, and succumbed here. I sniffed out their spirits as I silently scurried from floor to floor, longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillars.”

9. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson Memorial

Located in Clear Lake, Iowa is the memorial for the late Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson Jr. Known as “the day the music died” (in Don McLean’s “American Pie”), the lives of these three musicians were taken way too early in a 1959 plane crash. Sadly and ironically, Clear Lake wasn’t an original stop scheduled on the tour, while for all except one previous stop, the musicians were using a charter bus.

Specifically the memorial is located a quarter mile west of 315th Street and Gull Avenue, about five miles north of Clear Lake. A fan of the musicians created a stainless steel guitar monument as well as three records with the name of each performer, in 1988. As a signal that fans are almost near the memorial, there are a gigantic pair of horn-rimmed glasses by the roadside (a trademark of Buddy Holly.)

10. New Orleans, LA

Yes, I know this is a city. But having been to New Orleans myself, and experiencing everything it has to offer, I must say my favorite aspect of this city is the music scene. If you don’t dig jazz or the blues, don’t sweat it because the city offers all varieties of music. However, jazz and the blues are the origins of the rock & roll we’ve come to love, and this city contains the perfect, eclectic mix of all these genres.

There are festivals held here year-round (notably Marti Gras and Jazzfest,) an even if you happen to be visiting during a time of no festivals, there are plenty of renowned jazz, rock and reggae clubs in the area. Unlike other cities where at best you’d find a man playing guitar for cash, here you’ll find the streets packed with aspiring, retired and freelance musicians who simply want to make music for the hell of it, and I guarantee they’ll have way more fancy instruments than guitars to play. There is a reason why New Orleans is known as “The Birthplace of Jazz.” Come experience this city and you won’t regret it.

For information on hotels, click here.

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Other notable mentions:

Joshua Tree Inn, CA

[Here, in Room 8, Gram Parsons passed on due to a lethal tequila/morphine cocktail. Phil Kaufman (Parsons’ road manager) took his body to Cap Rock in Joshua Tree National Park and set it on fire, which is what Parsons wanted. It was at this location where Parsons used to hang with Keith Richards, get high, and sight-see for UFO’s. A journal is kept at the bedside table of Room 8 for fans to sign and pay homage to Parsons. At Cap Rock lays a plaque that echoes the title of one of Parsons’ tracks, “Safe at Home.”]

Kate’s Lazy Meadow, Catskill Mountains, NY

(The B52’s Kate Pierson created this psychedelic and retro-designed motel, consisting of rustic cabins, nine acres, a meadow and a great view of the Catskills. Sounds like an excellent Love Shack.)

Café Wha, Greenwich Village, NYC (Bob Dylan hung out here while a young Jimi Hendrix performed here. It is still a hoppin’ café and live music spot.)