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If the Roaring Twenties weren’t already decadent enough, the decade also gave birth to the American road-trip vacation. After Henry Ford normalized the 40-hour workweek, Americans discovered they could spend their free time traveling. Since automobiles were suddenly being mass-produced, more Americans bought family cars with the extra cash provided by the decade’s economic growth.
In these postwar, pre-Depression years, Americans realized they loved everything about exploring. From going on a road trip from sea to shining sea to camping in one of the country’s newer national parks, these were the most popular vacations for Americans in the 1920s.
The advent of the motion picture launched Hollywood, California, as the place Americans wanted to see and be seen. With the birth of the silent movie star, Hollywood became coveted by tourists wishing to witness the magic of showbiz for themselves. The development of major landmarks during the 1920s also increased the number of visitors to the increasingly popular L.A. neighborhood. The Hollywood Bowl, the famed music venue, was built in 1922, while the Hollywood sign was erected a year later.
Tourists also flocked to Hollywood to see Grauman’s Chinese Theater and to visit the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, both of which were located on the most illustrious strip of Hollywood Boulevard. These iconic institutions still stand today, representing the decade that continues to define the glitz and glamour of Old Hollywood.
Yosemite National Park, California
With the popularization of the Ford Model T during the 1920s, automobiles became standard for American families. As a result, camping appealed to travelers for the same reason it does today — it was an easy and affordable vacation. Of all the places to camp, Yosemite National Park was sought after by people who lived in the West, especially when the weather was warm.
After the Evergreen Lodge opened in 1921, visitors could rent a room in the main lodge or stay in a secluded private cabin. The same year, road construction throughout the park made Yosemite all the more accessible for the average American. It was also around this time that Ansel Adams began taking his famous black-and-white photographs of Yosemite, which popularized the park’s famous landscape.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach was a true hotspot in the late 1920s, thanks in large part to the Hotel Cavalier. The luxury beachside resort was finished in 1927 and fitted with modern conveniences that reflected the wealth of the decade. Each room was outfitted with amenities that weren’t yet common for travelers, such as private bathrooms and cold-water faucets, while the hotel boasted revolutionary luxuries such as an indoor saltwater swimming pool and a spa.
As a result, the resort drew the likes of the rich and famous, such as writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, actor Fatty Arbuckle, and President Calvin Coolidge. It became so popular that the resort had a special train that ran nonstop from Chicago, effectively putting Virginia Beach on the U.S. map.
Pre-revolution Havana was a magnet for wealthy travelers in the 1920s, and it’s easy to see why. At the time, Americans were escaping colder temperatures and equally chilly liquor laws in favor of Cuba’s tropical climate and Prohibition-free culture. It didn’t hurt that the island boasted sandy beaches and was fairly easy to reach from the States.
Throughout the 1920s, Havana’s tourist economy boomed, with hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and casinos built to accommodate American tourists. In fact, Cuba’s infrastructure increased so much that the island began to attract working-class Americans, as bartenders who were out of work during Prohibition found jobs in Cuban establishments. In general, warmer destinations such as Cuba became so popular during the decade that suntans became fashionable, and being pale was no longer considered a stylish look of the affluent.
Niagara Falls, Canada/New York
Although Niagara Falls had been a travel destination since the early 19th century, the region showed a big jump in tourism in the 1920s, with a record number of visitors to the region. Not only were more Americans taking road trips, but the advent of sightseeing buses, in addition to special railroad fares from Buffalo, New York, and Cleveland, also increased the number of tourists to Niagara Falls.
Historians also credit Niagara Falls’ boom in popularity to its proximity to Canada, as parts of the neighboring country were not subject to Prohibition laws. As a result, some Americans who visited Niagara during Prohibition may have extended their journey into Québec, where the liquor ban had been overturned in 1919. This means that witnessing the grandeur of Niagara could have been rather a convenient excuse to enjoy a cocktail on vacation.
Coney Island, New York
Before the 1920s, Coney Island was a destination for the middle and upper classes, reserved for those who could make the costly trip to the seaside. However, with the completion of the New York City subway system in 1919, Coney Island became accessible to anyone who had five cents to pay for the train. As a result, Coney Island earned the nickname “Nickel Empire” and began drawing hordes of day-trippers to the Brooklyn neighborhood.
In the earlier part of the decade, Coney Island drew upwards of 1 million visitors on weekends and holidays, as day trips to the beach became popular. As the money poured in, costs were lowered to attract more visitors and the landscape changed. The boardwalk was built, as were thrilling amusement park rides, including the Thunderbolt in 1925 and the Cyclone in 1927.
Catskills, New York
As a southern mountain range in New York, the Catskills became an increasingly desirable destination for New Yorkers in the 1920s. Easily accessible by train from Manhattan, the region was especially popular during the summer, when travelers wanted to trade the stifling heat of the city in favor of cool mountain air. Most often, visitors to the Catskills stayed in bungalow-style camps that provided ample community activities, such as bingo, dancing, games, and nightly entertainment.
At the time, Jewish people were banned from certain accommodations, which led to the creation of several Jewish-owned resorts in the region. These establishments catered to a Jewish clientele, serving kosher food and offering religious services, and became so popular during the 1920s that the region was often referred to as the “Jewish Alps.”
Pikes Peak, Colorado
After the Pikes Peak Highway was completed in 1915, any intrepid soul could drive to the top of the 14,115-foot-tall mountain near Colorado Springs. At the start of the ensuing decade, this type of road trip was very popular with adventurous Americans. Since automobiles were still very rudimentary at the time, a drive up the mountain took several hours, often proving to be a worthy adversary for travelers seeking a challenge.
With limited assistance on the mountain, drivers would have to stop often to allow their car’s engine and brakes to cool down, and if a breakdown occurred, they were pretty much out of luck. The descent was usually even more harrowing than the ascent, with narrow curves testing the skills of accomplished drivers. As such, the drive up Pikes Peak was completed by many Americans who wanted serious bragging rights.
Ernest Hemingway fans already know that Paris was the place to be for creative minds during the 1920s. At the time, literary giants such as Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce lived in Paris — often moving in the same circles. As the adopted home of these famous expatriates, Paris is often associated with the Lost Generation — a name given to the directionless youth who survived World War I.
Visitors to Paris can still retrace the steps of these literary icons, who often spent their days writing and nights galavanting across the city. As it was highly affordable at the time, Le Marais is the neighborhood where many of these writers lived. Café de Flore and Harry’s Bar were also old Hemingway haunts that remain open to patrons today.