The opening salvos of the American Revolution -- the so-called Shot Heard 'Round the World -- were fired in the villages of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775. No need to memorize the date; you'll hear it everywhere when you visit Minute Man National Historical Park. After I read my favorite childhood book, Johnny Tremain, to my kids, we just had to come here to see where the climactic battle really happened -- and they loved it.
To take things in chronological order, begin in Lexington, where two messengers from Boston, Paul Revere and William Dawes, raised the alarm late on the night of April 18. The visitor center on the town common -- or Battle Green, as they call it -- has a diorama of the early-morning skirmish between local militia, known as "Minutemen" for their ability to assemble quickly, and a large force of British troops. The statue on the green depicts Capt. John Parker, who commanded the militia. At the Hancock-Clarke House, 36 Hancock St., patriot leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams were awakened by Revere and Dawes. You can also tour Buckman Tavern, 1 Bedford St. (tel. 781/862-1703), on the green, where the Minutemen assembled at dawn. (Both historic houses are closed during the off season, so call ahead for hours and dates of operation if you're hoping to go inside.) Ordered to disperse, the ragtag (and no doubt sleepy) band of colonists stood their ground -- fewer than 100 poorly armed colonists versus some 700 red-coated British soldiers. Nobody knows who started the shooting, but when it was over, 8 militia members lay dead, including a drummer boy, and 10 were wounded.
Next move on to Concord, where the British proceeded in search of stockpiled arms (which militia members had already moved). Begin at the North Bridge Visitor Center, 174 Liberty St., with its diorama and video program, and then proceed down Monument Street to the Minute Man National Historical Park (tel. 978/369-6993; www.nps.gov/mima). A path leads from the parking lot to the one don't-miss sight, North Bridge, where a much larger force of Minutemen massed to attack British regulars and set off the war's first full-fledged battle. Narrative plaques and audio presentations along the path describe the onset of the battle; Daniel Chester French's famous Minuteman statue stands nobly poised by the bridge.
Drive east on Lexington Road to the next park section, where you can follow the Battle Road Trail, a 5.5-mile interpretive path (wheelchair, stroller, and bicycle accessible) tracing the route of the defeated British troops straggling back toward Boston. (In summer, ask at the visitor centers about ranger-led guided tours along Battle Rd.) Near the eastern entrance of the park, the Minute Man Visitor Center, 250 N. Great Rd., Lincoln (off Rte. 2A), has a fascinating multimedia program about the Revolution and a 40-foot mural illustrating the battle.
Nearest Airport: Boston Logan International, 18 miles.
Where to Stay: $$ DoubleTree Suites by Hilton, 400 Soldiers Field Rd. ([tel] 800/222-TREE  or 617/783-0090; www.doubletree.com). $ The Midtown Hotel, 220 Huntington Ave. (tel. 800/343-1177 or 617/262-1000; www.midtownhotel.com).