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When Queen Elizabeth II turns 90 on April 21, the longest-reigning monarch in British history will celebrate in her own subdued way, as she and the Duke of Edinburgh “undertake a walkabout” near Windsor Castle. But don’t let that fool you into thinking the Queen doesn’t know how to celebrate.
For one thing, the Queen typically celebrates her “official” birthday during the summer, when it’s less likely the main event—a parade—will be rained on. And for another, there’s plenty of evidence that she can go all out when the occasion demands.
LIFE Magazine profiled just such an occasion in 1957, when the young Queen—about five years into her reign—paid a visit to North America, complete with all the pomp and circumstance one might expect of a royal tour. She met with President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon; visited her subjects in Canada, where she opened a session of the country’s parliament; visited Jamestown, Va., site of the first permanent British settlement in America; and took in her very first American college football game, in which Maryland beat North Carolina. (Her take: “My, it’s exciting!”)
The visit wasn’t all parties. Coming in the midst of the Cold War, the alliance between the U.S. and Britain was as crucial as ever. As LIFE noted, the Queen’s visit coincided with another by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who was in Washington for “urgent policy talks” about Soviet accusations that the U.S. and Turkey were planning to attack Russian-armed Syria.
Nearly 60 years later, that alliance remains strong—and so does the urge to celebrate.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.