Visit One of These 8 Western U.S. Destinations for a Taste of Traveling Abroad

Experience Italy, Germany, New Zealand, and more all without leaving the U.S.

Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

Even though travel across the world has been greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, jet-setters continue to dream of beautiful, far-off places for their next adventure. As lockdowns begin to lift, and experts share guidance on how to explore safely, it’s important for visitors to consider each individual location’s regulations. When the time is right, travelers can head out west to California, Colorado, and Washington to get a taste international destinations like Italy, Denmark, New Zealand, and more. Below, check out eight western U.S. destinations that will seemingly transport you abroad. They’re all a short road trip from home, but will feel a world away.

Solvang, California, Instead of Faaborg, Denmark

Solvang, California
Courtesy Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau

Along the Central Coast in Santa Barbara County lies Solvang, a charming Danish village that’s home to gingerbread-style architecture, twirling windmills, and exceptionally friendly people. Founded in 1911 by Danish Americans from the Midwest, Solvang (Danish for “sunny fields”) also boasts a variety of wine tasting rooms, trendy boutiques, and farm-to-fork restaurants, like Root 246, alongside a traditional mix of bakeries, chocolatiers, and souvenir shops. Must-try treats include stroopwafels, fruit strudels, and aebleskivers, a classic Danish pastry that’s similar to a doughnut hole or pancake, but puffier.

Napa Valley, California, Instead of Tuscany, Italy

Vineyards in Napa Valley California
Allard Schager/Getty Images

Located in Northern California, Napa Valley has long been considered a bucket-list spot for wine lovers from around the world. With its acres of vineyards and beautiful golden sunsets, Napa will make travelers feel as if they’re abroad in Tuscany. It’s also home to the Castello di Amorosa, a 13th-century-style castle that appears as if it was plucked straight out of the Italian countryside. The valley also boasts over 400 fantastic wineries, each with their own unique offerings. This destination is ideal for any type of traveler, from couples to friend groups to families.

Vail, Colorado, Instead of a Luxurious European Ski Village

Summer day on the golf course in Vail, Colorado
Courtesy of Vail

Vail, Colorado, located at the base of Vail Mountain, has the charming look of a Bavarian village and the invigorating atmosphere of a bustling European ski resort. Vail seemingly transports visitors back in time as they stroll through the town’s traditional architecture, cobblestone walkways, and bridges. After a day of adventure on the mountain, guests can make a stop at The Red Lion, which is Vail’s classic après ski bar. In the warmer months, the bar opens up its windows to create an indoor/outdoor feeling, and hosts a series of live music sessions. Nearby, the popular eatery Almresi offers recipes straight from the owner’s roots in Germany’s Black Forest region. Menu selections include schmorbraten (short ribs) and schlitten fondue, a popular, family-friendly offering. Additionally, the Swiss Chalet restaurant serves fondue and raclette (a traditional Swiss cheese), and is located right at the luxurious boutique hotel, Sonnenalp, which is the perfect lodging option for travelers wanting to fully immerse themselves in an authentic European ski town hospitality experience.

Avalon, California, Instead of Positano, Italy

Overlooking the bay on Catalina Island, California
Getty Images/iStockphoto

The surrounding mountains, colorful cliffside homes, and sweeping ocean vistas of Avalon on Catalina Island just off the coast of California resemble those in Positano on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Offering beautiful sightseeing opportunities and an endless amount of sunshine, travelers dreaming of a trip to the Italian coast can instead look to Catalina for their next beachside vacation. Visitors can trek around on foot, or rent a golf cart from one of the local shops to explore the island and take in the scenic views. After a day of exploring, the Descanso Beach Club along the waterfront and past the iconic Catalina Casino offers a stretch of sand to relax on with a cocktail in hand.

Black Sands Beach, California, Instead of Karekare Beach, New Zealand

Black Sands Beach, Lost Coast, Shelter Cove, Humboldt, CA
Visit California/Myles McGuinness

The Lost Coast region of California is one of the state’s most off-the-beaten path adventure spots, with no major roads to access this ocean-wrapped area. Like the name suggests, the three-and-a-half-mile stretch of Black Sands Beach along the lesser-trekked backpacking trail in Humboldt County is covered in dark-colored sand, which resembles that of Karekare Beach in New Zealand. Visitors can bring a magnet and drag it through the sand, which is a dark hue due to its rich iron content, to find that some of the minerals stick to it, as many of the particles, such as magnetite, are magnetic.

Mono Lake, California, Instead of the Dead Sea, Israel

Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline soda lake in Mono County, California
Visit California/Carol Highsmith

Nestled at the edge of the arid Great Basin and the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, Mono Lake is commonly identified by the unique tufa towers (mineral structures protruding from the water). It is the oldest lake in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the state’s most well-hidden gems. This lake is very similar to the popular destination of the Dead Sea. Due to its high salt content (Mono Lake contains about 280 million tons of dissolved salts), swimmers can naturally float in Mono Lake, just as millions travel to the Dead Sea to experience.

Death Valley, California, Instead of Uyuni, Bolivia

Badwater salt polygons in morning light with silhouette two people
Denise Taylor/Getty Images via Visit California

Death Valley National Park is California’s second-largest national park, as well as the lowest point in North America. One of the most beautiful portions of the park, the salt flats at Badwater Basin, which sits at 282 feet below sea level, can be compared to the scenery of the salt flats in Uyuni, Bolivia. The expansive stretch of land has been formed over thousands of years from minerals settling into the earth to create a vastly expansive, powerful view.

Leavenworth, Washington, Instead of Bavaria, Germany

Leavenworth, Washington on a summer day
Courtesy of Icicle TV

Leavenworth, Washington, is a charming Bavarian village nestled in the Cascade mountain range. The town boasts beautiful Old World architecture, 800 miles of accessible trails for exploring, two dozen tasting rooms with beer and wine, an outdoor theater, and plenty of culinary options, including brats and schnitzel. The Leavenworth Sausage Garten’s housemade sausages are cooked using local ingredients and Old World traditional cooking methods. Guests should check out the Bavarian Lodge or Enzian Inn for a genuine Bavarian hospitality experience.

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