Domestic Charm: U.S. Cities with a European Flair
With Europe still largely closed off to Americans, many have had to shift their travel plans to locations closer to home. Despite all the diversity Europe crams into a relatively small amount of space, a lot of the appeal that draws people to this corner of the globe is like the E.U. itself—it extends beyond borders. Luckily for Americans, there are a lot of cities right in our own backyard that fit the bill. It’s possible to tick off a lot of the boxes of a European vacation, sans the jet lag or long lines at customs.
St. Augustine, Florida
Many Americans would be surprised to learn that it’s possible to get a taste of Spain just an hour outside of Jacksonville, Florida. St. Augustine is a Spanish colonial town with all the trappings you’d expect to find across the pond—a quaint shopping street, a 17th century fort, a museum featuring exhibits of historical art and a 19th century lighthouse (which may or may not be home to a few ghostly residents). It’s the oldest city in the country, and where famed explorer Ponce de León sought the Fountain of Youth. Swing into one of the cafés on St. George Street, take a tour through the “living museum” in the Colonial Quarter, or kick back on the white sands of St. Augustine Beach.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Spain meets France in this southern city. From the iron-railed Pontalba buildings to the truly slower pace of life, New Orleans might be one of the most European cities in the U.S. The Big Easy doesn’t just look the part, but plays it well. Situated in the Bywater neighborhood, JAMNOLA is an interactive art exhibit where visitors can get a taste of the local art scene. Like New Orleans itself, the exhibits are wild and colorful. Don’t forget to sample the city’s famous beignets and chicory coffee at Café du Monde.
Put your sugar high to good use and head to the French Quarter. Also known as the Vieux Carré, this neighborhood had been the heart of New Orleans for its entire 300-year existence. During the day, explore the local shops and take in the preserved architecture. At night, while it may be the least European activity on this list, order a “Hurricane” cocktail, stroll the neon-lit Bourbon Street, and check it off the bucket list.
If you dream of a vacation among grapevines, look no further than Sonoma. California’s wine country is known worldwide, and with endless miles of undulating green hills and slower pace of life, it’s similarities to Tuscany are obvious. The bottles produced by Sonoma’s top-rated vineyards are more than enough to please event the pickiest oenophiles. Visit St. Francis Winery & Vineyards—known for its sustainably produced estate wines and stunning views of the Mayacamas Mountains from their tasting room—or Matanzas Creek Winery – famous for their spectacular lavender gardens.
If wine tasting isn’t at the top of your list, visitors can explore the historic Sonoma Plaza, a former Mexican military station and National Historic Monument, that’s home to dozens of shops and restaurants to explore. If the ocean is calling your name, head to Sonoma Coast State Park. With miles of hiking trails, it’s the perfect way to take in Sonoma’s diverse landscapes.
Like New York City, Boston is a heavily multicultural town—with many neighborhoods proudly putting their ethnic roots on display for all to see. However, taking a look around at the cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill, gas-lit lanterns and Federal-style rowhouses, it’s apparent that Boston’s roots are very British.
Like London, Boston is also known for its wide array of local watering holes. Not to miss is a visit to Bully Boy Distillers. Owned by a pair of brothers, the outdoor cocktail garden they’ve opened across the street from the distillery is the perfect place to take in this city’s unique atmosphere like a local on Fridays and Saturdays—all with plenty of space to social distance of course! Satisfy your shopping fix on Charles Street in Beacon Hill. With indie shops and gourmet grocers, you can find the perfect souvenir all while enjoying the beautifully preserved colonial architecture.
Newport, Rhode Island
New England is another corner of the U.S. with more of a French atmosphere than most would expect. For those itching to visit Nice, France, Newport is a surprisingly good domestic alternative. From fresh seafood and pebbly beaches, to a laid-back vibe and period architecture, a getaway to this Rhode Island town checks a lot of the same boxes. Stroll along Newport’s Cliff Walk, which stretches 3.5 miles down the Atlantic coastline or tour The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s impressive mansion, for a dose of local history and a stunning look into the opulence of 20th century American royalty.