Destinations No Passport Required: US Escapes with European Flair

by Megan Wood | June 12, 2018

A stroll down a cobbled street in New Orleans calls to mind a rue in Paris. Restaurants in Milwaukee share a kinship with the boisterous beer halls of Munich.

Snow-capped Vermont mountains conjure up visions of Alpine skiing in Austria. With so many American locales steeped in European influence — from public park design to architecture to cuisine — you don’t have to travel far for a dose of Continental flavor.

So even if vacation days and budget aren’t lining up for a European escape this year, Medieval-inspired castles and Italian-style vineyards still await closer to home. Here are six European-leaning U.S. spots in reach for a fraction of the cost — no passports required.

1. New Orleans, LA, instead of Paris, France

Early French settlers founded New Orleans, and the results are evident in the local French Creole language, intricate ironwork balconies in the French Quarter and the soaring St. Louis Cathedral dedicated to King Louis IX. Trade in the Seine River for the Mississippi and — mon dieu — you might think you’re in Paris. Mule-drawn carriage tours offer a novel way to learn about the city’s celebrated, and occasionally notorious, French Quarter. But it’s the indulgent dining scene that really sets Francophile hearts aflutter: morning beignets (French-inspired donuts) are not to be missed. For something more au courant, but just as Parisian, try Beth Biundo Sweets. The chef is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and encourages patrons to bring their own sparkling wine (from the wine shop around the corner) to pair with her almond tarts. What could be more French than having your cake and eating it, too?

bourbon street in new orleans

2. Milwaukee, WI, instead of Munich, Germany

Milwaukee’s nickname is Brew City, thanks to the German immigrants who brought their beer-making skills there in the 1840s. Today, Wisconsin’s largest city is a melting pot of cultures, but German flavors remain strong, right down to the industrial vibe on the Milwaukee River. Every October, the city hosts an authentic Oktoberfest complete with polka bands and a bratwurst-eating contest. Year-round German activities include brewery tours at Miller Brewery, Munich-imported giant pretzels served at the Old German Beer Hall and lederhosen-clad staff at the iconic Mader’s restaurant. Milwaukee’s beer scene continues to evolve, too. Lakefront Brewery keeps German traditions alive, but also offers a line of gluten-free and organic brews for discerning tastes. Prost!

milawaukee at dusk

3. St. Augustine, FL, instead of Barcelona, Spain

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States. It’s also one of the most heavily influenced by Spanish architecture. The Castillo de San Marcos is a 17th-century Spanish stone fortress — complete with a drawbridge — that rivals Barcelona’s Montjuïc Castle. St. Augustine’s beaches also give Barcelona’s a run for their euros with 42 miles of sand and surf. For Iberian-inspired eats, Michael’s Tasting Room serves a seasonal tapas menu with Spanish delights like Iberian cheese and cured Spanish meat board with scallop ceviche, accompanied by sangria and imported wines. 

st augustine florida with palm tree

4. Stowe, VT, instead of Semmering, Austria

The Austrian Alps are a powder-packed playground for serious skiers. Vermont may not match those majestic peaks in elevation, but it does offer plenty of snow-capped fun for every level of skier and snow boarder with 116 alpine trails, 13 lifts and two gondolas. Downtown Stowe has a charming main street with century-old inns, but for a true taste of Austria book a room at the Trapp Family Lodge. The 2,500-acre Alpine-style resort was built by the Trapp Family singers after they finished a musical tour of the United States in 1942. Today the resort offers miles of cross-country skiing, snowshoe trails and a traditional maple sugar mill. Refuel after a day on the slopes with Tyrolean-inspired favorites including locally made Austrian-style beers at Von Trapp Brewing, German sausage such as knackwurst and pasta-like spaetzle. The hills in Stowe truly are alive with the sound of music.

stowe at night

5. Tarpon Springs, FL, instead of the Greek Islands, Greece

Tarpon Springs is home to the highest percentage of Greek-Americans in the United States, and this central Florida Gulf Coast town is bursting with Greek flavors, sights and sounds. Skilled divers first arrived from the islands of Aegina and Hydra in the 1890s to work in the sponge industry in the Gulf of Mexico. Today, the Greektown historic district houses vintage wooden sponge boats docked in the sparkling Anclote River. Visitors can sample flaky baklava and rich Greek custard pie from the family-owned Taste of Greece bakery on Dodecanese Boulevard (named for a cluster of Greek islands). Acclimate to the area by downloading “The Florida Stories Walking Tour of Tarpon Springs,” a narrated mile-long self-guided tour set to Greek music. Events such as the monthly Night in the Islands keep Greek culture preserved, complete with Hellenic dance lessons, traditional kebabs and ouzo on the sponge docks. Poseidon would approve.

tarpon springs at night water view

6. Napa Valley, CA, instead of Tuscany, Italy

Rolling, vineyard-covered hillsides — check. World-renowned wines — check. Farm-to-table food scene — check. Napa Valley is North America’s answer to Tuscany. Italian-Americans were attracted to the area for wine production in the mid-19th century, and it’s little surprise that some of the region’s most notable winemakers have prominent Italian names like Mondavi and Coppola. Another Italian favorite, olive oil, blossomed a bit later in the region, and really took off in the 1990s. The Particelli family of Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing offers drop-in tastings at “the barn” in the town of St. Helena. Antique olive oil milling equipment is on display and there’s a huge selection of imported Italian specialties like balsamic vinegar and dried pastas in the gourmet shop. Every summer St. Helena also hosts Festa Italiana — A Mid-Summer Italian Festival, which pays homage to Italy’s harvest festivals, featuring music, dancing and, of course, wine. Cin cin!

napa vineyard sunset
Megan Wood

had pages added to her passport last year to keep up with her wanderlust. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Refinery29 and Travel + Leisure.