Travel Insights Blog
Travel Insights Blog
Soft sunlight dancing on turquoise water, pastel architecture artfully eroded in the wind, and deeply rooted customs shaping the slow rhythms of daily life give us something we can’t find in the States. Or can we?
After years of pandemic restrictions limiting us to domestic travel, Americans can’t wait to make up for lost time by hopping on an international flight. For many, that means Europe — US demand is leading the European tourism resurgence in 2023.
It’s easy to see why. From rich cultural heritage to breathtaking natural sights, Europe has something for everyone. For spring and summer travel, coastal Mediterranean countries like Spain, France, Italy and Greece are longtime favorites for Americans. And for good reason: soft sunlight dancing on turquoise water, pastel architecture artfully eroded in the wind, and deeply rooted customs shaping the slow rhythms of daily life give us something we can’t find in the States. Or can we?
With demand skyrocketing and flights filling up well ahead of the summer season, traditional European hotspots could be even more crowded — and pricey — than usual this year. But there’s no need to leave the country just because the borders are open: you can get a taste of the classic European summer vacation closer to home. These US destinations on each coast — and even in between — all capture something of the history, look and feel of a Mediterranean summer. With much shorter flight times, you can squeeze a whole European summer into a quick weekend, save time and money on long-haul flights, and enjoy the lack of jet lag.
Spanish colonial settlers founded St. Augustine in 1565, making it the oldest surviving city in the US. Today, this history lives on in the Castillo de San Marcos, a towering masonry fort built in the late 1600s, and in the city’s layout, which still follows the original Spanish street plan, giving it a distinctly European feel. You can lose yourself strolling through the charming Historic District, with thirty-six original buildings from colonial times and forty reconstructed replicas. For a glimpse into the area’s history, visit the Colonial Quarter museum and explore the other European-inspired architectural gems from different eras. When you’ve had your culture fix, head to the nearby beach for white sands and sparkling blue Atlantic ocean to rival any Mediterranean coastline.
If you can’t make it to France’s Côte d'Azur, try Florida’s Emerald Coast. The Gulf of Mexico might not bring to mind images of Euro chic, but this is exactly what makes Florida’s sister beaches of Highway 30A one of the best-kept secrets of the South. Along this 24-mile stretch of coastline in the Florida panhandle, you’ll find a cluster of charming beach towns with a distinctly European atmosphere.
The two standouts are Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach, planned communities built side by side in the 1990s that mimic the look, feel and lifestyle of a coastal Mediterranean town. They were designed according to the principles of New Urbanism, which promotes sustainability and quality of life through walkable neighborhoods, green space, and other urban design principles traditionally found in European cities more so than in the US. While Rosemary Beach’s cobblestone streets and shuttered buildings with deep porches bring the Old and New World together with a French Quarter feel, Alys Beach could be mistaken for a Greek island town on a clear day, its all-white stone rooftops gleaming in the sunlight against bright blue water. A bike path connects the two towns, making it easy to visit both in one getaway.
For Europeans: a road trip along Highway 1 might be the bucket list American activity, after a trip to New York City. With its sprawling freeways and Wild West legacy, California might seem like the cultural opposite of Europe, but a closer look reveals unexpected similarities, starting with the Mediterranean climate. Maybe it’s not that surprising that driving along the famous Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll pass many European-inspired enclaves, from the Getty Villa, a recreated Roman country villa housing stunning Greek and Roman antiquities in Los Angeles, to Hearst Castle, a hilltop estate built by media mogul Randolph Hearst, inspired by his childhood travels through Europe and nicknamed “La Cuesta Encantada,” Spanish for “The Enchanted Hill.” Further north, Napa Valley has long attracted visitors from all over the world with stately vineyards and award-winning wines to rival the best producers in France, Italy and Spain.
If you’re looking for a single destination, consider Santa Barbara or Carmel. Known as the “American Riviera,” Santa Barbara looks like an image plucked straight off the Mediterranean coast, nestled between low, green mountains and deep blue ocean. The small city boasts historic Spanish architecture, a walkable downtown with shops and restaurants stocked with imported and European-style offerings, quaint street markets selling local art, beautiful beaches and a picturesque harbor stocked with sailboats—in short, all the ingredients of a Mediterranean vacation. And with more than 250 wineries in the county, there’s no need to travel all the way to Napa to taste some world-class wine.
Next stop: Carmel-by-the-Sea, a beach town two hours south of the Bay Area, whose name is a clear nod to the French tradition of long, hyphenated place names. Carmel blends elements from various countries for a peaceful, unique vacation: a historic Spanish mission; a village inspired by traditional English architecture; designer shops, wine tasting rooms and restaurants that offer the best of European luxury. Both Carmel and Santa Barbara might be associated with high-end living, but each offers activities for a variety of price ranges. Santa Barbara county has several beach camping sites for outdoorsy travelers; and best of all, the beaches and hiking trails with sweeping views of the coastline are always free.
The old playground for the American aristocracy, Newport is a leading colonial seaport known today for its yachts, mansions and clam chowder. But there’s a hidden history in Newport — since 1639, it’s welcomed immigrants from all corners of the Old World, from English dissenters to Quakers, Jews, and Irish. Each of these groups has left its mark on the landscape, like St. Mary’s, the oldest Roman Catholic church in the state, and Touro Synagogue, the first synagogue in the US.
Today, this historic getaway offers a taste of Northern France in New England, with its colonial buildings, wind-swept beaches, and picturesque lighthouse. From culture to outdoor adventure, there’s something for everyone in Newport: visit the Breakers, the Vanderbilt family’s summer “cottage” built in Italian Renaissance style, then clear your head with a scenic bike or stroll along the coast, where rugged natural beauty meets the historical architecture of the Gilded Age. When you get hungry, head to one of Newport’s waterfront seafood restaurants, serving classic New England fare like fresh oysters and mussels, or stop by an Irish pub for a beer and burger—or a corned beef dinner.
Last but not least, you can even find a slice of Europe in the Midwest. While the coasts get all the credit, Michigan’s “Fresh Coast,” the Great Lakes, offers 11,000 miles of stunning shoreline far from the traditional US tourist centers. The Midwest doesn’t usually top the list of cultural destinations in the US, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In the mid-1800s, millions of immigrants from Central and Northern Europe arrived in the US, many settling in the Midwest. Their cultural traditions continue to define the region, particularly in towns like Holland, Michigan, which preserves its history and heritage for visitors.
Settled by Dutch Calvinist religious refugees in 1847, Holland is a portal to the traditional Netherlands on Lake Michigan. The annual Tulip Time Festival in May is the most popular time to visit, but there are plenty of cultural sites to see year-round, from the historic Big Red Lighthouse to the Windmill Island Gardens, which has the only authentic operating Dutch windmill in the US, and the Holland Museum, which showcases historical exhibits and an extensive Dutch art collection. In the summer, Holland’s beaches are a paradise for outdoor adventure, like swimming, boating, biking and paddle boarding.
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