Most years in July and August, millions of Americans travel to Europe for their summer vacations. As COVID-19 travel restrictions continue to shift, this summer could once again see transatlantic travel struggle to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Instead, Americans hoping to hop across the pond might want to consider visiting places in the USA that have a distinctly European flavor but won't be subject to ever-changing pandemic travel rules. Visiting one of these destinations in the USA will make you feel like you’re thousands of miles away from home, even if you’re only traveling for a few hours. Here are the best places to check out in 2022. 

Bavarian-style village in Leavenworth, Washington
Leavenworth's Bavarian village has the Cascade Mountains as an Alps-style backdrop © Connie Coleman / Getty Images

If you like Bavaria, Germany ... try Leavenworth, Washington

The beer is Bavarian. The timber-framed buildings are Bavarian. Even the seasonal celebrations, like Oktoberfest, are Bavarian. The only thing not Bavarian about Leavenworth, Washington, is its location, though the snow-capped Cascade Range surrounding the town does look strikingly similar to the Bavarian Alps. The mimicry is intentional. In the 1960s, after facing years of economic turmoil, Leavenworth decided to reinvent itself as a tourist magnet. Taking a cue from the natural scenery, the community worked together to model itself after the mountain villages found outside Munich. Their plan worked. Today, Leavenworth draws millions of visitors looking for a kitschy slice of German life and a base for exploring the Wenatchee National Forest.

Angling for Oktoberfest? Head to these US German towns this fall

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.
Flowers along Highway 1 near Big Sur, California
The colorful coastline on California's Highway 1 feels like you're cruising along the Mediterranean © Kan Khampanya /500px

If you like Croatia's Dalmatian Coast ... try California's Pacific Coast Highway

From the redwood forests near Mendocino to the sun-kissed sands below Los Angeles, California's Pacific Coast Highway – also known as the PCH or Highway 1 – snakes its way through tiny beach towns and along dramatic cliffs matched only by the drive from Dubrovnik to Split along Croatia's Dalmatian coastline. This rite-of-passage road trip unfolds like a fairytale.

Big Sur's rugged shores and hiking trails give way to San Simeon, where Hearst Castle rises like a mirage from the ocean's summertime fog. This Mediterranean Revival mansion is the definition of grandeur. For more architectural jewels, head south to Old Mission Santa Barbara, an 18th-century relic that conjures images of the ancient Roman Empire. Exciting though these architectural sites may be, don't forget to keep your eyes on the road – the best views on the PCH are the ones outside your windshield. 

Scenic Big Sur: top sights on your Highway 1 road trip

Exterior of the Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island
The Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt © bodhichita / Shutterstock

If you like the French Riviera ... try Newport, Rhode Island

Rhode Island's ritziest summer escape boasts enough Gilded Age glamour to give Louis XIV a run for his money. In the 1850s, American business tycoons started constructing palatial summer cottages in Newport, inspired by the Beaux-Arts mansions, Italian Renaissance villas and Elizabethan manor houses their wealthy owners undoubtedly ogled while traipsing around Europe. Today, Bellevue Avenue – the street where the elite built their vacation homes – feels like the American answer to Versailles. 

Old World opulence isn't Newport's only jaw-dropping feature either. The city has a waterfront cliff walk reminiscent of the French Riviera and a fleet of modern yachts large enough to make Cannes feel quaint. It's no wonder the rich and famous never left this seaside port town.

Hidden Rhode Island: secrets of the Ocean State

The courtyard of Flagler College designed in Spanish Renaissance style in St. Augustine, Florida
Admire Flagler College's Spanish Renaissance architecture in St. Augustine © Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

If you like Spain ... try St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine holds the distinction of being America's oldest continuously occupied city established by Europeans. Founded by Spanish settlers in 1565, this seaside city still bears the stamp of its imperial parent. From the Spanish Renaissance architecture by Gilded Age railroad tycoon Henry Flagler to the Spanish colonial buildings dating back to the 1700s and Castillo San Marcos – a 17th-century fort overlooking the ocean – much of St Augustine looks just like the historic center of a Mediterranean metropole. For those interested in traveling through time, St. Augustine's Colonial Quarter offers an immersive look at life in the former Spanish colony, replete with Disney World-worthy reenactments. 

Old city, new fun: what you should do in St Augustine, Florida

A lap swimmer at Ouray Hot Springs in Ouray, Colorado
Swim laps at Ouray Hot Springs below the San Juan Mountains © Chip Kalback / Lonely Planet

If you like Switzerland ... try Ouray, Colorado

If Ouray’s outdoor offerings don't take your breath away, the elevation – at 8000ft above sea level – certainly will, which is exactly why locals call it the Switzerland of America. The San Juan Mountains flanking the river valley scrape the sky just like The Matterhorn, and the mineral-rich geothermal waters at Ouray Hot Springs are as therapeutic as those surrounding St Moritz. Seasonal activities such as hiking and ice climbing mean that the only iconically Swiss thing missing is a girl named Heidi herding sheep along the hillside.

Explorers wanted: a great escape to Colorado

Panorama of a vineyard with an oak tree in Sonoma County, California
Vineyards and wineries in Sonoma County give you a taste of Italy © Gary Saxe / Shutterstock

If you like Tuscany, Italy ... try Sonoma County, California

In Tuscany, the way to travelers' hearts is through their taste buds. The Italian countryside's supply of wineries, sustainable farms and agritourism outposts have welcomed foodies to the area's rolling green hills for centuries, leaving visitors buzzed not only on booze but also its beauty. While northern California's wine industry is only a couple hundred years old, Sonoma County adapted the best of Tuscany for their similarly bucolic backdrop. With more than 400 wineries and a growing roster of family-run farms that offer tours, classes and vacation stays, Americans need only to drive an hour north of San Francisco for Italian flavor with Californian flair. Don't miss the area's first premium winery – Buena Vista – a California Historic Landmark founded in 1857. 

Explore the Sierra Nevada on this 600-mile trail network launching in California

People dancing to music on a street corner in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana
A two-man band plays on a corner in the French Quarter in New Orleans © Kris Davidson / Lonely Planet

If you like France and Spain ... try New Orleans, Louisiana

Between the late 17th century and the early 19th century, French and Spanish imperialists traded control of Louisiana's most famous port town, leaving an indelible mark on the city's cultural heritage. Between biting into beignets in the French Quarter's open-air, European-style market and lusting over the Spanish-inspired iron-lace balconies that adorn the city's iconic homes, New Orleans might first feel like a copy of the countries that first colonized the area. On closer inspection, it isn't so simple to label the Big Easy. From epicurean curiosities like jambalaya to musical stylings like jazz, New Orleans is a cultural melting pot with so many Cajun, Creole and Native American influences that the city's lively spirit feels like a country unto itself.

Exploring the Garden District in New Orleans

You might also like:
The best one-day itineraries for 5 US national parks
How to prepare for your first post-COVID trip
11 Amtrak routes with the most breathtaking views

Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.

This article was first published July 2020 and updated January 2022

Explore related stories


Where to go in 2024: when to visit our Best in Travel winners

Oct 25, 2023 • 19 min read