6 Places in California that Feel like Europe

Updated: Aug 4

World travel may be limited right now due to Covid, but that doesn't mean you can't explore America's hidden gems in California with your loved ones. As a family who lived in this beautiful state, we can attest that oft times we felt no reason to ever leave it to travel elsewhere. And taking all of our kids across the Atlantic to Europe would be a huge and expensive undertaking. Luckily, the Golden State's diverse topography and rich history will make you feel like you're enjoying a swanky European vacation on a dime--and the bonus: no passport required.

6. Temecula, CA

Feels like: Spain

This city in Riverside County will transport you to Southern Spain. This felt fun to us because this is where I was born so there was a lot of nostalgia telling the kids about the fresh fruit I would pick off trees in my grandma's backyard! We also visited our friends from Spain and LA who settled in the Temecula area.

The kids loved every minute of it and even asked to grow our own lemon tree so they could make lemonade.

With its Sprawling Vineyards, fragrant lemon orchards, lush green hills and endless olive trees, we felt like we were in the Mediterranean climate--but only 700 miles from home.

Family Friendly Things to Enjoy:

Hot air balloons

Old Town Temecula

Farmer's Market

Old Town Sweet Shop

Europa Village

Where we stayed:

Springhill Suites Temecula Valley Wine Country

Family trip or romantic getaway, it is hard to go wrong with Temecula. (And yes. Get the Chocolate covered bacon!). Also, if you go to the Farmer's Market with kids, make sure you stop by the playground off of Old Town Front Street and eat your treats in the SoCal sun!

5. Solvang, CA

Feels like: Denmark

Solvang is a little slice of Denmark in Southern California nestled in beautiful Santa Barbara County. Upon arrival, you'll likely see freshly painted half timber architecture, a darling danish windmill and a replica of the Little Mermaid--Copenhagen's bronze statue dedicated to its famous Danish author Hans Christian Anderson, the fable writer and storyteller.

When we got out of the car, we couldn't help but notice all the delicious smells coming from the many bakeries. Our first stop was the Solvang Windmill and the Solvang Bakery which are right next to each other. While the Danish possibilities are endless, our favorite was the Danish Almond Kringle.

Family Friendly things to enjoy:

Hans Christian Andersen Park

Find the Four Windmills

Family Coat of Arms


Where we stayed:

Worldmark Solvang

Since we had limited time, just strolling down the street with the ambience and the charming boutique shops felt magical for our little family. I did a long run out to the wine country and through the town. I noticed many parks and places to obtain ancestral information and family shields!

Solvang is a gem for everyone but it was especially memorable for us because our roots are Scandanavian---and quite frankly, apple fritters and almond kringles are in our blood.

4. Venice, Los Angeles, CA

Feels like: Venice, Italy or Amsterdam, Holland

Lining the Pacific coast in southern Los Angeles, Venice is known for its Muscle Beach boardwalk but the Venice Canal District offers an entirely different ambience. When you stroll the canals, it feels almost like a mix of Venice and Amsterdam. Built in 1905, the Venice Canal Historic District is famous for its man-made canals, which evoked the canals of Venice, Italy and likewise features gondola rides.

As a family, strolling the canals and admiring the architecture and grand homes is such a treat. When our family lived in LA, we would often come to the canals as a sanctuary to daydream about Europe, and escape the boisterous noise from the city.

Family-Friendly Things to do:

Stroll, Paddleboard or Kayak the Venice Canals

Ride in a Gondola

Shop and Eat on Abbot Kinney

Grab European Style donuts at Blue Star Donuts

Visit Mother's Beach Park

Top Doner Factory European Street Food

Italian at Fabio's

Where to stay: Marina Del Rey Marriott

3. Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Feels like: Stratford-upon-Avon, England

We first experienced Carmel after driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles. After passing through the natural wonders of Big Sur, arriving in Carmel felt like stepping into a fairytale. Even the name of the town feels like a tribute to Stratford-upon-Avon of Shakespearean fame. Oddly enough, Clint Eastwood was once the mayor here! There are tons of quaint little shops, restaurants, and art galleries. And as its name implies, the seaside town boasts some of the prettiest beaches in Northern California. It's a little surreal to walk down a street that feels like you're in England one minute and then onto a classic California beach the next.

Family-friendly things to do:

Buy imported English candy at the Cottage of Sweets

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Do the scenic 17-Mile Drive (Pebble Beach)

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve