Last March, I shared the first edition of 12 US alternatives for popular international destinations. I had so much fun putting the list together that I decided to round up another twelve!
My standing caveat is that of course all of these places are unique and I understand the substitutes may not offer everything the original does. That said, there are benefits to staying domestic that range from budget and vacation time to flight length and beyond.
I was surprised as I put this list together that for many of these destinations there are actually multiple US alternatives. I kept things a little more simplified here, with a few honorable mentions here and there, but this list is by no means exhaustive. If you have ideas of your own, I’d love to hear them in the Comments!
Here are 12 US alternatives for popular international destinations.
1 | Keukenhof, Lisse, Netherlands → Tulip Time, Pella, Iowa
Keukenhof, or kitchen garden, is one of the largest flower gardens in Europe, situated smack dab in the middle of Holland’s “dune and bulb” region. Celebrating spring-blooming bulbs, it’s open from mid-March to mid-May, with prime tulip viewing occurring in April. While tulips are the quintessential Dutch flower and often the main garden draw, dozens of other beautiful varieties are on display. Bike rentals are available at the garden entrance and are a popular option for visiting the surrounding flower fields.
To celebrate tulips stateside, look no further than Holland, Michigan. Their annual Tulip Time festival began in 1929. Heading into its 94th year, the event has grown into a nine-day extravaganza with a carnival, Dutch dancing, historic walking tours, a quilt show, parades, live music, and more; not to mention the six million+ tulips you can enjoy throughout the city and at private gardens like Veldheer’s and Windmill Island.
Pella, Iowa hosts a Tulip Time festival as well, while Washington, Oregon, Texas, and California are also well known for their tulips. And for my fellow New Yorkers, mark your calendars for the annual Albany Tulip Festival or the Long Island Tulip Festival in Manorville.
2 | Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada → Diablo Lake, Washington
Moraine Lake is one of the most popular sites in southwestern Canada’s Banff National Park. It was formed and is fed by glaciers, and its water appears turquoise due to light refracting off of glacial rock particles. Surrounded by a section of the Canadian Rockies known as the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the view is so iconic it’s even been featured on the country’s twenty dollar bill.
Located just south of the Canadian border in Washington State, Diablo Lake is another glacially fed lake with a bright turquoise hue. Surrounded by the North Cascades, it even offers mountain views.
3 | Great Ocean Road, Australia → Big Sur, California
Australia’s Great Ocean Road is a coastal stretch starting ~1.5 hours east of Melbourne in Torquay and continuing 250 miles west toward the border of South Australia. While the eastern end of the road boasts lush green hillsides and hiking paths through dewy rainforest, the landscape slowly becomes dominated by stunning limestone rock formations and cliffs as you make your way further west.
For an iconic coastal road trip in the US complete with beaches, waterfalls, wildlife, and dramatic rock formations, look no further than Big Sur.
4 | Águeda, Portugal → Chattanooga, Tennessee
Creative agency Impactplan started The Umbrella Sky Project in Águeda, Portugal in 2012. The company’s mission is to “color and animate the grayest places in the world and make brands closer to people, democratizing access to art.” With these aims in mind, they conceived several public art projects for locals and visitors to enjoy. The standout installation was a canopy of umbrellas seemingly suspended midair, inspired by pop art and Mary Poppins.
The installation went viral and has inspired “umbrella streets” around the world, and in the years since Impactplan has created public art projects in Bahrain, France, Japan, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and the US. Meanwhile, in their hometown of Águeda, the umbrellas return every year from July through September.
While art installations are often temporary, you can currently visit similar umbrella streets at the West Village community center in Chattanooga, Tennessee – pictured here – and Orange Street Alley in Redlands, California.
5 | The Bahamas → The Florida Keys
The Bahamas is found ~300 miles southeast of Florida in the Caribbean Sea. The country is actually made up of hundreds of islands and cays – land masses formed on top of coral reefs – and about 30 are inhabited. With a similar tropical climate and more than 1,700 islands and cays of its own, the Florida Keys are a fitting domestic substitute.
6 | Denmark → Solvang, California
As the birthplace of Lego, Hans Christian Andersen, and the increasingly popular concept of hygge; home to world-renowned design and architecture, impossibly picturesque street scenes, and purportedly the happiest people on Earth, I wouldn’t be surprised if a visit to Denmark is on your bucket list.
Solvang is often referred to as the Danish capital of America. With timber framed buildings, windmills, Danish bakeries and restaurants, Danish museums, and recreations of Danish landmarks and statues, Solvang offers a miniature slice of Europe in sunny California. And if you visit in September, you might catch their annual Danish Days festival.
7 | Royal Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand → Watt Munisotaram, Hampton, Minnesota
Bangkok’s 18th-century Grand Palace served as Thailand’s official royal residence for almost 150 years. Featuring intricate tile work, the complex is comprised of dozens of buildings and structures including residence halls, pavilions, temples, chapels, stupas, and statues.
Back in the US, the Minnesota Cambodian Buddhist Society began construction on Watt Munisotaram in 2002. The two-story, 10,000 square foot temple was completed in 2007. The site is open to the public and the grounds feature an outdoor shrine, a stupa, a reflection pond, a community center, and a meditation center.
8 | Bavaria, Germany → Leavenworth, Washington
Home to medieval castles, picturesque villages, idyllic countryside, a section of the Alps, and a little-known festival called Oktoberfest, there’s a lot to explore in Germany’s largest and most visited state.
Meanwhile in Washington’s North Cascades region, the town of Leavenworth offers an Alpine-style getaway complete with German restaurants and bakeries, beer gardens, and a nutcracker museum. Annual festivals include their own Oktoberfest and hugely popular Christmas and Winter Carnival events, with 500,000 Christmas lights adorning the streets from the end of November through February.
For more Bavarian experiences in the US, check out Helen, Georgia and Frankenmuth, Michigan.
9 | Galápagos Islands, Ecuador → Channel Islands National Park, Ventura, California
The Galápagos Islands are a group of volcanic islands straddling the equator ~600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The archipelago is famous for its extraordinary biodiversity, home to thousands of plant and animal species that are found there and nowhere else in the world, including the giant tortoise, marine iguana, Galápagos penguin, and flightless cormorant.
Channel Islands National Park is a group of five islands just off the coast of Southern California. Their unique and isolated location over time has contributed to another area rich in endemic plant and animal species, earning it the nickname “the Galápagos Islands of North America.”
Channel Islands National Park lies in a remote, isolated area at the confluence of two major ocean currents, a region of persistent ocean upwelling, and the border of two tectonic plates.
The park preserves some of the finest remnants of the coastal Mediterranean type of ecosystem, a rare combination of climate and vegetation that exists in only five places in the world. A unique suite of plants and animals colonized the islands and adapted to the particular conditions of each one. Isolated for eons, many evolved into species and subspecies not found anywhere else.The National Park Service
10 | Kelingking Beach, Bali, Indonesia → God’s Thumb, Lincoln City, Oregon
This duo might be the biggest stretch on this list, but hear me out. I’m not trying to argue that Oregon is an obvious substitute for the tropical island of Nusa Penida in Indonesia. But I do think that some aspects of the Insta-famous viewpoint over Kelingking Beach can be compared with the God’s Thumb hike in Lincoln City. Both offer expansive views of the ocean, sandy beaches, and dramatic cliffs jutting out into the water.
Any chance any readers have been to both places? I would love to know your thoughts!
11 | Bled Island, Bled, Slovenia → Boldt Castle, Alexandria Bay, New York
Ah, Slovenia. The star leg of our 2020 Euro trip that never came to be. While it remains high on my list, I found some comfort in noticing the similarities between Bled Island – one of our planned destinations – and Heart Island in the Thousand Islands. Bled Island is on a lake and its most iconic structure is a church, while Heart Island is on a river and is home to Boldt Castle.
I love seeing these two aerial photos next to one another. And while Boldt Castle has seen its own share of history and change since its groundbreaking in 1900, Bled’s Church of the Assumption of Mary has a *slight* edge in the history department, with the current structure dating to the 1600s.
12 | Laguna Colorada, Bolivia → Stansbury Island, Great Salt Lake, Utah
Australia may actually be home to the highest number of pink lakes, but Bolivia’s Laguna Colorada is especially picturesque with the Andes rising up around it and the opportunity to observe flamingos in the wild. Back in the US, two sections of Utah’s Great Salt Lake are pink: west of Stansbury Island and north of the railway causeway by Promontory Point.
Have you been to any of these international destinations and/or their US counterparts? What did you think? Let me know in the Comments!
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