When Europe slammed the doors on American travelers in the wake of the pandemic, we couldn’t help but mourn our dashed vacation plans on the Amalfi coast. Instead of sailing the Mediterranean Sea and exploring cobble-road cities with our Chianti-induced starry eyes, we were elbowing our way to the top of Runyon Canyon (figurately and with sufficient distance, of course) and rejoicing the debut of make-shift pavement patios.
Now that borders are slowly reopening our wanderlust has been reignited, but before you jet off anywhere, you may want to consider these little havens across SoCal that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a European city.
Here are 7 dreamy places in SoCal that could pass for somewhere in Europe:
1. Solvang, Santa Barbara
This quaint city is the unofficial “Danish Capital of America” or the Danish Disneyland of the Golden State. It was founded by a group of Danes in 1911 that seemingly had the intention of creating a mini Copenhagen with better weather. Wandering through this two-story town is like teleporting and time-traveling all at once. Marvel at the half-timbered architecture, stop for a pic at the beautiful windmill and munch on frikadeller (a type of meatball) or aebleskiver (a type of pancake).
2. Venice, Los Angeles
While the name already implies the city it was modeled on, Venice has many faces. Cruising down the canals on a gondola certainly conjures up the feeling of Venetian lifestyle—minus the architecture and with a few extra palm trees.
3. Mission Inn, Riverside
This historic Riverside gem showcases a range of architectural styles including Spanish Colonial style, Spanish Gothic architecture and Mission Revival style architecture. With the romantic archways, patterned tiles, a spiraling rotunda and cascading patios, you’ll feel as though you’ve been whisked away to a European castle. Find out more about this fascinating hotel and inn here.
4. Cherry Valley, Riverside
A stroll through the violet lavender fields of Cherry Valley will instantly transport you to the picturesque region of Provence, France. While the blooms only happen from May to August, there’s still plenty to enjoy like this gorgeous night market in Highland Springs.
5. Cielo Farms, Los Angeles (Malibu)
Nothing will ever quite match the experience of being on a vineyard in Tuscany, but there are several farms in the Santa Monica Mountains that come pretty close. Cielo Farms and Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate are just two that we could name. Sipping on the award-winning wine they both offer surely helps.
6. Avalon, Santa Catalina
Avalon is a resort on Catalina Island, which forms part of the California Channel Islands. Its arid, rocky shores and aqua-blue bays are reminiscent of the Mediterranean coast. Sailing around this beautiful spot could easily make you feel as though you were in Cannes for the weekend if it wasn’t for the waves and the odd shark.
7. Getty Villa, Los Angeles
Based on ancient Roman architecture, specifically Villa de Papiri in Herculaneum, and houses only Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts. It boasts beautiful open corridors with white columns and it’s created using materials used during the era. Find out how you can visit for free here.
8. Balboa Park, San Diego
This 1,200-acre historic cultural park in San Deigo is filled with breathtaking gardens, museums, theaters and incredible buildings. The Alcazar Gardens are modeled on the Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain. You’ll find ornate features like the Rub-el-Hizb (Islamic Star ) fountain decorated with Moorish tiles. Spend the day here and you leave feeling as though you’ve taken a little trip to the birthplace of flamenco.