7 U.S. Destinations That Feel Like an International Vacation

Feel like you've crossed an ocean without leaving the U.S.
Chimayo New Mexico churchyard with flowers
(Photo: New Mexico TRUE)

Traveling internationally as a family is a true privilege, but not everyone can swing a journey abroad. Flights alone can put you well over budget, especially if you need to purchase multiple seats. For parents who want to take their kids to a new, unfamiliar place without breaking the bank, there’s still hope. Dotted around the country are unique U.S. family vacations that could easily transport you to another country.

7 Unique U.S. Family Vacations With International Flair

Satisfy your craving for foreign landscapes and cultures with one of these seven spots for unique family vacations in the continental U.S. (Note: Most of these destinations also offer the chance to learn about the area’s Native American history, which shouldn’t be missed.)

1. Chimayo, New Mexico

church grounds in Chimayo, New Mexico
Chimayo, New Mexico has a feeling reminiscent of rural Mexico (Photo: New Mexico TRUE)

Feels like: Mexico’s Countryside

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains hold many secrets, and one of them is the village of Chimayo. Only a roughly 30-minute drive from Santa Fe, Chimayo looks like something out of a vintage postcard from rural Mexico. Its pueblo-style architecture, weaving shops, and slower way of life make a visit here one of the most unique U.S. family vacations.

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Chimayo’s close proximity to Santa Fe means you can easily spend a few nights in town or visit as a day trip from the city. Families can relish a handful educational experiences that showcase the local history and culture at the Chimayo Museum, El Santuario de Chimayo church, and Rancho de Chimayo. There are also outdoor activities like the Santa Cruz Lake and rafting in the nearby Rio Grande Gorge.

Where to Stay: Find plenty of smaller, independently run inns and B&Bs in Chimayo, including Casa Escondida, which sits on six beautiful acres of mountain landscapes. Bonus points for the ultra-comfy beds and family rooms.

2. Solvang, California

View of downtown Solvang, a Danish inspired town in California
Solvang is in California but feels like Denmark (Photo: Envato/Allegro_Sympatico)

Feels like: Denmark

Your kids will feel like they’ve stepped into a fairytale in this colorful European-style town tucked away in California’s Central Coast. Since being founded by Danish immigrants in 1911, Solvang has preserved its authentic history, architecture and culture—all of which is palpable as families meander down its festive downtown.

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The Solvang Trolley is a great way to get the lay of the land upon arrival. Families also will love visiting the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art, which offers daily scavenger hunts; as well as the Old Mission Santa Ines museum; Ostrich Land; Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch; and Nojoqui Falls Park. Don’t forget to stop at the whimsical Solvang Trolley Ice Cream Parlor for a sweet treat.

Where to Stay: Solvang has a real mix of accommodations, including the luxe dude ranch Alisal Ranch and downtown’s hip and boutiquey The Winston.

3. Alys Beach, Florida

A beautiful collection of chairs under palm trees in Alys Beach, Florida
Alys Beach in the Florida Panhandle feels inspired by Greece (Photo: Envato/wirestockc)

Feels like: Santorini, Greece

White stucco buildings overlooking shimmering waters conjure up scenes of Santorini, Greece—only at Alys Beach, the sand is powdery white. Nestled along Florida’s pristine Panhandle, this family-friendly, planned community offers the aesthetic of Greece at a fraction of what you’d likely pay to haul the entire gang to the islands. 

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Family amenities include a resort-style pool, private beach access, bike rentals with baby seat mounts available if needed, a nature preserve with a boardwalk and trails, an amphitheater that hosts occasional concerts and movie nights, splash pad-style fountains, and seasonal blueberry picking along Alys Beach’s Lake Marilyn. (Learn what makes the Panhandle one of the top unique Florida attractions for kids.)

Where to Stay: There are no hotels in Alys Beach (for a traditional hotel stay, look to nearby Panama City Beach), but there are plenty of vacation rentals featuring great design and local vibes.

4. Holland, Michigan

Dutch windmills and tulips in Holland, Michigan
In Holland, Michigan, you can feel like you’re on a vacation to the Dutch countryside (Photo: Envato/maginnislaura)

Feels like: The Netherlands

Much like what you’d see in the Netherlands, fields across Holland, Michigan, dazzle with the colors of tulips in the spring. The annual Tulip Time Festival is one of the city’s greatest attractions, but there are many more reasons why this little slice of Dutch paradise makes for one of the best, unique U.S. family vacations.

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Nelis’ Dutch Village offers a glimpse of what the Netherlands was like more than 100 years ago. Must-visit sites for families include the Windmill Island Gardens, Outdoor Discovery Center and the shallow-water Ottawa Beach, which has a playground, restrooms, and general store on site.

Where to Stay: In addition to all the usual major hotel chains, you’ll also find Teerman Lofts, a hotel that offers fully furnished luxury apartments instead of the usual hotel rooms.

5. 1000 Islands, New York

The Boldt Castle in winter on Heart Island reflecting on St Lawrence River in Alexandria Bay, NY
Boldt Castle on St Lawrence River gives off a feeling similar to the northwestern coast of France (Photo: Envato/wirestockc)

Feels like: Northwestern France (Cotes-d’Armor)

The northwestern coast of France isn’t on many families’ radars. Its small archipelago of Ile-de-Brehat, however, is a hot spot for Europeans who are drawn to its dramatic landscape of tiny, lush islands surrounded by deep-blue water. The setting shares similarities with New York’s 1000 Islands, particularly Alexandria Bay, whose Boldt Castle can make anyone feel like they’ve teleported to Europe. 

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A quick, 30-minute drive from Alexandria Bay to the charming town of Cape Vincent will give you a closer look at the 1000 Islands’ French history, which is celebrated every year at the French Festival. Other activities like hiking, go-kart rides, drive-in movie showings, boating, and water sports all cater to families with adventurous spirits.

Where to Stay: Roadside motels, little inns, and family-run resorts rule when it comes to lodgings in Alexandria Bay. For castle views and a swimming pool, check out The Ledges Resort & Marina.

6. Helen, Georgia

Rooftops, buildings, and trees in Helen, Georgia
Bavarian architecture and festivities give Helen, Georgia a European feel (Photo: Shutterstock)

Feels like: Bavaria, Germany

German traditions like Oktoberfest and the Christmas markets have become pretty ubiquitous, but few places close to home can transport you to Deutschland like Helen, Georgia. What makes this one of the top underrated U.S. cities for a pseudo-international getaway is not only its Bavarian look and feel, but also its sheer variety of activities that both parents and kids will love.

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A candy factory, handmade wooden toy store, recreational center with Alpine-style miniature golf, and the award-winning Cabbage Patch Kids toy store will make little ones’ dreams come true. Throw in authentic restaurants serving up everything from schnitzel to spaetzle, an Alpine mountain coaster and scenic nature hikes, and everyone will be a happy camper. (See why Helen is also one of the best skip-gen destinations that guarantee fun for both grandparents and grandkids.)

Where to Stay: When it comes to places to stay in Helen, you can choose from its blend of chain hotels and independent motels and inns. For everything you need with kids, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Helen is a good bet.

7. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

old stone buildings in Carmel by the Sea with the Pacific Ocean in the background
Carmel-by-the-Sea mixes fairytale architecture with hidden courtyards and California coastal beauty (Photo: courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

Feels like: The English Countryside

From “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” to the “Harry Potter” series, family films have long fed the desire for many to visit England’s countryside. For those not able or ready to fly across the pond, Carmel-by-the-Sea makes for a lovely and unique U.S. family vacation. Quintessential English cottages, tucked-away courtyards, and cobblestone streets look as if they’ve been plucked from a town like Rye or Stratford-upon-Avon. 

Enjoy a more British experience with an afternoon cuppa at the local tea house and imported British treats at the candy store. And don’t forget to make time to check out Carmel Beach; Point Lobos State Natural Reserve; the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum; the Forest Theater, which hosts family movie nights; and the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Where to Stay: Family-friendly lodging options in Carmel (which includes Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Valley and Carmel Highlands) include Quail Lodge Golf & Club, which has big rooms and suites plus a year-round heated outdoor pool.

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The article 7 Unique Family Vacations That Feel Worlds Away was originally published on HumbleBoots.com.

Gina Kramer Humble Boots
Humble Boots inspires families to connect more deeply with one another and the world, through experiential travel that's fun for all while encouraging growth in empathy, open-mindedness and tolerance. Founder and Director of Content Gina Kramer melds 15 years of experience working in the travel industry—including as a Contributor for FamilyVacationist as well as the former Editor and Video Personality of TripAdvisor’s Cruise Critic—with her experience as a traveling parent to create content that’s authentic and relatable, with sprinkles of humor in between.