Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau
Solvang, Calif., is know as the "Danish Capital of America."
Fascinated by foreign culture but turned off by the high cost of international airfare?
Think globally, travel locally. From the “Danish Capital of America” in Solvang, Calif., to the docks of “Greek Town” in Tarpon Springs, Fla., cities and towns across America offer a glimpse of foreign lands without the cost or hassle of going overseas.
“It’s hard for a lot of people to go abroad right now,” said Anne Banas, executive editor of Smarter Travel. “Traveling domestically and getting the flavor of some of those places has a huge appeal, especially in this economy.”
Der Lindenbaum is a German restaurant in Fredericksburg, Texas.
If that sounds appealing, the following places all offer a warm willkommen, velkommen or kalos orisate.
Fredericksburg, Texas: Founded by Baron Otfried Hans von Meusebach in 1846, this town in the Texas Hill Country doesn’t wear its Germanic history on its sleeve — or, apparently, its pant leg: “You’re not going to see chalets with people running around in lederhosen,” said Daryl Whitworth of the local convention and visitor bureau, “but the town still harkens back to the way the old Germans lived.”
The results of their efforts are on display throughout the city’s downtown, much of which is contained within a National Historic District. Stroll the Marktplatz, or Market Square; explore the historical exhibits at the former Vereins Kirche, a church-turned-pioneer-museum; and enjoy some Black Forest cake or German pancakes at one of the town’s many cafes and bakeries.
New Glarus, Wis.: Looking for a place where you can eat, drink and yodel? Head to America’s “Little Switzerland,” where chalet-style buildings, Swiss flags and bilingual street names honor a history dating back to 1845.
In summer, that history is on display at popular attractions like the Swiss Historical Village Museum (closed for the season) but come fall you can get a taste of it at local favorites, including the New Glarus Hotel — try the kalberwurst, or veal sausage — and the New Glarus Brewing Company.
Wherever you go, you’re likely to get a sense of “heimat” or home, said Beth Zurbuchen, president of the Swiss Center of North America: “It doesn’t have to be a building or a place; it can be what’s in your heart and people come from all over the world to experience it.”
Solvang, Calif.: Already famous for its windmills, thatched-roof buildings and copies of Copenhagen landmarks like the Little Mermaid statue, the self-proclaimed “Danish Capital of America” is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
To join the festivities, check out the folk crafts at the Queen of Arts Show & Sale (Nov. 4-5) and the Julefest parade (Dec. 3), which features holiday floats, vintage vehicles and displays of Danish music and dancing.
Tarpon Springs, Fla: Thirty miles north of St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs has maintained a close cultural link to Greece ever since the first generation of Greek fishermen came to harvest sponges from the local waters in the early 20th century.
Since then, the sponge industry has had its ups and downs but the Greek connection is alive and well, especially on the sponge docks along Dodecanese Blvd. During monthly (April-November) Night in the Islands events, for example, the street is closed off, lights are strung and live Greek music provides a backdrop for dining, dancing and conversation.
“It’s not a performance; it’s a participatory event,” said Tina Bucuvalas, curator of the city’s art and historical resources. “Everybody gets up and dances — it’s a lot like being in Greece.”
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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.