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8 California Towns That Look Like Europe (And Why You Should Visit Them)

Did you know that California is home to several towns that have a very European feel? That’s right! You can find European charm up and down the state of California. The Amalfi Coast, Amsterdam, and Spain are all just within a day’s drive from Los Angeles or San Francisco. Well, almost … With my help, keep reading to discover eight California towns that look like Europe.

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Find Some European Charm in California in These 8 Towns

Solvang, California

The charming village of Solvang is an excellent day trip destination from Los Angeles. Thanks to its incredible Danish architecture and numerous delicious bakeries that offer Danish goods, it is often called Little Denmark.

While you are there, make sure to include the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in your itinerary. Although relatively small, don’t let its size fool you. The museum, which is located inside The Book Loft bookstore, is dedicated to the author who wrote The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, and The Little Match Girl and is an exciting stop for all literature lovers.

Other than Danish culture, Solvang is also known for its wine. The Oscar award-winning film Sideways was filmed almost entirely in the Solvang and Santa Ynez area and you can visit some of the actual filming locations. Amongst the best wineries include Sunstone Winery, Buttonwood Farm, and Rideau Vineyard.

Avalon, Catalina Island, California 

Those who don’t want to travel overseas but wish to experience the magic of the Amalfi coast can get their dose of Italy in Avalon on Catalina Island about 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. Expect to see houses on green hills, turquoise blue water, and cobbled streets that have a strong resemblance to Southern Europe.

To get to the beautiful island, you’ll need to hop on a ferry, which operates from San Pedro, Dana Point, Long Beach, and Newport Beach. It’s a great day trip, but if you wish to enjoy Avalon’s beauty in all of its glory, staying overnight is a great idea.

Another great idea is taking a Journey to the Sky bus tour while you’re there! Since the bus drives around the majority of the island, it is an excellent opportunity to see everything up close and personal. Pro tip – don’t forget to eat a cookie at the Airport in the Sky!

Another fun thing to do is take a glass-bottom boat tour! And near the pier, you will find restaurants and shops that are great places to eat, order a “Buffalo Milk,” the signature drink of Catalina, and buy souvenirs.

Venice, California 

When you hear the name ‘Venice,” the first thing that pops into your mind is probably the famous city of canals in Italy. But plot twist! Venice, California is actually more similar to another city in Europe, which happens to have its fair share of canals and bridges too – Amsterdam –, or more specifically – Giethoorn, Netherlands.

The Venice Canal Historic District was built in 1905 by developer Abbot Kinney who wanted to recreate the look and feel of Venice, Italy. Another set of canals were built south of the original canals and they were known as the New Amsterdam Canals. These canals (with gondoliers) acted as publicity and drew buyers in to purchase the lots in the developments. However, Los Angeles became a car town and with the popularity of the car, many of the canals were filled in and today, only 6 of the original 13 canals remain.

But Venice in California, unlike the actual European destination, is known for Venice Beach. The stretch of sand is perhaps one of the most touristy places in Los Angeles. Be sure to check out the Venice Beach Boardwalk, the bodybuilders showing off at the Muscle Beach Outdoor Gym, and go shopping along Abbot Kinney Boulevard. 

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Elegant Victorian homes, secret passageways, hidden gardens, and charming Tudor-like cottages – Carmel-by-the-Sea is a destination straight from English storybooks. In fact, it looks a lot like Stratford-upon-Avon or the Cotswold countryside.

For a weekend getaway, it is a place that won’t disappoint. Make sure to check out Ocean Avenue, which is tucked away in quaint courtyards and passageways. There you will find many specialty shops, including Cottage of Sweets, which offers traditional British-style candy. Locally crafted and imported caramels, fudge, and licorice are just a few examples of what you might taste.

Capitola, California

Did you know that Capitola was named as one of the best beach towns by Sunset Magazine? It isn’t hard to see why! The stunning little beach town in Santa Cruz County has something to offer for every traveler. What’s more, the lineup of colorful houses make it look a lot like Burano, Italy, an island near Venice, Italy famous for its seafood, lace-making artisans and for having colorful houses all lined up.

You don’t have to travel across the ocean to get that Instagram-worthy selfie. You can get that European feeling right in Capitola, California.

Whether you decide to have a fun-filled beach day, grab a scoop of refreshing ice cream, or eat some delicious seafood in Capitola Village, you are guaranteed to have a fantastic time!

Napa, California

With its rolling, vineyard-covered hills, the Napa Valley is certainly California’s answer to Tuscany. But, interestingly, its history has been touched by Italians too. After many Italian-Americans discovered how similar the region is to the one they left behind, they started their own wineries. Even today, you will see that some of the most renowned wine labels have Italian names like Mondavi, Coppola, and Nichelini. 

There are so many beautiful wineries in the Napa Valley and I have a few favorites! While Chateau Montelena is more English than Italian, it’s still a gorgeous setting. The Robert Mondavi Winery offers excellent tastings as well as beautiful art! But if you’re looking for that quintessential Tuscan experience in Napa, then definitely book a wine tasting at Castello di Amorosa with it’s medieval-style Tuscan castle.

So, if you are searching for a destination to spend some quality time with friends or family and enjoy good wine, Napa Valley is a place that won’t disappoint.

Kingsburg, California 

California is possibly the polar opposite of Sweden. But, surprisingly, you can even get a little taste of Scandinavia in the golden state. Kingsburg, set in the Fresno Country, has created a unique brand for itself. The city calls itself a ‘Swedish city,’ and year round, curious visitors may participate in exciting events based on Scandinavian traditions.

If you’re road tripping up or down the 99, be sure to make a stop in Kingsburg! It’s almost impossible to miss the Kingsburg Water Tower – a coffee pot rising 122 feet in the sky which is painted in Swedish folk-art designs.

Visit the town’s mascot – the Dala horse on the 1400 block of Draper St, Eat some Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam at Kady’s Kitchen, and visit Svensk Butik to buy some scandinavian treasures including gnomes, vikings, dala horses, books about lagom, flower wreaths, and more!

Visit in May for the Kingsburg Swedish Festival and start your morning with a traditional Svenska Pancake Breakfast, dance the maypole, and enjoy a pea soup dinner! If you are traveling during the holiday season, don’t miss Julgransfest – the annual Kingsburg California Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony with Swedish ring folk dancing. 

Santa Barbara, California 

Who said you couldn’t get a taste of Europe in the states? When looking for California towns that look like Europe, don’t forget about Santa Barbara, which is known for its Spanish vibe. As soon as you arrive in the beautiful city, you will be enchanted by its Spain-infused architecture.

Buildings with red-tile clay roofs, Spanish street names, hidden courtyards, countless white stucco buildings, and colorful events that celebrate the culture of the European country are all common. In fact, each August, Santa Barbara hosts a five-day fiesta, ‘Old Spanish Days’, which includes a rodeo, an impressive parade, and many fun performances.

The stunning coastal town in Southern California is also loved for its romantic Pacific Ocean views. Therefore, it has become a top destination for couples and honeymooners. 

Take a tour at the historic Casa del Herrero, visit the gorgeous Old Mission Santa Barbara, see a show at the historic Lobero Theatre, or explore the Spanish architecture on the free, self-guided Red Tile Walking Tour.

It would be challenging to find a more diverse state than California. In fact, with so much to do and discover, it could be a country of its own. To experience the beauty of European cultures, you don’t have to go on far and expensive trips. A glimpse of Italian, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, Swedish, and British cultures can be found right here. Now, all you have to do is decide where to explore first!

Are you planning a trip to California? Be sure to stop at one of these 8 California Towns That Look Like Europe! Let me know in a comment which one you’re planning to visit!

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Land Acknowledgement

Golden State Getaways wants to acknowledge that we live, operate, gather, and benefit everyday on the traditional stolen lands of several Indigenous peoples and nations including the Tongva (Gabrieleno), Kizh (Gabrieleno), Chumash, Popeloutchom (Amah Mutsun), Ohlone, Awaswas, and Fernandeño Tataviam peoples who have stewarded the lands and waterways throughout their many generations in what is now the state of California. 

I wanted to personally acknowledge these Indigenous people and nations and both their commitment and current contributions to the land with a donation to the American Indian College Fund because acknowledgment without action does not begin to address the systemic issues facing Indigenous people. If you feel as though you benefit from the land you’re living on or traveling to and you have the means, I kindly ask that you donate at least $1 to a Native-led organization such as the Native American Rights Fund or the American Indian College Fund

Cindy Wiener

Tuesday 18th of October 2022

Thank you. My dear friend as stage 4 lung cancer. She is wishing to go to Italy, but I cannot afford to take her there. I found this a thought this could be the answer. Can you give me suggestions on where to take her and places to stay along the way? Thinking a week to 10 days. I would be so in your debt if you could help me.