For the Shopping Enthusiast:
While Milan and Paris might be considered some of the epicenters of European fashion, odds are you aren’t going to feel deprived of any major labels in a road trip down to Beverly Hills, CA and a visit to the trendy boutiques of Rodeo Drive. And, for an added bonus, you might get to take a selfie with some celebrities! For a shopping experience that feels more European, there’s always a visit to San Jose’s Santana Row -- an upscale outdoor mall.
For the Gourmands:
As many of my visiting European relatives often attest, a trip to nearby Napa Valley feels very much like Provence, France. Think about it: there’s seemingly endless rows of vineyards, lavender fields, and olive groves. And, with California’s Mediterranean-like weather, it’s a great place to visit in the middle of summer. Not much of a wine drinker? Think about other ways to enjoy the Bay Area’s bevvy of delicious foods -- like the (admittedly touristy) ice cream shop in Ghirardelli Square or even a local restaurant specializing in another country’s best dishes. A favorite German restaurant of mine in Sunnyvale, for example, brings back many fond memories of my grandmother’s sauerkraut and strudel.
For the Gardener:
California is more than the golden state -- it’s home to beautiful gardens. For a traditional Japanese garden, visit Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California or San Jose’s Japanese Friendship Garden (based off the famous Korakuen Garden). Downton Abbey fan? There's always a lovely stroll in the extensive formal gardens at the historical home Filoli in Woodside. Or, after a short road trip, the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California offers more than 120 acres of a variety of gardens– including one with a Chinese theme. Want less cultivated nature? Try visiting Lake Tahoe and comparing it to your friends’ photos of the Alps – you’ll see there’s a lot in common.
For the Wanderers:
Of course, no travel experience is complete without wandering the streets of a new locale, trying to absorb a bit of the feel of this place. While many cities in California don’t match the walkability of European locales, there are places that certainly embody the spirit. For one, it’s hard not to notice the Spanish / Mediterranean influence in San Diego. From the architecture to the ocean border to the ride down Highway 1 (which evokes the Costa Brava -- the drive from Barcelona to France), it’s a safe bet for a Spanish adventure.
Also, in Southern California, there’s the quaint town of Solvang in Santa Barbara County. Founded by a group of Danes in 1911, you might even feel a twinge of phantom jet lag when looking at the copy of the Little Mermaid statue (the original is in Copenhagen) or the Round Tower in the town’s center. And, did I mention the pastries?
But if a trip to Southern California doesn’t seem appealing, there’s always the option to stay home, find a small little B&B and order room service. Explore a local cultural neighborhood -- the Bay Area is home to many different experiences!
Most importantly, though, travel is often as much about the story arriving to your destination than what you manage to see there. So, if you’re missing a great train trip, why not try Amtrak’s 35-hour Coast Starlight sleeper train from Los Angeles to Seattle, widely regarded as one of the world’s most spectacular train routes?
Trains not your thing thanks to too many Agatha Christie novels? There’s always the option of taking a short cruise starting out from the San Francisco Bay.
With all these options, pretty soon, your friends will be looking at your photos and remembering why they will always leave their hearts in San Francisco (and all of California).
So, what’s your favorite local spot? Leave it in the comments below.