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California or Europe? You WON’T Believe These Stunning Locations Are in the Golden State 😱

10+ hours on a plane to Europe OR a few hours in a car.

I know what I’d pick.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know where to find these hidden gems in California that make you feel like you’re in Europe.

Luckily for you, this post will reveal 12 of California’s unbelievable European lookalikes you have to see to believe.

This list of 12 stunning locations will take you to places in California that will make you say…

“Hold on a second, am I still in California?

1. Napa Valley and Calistoga

Resembles: French and Italian Countryside

Napa Valley and Calistoga whisk you away to the vineyards of Tuscany and Bordeaux with their sprawling estates and Tuscan-style architecture. 

napa valley Castello di Amorosa, Saint Helena Highway, Calistoga, CA, USA

Here, you can savor world-class wines, explore historic wineries, and enjoy the tranquil beauty that mirrors Europe’s famed wine regions. 

The highlight, Castello di Amorosa, a meticulously constructed replica of a medieval Italian castle, offers a genuine taste of Italian heritage. 

The landscape, infused with the aroma of grapes and the serene countryside, completes the European illusion.

2. Vikingsholm

Resembles: Scandinavia (Norse Fortress/Viking Hall)

Vikingsholm, nestled at the edge of Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe, is a magnificent example of Scandinavian architecture, specifically designed to echo the style of a Norse fortress. 

vikingsholm lake tahoe

This historic mansion, accessible by a scenic hike, sits dramatically on the lakeshore, surrounded by towering pines and crystal-clear waters. 

Tours of Vikingsholm allow visitors to appreciate its unique design, including intricately carved wooden beams and dragon motifs, reminiscent of ancient Viking halls. 

It offers a glimpse into the Nordic past, set against the backdrop of Lake Tahoe’s natural beauty.

The place is normally open from May to September.

3. Santa Barbara

Resembles: Spain

Santa Barbara captivates with its resemblance to Spain’s sun-drenched Mediterranean coast, featuring Spanish Revival architecture and pristine beaches. 

santa barbara courthouse california

Stroll along the waterfront, visit the historic Santa Barbara Mission, and wander through bustling marketplaces that echo the vibrant atmosphere of a Spanish town. 

The city’s annual Fiesta celebrates this heritage, with traditional music, dance, and food that transport you directly to Spain. 

Lush gardens and the iconic red-tiled roofs against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean reinforce the feeling of being on the Mediterranean shore.

4. Hearst Castle

Resembles: Various European influences, mainly Spanish and Italian Renaissance

Perched atop the hills of San Simeon, Hearst Castle stands as a show of opulence and luxury, echoing the grandeur of European palaces. 

hearst castle california

With its stunning collection of art, lavish pools, and exquisite gardens, it invites visitors to step into a world of Renaissance elegance and Spanish majesty. 

Tours of the estate reveal its architectural brilliance and the vision of William Randolph Hearst, who sought to create an American castle inspired by his European travels. 

5. Solvang

Resembles: Denmark (Danish Village)

Solvang, in the heart of California’s Santa Ynez Valley, is a charming replica of a Danish village, complete with windmills, thatched roofs, and Danish bakeries serving authentic pastries. 

windmill in solvang california

This unique town offers a taste of Denmark with its traditional Danish architecture, museums, and cultural events like Danish Days. 

Visitors can explore the local wineries, shop for European imports, and learn about Danish culture through the immersive experience Solvang provides. 

It’s a little slice of Scandinavia in California and is one of the more underrated towns in California.

6. Mission Inn Riverside

Resembles: Spanish Mission/Gothic, and Moorish architecture

The Mission Inn in Riverside captures the essence of a Spanish mission with its Gothic and Moorish architectural elements, creating a unique blend that transports visitors to old-world Spain. 

This historic hotel is a treasure trove of art, antiques, and architectural details, from its soaring arches and bell towers to its serene courtyards and gardens. 

Exploring the Mission Inn feels like wandering through a Spanish castle or cathedral, complete with chapels, museums, and a rich history to discover. 

And it’s not just visually appealing, it’s highly rated as a hotel too.

Check Price and Availability for Mission Inn Hotel and Spa

7. Capitola

Resembles: Positano / Burano, Italy

Capitola, with its colorful beachside homes and relaxed vibe, mirrors the charm of a quaint Mediterranean village. 

capitola california

Nestled by the sea, this small town offers sandy beaches, boutique shops, and waterfront dining, reminiscent of a sunny day in the coastal towns of Italy or Greece. 

The Capitola Venetian Hotel, with its brightly painted facades, adds to the picturesque setting, inviting comparisons to the vibrant homes along the Amalfi Coast or on islands like Burano in Italy.

8. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Resembles: An English or French Fairytale Village

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a picturesque town that feels straight out of a European storybook, with its fairy-tale cottages, cobblestone streets, and charming boutiques. 

carmel by the sea 4

This coastal gem boasts art galleries, gourmet restaurants, and beautiful beaches, offering a tranquil retreat reminiscent of a quaint English or French village. 

The town’s strict building codes have preserved its unique character, ensuring that every visit feels like a step into a more enchanted, European-inspired world. 

Carmel’s artistic heritage and natural beauty make it a must-visit destination for those seeking European charm.

9. The Getty Villa

Resembles: Ancient Rome or Greece

Nestled in Malibu, The Getty Villa is an architectural marvel that replicates an ancient Roman country house, the Villa dei Papiri. 

getty villa

Surrounded by well kept gardens, it houses one of the most comprehensive collections of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. 

Visitors can explore stunning exhibitions, walk through the Roman-inspired gardens, and participate in educational programs that bring ancient cultures to life. 

The Getty Villa offers a unique window into the past, capturing the essence of classical civilization.

10. Avalon

Resembles: Places like the French Riviera or Positano in the Amalfi Coast of Italy

Avalon is the only incorporated city on Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California, and its charm is evocative of a Mediterranean escape. 

avalon santa catalina island

With its crystal-clear waters, quaint storefronts, and cozy cafes, Avalon invites comparisons to the laid-back yet picturesque towns found along the Mediterranean Sea. 

Activities like snorkeling, glass-bottom boat tours, and exploring the historic Catalina Casino offer a blend of adventure and culture. 

The city’s architecture, with elements of Spanish revival, contributes to its European seaside town ambiance.

11. Venice, Los Angeles

Resembles: Venice, Italy

Well, this one’s kinda obvious.

Venice, Los Angeles, (and more specifically the Venice Canal Historic District) with its iconic canals and bridges, brings a touch of Italian charm to the West Coast. 

Venice Canal Historic District Los Angeles

Designed to emulate the canals of Venice, Italy, this neighborhood offers a peaceful escape with its picturesque waterways, eclectic homes, and vibrant beach boardwalk. 

Visitors can enjoy paddle boarding, kayaking, or simply strolling along the canals to admire the unique architecture and local art scene. 

Venice Beach also adds to the allure with its street performers, shops, and the famous Muscle Beach, creating a lively atmosphere that complements the serene canals.

12. Balboa Park

Resembles: Spain (Spanish Revival Architecture)

Balboa Park, located in San Diego, is a sprawling cultural oasis that mirrors the grandeur of Spanish cities with its ornate Spanish Revival architecture. 

balboa park

This 1,200-acre park is home to museums, gardens, and the world-renowned San Diego Zoo. 

Visitors can marvel at the intricate facades of the buildings, stroll through lush gardens, or enjoy a performance at one of the many theaters. 

Balboa Park’s blend of natural beauty and architectural elegance makes it a vivid reminder of Spain’s historic influence.

Before you read the next post, see if you can beat your friends at this quick and fun California Trivia Quiz.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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