Given their choice (and a good-sized budget), many USA couples planning a honeymoon or vacation would travel abroad in a heartbeat. Sophisticated cities, fine food and wine, history down every street, and the opportunity to experience different cultures all make such a trip desirable. Yet not everyone can afford to travel far when they want to go. Fortunately, it's possible to experience a bit of other countries' food and culture in North America when you can't travel abroad. Consider visiting these travel alternatives until you can savor the real thing.
On a mission from France, the explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed up the St. Lawrence River and founded Quebec City in 1608. Today visitors still hear French spoken (it's the predominant language in this part of Canada, although just about everyone is bi-lingual). The only walled city north of Mexico, Old Quebec holds its ancient treasures within four stone gates that date back centuries. With its cobblestone streets, fortified walls, Gallic cuisine, and scenic views of the water, beautifully preserved 400-year-old Quebec City is known as the Paris of North America. Larger and a bit more cosmopolitan, Montreal also draws Francophones who visit as an alternative to crossing the Atlantic.
Couples have always flocked to seaside villages set along romantic coves. The Mediterranean is dotted with countless scenic ones, and Southern California has one of its own. Just 22 miles from its coastline, easy-going, unpretentious Catalina Island, reached by ferry from Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana Point, is a place where you can dine, shop, stroll by day and under moonlight, and even have his-and-her massages on the beach. You won't find any big-name (and big-bucks) hotels in walkable Avalon, just modest accommodations and fellow travelers who come to appreciate la buona vita.
The water... the singing gondoliers... the opulent architecture... the plates heaped with spaghetti: It's all part of the charm of The Venetian Hotel, smack-dab in the center of the Las Vegas Strip. And does the real Venice have a poker room, the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, or Tao Asian Bistro, one of the hottest restaurant-clubs anywhere? No! And while Venice celebrates Carnevale just once a year, every night in Las Vegas resembles a pagan festival.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country is a vision of the Old World in the New World. Its Amish and Mennonite inhabitants are descended from German settlers, not Dutch ones. They've kept their culture and heritage alive by eschewing modern conveniences. Along country roads, you'll find residents driving in a horse and buggy. And they've maintained old-country crafts as well: This is a great place to pick up a hand-stitched bed quilt. Best of all is the simple, delicious, stick-to-your ribs food served in humble, immaculately clean family restaurants.
Although you won't find the original Little Mermaid or Tivoli Gardens here, you will find an alternative place in California's sunny Santa Ynez Valley that was founded by a group of Danish teachers in 1911. Solving recreates some of the look and flavor of the homeland. Stroll the town's boutiques and galleries, photograph its windmills and quaint architecture. In restaurants (a popular one is Little Mermaid) and bakeries, sample traditional Danish foods including smorgasbord. Wash it down with draft Tuborg or Carlsberg. Or, better yet, take advantage of Solvang's wine-country location (scenes from the film Sideways were shot here) and go on a tippling tour.
South Miami's Calle Ocho, also known as "Little Havana," is located on 8th Street between 12th and 27th avenues. The district has a large Cuban-emigre population, and their descendants have kept many traditions alive. You'll see men in Panama hats playing dominoes, memorials to Cuban heroes, stores that sell herbal potions and hand-rolled cigars. But the best reason to visit Calle Ocho is to sample the authentic Cuban cuisine -- a blend of Spanish, Caribbean, and African foods and preparation methods. For lunch, nothing beats a Cuban sandwich, a pressed-and-heated combination of meat (usually ham), cheese, pickles, and mustard between two slices of thick buttered bread.
If you're willing to accept the Golden Gate Bridge as an alternative to the Great Wall of China, you can find the largest Chinatown outside of Asia in this popular California destination. The gates to Chinatown aren't far from downtown, and you can catch the PH and PM cable cars to get there, exiting at Washington and Mason or Powell and California. Be prepared to sample uncommonly good food including potstickers, garlic fried to crispy deliciousness, and fish and vegetable dishes that are fresh, filling, and affordable.
Adjacent to its more famous neighbor Coney Island, Brighton Beach is home to thousands of Russian (primarily Jewish) emigrés. Nightlife here is legendary; at retro restaurants and clubs, the vodka and caviar flow to the accompaniment of cheesy house bands and singers. Still, it's something to be experienced as an alternative to boarding Aeroflot and heading for the real thing on a long flight. (This Russian outpost is a cheap subway ride from Manhattan on the B subway train.) Plus, in Brooklyn's enclave you can stroll along the warm Atlantic beach instead of shivering on the cold Russian steppes.
You needn't travel south of the border to sample the food and culture of Mexico. A tasty alternative, San Antonio is the most-visited city in Texas and one of the United States' most romantic destinations. Your first stop ought to be Market Square to outfit yourselves with hand-embroidered clothing from Mexico, Everything from giant piñatas to tiny milagro charms, painted dishes, costumes, jewelry, gifts, and original works of art is also on display and available at great prices. Maintain your energy by walking over to Mi Tierra, a vibrantly decorated restaurant-bakery that seats up to 1,000 and is open 24/7. The music from the wandering mariachis will transport you to Mexico, no passport required.