Postcards & Passports

Themed Towns: See Another Place or Time

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We’d all like to travel overseas to see cities rich with history and experience varied cultures. And wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could experience a town that had frozen in time? Well, even if you don’t have a passport, here’s one way…visit a themed town in the good ol’ USA! There are plenty of them, and chances are, there’s one near you. Probably close enough to visit on a road trip!

Here are a few themed towns I’ve visited:

 

Solvang, California*

My most recent visit to a themed town was to Solvang, California, the Danish capitol of the United States. With windmills, Danish storefronts and street signs, aebleskivers, scrumptious butter rings, and a copy of the famous “Little Mermaid” statue in Copenhagen, it really felt like I’d dived in and come up for air in another land! There were museums with Scandinavian artifacts and gift shops with souvenirs in delft blue and white. It was fun to imagine myself in faroff Denmark!

(If you’d like to learn more about Solvang, read my post here)

Winthrop, Washington*

As a youth, my father would often take us on long afternoon drives in the Pacific Northwest. On one of those trips, we drove the beautiful North Cascades Highway Loop in Washington state where we saw some spectacular scenery. We also stopped in the American Old West town of Winthrop. We thoroughly enjoyed the wooden boardwalks, an old “saloon” with swinging doors, a hitching post at the bank, and lots of western-themed shopping. All of the storefronts resemble Old West-styled buildings, so it’s easy for your imagination to take over and feel like you’re a cowboy or genteel lady! At the Shafer Museum, you can learn all about the Cascade Valley’s pioneer and mining history.

Leavenworth, Washington*

Also in Washington, in the Cascade Mountain range, is a beautiful Bavarian town called Leavenworth. Incorporated in 1906 as a small timber community that struggled for years, Leavenworth was finally transformed into a Bavarian community in 1962, after business owners visited Solvang, CA. This is an ideal location for a Bavarian village, with snow-covered mountains in the winter and beautiful warm sunny days in the summer. The Wenatchee River winds lazily beside the town and adds to the serene setting. A Maypole celebration in the spring and a Christmas tree-lighting event in December add to the ambience. Attractions include the Nutcracker Museum (which contains over 5,000 nutcrackers), an outdoor theater and river-rafting during the summer, and sleigh rides in the winter. With business names like the Edelweiss Hotel and the Munchen Haus Grill, you’ll feel like you’re in the Alps. And if you want Bavarian Christmas ornaments or sauerkraut, this is the place to go!

Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg*

Think of this as a kind of “golden triangle” of U.S. history. Three towns within a few miles where you can totally immerse yourself in a different time. We visited here after seeing Washington DC, Arlington National Cemetery, and Mt. Vernon, and the kids were really tuned in to learning about history, so they enjoyed it as much as my husband and I — maybe even more! Costumed guides, hands-on activities, black-powder rifle demonstrations, and carefully reconstructed buildings and camps (including original historic sites as well) really helped us see what it would have been like to live in the 1700’s!

Calico, California*

Calico is technically a ghost town. A real one. It used to be a silver mine back in the day. Mr. Knott, of Knotts Berry Farm fame lovingly restored Calico to its former “glory” after many years of falling into disrepair. Now, it is more of an attraction than a living town, but it’s a fun way to experience another time. There’s an old schoolhouse, mines, a quirky general store, old homes, wooden boardwalks, an eatery, wagon rides, and more.

And a lot more…

These are a few of the themed towns I’ve visited. Whether to save an ailing economy, to preserve a town’s heritage, or to provide a history lesson, themed towns are popular in the United States. If you’d like to check out the one that’s closest to you, here’s a list of towns you might enjoy:

North Pole, Alaska* – borough of Fairbanks famous for its Santa Claus House and Christmas postmark, with lots of Christmas themed businesses and decor

Tombstone, Arizona – an “old west” town known as “the town too rough to die”

Ferndale, California – historic Victorian village in a fairytale setting; the entire village is a National Historic Landmark

Julian, California* – historic gold mining town, known for it’s annual “Apple Days” festival

Kingsburg, California – known as Central California’s Swedish Village, founded in 1908

Vail, Colorado – Swiss Alpine Village patterned after Zermatt, Switzerland

Deadwood, South Dakota – historic 1800’s mining town and National Historic Landmark

Opa-Locka, Floridacity based on an Arabian Nights theme

Tarpon Springs, Florida – “Greektown” has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the U.S. and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Check out Lindsay’s tour of Tarpon Springs here at The Neverending Wanderlust.

Helen, Georgia – Bavarian town in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Frankenmuth, Michigan – Michigan’s “Little Bavaria

Jacksonville, Oregon – the entire historic gold mining town is a National Historic Landmark

Fredericksburg, Texas – historic town founded by German pioneers 160 years ago, with many museums and buildings on the National Historic Landmark list

Poulsbo, Washington* – called the “Viking City” and settled by Scandinavians because of its resemblance to the fjords of Norway

New Glarus, Wisconsin – founded by Swiss settlers and called America’s Little Switzerland

*indicates I’ve been there and I’m happy to answer questions about it!

The best part about visiting themed towns is that they’re just plain fun. You don’t have to know a foreign language, and you don’t need a passport or visa. Just enjoy the international or historic atmosphere!

This is not a comprehensive list, by all means, so I’m hoping you’ll help me add to it. Which themed towns have you visited?

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15 thoughts on “Themed Towns: See Another Place or Time

  1. Heather

    What a fun list! I remember going to Mt. Vernon and Jamestown and having a blast! It’s a great way to teach kids about American History without reading straight out of a boring old textbook! 🙂

  2. Megan | Traveling Nine to Fiver

    So much fun. I’ve loved the themed towns I’ve been to but even just here in California there are so many more to explore. Will have to add them to the to-do list. There are a bunch of little towns “left in time” up in the Amador County Wine Country as well that I’ve recently enjoyed exploring. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Rob Taylor

    I love that Poulsbo, WA made the list. That’s where we’re located. It’s for-real Scandinavian vs Leavenworth, which has been posing as Bavarian as a marketing ploy. Both are cute, but Poulsbo will steal your heart!

  4. Nancy

    I hadn’t really thought bout “themed towns” before reading your post, but now that I do, of course! I’ve made it to Winthrop, Leavenworth and Poulsbo :-).

  5. Tamar

    I wanted to go to Calico so badly on my recent trip to California! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fit it in but I’m going to have to make a special trip just for it. Awesome list!

  6. Danika

    So cool! Didn’t realise there were so many odd and wonderful themed towns across the states! I remember once on a trip over there going to car henge – stone henge but made of cars!

  7. Pingback: Tarpon Springs, Florida - A Day Trip to the Sponge Capital of the World | The Neverending Wanderlust

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