This post was most recently updated on January 20th, 2022
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 one of the themed towns 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:
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)
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.
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! Check out my post on Williamsburg, too.
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, Florida – city 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. Here’s a fun article from one of my blogging friends about Tarpon Springs, if you want more information.
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?