Travel is back, airports are packed and passengers are elbowing to the front of the line to jet-set across oceans and immerse themselves in local culture. But in a country as big and beautifully diverse as America, far-flung experiences are closer than you think. Leave your passport home and check out these surprising U.S. cities, towns and neighborhoods that buzz with distant-destination delights.
Japantown, San Francisco
The largest and oldest Japantown in the country is located less than 2 miles west of San Francisco’s Union Square. The six blocks of restaurants, shops and cultural sites have been the hub of Japanese heritage for more than 110 years. Stop by the Peace Plaza — the modern five-story pagoda that was a gift from the city of Osaka, Japan — and relax at Kabuki Springs & Spa, a traditional Japanese bathhouse and city-dweller go-to since 1968. The small and convivial Chika & Sake is the place to try craft sake poured by a sake sommelier. Or wander the Japan Center Mall to browse Japanese gifts, clothing and tableware such as bento boxes, sake sets and gorgeous dishes at the family-owned Daikoku by Shiki.
Stay: The Kimpton Hotel Enso puts you in the heart of the neighborhood. Grab a matcha tea in the lobby and sip it in the hotel’s Zen-like courtyard.
The heartland is full of wonderful surprises, including the pretty town of Pella, about 40 miles southeast of Des Moines, where tulip-filled gardens and parks, the Molengracht plaza and canal, and even a working windmill bring the Dutch touch to visitors. Browse the 22-room mansion of Hendrik Pieter Scholte, Pella’s founder, and trace the town’s immigrant roots at the Pella Historical Society & Museums, where you can also see how wooden shoes are made. For a sweet treat, try the S-shaped almond-paste-filled puff pastries known as Dutch letters, found at family-run spots such as Jaarsma Bakery. Each May, Pella’s popular Tulip Time festival fills the streets with tens of thousands of Skittles-hued blooms and events celebrating the famous flower and Dutch culture.
Stay: The five-room Dwelling Place is within walking distance of Pella’s historic buildings and shops. Parking and a full breakfast are included.