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Travel the World Without Leaving the U.S.

These 4 towns offer interesting international experiences — no passport required

spinner image japantown as part of the san francisco skyline at sunset
San Francisco's Japantown
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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.

spinner image taiko drummers at the cherry blossom festival in san franciscos japantown
Visitors can celebrate Japanese heritage in the country’s largest Japantown in San Francisco. ​​
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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.

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spinner image a windmill spins behind a plaza in pella iowa
Dutch culture thrives year-round in Pella, Iowa, about 40 miles from Des Moines. ​​
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Pella, Iowa

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.

spinner image statue of a diver in tarpon springs florida
Sponge diving is the epicenter of Tarpon Springs, Florida. ​​
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Tarpon Springs, Florida

With street names like Dodecanese and Athens, and blue-and-white fishing boats bobbing on the Anclote River, Tarpon Springs is a slice of the Aegean Sea on Florida’s scenic Gulf Coast. An estimated 1 in 10 residents are Greek. Greek sponge divers began settling here in the early 1900s, and Tarpon Springs remains an epicenter of sponge diving. Learn all about natural sponges at Spongeorama Sponge Factory, shop for souvenirs like handmade scented soap at Getaguru, and feast on specialties that would make yiayia proud, such as the homemade baklava and spanakopita at Hellas Bakery. ​

Stay: The historic 1910 Inn is near all the shops and Spongeorama in Tarpon Springs. Breakfast and parking are included. ​

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Indian restaurants serve traditional fare in Edison, New Jersey.
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Edison, New Jersey

If a taste of India is what you’re after, look no further than the town of Edison. Located about an hour outside of New York City, Edison is a colorful kaleidoscope of places to dine and shop, especially along Oak Tree Road and its surrounding streets, where you’ll find sari boutiques and jewelery shops for ornate and everyday pieces. Or treat yourself at the Kwality Ice Cream Parlor, where several unique flavors, including custard apple and sweet betel leaf, are scooped alongside other sweet Indian specialties.

Stay: The Homewood Suites by Hilton offers free parking and breakfast about 3 miles from Oak Tree Road. 

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