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4 Places to Visit That Capture the Same Spirit as Your Favorite Travel Spots

They’re closer to home, but just as packed with the sights, bites, and activities you’ve missed the most

By Erica Nichols and Marie Tutko

Alternate destinations - leavenworth

Leavenworth, Washington

Instead of Germany, plan a trip to Leavenworth, Washington

If you’re not ready to jet off to Germany in time for their Christmas markets this season, look to Washington state’s own Bavarian village of Leavenworth for a taste of the same charm, architecture, and cuisine. The town is situated among the Cascade Mountains, providing an idyllic winter backdrop to your visit. Plan your time around their Christkindlmarkt, which begins the weekend following Thanksgiving. Much like the real deal across the Atlantic, this market is a good place to start your holiday shopping, with handmade gifts from local artists and glühwein (mulled wine) to keep you warm.

Though it’s a little touristy, getting a wurst and  pretzel is a must in this town. München Haus is a good starting point, with a wide variety of hot dogs and an even greater selection of condiments to top them off with—try housemade sauces like the Jalapeño Hornet, and don’t forget their famed apple cider sauerkraut. New this fall, Crêpe Café Sisters offers sweet and savory crêpes made from scratch when you want a quick grab-and-go option. For a special night out, look to Watershed, or to Mana, which serves a two-hour, five-course meal made with organic, foraged, and 90 percent locally sourced ingredients.

A number of hotels in town can feel a little gimmicky, but not Enzian Inn, which provides the perfect amount of cozy Alpine charm with mountain and forest views to boot.

Alternate Destinations - Harrahs

Lazy river pool and cabanas at Harrah’s Southern California

Instead of Las Vegas, plan a staycation at our local casino resorts

Why settle in for a long drive through Baker, Barstow, Berdoo, and bat country when we have our own bright lights, slot machines, and entertainment nearby? Our local casino resorts offer everything you love most about Vegas in a weekend getaway less than an hour from downtown.

At Harrah’s Resort Southern California, start your staycation on the casino side. They’ve got 1,600 slot machines and 50 table games to choose from, along with weekly promotions to increase your winning chances. When you’re ready to soak up some sun, head to the pool—there’s the main pool for adults, a swim-up bar with in-pool loungers, and a kid-friendly 400-foot lazy river when you just want to float. Pro tip: If you’re going to have more than one cocktail while you’re dipping your toes in the water, order a tumbler to save on future drink orders and cut down on plastic waste.

Harrah’s has over 15 dining and drinking options, from casual grab-and-go like The Taco Truck to sit-down spots like Fiore and KJ Chinese. Next year, the resort will be adding chef Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen restaurant to their roster. To sleep, take your pick from resort tower rooms, Dive Inn rooms, and 10 spacious suites. Oh, and did we mention the entertainment? The Funner resort lives up to its name, with a packed events calendar hosting comedy acts, music, DJs, and more.

Alternate Destinations - Sycuan

The casino floor at Sycuan

As San Diego’s first casino, Sycuan Casino Resort has spent more than 30 years offering locals a slice of Vegas life close to home. It boasts 2,500 slot machines and table games of every kind to try your hand at winning. In 2019, the casino completed a $260 million resort, including a luxury 12-story hotel tower with a mix of standard guest rooms and over 50 suites to book for your staycation. Once you’re settled, you’ll want to post up poolside—splash into the main pool, float down the lazy river, or chill in a private cabana. Don’t want to step away from the action? The resort’s Retreat Casino offers poolside blackjack and other table games. To eat, choose from a wide selection of dining options: There’s Rank & File for good shared plates and beers, Bull and Bourbon for steaks with bourbon pairings, and all-day coastal dining at Viewpoint. Keep an eye on their events lineup; the venue hosts musicians and entertainment throughout the year.

Instead of Hawai’i, plan a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Alternate Destinations - Mandarina

One & Only Mandarina’s Rainforest Villa

Consider swapping mai tais for margaritas and head to Puerto Vallarta instead for a tropical vacation this season. The beach town is at the same latitude as Hawai‘i and offers all the sunshine, warm ocean temps, and luxury hotels, plus you can fly there in three hours instead of six. Book a stay at the dreamy One & Only Mandarina, a new hideaway about an hour north of the airport and main tourist area, to immerse in nature and totally disconnect. The resort is set in the jungle and steps from the ocean, and you can sleep in a treehouse that’s perched nearly 40 feet off the ground—but these digs are much more luxurious than the treehouse we all wanted as kids. The one-bedroom suites have a private terrace and plunge pool, and others have clear views of the Pacific. Need more space or seclusion? They have cliffside rainforest villas and larger accommodations overlooking the ocean.

Alternate Destinations - Carao

Carao restaurant

Though it may be tempting to stay in the room all day, get out and explore the resort’s 80 acres: You can lounge in the adults-only infinity pool that extends over the mountainside, hike to see a higuera blanca tree that’s over 200 years old, or go for a swim at the resort’s private beach. When you get hungry, Carao restaurant (helmed by famed chef Enrique Olvera) serves local specialties like pescado zarandeado, whole fish marinated in a chile paste and cooked over hot coals.

Also newly opened in Puerto Vallarta is the all-inclusive Hilton Vallarta Riviera, and Conrad Punta de Mita, which has four restaurants, three bars, and a 10,000-square-foot spa right on Banderas Bay.

As of press time, all hotels, restaurants, and businesses in the state of Nayarit are operating at 70 percent capacity. Visit for the latest information.

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