We all know the U.S. is a land of diversity. But some places are so culturally different from the rest of the country, that they might as well be separate countries. Here are 10 places that will make you forget you're in the U.S.
For this list I am excluding our 5 overseas territories, as they are obviously different and only sticking to places within the 50 states.
This one is probably the most obvious. The most geographically isolated island chain on earth, no place in the U.S. feels more like a separate country than Hawaii. It is the only U.S. state not located in North America, the only state located in the tropics, and the only state to have its own official language. That, coupled with its strong Asian and Polynesian culture and architecture, active volcanoes, lush tropical mountains, miles of sandy beaches, and spectacular coral reefs, makes you completely forget you're in the United States. It is the only U.S. state that can truly be called "exotic". The fact that the only way to get there is to fly, makes it seem truly distant from the mainland. The only things reminding you you're still in the states are the American flags flying around, and the fact that the official currency is the U.S. dollar. Once you're outside of Honolulu, you might as well be in another country.
2. New Mexico
New Mexico comes in a close second, after Hawaii, and wins the title for the Lower 48, at least everything north of the Salinas Pueblos. Unlike the majority of the places we'll be looking at that feel like countries that already exist, nothing else really compares with New Mexico. The state is truly one of a kind, and feels like its own unique sovereign nation. Home to both the oldest indigenous and European buildings in the U.S., this is truly the cradle of American civilization. No other state in the U.S. has such a massive number of pre-Colombian archaeological sites and traditional Native American pueblos. The northern part of the state is dominated by autonomous Indian reservations, which greet travelers with large signs written in exotic languages, which make you forget you're in the states. The fact that photography is prohibited on Indian lands without a permit, and some areas and festivals are off limits entirely, truly makes New Mexico like no other place in the U.S. Nowhere in the Lower 48 states has native American culture been preserved so well. It is the only place in the United States where indigenous populations still live in mud homes, in the same pueblos their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. The Spanish also left behind a legacy in the form of ruined missions and adobe churches. It is also the only U.S. state outside of Hawaii, where non-Hispanic whites are a minority population, with Hispanics, Native Americans and Mexicans being the dominant ethnic groups. All of them have left their mark on New Mexican culture, making it like no other place in the U.S.
They don't call it "The Last Frontier" for nothing. This state is truly remote. With only two major highways in the entire state, most areas remain inaccessible by land. It is the only state, outside of Hawaii, who's capital can't be reached by road from other parts of the state, and many communities still remain cut off from the rest of the world. Geographically, biologically and culturally, the state is more similar to Russia and Canada, than it is to other states. Many indigenous people still speak their traditional language and maintain traditional customs that most Americans would consider exotic. Russian culture also has a strong presence here. The state is also a lot closer to Russia physically than it is to the rest of the U.S., and the western most Aleutian islands lie west of the international date line, making it the only state to span two hemispheres. This means the eastern most point in the U.S. is actually in Alaska. It is also the only U.S. state that frequently experiences the Aurora Borealis. The state is truly the gateway to another world, and the closest you'll get to the remote lands of Russia's far east.
Just like Alaska, the geography, biology, culture and urban landscape of Maine, more closely resemble that of eastern Canada than the rest of the United States. In fact, if it wasn't for official border crossings, you wouldn't even know when you've crossed from one to the other. Not to mention this is the only place in the Lower 48 states, where you can find wild puffins.
This small Danish community located in southern California is often advertised as being "More Danish than Denmark." Having visited both, I confirm this to be true. The town's residents have done an excellent job in emulating traditional Danish architecture and culture, with Danish restaurants, pastry and souvenir shops, museums, replicas of iconic Danish landmarks, and an annual Danish Days Festival. A large portion of the population still speak Danish and preserve Danish customs. When you visit, you truly feel you're in a Danish village. I say they got it pretty spot on.
Okay, I heard that 1 in every 3 Americans have at least some German blood, but here in the mountains of central Washington, the locals have truly strived to show off their German heritage. Just like the residents of Solvang, the German population of Leavenworth has done pretty darn well to imitate their Motherland. Everything about Leavenworth, form its architecture, to its mountain location, feels like an authentic Bavarian village. Their Oktoberfests must be pretty wild.
This is probably the closest you'll get to experiencing China, without having to hop on a plane. Founded during the California gold rush, San Francisco's Chinatown has grown to become the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. Despite being the city's most popular tourist destination, the neighborhood has preserved its Chinese character. All businesses and services are run by Chinese, right down to the local schools and police force. Aside from the English language signs and American flags, everything about this place screams authentic China. From the shady massage parlors, to the authentic restaurants. To the traditional Chinese architecture and street musicians. To the dragon puppet and sky lantern shops. To it's loud Cantonese speakers Communist flags, and occasional anti-Japanese protests, and its annual Chinese New Year celebrations and Dragon Boat Festival. The neighborhood is also the most densely populated urban area in the U.S., outside of Manhattan. The only thing that's really missing is pollution, bicycles, loud mopeds and Communist police telling you what you can and can't photograph. You're not gonna find a more authentic replica of China.
8. New Orleans
Okay, it doesn't exactly feel like France, but with its French colonial architecture, French gastronomy French colonial vibe, large black population, and the carnival like festival known as Mardi Gras, New Orleans comes pretty close to the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. And with its large number of voodoo worshippers, the city also closely resembles Haiti. It is also the only U.S. city where alcohol consumption is permitted in the city streets, something the French government also turns a blind eye too. This is about as close to colonial France as you'll get in the U.S. If it weren't for the English speaking population, you might as well be in the French Caribbean.
9. Key West
With its laid back atmosphere, slow paced life style, Spanish forts and Colonial buildings, Key West is the closest thing in the U.S. to the islands of the Bahamas and the Caribbean. In fact, the island even has a Bahamian village. Many guide books even include it culturally and even geographically as part of the Caribbean, and many even argue it is the only place in the continental United States that has a true tropical climate. But what really earns it its place on the list, is that for a brief period, it actually WAS a nation. In 1982, the island ceded from the Union and declared itself the "Conch Republic". The city's mayor was proclaimed the president, and even issued their own flag and currency. Although the nation was short lived, its locals still celebrate its founding each April 23.
Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful city's in the South, its large number of forts, British-colonial architecture and sub-tropical climate, means the city closely resembles the nearby British territory of Bermuda, or the former British colonies of the Caribbean. In fact, the small town of Speightstown, Barbados was the inspiration for the city's Colonial look and street plan. Not to mention the city was named after King Charles II of England. This is truly the closest you'll get to Colonial England in the U.S.