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Exotic vacations may be closer than you think

  • Story Highlights
  • St. Augustine, Florida, offers Old World Spain without leaving North America
  • 400-year-old Quebec City is the only fortified city north of Mexico
  • California has a slice of Africa's Serengeti: cheetahs, zebra and wildebeest
  • Michigan's Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas offer excellent wine tourism
By K.C. Georges
CNN
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(CNN) -- Travelers don't always have to fight the masses and schlep overseas to find exotic vacation thrills.

More than 20 wineries dot 850 acres across Michigan's Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas.

Safari West near Sonoma, California, offers a taste of Africa in North America.

If you know where to look, you can find destinations closer to home that offer relief from crowds and pricey travel arrangements.

The right location can generate the makings of an African or European vacation -- without leaving North America.

Along the same lines, wine-lovers yearning for a taste of the Napa Valley don't necessarily have to travel to California. Video Watch more about getaways with an exotic vibe »

Africa-like safari

If you've always wanted to take an African safari but don't have the time or money, Sarah Kantrowitz of Travel + Leisure recommends traveling to Sonoma, California, for a host of wild adventures.

In the heart of wine country, Safari West offers a slice of Serengeti life with 400 acres of preserve.

"You'll be able to visit almost 500 animals including cheetahs, zebra and wildebeest," says Kantrowitz.

Climb aboard their Classic Safari Truck tour to observe over 80 species of wild animals in a natural habitat.

Safari West's director of communications Aphrodite Caserta calls the tour a "don't miss experience."

"Simply," she says, "it's a rare opportunity to experience an authentic African adventure without a passport and without the jet lag. And, without spending thousands of dollars."

Safari West also offers private truck tours, educational animal presentations and overnight tent accommodations. They even offer many seasonal specials to make your stay more affordable.

Check out http://www.safariwest.com/ for information on their Full Moon Madness package. You can save 50 percent off room rates on or around the full moon each month.

Napa Valley-esque wine tastings

If it's wine you want, find an alternative to Napa Valley in Michigan's Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas.

Here you'll discover more than 850 acres of land and more than 20 wineries for your choosing.

The area offers tastings and gourmet meals, and Kantrowitz says, "The region is particularly known for its great pinot blancs."

It also boasts plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities like scenic bike tours of the wine trails and camping on the lakeshore.

Andrew MacFarlane, spokesperson for the Leelanau Peninsula Vintner's Association, considers Michigan wine country unique because the effects of the Great Lakes perfect the wine and the atmosphere.

He says, "It's blue skies, no humidity. It's an absolutely beautiful place to come in any season."

Check out Leelanau's and Old Mission's Web sites for winery lists, wine trail maps, special events and more.

Pseudo-European getaways

With the Euro still dominating the American dollar, try looking in your own backyard for European flair with a considerably smaller price tag.

You can get a taste of France without breaking the bank in Quebec.

Quebec City, the province's capital, offers an experience rich in cultural heritage.

Settled about 400 years ago by French fur traders, the city hosts many examples of 18th and 19th century architecture and the distinction of being the only fortified city north of Mexico.

"Consider walking the streets and exploring the wonderful shops that sell wine, cheese and delicious baguettes," says Kantrowitz.

Visit http://www.quebecregion.com/e/ for Quebec City's calendar of events and recommendations for dining, shopping and lodging in the area. Here you can also find information on different tours and package deals.

If it's Spanish culture that interests you, look no further than St. Augustine, Florida.

The nation's oldest city was founded more than 400 years ago, and its Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum gives visitors the opportunity to see what life was like in the city when it was still an outpost of the Spanish empire.

Through the state's preservation effort, many of the colonial buildings in St. Augustine have been restored to their original appearance.

Kantrowitz suggests taking a pedestrian route through the city.

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She says, "Try a walking tour to see a lot of architecture that is very reminiscent of Spain itself."

Head over to http://www.visitflorida.com/ for St. Augustine photos, up-to-date deals and user-generated activity suggestions.

All About Quebec CitySt. Augustine (Florida)Michigan

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