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Looking forward to exploring one of the quaint small towns in California? This guide will help you with deciding which town to visit in California for a beautiful getaway.
The best thing about the California is how diverse it is. From spectacular metropolitan cities to stunning nature escapes, there is a lot that the state offers to every type of traveler. In between are the charming small towns in California, that are rich in stunning country landscapes, comfort food, delightful downtown scenes, fun festivals, outdoor adventures and surely a lot more old school exploration sites.
Here are some beautiful small towns in California that are unique in their own way and perfect for your next getaway.
Beautiful Small Towns In California
One of the most picturesque towns on the coastline is located in Northern California at Mendocino. Considered the Carmel of the North, Mendocino is quiet, beautiful and filled with stunning landscapes to explore. The town itself is charming with artist galleries, pop boutique stores, yummy bakeries and some local restaurants that you will love to try some of the local dishes and enjoy a great meal.
Mendocino town is special and is easy to walk through the two main streets and small side streets to enjoy the local scene and then explore the outside areas.
The coastline cliffs are spectacular with views of hidden beaches, the coastline and looking back to the little town of Mendocino. There are many trails that go along the coastline areas for as long as you want to hike or you can even take shore road trips down to Fort Bragg, the glass beach or visit local state parks like Russian Gulch State park.
Where To Stay In Mendocino : Headlands Inn
By Noel Morata Of Travel Photo Discovery
Julian, located in the Cuyamaca Mountains, is one of the most beautiful small towns in California. The historic town is nestled between the desert and the coast and is only an hour’s drive northeast of San Diego.
When you visit Julian, you can learn about when gold was discovered in the 1870s gold rush, and you can see how this has impacted and shaped the characteristics of the small town. There is plenty to see and do in Julian. For example, walking along the main street is a treat. Here you will find antique stores and places to buy some delicious apple pie. If you don’t know where to go, try the charming and rustic Mom’s Pie House, where ‘Mom’ has been serving the pie for over 30 years.
If you don’t mind the crowds, you should visit during the famous Apple Day Festival, which happens annually in September. The exciting festival has been taking place since 1959, with many activities taking place, including wine tasting! If this is not for you, or you want to visit at a quieter time, the town boasts excellent hiking trails in the nearby mountains, boating, fishing, historic buildings, museums, charming B&Bs and hotels to rest your head.
Where To Stay In Julian : Julian Gold Rush Hotel
By Rachel Of Average Lives
Want to get the flavor of Europe without visiting any actual European country? Look no further than Solvang, a small Danish village in California. This small California town is located in Santa Ynez Valley, just two and a half-hour drive from Los Angeles. Solvang features a number of Danish-inspired buildings, architectures, cute restaurants, and picturesque wineries. Hence, it is also known as ‘Little Denmark’.
This city’s name is inspired by a Danish word that means ‘sunny field’. Being a quaint small town, it is quite easy to explore with a bicycle. People often overlook this beautiful town while visiting Santa Barbara, but you will find plenty of attractions and things to do in Solvang.
Walk around the downtown and discover numerous Danish attractions including the giant wooden windmills, the red clog & Round Tower, and Little Mermaid Fountain. The unique Danish lifestyle and the gorgeous view of the town will leave you awestruck.
Next, visit a Danish bakery which you cannot skip if you are a foodie traveler. You will see an array of cute restaurants and Danish bakeries at the central point. Mortenson’s Danish Bakery is a highly recommended Danish bakery where you must try their mouthwatering Danish cookies and waffle.
Looking for something romantic? Go for horseback riding at Vino Vaqueros with your partner. This 90-minute ride offers a stunning view of Santa Ynez Valley from the hilltop. It can be truly a rewarding experience on a sunny day. There you will find lots of vineyards and wineries in Solvang and the nearby area. True wine lovers must check Rusack Vineyards, a boutique winery well known for producing award-winning wines.
Where To Stay In Solvang : Wine Valley Inn
By Trijit Mallick Of Budget Travel Buff
Napa is the heart of the world-famous wine region of Napa Valley. It is a great place to base yourself as you spend time exploring the broader area as it is the largest city in Napa County. It is a cute, historic town that sits on the Napa River with plenty of places to eat and stay as well as plenty of wine tasting options in the event you don’t feel up to venturing out to a vineyard.
Speaking of vineyards, Napa offers up easy access to some of the best wineries in the area. From here it is a mere fourteen minutes to the sweeping views of the cellar door at Artesa Vineyard and eleven minutes to the gorgeous Maroon Wines estate. For those wanting a longer drive through the area, definitely consider a trip up to St Helena at the north of the Napa Valley to visit Auburn James Winery.
Whilst wine is the main drawcard to Napa, this picturesque town is a bit of a foodie haven. The Oxbow Public Market is an incredible gourmet market serving up everything from seafood to sweets.
Finally, for the actively inclined, there are plenty of cycling trails, paddle board experiences and kayaks that will keep you busy in between wine tasting appointments.
Where To Stay In Napa : Hotel Napa Valley
By Emma Of Emma Jane Explores
Located 4 miles (7 km) north of San Francisco is Sausalito, a small seaside town that is rich in history and beauty. The town is the first town visitors reach if they were to go north on the famous Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, one of the most popular day activities in San Francisco is rent a bicycle and cycle all the way to Sausalito, admiring the fantastic views along and soaking in the glorious Californian sun.
The history of Sausalito is complex. Before the construction of the Golden State Bridge, Sausalito was the prime location for summer homes and affluent members of the society. However, with the onset of World War II and the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito became home to a massive shipyard. Workers rapidly settled in Sausalito and its population raised to 30,000. However, once the war has ended, residents left as quickly as they came.
Because of its sudden drop in demand, this beautiful town became a haven for artists, musicians, actors, and other creative people that wanted somewhere cheap to stay. With its mixture of arts and culture, this small town boasts a bohemian vibe that can still be seen today.
Many tourists come to Sausalito to enjoy the laid-back vibes, check out the boutiques along Bridgeway (the main street of Sausalito), catch some spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, or simply escape the hustle and bustle of San Francisco.
Where To Stay In Sausalito : Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa
By Sean Lau of Living Out Lau
6. Pacific Grove
Pacific Grove is one of the most charming towns you can visit in California. Located on the Monterey Peninsula along the Central California Coast, Pacific Grove has a laid-back ambience that is sure to appeal if you are looking to relax.
One of the most compelling reasons to visit Pacific Grove is its beautiful oceanfront. You can drive the road that runs along the ocean, or, even better, walk the trail that runs along the coastal bluffs. Asilomar Beach is a fun place for sunbathing, kite flying, and sand play.
Lovers Point Park is one of the star attractions along the water in Pacific Grove. With its mature cypress trees and stunning water views, the park is a great place to relax. You can launch kayaks at the beach here as well.
In town, tour the many old homes that are preserved in beautiful condition, shop at little boutiques and antique stores, and enjoy California cuisine at Pacific Grove restaurants. Pacific Grove is also one of the gateways to the famous 17-Mile Drive that runs through Pebble Beach. It is considered one of the most scenic drives in California.
Lastly, you will want to book a stay at one of the many charming inns in Pacific Grove, for a comfortable base from which to explore.
Where To Stay In Pacific Grove : Sunset Inn
By Dhara Of Roadtripping California
Monterey is a beautiful, small coastal city located just a couple of hours south of San Francisco. As the name implies, the town rests on breathtaking Monterey Bay which is known for its sea otters, seals, and bottlenose dolphins plus gray whales and humpback whales (depending on the season).
One of Monterey’s main streets, Cannery Row, used to be home to multiple sardine canneries from the early 1900s through the 1970s. However, Cannery Row is now a fun area to walk, shop, and eat. Plus it’s home to Monterey’s crown jewel, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
This world-class aquarium is home to ten large exhibition areas including a giant kelp forest and an amazing open sea exhibit. The open sea exhibit features a relaxing and dark seating area with a 90-foot window to observe huge schools of tuna and sardines swim gracefully.
Another must-see area in Monterey is Ocean View Boulevard. This area is a breathtaking stretch of road and pedestrian path situated along the rocky coast of Monterey and Pacific Grove. There are so many amazing pullout areas for photos plus perfect tide pool spots (like the Great Tidepool and Love Rock).
Additional top things to do in Monterey include: Biking the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, relaxing at Lover’s Point Park, kayaking in the bay, seeing Point Pinos Lighthouse and driving 17-Mile Drive. However, no matter the amount of time you have in Monterey, you will be sure to have an amazing experience.
Where To Stay In Monterey : Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
By Jenessa Van Woerkom Of Destination Daydreamer
Nested in between Oceanside and Encinitas, this beautiful small town in California, Carlsbad, is known as “The Village By The Sea” and hosts many fun things to do. One of the reasons this town is so beautiful is because it is home to The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch – a 50-acre hillside of multi-colored ranunculus.
In the Spring, visitors can pay to enter the fields, take pictures, buy flowers, and even go on a Wagon Tour. If you are looking for more adventure, Legoland in Carlsbad is a must. With an array of rides, attractions, shows, dining places, exhibits, an aquarium, and a water park, a trip to Legoland provides a day of endless fun. There are lots of easy outdoor activities to enjoy in the sun including biking, kayaking, surfing, hiking, and taking a stroll on the beach! When it’s time to eat, there is no shortage of good food in Carlsbad.
The Karl Strauss Brewing Company is a great place for a lively ambiance, good eats, and a crisp beer. King’s Fish House is a perfect date night restaurant known for its delicious seafood dishes. While planning your trip to Carlsbad, be sure to pack lots of sunscreen, beach attire, a hat, and some flip-flops to cruise through this beach town.
Where To Stay In Carlsbad : Best Western Plus Beach View Lodge
By Erin McLaughlin Of The SoCal Gal
9. Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes in California is an adorable small town in California known for its pristine winter skiing conditions and summer hiking trails. In the winter, Mammoth Lakes offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in California. In the summer, Mammoth Lakes is perfect for adventure lovers of all skill levels. You can mountain bike, horse ride in the backcountry, hike, and backpack, or spend the day boating, kayaking, or stand up paddleboarding on one of the lakes.
You can spend one-day hiking, the next stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, or fishing on a lake, and then spend your evenings roasting marshmallows and swapping stories around a campfire. Early mornings and evenings are also fantastic for soaking in one of the several natural hot springs found just outside of Mammoth. You can also spend the day on the slopes and spend the evening watching shooting stars while soaking your tired muscles in one of the several hot springs.
Where To Stay In Mammoth Lakes : Juniper Springs Resort
By Jenny Kotlyar Of Limitless Hiker
10. Three Rivers
This gorgeous town on the foothills of Sierra Nevada is easily one of the most beautiful small towns in California. It’s located in Tulare County, California, it’s almost centrally located between San Francisco and Los Angeles and it is named after its position on the intersection of three separate branches of the nearby Kaweah River.
People usually pass through this gorgeous little town on a Californian Road Trip, or on their way to either the Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks. There’s plenty to do near to the down and it’s a great place to stay if you love hiking and exploring the great outdoors.
A few of the most popular nearby attractions involve exploring the nearby Kaweah River Whitewater, one of the steepest waterways in America. The Tokopah Falls is another breath-taking waterfall to explore with a height of roughly 1,200 feet. You can also explore the caves of Sierra Nevada, go Sequoia tree spotting in Sequoia National Park and, if you’d like to know a little more history about the town itself, pay a visit to the Three Rivers Historical Museum.
A peaceful town full of natural charm and friendly artists or retirees, Three Rivers is a great base for exploring and one of the best small towns in California.
Where To Stay In Three Rivers : Plantation Bed & Breakfast
By Alice Of Adventures of Alice
Ferndale, California is a small and charming town in northern California. Home to less than 1,500 people, its Victorian Charm is the perfect place to explore any time of year. You will find Ferndale 20 miles south of Eureka, nearly 5 hours north of San Francisco. This small town is quaint and filled with Victorian homes. As you drive through the streets, you’ll feel transported back to another era.
Ferndale was founded in 1852 and was once a major part of the northern California dairy industry. The entire town is on the national register of historic places.
The main street through downtown has plenty of beautiful buildings to explore. Stop to walk around the downtown and check out the small shops and restaurants. Don’t miss the old fashioned general store, the Golden Gait Mercantile. Spend a few minutes driving through the residential streets to gawk at the beautifully crafted homes.
The town is the gateway to the Lost Coast, the largest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States. Leaving from Ferndale, you can drive down Mattole Road to view the beautiful black sand beaches and rugged rocks of the Lost Coast.
Ferndale is also nestled amongst the redwoods, only miles from Redwood National Park and Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Where To Stay In Ferndale : Victorian Inn
By Julia Jennings Of Well Planned Journey
These are the beautiful and fascinating small towns in California to visit. Which one of these would you be visiting to? Or have you been to any other beautiful small towns in California which you find worth mentioning? Do share with us in the comment section below.
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