12 Scenic Small Towns in California – You Need to Visit!

December 15, 2020

If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, these small towns in California will be just what you’re looking for.

Though the top destinations that come to mind when California is mentioned may be Los Angeles or San Francisco, there are also so many quaint, scenic small towns in Califnoria that really pack a punch too.

If you’ve already checked out the major Californian hubs or just fancy a more relaxed getaway, then visiting one of the California’s smaller towns is the perfect option. 

Though you won’t get the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, scenic, small towns in California tend to run at a pace that’s more suitable for the laid back traveler.

However, no matter what kind of traveler you are, the stunning towns on this list will hold something for everyone. Whether you’re looking to check out some amazing Californian artwork or want to explore the larger attractions available in spots like St. Helena, these charming small towns in California are sure to blow you away. 


Sausalito

Located on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito is one of the most scenic small towns in California. With a small population of residents that barely tops 7,000, Sausalito is the perfect place to kick back and relax. I love this place as a choice for scenic small towns in California.

This quaint small town has plenty of artwork, and the bayfront location allows for plenty of sightseeing. If you’re looking for a relaxed evening, be sure to have a cocktail at one of the area’s many local restaurants. Offering wonderful views of the water as well as a plethora of boutique stores, Sausalito is full of things to do.

If you happen to be traveling with kids, it’s worth stopping by one of the town’s museums; the Marine Mammal Center is particularly popular amongst youngsters!

small towns in California

Ojai

If you fancy stopping at a scenic small town in California that’s just outside of L.A., then look no further than Ojai. A Californian panacea that’s got amazing views of the Topatopa Mountains, it’s great for visitors that love to bask in nature’s glory. The best things to do around the area are hiking, biking, rock climbing and local area tours.

However, working on your fitness isn’t the only thing on offer in this quaint spot. If the local hikes haven’t exhausted you, be sure to check out Ojai Village. Known as the town center to locals, it’s got some stunning architecture and great restaurants that are well worth exploring. This is a gorgeous option for small towns in California.

scenic small towns in Californiascenic small towns in California

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is largely true to its name, and it’s definitely one of the best small towns in California. Located along the Monterey coastline, it’s inarguably one of the most scenic small towns in California.

With stunning woods and beautiful architecture that dominates the area, it’s well worth a visit for its surroundings alone. However, its visual offerings aren’t the only thing that sets this small town apart.

With unique restaurants that offer a truly individual experience to visitors (no chains are allowed here!), you’ll leave Carmel-by-the-Sea with plenty of stories to tell. If you’ve got the time, be sure to check out Carmel Beach – particularly popular with visitors to the area, you’re sure to have a sun-soaked day out.

list of small towns in California

Laguna Beach

Though some of the small towns in California on this list are slightly more obscure, you may have heard of Laguna Beach. Located between San Diego and L.A, Laguna Beach certainly lives up to its name. Packed with cove beaches that each offer unique things to do, it’s well worth visiting each one if you’ve got a few days to spare!

Two of the best beaches around are Main Beach and Crystal Cove State Park. Both offering stretches of glistening sand and sparkling waters, you’ll find yourself lost in the beauty of the area. 

list of scenic small towns in California

St. Helena

How could I write a list of scenic small towns in California, and not include St Helena? Seen as one of the most scenic small towns in California largely due to its architecture, St. Helena should absolutely be on your list of places to visit. Probably the most charming town on our list, St. Helena is packed with shops, restaurants, and galleries in which you can wile away the hours. 

However, it’s not just these features that make St. Helena one of the best small towns in the area. In St. Helena, you just so happen to be within easy reach of Napa Valley’s vineyards.

If you’re at all a fan of fine wines, then you’ll know just how fantastic visiting a vineyard can be. So, sharpen up your taste buds and indulge in the vineyard experience that’s available in this amazing town!

pretty small towns in California

Half Moon Bay

If you’re after a quiet, small town experience, then Half Moon Bay is a brilliant choice for scenic small towns in California. A fantastic ocean town that’s a mere 45 minutes from San Fran, it allows you to the option to check out the famous Golden Gate Bridge and step away from the action in the same day.

With great beaches, tide pools, surfing and more on offer here, you’ll certainly not find yourself bored on your visit!

the best small towns in California

Mendocino

If you love to feel as though you’re back in the ‘old world’, then look no further than Mendocino. One of the best scenic small towns in California due to its stunning Victorian architecture, it’s a great place to visit for both budding photographers and architectural fanatics. 

If you choose to visit Mendocino, be sure to check out the Mendocino Headlands State Park too. Though this place is more known for its authentic architecture, it’s flora and fauna should certainly not be scoffed at! This is such a great choice if you’re looking for scenic small towns in California.

beautiful small towns in California

Ferndale

Ferndal is my next recommendation for scenic small towns in California. With an authentic feel that’s extremely welcoming, Ferndale has long been one of the most popular small scenic towns in California. With roots in the dairy industry, this small town has an interesting history that’s still present in its streets and attractions.

Be sure to check out the more bustling downtown district as they tend to periodically host local events that draw some impressive crowds!

top 10 small towns in California

Avalon

Attracting millions of visitors every year, Avalon is a beautiful part of Catalina Island, and it’s next on my list of scenic small towns in California! Catalina Island is generally considered to be a fantastic tourist hub in California and it’s a beautiful small town.

However, Avalon is a hidden gem that offers visitors a more relaxed vibe should they be looking to step away from the more popular areas. If you choose to check out this spot, be sure to visit the Wrigley Botanical Gardens. Packed with amazing flora, it’s a wonderful way to spend the afternoon!

top 10 scenic small towns in California

Tahoe City

Next on my list of scenic small towns in California, it’s Thaoe City. Though you may have already heard of Lake Tahoe, one of the most scenic small towns in California is actually Tahoe City.

With a great historic downtown area that’s filled with boutique shops and unique restaurants, it’s an amazing place to spend a few days if you’re after a change of pace. However, that’s not all this area has to offer.

If you love to ski, then be sure to book a visit during skiing season. With some of the best skiing and trail activities available here, it’s a great family vacation spot for snow bunnies. This is such a great choice when thinking of scenic small towns in California.

pretty towns in California

Arcata

If you’re wanting a cosy break away from city life, then this next suggestion for small towns in California might be for you! Arcata is a cosy, beautiful and friendly town that is a popular break for people around the Northern Cali area.

Arcata has a lovely sense of history, and has some beautiful scenery to enjoy too!

scenic towns in California

Morro Bay

If it’s a small coastal town you’re looking for, then Morro Bay could be the perfect choice for you on this list of scenic small towns in California.

As well as the the friendly and lovely seaside town, there’s also the beautiful Morro Bay State Park too, which is full of wonderful nature to explore and enjoy.

There’s a lovely beach to enjoy in Morro Bay, as well as a really great boat scene (and the famous Morro Rock – pictured below). So plenty to see and do in this small town in California.

cute small towns in California

I hope that this list of scenic small towns in California has been helpful!

Sometimes, it’s the hidden gems that can really make a vacation worthwhile. So, why not choose one or two of the above locations to check out on your next trip?

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