California, with scenery for everyone from SoCal to the Bay Area and beyond, is filled with beautiful, small, adorable towns, each more spectacular than the last. From north to south, the pristine beaches and mountain nooks with scenery for every taste are packed with adventures and plentiful seafood to indulge in! Take part in the local lifestyle over sunset parties, backyard stargazing, or wine gatherings to create endless memories. Enjoy easy access from San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego, the glam of which is reflected in the shiny, equally picturesque villages that open their hearts to curious tourists. From world-class destinations to little-heard-of gems throughout the scenic state, these quaint, picturesque, fairytale-like villages are as unique as the landscape around them.
There is no way around this stunning island town when seeking beauty in the Golden State. A real crown jewel in Avalon Bay's embrace, this unmissable town greets visitors with beautiful scenery from the get-go— just a ferry journey to Santa Catalina Island away! Escape the bustle of the city into the cozy atmosphere of a small town with only 3,230 souls living amid endless beauty. With a rather remote setting that meets modernity and has plenty to keep travelers occupied, featuring stunning land and water with postcard views, snorkeling and scuba diving off the coast or climbing the island's highest peak, Mt. Orizaba.
Take a stroll through the buzzing downtown and up the winding streets for views over the beautiful Pacific Ocean, with a beckoning strip of white-sand beaches. Enjoy views while lounging and strolling the surrounding beaches to the aptly named Green Pleasure Pier at sunset. After a day of recreation and water sports, take a popular cruise out of the port town. Just one square mile in area, its downtown is replete with boutiques and waterside dining, including Lobster Club. Check out the Buffalo Nickel for Mexican BBQ or the highly-rated Descanso Beach Club, worthy of a shoreline stroll just north, and complete the recipe for a perfect vacation at the bar scene.
This scenic town of just over 2,500 residents sits unpretentiously in the heart of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Borrego Springs, the only one in California completely enveloped by a state park, is also the Golden State's first and only International Dark Sky Community, protecting the night sky from light pollution. Experience this firsthand while camping at several campgrounds and RV parks around the area, or befriend a local for an invitation to a backyard stargazing party—a popular activity here. Escape the cold at home for the holidays during the vibrant ruby-red grapefruit season in Borrego Springs in the second half of December and stock up on juicy fruit at honor-system fruit stands. Plan to visit after a rainy season when Anza-Borrego State Park super blooms with wildflowers—a scene all visitors are lucky to experience.
When not enjoying the enticing outdoors, explore the downtown with a barrage of ice cream shops, restaurants, shopping, and the town's biggest pride—its creative flair, like galleries, events, and watercolor or pottery-making classes at Borrego Art Institute. Come in the spring for the Plein Air Invitational painting event and the Circle of Art Show, or anytime to stroll or drive amid the prehistoric and fantastical beasts all supersized along the area's roads. These rust-colored, meticulously crafted metal creatures, with details like eyelashes and shaved iron fur, crafted by the sculptor Ricardo Breceda, are also randomly dropped off the road, away from any foot traffic. Grab a map with GPS locations for sculptures at the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association desert store, a block west of the Christmas Circle in the downtown area, and enjoy a fun scavenger hunt for selfies with the besties.
This seaside beauty on the Central California coast brims with scenic outdoors and plentiful ways to experience it all in the pleasant sea breeze under the sun. From family-fun-filled days along the beautiful beaches to various hiking trails and the local wineries, spend a great weekend trip or a whole vacation trying everything and relaxing on the beach. The beautiful coastal nature here, unlike anywhere else, features fascinating fauna in an amazing landscape for hikes and picnics through pine trees and shoreside trails.
Find friendly and untamed beaches like the aptly named Moonstone Beach with shiny gemstones you can collect for a keepsake or make jewelry with. Stock up on precious finds at Cambria's downtown boutiques and shops, with restaurants and unique must-see landmarks in between like the Fiscalini Ranch House and the Kneeland-Walker House. Seek out the stunning Hearst Castle in a real fairy tale setting atop a verdant hill, with a chance of zebra sighting around. Visit elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, where myriads of these awkwardly cute creatures delight the young and old with play.
The town across the bay from downtown San Diego, with the moniker "The Crown City," translating from Spanish as "the crowned one," really is a crown jewel among beach lovers. Coronado's oceanside scene of sandy beaches with sparkling sand from the mica mineral is unmatched by any other. Bask in the scenic beauty while lounging, enjoying oceanfront dining, and watching spectacular sunsets. Consistently named the best beach in the US by Dr. Beach, the wide, sandy beaches with gentle surf inspire family trips and romantic getaways. Find plentiful great hotels like the Hotel del Coronado, a National Historic Landmark from 1888, with former guests like presidents, princes, scandalous socialites, and glamorous celebrities. This oceanfront hotel, the setting of 1959's Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe, may have inspired the Emerald City in "The Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum, who spent many winters here.
Whether relaxing on the beach or biking Coronado's beachfront boardwalk around the island, the town's elegant gardens and mansions veiled in timeless charm are dreamy. Take a stroll through the sparkling attractions along the charming main street of Orange Avenue, filled with quirky and eclectic shops, restaurants, galleries, theaters, and the Coronado Museum of History and Art. Head to the other end of the island, Coronado's Ferry Landing, for views of the San Diego skyline while perusing an impressive collection of shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Enjoy sailing, stand-up paddling, surfing, kayaking, Venetian gondola cruises, and the top-rated Coronado's Public Golf Course, and return next spring for the annual, over a century-old Coronado Flower Show.
Let the mountain adventures begin here, in this seemingly obscure, out-of-the-way town in the San Bernardino Mountains, adorned by the majestic redwoods and with an alpine feel so rare in Southern California. The most accessible mountain resort town without the touristy feel is a dream for both mountaineers and water enthusiasts trickling to its beautiful shores of Lake Gregory. Enjoy the serene lakeside atmosphere in lush nature's embrace while fishing or splicing the glistening, crystal-clear blue surface with a kayak or paddleboard.
Get out on the trails for a hike through the foothills with peaky views and hang gliders in the sky from the town's world-class launch. Return for a refreshing dip and swim in the cool waters in the warmer months, which last the majority of the year here. With fun for everyone, enjoy a fun-filled family day at the spectacular San Bernardino, the largest inflatable waterpark in the US, with waterslides for all ages and lakeside picnic grounds while the little ones splash around. Scope out the charming downtown area on a cute, free trolley ride or a stroll amid shops and eateries.
This quaint, scenically named village by the sea with a rich history cannot go unnoticed, just 20 miles north of San Diego along the SoCal coastline. Del Mar is so unique in its offerings that it has been the preferred spot for countless notable figures from the country and around the world to spend vacations in its quaint, world-class, sophisticated embrace. Visit charming Del Mar today for a vibrant small-town atmosphere snug against the natural playground of the Pacific Coastline, with endless views and iconic landmarks.
Check into a boutique hotel and head for a crawl along the pristine beaches to your serene lounging spot, just a hand's reach away from the award-winning cuisine to dine with spectacular ocean views. Venture along the trails at Torrey Pines State Park, winding along through cliffs and canyons and back to the beach. Sightsee the renowned bridge before prowling through the unique shops in town, home to fewer than 5,000 locals. The town's pride and joy—Del Mar Racetrack and San Diego County Fair—demonstrate the real spirit of the small town, which will have folks falling head over heels in love!
Half Moon Bay
This fantastic town, just 45 minutes south of San Francisco on Highway One, has a whole otherworldly feel and scenery unlike anywhere else. Half Moon Bay is a deserving weekend escape or even a day trip for the express recharge visitors have been dreaming of. Retaining a sleepy beach town atmosphere, Half Moon Bay is famous for Mavericks' monster waves—a dream of surfers. Connect with the power of the ocean and the friendly locals through small-town businesses like local seafood spots. From picnicking, swimming, and admiring gorgeous sunsets to beach strolls and trails along the Pacific, several miles of the border-to-border California Coastal Trail include the particularly scenic path from Poplar Beach, down the coast, and above the waves. Sightsee the playful seals just north of town at Moss Beach in the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, with craggy rocks and tide pools to stroll on a treasure hunt for purple sea urchins and sea stars.
Whether a surfer or a family on a getaway, the over 50-foot crashing tide, handled only by the most skilled surfers, provides epic scenery for all. Master the skill of stand-up paddleboarding with rentals and lessons on calm waters at Pillar Point Harbor. For more kid-friendly fun, head to Lemons Park for a sunny day visit with the animals in a farm-like amusement park with pony, hay, and train rides, a petting zoo, and even goat yoga! Come celebrate Halloween here unlike anywhere else, an exciting time with live music and spooky festivities, while Sam’s Chowder House is a must-hit any day of the year to enjoy lobster with views over the harbor to Pillar Point. Head to the funky Barbara’s Fishtrap, with dangling dish nets, which has served the best fish and chips since 1971. Take a stroll down the historic main street for more foodie delights, shopping, and a bar scene. Try Pasta Moon's seafood-topped spaghetti puttanesca, Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, and two distilleries for small-batch spirits, while Jettywave is a pet-friendly garden.
The idyllic beach town of Laguna Beach is a longtime artist colony with a vibrant mix of coastal nature and creative craft blending into picture-perfect scenery. Its legacy, among many independent businesses and galleries, includes one of the oldest in the state, the world-famous Laguna Art Museum. You can window shop and peruse the boutiques while hunting out vibrantly painted street murals! The beachfront lodging options may cause some real estate envy, but you can score one for an ideal weekend getaway, with more options here than in the rest of California. Visit Crescent Bay for mystical coves, or get some exercise by climbing the Thousand Steps with 222 stairs.
Just halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, enjoy easy access to some of the state's most unique topography along this coastal stretch with seven miles of Instagram-perfect coves and beaches. With over thirty SoCal beaches at your doorstep, find everything from white-sand beaches for lounging with views to sea caves, tide pools, ocean-side bluffs, and natural tide pools to explore all within city limits. The expansive parks around offer a shaded respite for strolls and picnics, like the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park or the biking and hiking trails through the colorful Heisler Park, with deeper nature insights.
Los Olivos is like Italy in your backyard—a decadent escape for wine aficionados, foodies, architecture lovers, and art fans alike! Find this tiny Santa Ynez Valley town just off Highway 154 for a tasting weekend through sparkling tasting rooms, seafood delights artistic eats, and plentiful gift-stocking opportunities. From craft breweries and wine tasting to boutiques and local shops, you can enjoy Italianesque sights down the few blocks of downtown Los Olivos.
Plop down for a rustic lunch with BBQ at R-Country Market, like the filling weekend special of Santa Maria tri-tip sandwiches, or pair fine wine and dining at the "Best Restaurant for Wine," Los Olivos Café & Wine Merchant, according to Wine Spectator, over a succulent meal you'll be dreaming about long after. In between Italian fare and cute wine picnics under the sun, visit Global Gardens for a family stroll. You can pick up something to enjoy at home, gift freshly made olive oil to a friend, or get a bottle of wine to remember this cutest little valley enclave with the area's most scenic vistas!
The "Gibraltar of the Pacific," a scenic fishing town called Morro Bay, is as diverse as they come in California's sights, perfect for an adventurous weekend getaway for every taste. Find your stronghold here over your favorite way to relax and enjoy activities on and off the water in a scenically charged atmosphere with plenty to do and eclectic sights to scavenge. Hike to the town's namesake icon and natural landmark, the Morro Rock, which has guided sailors to its shoreside among plentiful scenic overlooks out into the beautiful ocean.
Let the village become your place of strength to recharge after days spent lounging, hanging waves, and picnics with photoshoots against the ancient volcanic mound—a stunning backdrop from a nearby beach. From enthralling water adventures like boating, kayaking, and surfing to golfing, hiking, and biking, you can rest at plentiful waterside shacks and restaurants with fresh offerings of the Pacific, a legacy of the old fishing village. Watch the daily sunset and try something new each evening, like a fantastic seafront feast at Blue Sky Bistro.
Point Reyes Station
The coast’s commercial anchor, Point Reyes Station, is a blue-collar free port at its roots, with livestock grazing inland, towering redwoods, and the Russian River nearby. Enjoy easy access to this tiny, largest town at the edge of the national seashore at Point Reyes Station, just a few dozen buildings along Route 1. The national seashore stretching for 25 pristine miles from the Golden Gate Bridge is as natural as it gets, with no development. This unreplicable scenic atmosphere is a tribute to President John F. Kennedy, who declared this peninsula a national treasure. Visit on the weekend for a sunny buzz along the sidewalks. including a great bakery, a few restaurants, a surf shop, and a local craft store, and check out some of the notable downtown eateries.
Stop by the must-visit photographer's studio to see his lifelong dedication to capturing the beauty of the Point Reyes landscape. Find small inns and cottages scattered around the edges of the park and stroll the wide expanses of beach, where you can do your photoshoots along this crownless, heavenly slice with sights of whales, birds, and elephant seals. Once a railroad town, Olema Station However, the town along Main Street, A Street, or also Highway 1, marked Shoreline Highway, is a must-visit. Home to Italianesque architecture from early town fathers of Northern Italian immigrants or Italian-speaking Swiss, its wood-sided Point Reyes Emporium from 1898 is impeccably preserved.
Whether choosing the famous Avalon, the Italianesque Los Olivos, the obscure Point Reyes station at the edge of the national seashore, or Crestline, a mountain town with more European sights, you will be getting the scenic respite of your life. Sightsee the deep European roots and fishing villages that still thrive from the same industry among modern attractions with both charm and historical significance.
So the question still stands: What do you consider beautiful? With each town full of surprises and good times, take a road trip to find the most scenically appealing town for yourself on a great city escape. Find an idyllic mountain hideout, a slice of beachy heaven, or a valley enclave in the wine country to call your home away from home, and immerse yourself in the local lifestyle with unparalleled views.