The views at Mammoth are one of a kind. Image credit Patricia Elaine Thomas via Shutterstock

7 Most Charming Lake Towns in California

Known for its abundance of charming ocean towns and soft sandy beaches, the coastal dwellings of the Golden State are usually the center of attention when it comes to tourism and public recognition. Thick evergreen forests and towering mountains also play a large part in California's geography. However, the interior of California with its calm, pristine, crystal-clear waters has long been an overlooked part of the state. With countless lakes, there are many charming lakeside towns that make this part of the state stand out.


Beautiful Donner Lake in Truckee, California
Beautiful Donner Lake in Truckee, California. Image credit Robyn Havard via Shutterstock

Located in northeastern California, Donner Lake is a hotspot for nearby families to spend a long summer weekend enjoying the water and nearby wilderness. Donner Lake is quite small, but not in short supply of things to do. Fishing, boating, and hiking in the hills and mountains that overlook the area are all common activities.

The lake has amassed a large number of inns and campsites over the years leaving a ton of variety for visitors. Whether you want to stay in a hotel, RV, or tent, there is an option for everyone. The town itself often hosts farmers' markets and other public events on the weekends during peak tourist season. Touring the town is a great way to meet the hospitable locals and get your hands on some quality goods and produce. 

Tahoe City

Marina in Tahoe City, California
Marina in Tahoe City, California. Image credit Allard One via Shutterstock

Certainly the most famous lake in California, Lake Tahoe remains a popular destination for both tourists and locals alike. Split vertically down the middle by California and Nevada, the landscape of Lake Tahoe is something that you would not usually associate with either state. The stunning views of the Sierra Nevada mountains are a standout characteristic of the town and not something you will forget.

Tahoe is huge and is home to many towns that rest on its shores. Tahoe City is one of the larger towns on the lake and offers a lot in terms of entertainment and accommodation. Filled to the brim with quality hotels, bars, and restaurants, you can find places like Jake's On The Lake and Za's Lakefront. Both have great food with perfect views of the water.

Boating is huge in lake Tahoe. If you do not have your own you will be able to find rentals for an affordable price in any of the lakeside towns. 

Big Bear

Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake, California. Image credit johnny promprai via Shutterstock

Just on the outskirts of the Greater Los Angeles Area lies Big Bear Lake. This lake has served the residents of Los Angeles for decades as a quick and easy getaway from the fast-paced lifestyle of the big city. Only a two-hour drive from the center of Los Angles, Big Bear is one of the most easily accessible locations for those traveling internationally or from far away states.

During the colder months, the nearby mountains are routinely filled with wintertime activities such as skiing and snowboarding. The town itself hosts festivals and events, particularly around Christmas and New Year's.


Clear Lake, California
Clear Lake, California. Image credit Eden Vieira via Shutterstock

The small town of Clearlake sits adjacent to the lake which is one of the more popular bodies of water in Northern California. There are many small towns that dot the coast of the enormous Clear Lake, but the town of Clearlake is the most robust of them all.

Clearlake acts as an excellent base of operation for those who choose to visit the area. Located on the eastern side of the lake, Clearlake is in a great spot for day trips and other excursions in the surrounding area.

Clearlake is only a two-hour drive from Sacramento. However, if you want to make a much more spectacular entrance, the water space in front of Clearlake is regularly used for seaplane landings. It might be a bit on the expensive side but the experience is one of a kind.

Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes, California
Mammoth Lakes, California. Image credit Robert Patton via Shutterstock

The series of pristine lakes that surround the town of Mammoth is stunning, especially for a town that is usually known for its outstanding skiing. Those who are wanting to visit the lakeside portion of the town should go during the spring and summer. In the colder months, winter sports enthusiasts fill the town, and the focus is on skiing and snowboarding. Weekends in both the summer and winter are extremely busy at Mammoth Lakes which can detract from its peaceful and quiet nature.

Kayaking in the lakes and fly fishing in the nearby streams are common sights. Not to mention the bustling camping grounds and numerous hiking trails that lead into the mountains.

June Lake

Beautiful vibrant panoramic view of June Lake, California
Beautiful vibrant panoramic view of June Lake, California. Image credit Tsuguliev via Shutterstock

Nestled in the middle of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the small town of June Lake is perfect for those who want to avoid the large crowds and cramped lodgings that can be a common occurrence in more frequented lakeside towns.

The lake itself is part of the larger June Lake Loop. Silver, Gull, Grant, and June Lake make up this "loop" and are all excellent choices to visit. All the lakes are close to the town and offer a similar experience. Each lake is well known for its shallow shores which make them ideal for swimming and boating in the summer months.

Lee Vining

Mono Lake, California
This is Paoha Island, found in the middle of Mono Lake. Image credit Bill45 via Shutterstock

The town of Lee Vining is incredibly small with a population of only 59 permanent residents. However, the locals are welcoming to outside visitors and tourists who are hoping to get a first-hand look at the breathtaking lake that they live next to. 

Mono Lake is one of the most marvelous-looking lakes in all of California. During the warmer parts of the year, the true beauty of the lake comes to life. The turquoise water looks like it should belong in a tropical paradise. Bone-colored rock spires jut out of the center of the lake on the mysterious Paoha Island giving the area an atmosphere like no other.

If you ever get the privilege of visiting Lake Mono, there are canoe tours available to visitors for a reasonable price.


Next time you are in the great state of California, pass by the beaches and find a nice lake town instead. It is a totally different and unique experience. Quiet, tranquil, and relaxing.

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