Main street of Sausalito, California. Image credit bluestork via

7 Most Scenic Small Towns in Northern California

Unlike the deserts-like and metropolitan southern portion of the state, California's Northern half takes on a personality of its own with its rugged yet luscious landscapes and relatively sparse population. This list will take a look at seven of the most scenic small towns in northern California, a tough list to narrow down considering the vast amount of gorgeous towns that are surrounded by pristine nature in this area of the United States. See the nearby national parks or the local city parks, the fishing, hiking, and camping opportunities, and the cultural/historical attractions that make this place so unique and scenic.


Street view in Sausalito, California
Street view in Sausalito, California, via f11photo /

Located along the northern shores of San Francisco Bay, Sausalito offers a scenic retreat from the bustling metropolis city nearby. With a population of only around 7,500 residents, you'd be surprised at how quaint this town is given that it is a mere 1.5 miles from San Francisco.

Its waterfront promenade provides panoramic views of the bay and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge; definitely bring your camera and check the weather report for a day that isn't full of fog.

Visitors can explore historic landmarks such as the 19th-century Fort Baker or the unique houseboat communities dotted along the shoreline. As with many northern Californian towns, art galleries, boutiques, and tasty local restaurants line the streets of the downtown core downtown, inviting leisurely strolls and cultural exploration for all who visit.

Nevada City

Broad Street in Nevada City, California.
Broad Street in Nevada City, California. Image credit: Frank Schulenburg, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tucked away in the rolling foothills of the rugged Sierra Nevada region, Nevada City is a charming enclave that is closely associated with Gold Rush history. Its meticulously maintained downtown area features Victorian-era buildings that, to this day, house a variety of amenities for visitors and residents alike, like stores, bars, hotels, and restaurants.

Be sure to explore the remnants of the area's mining heritage at the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum or take a refreshing walk along Deer Creek, which winds its way through the heart of town.

For some additional solitude a short drive away at the South Yuba River State Park, Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, or at any of the dozens of other natural attractions nearby.

St. Helena

A Wine Tasting in St. Helena
A Wine Tasting in St. Helena

Situated in the heart of the iconic Napa Valley wine country, St. Helena is a feast for the eyes amidst rolling vineyards and a very Mediterranean-like landscape. Historic wineries that you have likely seen in your local grocery store such as Beringer Vineyards and Charles Krug Winery offer tastings and tours, allowing visitors to sample the region's renowned wines. For those that do not drink alcohol, it is highly recommended to visit a farm to try out some of the high-quality produce grown all over the valley too. There certainly isn't a shortage of restaurants serving up local pickings too.

The town's Main Street is lined with boutique shops, gourmet restaurants, and art galleries, providing ample opportunities for a cultural experience and culinary indulgence, all within walking distance from each other.


Back street in Mendocino, United States.
Back street in Mendocino, United States. Editorial credit: oliverdelahaye /

Perched atop dramatic coastal cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Mendocino, a town of less than 1,000 people, is a nice little village known for its breathtaking scenery and artistic community. Historic Victorian buildings contain art galleries, cafes, and bed-and-breakfasts that are welcomed sight for overnight visitors. This is while the rugged coastline calls adventurers with opportunities for hiking, whale watching, and tide pooling.

You can check out the town's maritime heritage for yourself at the Ford House Visitor Center or simply relax and enjoy the stunning vistas from Mendocino Headlands State Park. There is something for everybody here, but all are guaranteed one thing, an enriching experience loaded with the typical cool California vibes one comes to expect on the northern shore of the Golden State.


Aerial view of Trinidad, California.
Aerial view of Trinidad, California.

Right on the coastline of Humboldt County and near the border of Oregon, Trinidad is a small fishing town known for its dramatic, lush landscapes and rich Native American heritage. With a population of around 300, this tiny town is a truly peaceful retreat amidst the nearby towering redwoods and sandy beaches.

Trinidad Head, a prominent landmark overlooking the Pacific Ocean, has panoramic views of the coastline and serves as a popular spot for hiking and wildlife observation. The Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse, a replica of the original, is a wonderfully constructed tribute to the area's deep-rooted connection to the sea.

Nearby, Patrick's Point State Park contains a variety of trails, tide pools, and cultural landmarks that highlight the region's indigenous Yurok heritage.


Street view in Ferndale, California
Street view in Ferndale, California, via Joseph Sohm /

Situated in the Eel River Valley, Ferndale is a village renowned for its historic buildings and pastoral landscapes. With a population of just over 1,400 people, it maintains its old-world charm, with its meticulously maintained storefronts and colorful gingerbread houses lining Main Street that will have you exploring the town just as much as the surrounding wilderness.

Visitors can find out more about Ferndale's history at the Ferndale Museum, housed in a former dairy creamery, or take a stroll through the downtown Victorian Village, admiring ornate mansions and gardens. Surrounding Ferndale, rolling hills and dairy farms give off views of scenic vistas and opportunities for agritourism, including farm tours and cheese tastings.

The nearby Lost Coast, with its huge cliffs and secluded beaches, provides anyone looking to get out of town with hiking, surfing, and wildlife-viewing opportunities.

Sutter Creek

Main Street in Sutter Creek, California
Main Street in Sutter Creek, California. Editorial credit: Michael Vi /

In the wonderful and remote Sierra Nevada, you will find Sutter Creek known for its fun Main Street and rich mining history hotspots that attract history buffs from all over.

Sutter Creek's downtown, full of 19th-century structures and antique shops, will transport you back in time to the days of the California Gold Rush. The Knight Foundry, a National Historic Landmark, shows the town's industrial heritage with its intact water-powered foundry and machine shop. Nearby, the Amador County Museum and Monteverde Store Museum provide insight into the region's pioneer history and cultural heritage.

Surrounding the town, vineyards, and orchards dot the landscape, offering wine tastings and a chance to explore farms that currently drive the economy of the area. Also, be sure to explore the surrounding hills via the many hiking trails and scenic drives.

Find Your Ultimate Escape in Northern California

Northern California, although not as shiny and glamorous as the southern portion of the state, is the perfect escape for those looking to immerse themselves in a more secluded setting that is full of amazing natural parks and landmarks. Drive along to the lush coast or take a trip to the rugged, yet equally beautiful Sierra Nevada to the east, there is something here for everyone to make any visit a memorable one. See how many of these seven towns you can check out this year!

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