The beautiful town of Solvang, California.

7 Offbeat Towns To Visit In Southern California

California is one of the United States' most popular vacation spots, along with New York and Florida. Southern California is a big part of that sentiment, with cities like Los Angeles and San Diego having millions of residents and welcoming many more millions as tourists. More hidden areas that are off the beaten path are in between these larger cities, and while some may get a good amount of tourist attention, others are sometimes overlooked. These offbeat towns are less crowded and have plenty of hidden gems to find, like the wineries of Los Olivos or the fine art galleries of Ojai.

Dana Point

Aerial view of the beautiful town of Dana Point, California.
Aerial view of the beautiful town of Dana Point, California.

About an hour south of Los Angeles is the often-overlooked town of Dana Point. It's where foam-based surfboards first entered production in the mid-20th century, which would, in turn, help cement California as one of the premiere surfing states in America. While Dana Point has gained popularity since then, it's less talked about or visited than other contemporary cities in California. The harbor in town, called Dana Point Harbor, houses plenty of boats, jet skis, and kayaks for anyone wanting to get out and see the Atlantic Ocean. On land is the Lantern District, which has plenty of Spanish-style adobe houses and buildings, reminiscent of a time when Spanish traders occupied Dana Point. Colored lanterns were used to guide ships into the harbor, which is where the district gets its name. Beaches like the Dana Strand or Monarch Beach line the coast, offering plenty of surfing and swimming opportunities, while more creative endeavors in town are available, like the Wyland Galleries and Art Sea, each of which has hand-painted art and sculptures.


Mission and statue in downtown Ojai, California
Mission and statue in downtown Ojai, California.

The town of Ojai gets its name from the Ojai Valley, which is nestled east of Santa Barbara. Its town center buildings feature Spanish-style architecture, with many gorgeous residential houses and walls lining the streets. Many art galleries are right at home in Ojai, with some fine arts places, including Dan Schultz Fine Art, OVA Arts, the Primavera Gallery, and more, all featuring contemporary painted works. Given its location in the valley, nature is a big part of Ojai. Visitors can go to the Ojai Olive Oil farm, one of the oldest producers of extra virgin olive oil in SoCal. Tastings are available at $10 each, with excellent views of the olive farm, and fresh bread is offered as well. Nearby trails like the Shelf Road Trail provide incredible sights of the Los Padres National Forest, with plenty of places to stop and take in the scenery. A nonprofit meditation center called Meditation Mount is right in town and has several spots for those who don't want to hike to relax.


A scene from Pioneertown, California.
A scene from Pioneertown, California.

The Old West community of Pioneertown lies around 125 miles east of Los Angeles and was established during the 1940s when Old West films were getting increasingly popular. It's meant to replicate the look and feel of a late 19th-century town, which it does quite spectacularly. While it was initially designed to be a filming location, movies, and shorts produced here, have gone down significantly, and a few hundred residents still stand by today, keeping the atmosphere alive. Some of the more notable places in town include the Pioneertown Motel, which has 20 rooms for people looking to spend a weekend in town, while the most famous eatery remains as the Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, which has been serving Tex-Mex since 1982 along with hosting live music from artists like Black Flag, Sedona, and La Lom. The motel might become crowded when other nearby events like Coachella occur, so reserving a room in advance is advised. Finally, MazAmar Art Pottery is one of several artsy spots in Pioneertown, helping usher creativity in the small community with purchasable wall sculptures, vases, and mugs.

Borrego Springs

Palm Canyon Campground amphitheater in Anza Borrego State Park in Borrego Springs.
Palm Canyon Campground amphitheater in Anza Borrego Desert State Park in Borrego Springs. California.

Borrego Springs is situated in the center of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which is a collection of rugged and dense mountains in SoCal. This town is the definition of offbeat, with it being the only town in the state completely surrounded by a state park. The town has plenty of outdoor activities, which mainly revolve around exploration and hiking, with the Slot Canyon, Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail, and Coyote Canyon being some of the few places to travel through in the desert. Sculptor and artist Ricardo Breceda has over 100 metal works on the Galleta Meadows Estate, which has free admission every day of the year, with people coming to look at the different sculptures frequently. Some of Ricardo's works include an elephant, a scorpion, bugs, a sand dragon, dinosaurs, religious symbols, figures, and much more. Another art spot is the Borrego Art Institute, with a myriad of creative ceramic works for visitors to come and see. People are invited to come camp out in the State Park wherever they like, giving a good sense of hospitality. Anyone who comes to visit will like the quiet and calm community, as the nightlife scene in Borrego Springs is rather small.


Downtown Solvang, California.
Downtown Solvang, California.

Solvang is a Danish word that means "sunny field" and is also the name of a village in southern California. It's known as the "Danish Capital of America" by the people who live there and by the town's website because of its roots and the history of Danish Americans settling there in the early 20th century. A good chunk of the town's architecture is similar to Denmark's, which is one of the reasons why Solvang is a popular tourist attraction. It's been featured in the Tour of California for cyclists, where the town's countryside and streets make for a convenient mix for the sport or just casual bicycling. Scattered throughout the town are traditional windmills, which stand out significantly from other towns in the area, alongside a replica statue of The Little Mermaid, which was originally made in Denmark. Authentic bakeries like Brød & Kage, Mortensen's, Danish Mill and Birkholm's Bakery can be found among the traditional architecture, with goods like cream puffs, Danish waffles and rolls, butter cookies and more! Plenty of museums going over the town's heritage can be found, like the Solvang Amber, Solvang Viking, and the Hans Christian Andersen Museums, to name a few.

Los Olivos

The historic old town of Julian, California.
The historic old town of Julian, California.

Los Olivos is right in the middle of Santa Barbara Wine Country, which is where its name comes from, meaning "Olive Trees." The town began picking up steam (pun not intended) after the Pacific Coast Railway came into town in 1887. Victorian architecture is dotted throughout, with many constructions being dated back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A map and walking tour is offered to anyone wanting to explore this quaint village, with more than 20 stops going over the different landmarks and architecture, like the Boyd House, Berean Baptist Church, Mattei's Tavern, and the Los Olivos General Store, among others. Los Olivos' claim to fame is obviously its wine, to the point where there's a map on its website of different shopping, food, and wine spots, with the winery list featuring many different locations. The Bubble Shack, Coquelicot Estate Vineyard, Waylan Wine Co., Stolpman Vineyards, Dragonette Cellars, Future Perfect Wine, and Liquid Farm are just some of the places to stop and get a taste of authentic Californian wine and beer.


Downtown Julian, California.
Downtown Julian, California.

Julian, a significant town during the 19th-century gold rush, is nestled in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Some of the mines are still around, like Eagle Mining Co., with dedicated tours and gold panning available for anyone willing to explore. The town is also home to several apple and pear orchards, like Apple Starr, Julian Farm, and Volcan Valley, among others. It's common for people here to pick their own fruit during the late summer and have a nice picnic under one of the many oak trees in the area. Julian is one of the few places in the United States where the Milky Way Galaxy is still visible, making it a prime spot for astronomers and star-watchers trying to get a glimpse of our universe, with multiple days throughout the year dedicated just to gazing at the stars. In town is a selection of old and new wineries, such as Menghini, Volcan Mountain, and the Blue Door Wineries, each with tasting rooms and in-depth selections that aren't too expensive.

These towns all have their own unique charm, and while they're off-the-beaten-path, they're well worth the journey because of the calming atmospheres and outstanding landmarks they bring. From the views of the Ojai Valley to the Danish Architecture to Solvang, SoCal has so much more to offer than just the typical cities and beaches that many tourists visit throughout the year.

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