People pedal on surrey bikes past the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, California. Editorial credit: Sherry V Smith /

8 Breathtaking Towns to Visit in Southern California

With pleasant weather year-round, pristine beaches with sugar-white sand, magical sunsets, sunny skies, and a spectacular coastline, Southern California embodies the idealized California that exists in the minds of people all over the world. Adding a layer of charm and attraction to this region is a cornucopia of beautiful towns, many of which leave first-time visitors in complete awe. From Idyllwild to Carpinteria, there are eight breathtaking towns in Southern California that you can visit.


View of shops on Main Street of Idyllwild, California.
View of shops on Main Street of Idyllwild, California. Editorial credit: Rosamar/

Nestled in the awe-inspiring San Jacinto Mountains about 110 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, Idyllwild is quaint, laid-back, and impossibly peaceful. Its downtown area is not only charming and walkable but also brimming with gift shops and various culinary delights. Cafe Aroma, a cozy bistro in a woodsy setting, is a great place to enjoy food while seated outside on a deck. Alternatively, Gastrognome's ribeye steak is known for its tenderness and juiciness. For outdoor enthusiasts, the 8.1-mile Tahquitz Peak via Devil's Slide Trail offers a journey to the highest lookout within the San Bernardino National Forest. Don't forget to bring your camera, as this trail provides some of the most stunning views in Southern California. For a shorter and easier hike, the 1-mile Panoramic Point Loop is an excellent choice.

Del Mar

Powerhouse Park, Del Mar, California
Powerhouse Park, Del Mar, California

Del Mar, located just 20 miles north of San Diego, is undeniably one of the most breathtaking towns to visit in Southern California. Begin your adventure at Poseidon, a seafood-centric waterfront restaurant with a stunning beach view. Alternatively, check out Jake's, also located on Coast Boulevard, just a few steps from Poseidon. For top-notch retail therapy, the newly developed One Paseo is a breezy shopping complex offering fashionable stores and a delightful range of services. If you're in the mood for a scenic road trip, the Historic Highway 101 is a fantastic option. Be sure to visit Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, a beautiful oceanfront reserve that features America's rarest pine tree species. While there, you can take a moment to relax on Torrey Pines State Beach before heading to Crest Canyon Park for breathtaking views of the San Dieguito Lagoon.

Solana Beach

Aerial view of Solana Beach, California.
Aerial view of Solana Beach, California.

Located less than 10 minutes north of Del Mar, Solana Beach beckons with its laid-back charm. Although the Naked Cafe does not offer a direct ocean view, it does provide a partial glimpse of the water, along with ultra-delicious food best enjoyed on the outdoor patio. Solana Beach's downtown area is walkable, allowing first-time visitors to explore a wide variety of eclectic, locally-owned shops and antique stores. Among them is the David Alan Collection, renowned for its unique pieces of art and home furnishings. Fletcher Cove Beach Park is another must-visit spot, offering picturesque scenery where you can often see dolphins playing in the water. The well-kept Harbaugh Seaside Trails wind for more than a mile through small bushes, providing a lovely walking experience. For those seeking more adventure, Cardiff State Beach offers opportunities for beachcombing and swimming, while the Gemma Parks Interpretive Trail is great for a scenic hike.


Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California
Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California. Editorial credit: Vacclav /

As soon as you step onto Coronado, which means "Crowned" in Spanish, you'll understand why Dr. Beach often ranks it among the best beaches in the United States. In 2023, Coronado was ranked the sixth-best beach in the nation and was the only California beach on the list. Known as the “toast of Southern California,” Coronado boasts fine, sparkling sand and a charming main street. Hotel del Coronado, which opened in 1888, has hosted several U.S. presidents, including Woodrow Wilson, many Hollywood stars, and even royalty. At its opening, it was the largest resort hotel in the world. You can catch breathtaking views of the San Diego skyline at Centennial Park, one of Coronado's most sought-after spots. The park features an inviting lawn with benches, a rose garden, and a small, picturesque beach.

Laguna Beach

Street view in Laguna Beach, California
Street view in Laguna Beach, California, via PICTOR PICTURES /

Laguna Beach is a storybook town of about 22,000 residents, renowned for its spectacular coastal parks, particularly the stunning Crystal Cove State Park. Along with its beautiful sea views and a gorgeous beach, the park has a small waterfall, fascinating rock formations, including canyons and cliffs, and scenic hiking trails. Heisler Park, situated above the bluffs, offers access to four pristine beaches, including Main Beach, which has a paradisiacal ambiance. Other Laguna Beach attractions include the Niguel Botanical Preserve, which offers excellent viewpoints to admire the pristine natural landscape of Southern California. Additionally, the Laguna Niguel Regional Park encircles a shimmering lake, while the aptly named Top of the World provides a panoramic view of the surrounding landscapes. The Willow Staging Area features a trail that traverses a diverse range of landscapes, adding to the enchanting experiences in Laguna Beach.


Downtown Ojai, California.
Downtown Ojai, California. Image credit: Derek V. Schmalenberger via Wikimedia Commons.

Ojai, often considered one of the most breathtaking towns in Southern California, is located about 80 miles from Los Angeles. Known for its magical sunsets, Ojai is home to a phenomenon called “the pink moment,” when the Topatopa Mountains are illuminated by a glorious symphony of colors, typically various shades of pink. This makes Ojai a perfect destination for sunset-watching. Chain stores are banned here, lending the town a cozy, authentic, and intimate feel. Whether you're interested in camping at Lake Casitas, exploring Matilija Canyon's Ecotopia, a natural hot spring with an optional clothing policy, or delving into the captivating historical exhibits at the Ojai Valley Museum, there are plenty of attractions to discover in this charming town. You can also relax at Libbey Park, one of the cleanest and most beautiful parks in Southern California. In Ojai, it's nearly impossible to run out of things to do.


Street view in Avalon, California
Street view in Avalon, California

If Avalon is on your wish list, it's time to visit. Located on the east end of California’s Santa Catalina Island, Avalon is a top-tier scuba diving venue with white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a surreal, dreamy ambiance. Avalon is about a 45-minute boat ride from Long Beach. Despite its small size, Avalon offers entertainment spots like the Marlin Club, a signature dive bar. If you're staying overnight, Hamilton Cove boasts a diverse selection of professionally managed vacation rentals in a serene setting, perfect for a weekend escape. No visit to Avalon is complete without touring Catalina Island, where bald eagles soar overhead and bison herds roam freely. If you want a short vacation that feels like a trip to Disneyland, Avalon should be at the top of your list. While you're there, don't miss the chance to try the kick-ass fish tacos at Buffalo Nickel.


Rods and Roses classic holiday car show in Carpinteria, California
Rods and Roses classic holiday car show in Carpinteria, California, via L Paul Mann /

Strolling along Carpinteria’s Linden Avenue brings a delightful sense of joy, leaving one feeling airy and light. For those who want to avoid the crowds in Santa Barbara, Carpinteria is an excellent alternative, located just about 12 miles southeast of Santa Barbara. Among its attractions is the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Preserve, where you can watch playful harbor seals frolic and nap on a pristine stretch of coastline. Rincon Beach Park, located 3 miles east of town, is a top-notch spot for surfing, offering magical sunsets and stunning ocean views. If you're interested in history, the Carpinteria Valley Museum is a must-visit, providing a glimpse into the lives of the region's early inhabitants. Carpinteria State Beach, known for its terraced bluffs, epitomizes the charm of a sleepy California beach town.

The Takeaway

Ranked by several publications as the most beautiful state in America, California stands in a league of its own when it comes to natural beauty. Expect breathtaking views unlike anything you've seen before, pleasant weather almost year-round, and a relaxed vacation atmosphere. However, that's just part of the story. Southern California is home to a delightful array of towns that serve as perfect bases for exploring the region's captivating beauty. Some of the most breathtaking towns to visit in Southern California include Idyllwild, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Ojai, and Carpinteria. These towns offer unique experiences and a variety of attractions, making them ideal destinations for visitors seeking a memorable getaway.

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