Historic Julian Hotel in Julian, California. Image credit ChristinaAiko Photography via Shutterstock

8 Cutest Small Towns In Southern California To Visit In 2024

Home to a population of 39 million and spanning a large portion of America’s West Coast, California is often synonymous with the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean or the bright lights of Los Angeles. While the mainstays of Californian culture are worth exploring, numerous hidden cute small towns throughout the southern portion of the state fail to get the attention they deserve.

So, if you are beginning to plan the perfect way to spend those well-deserved vacation days, then consider following the paths less traveled that will leave you pleasantly surprised at how much Southern California has to offer in 2024.


Downtown Ojai, California after a winter snow in the mountains.
Downtown Ojai, California after a winter snow in the mountains.

The name Ojai comes from the Chumash Native American dialect, which roughly translates to “Moon.” Visitors quickly understand why the town’s title is so fitting when they sun disappears and the moon comes out. Ojai is a hotspot for stargazing as the clear skies provide amazing views of the cosmos.

The town also has plenty to keep you occupied during the day. One of the best things to do on the rare cloudy days is visit the Ojai Valley Museum. The museum is housed in a marvelous former monastery and features local stories, and art pieces that tell the history of the town.

When the sun is shining, get outside and take advantage of the numerous activities in town. Bike, run, or walk your way along the Ojai Valley Bike trail to enjoy scenic views of the area while getting exercise. If you are searching for a place to simply relax and ease into serenity, Meditation Mount is the perfect place to admire the sunset and offers a variety of meditation and yoga classes in the California sun.


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

Sandwiched in between the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the lush forests of Pine Hills is the historic town of Julian. This former mining boomtown was a staple as prospectors chased their golden dreams throughout California’s rugged terrain.

Grab a hard hat from The Eagle Mining company and join an informative tour that walks you through the depths of the hills and into former mines that once held an abundance of gold. Afterward, continue your journey into the town’s past by visiting the Julian Pioneer Museum, which highlights the trials and tribulations of the town’s earliest settlers.

For a fun family excursion, head to the nearby Volcan Valley Apple Farm, which has plenty of outdoor activities for the kids. Visitors can stroll through the orchard, selecting apples or simply choosing from a variety of delicious apple products from the orchard’s store. Visitors can also experience solitude at the Volcan Mountain Preserve, which has well-kept hiking trails and rest areas.

Los Alamos

Welcome sign, Bell Street, Los Alamos, California
Welcome sign, Bell Street, Los Alamos, California.

If you are searching for an authentic small-town American experience, then consider the search over. Los Alamos is a one-of-a-kind town situated in Santa Barbara County and was once the hideout of notorious banditos who wreaked havoc throughout the Wild West.

Luckily, visitors don’t have to worry about raids from rival posse’s. Los Alamos is now an ideal spot to relax and enjoy a glass of wine at the Casa Dumetz Winery.

Farms surround the town, so experience what life as a ranch hand looks like by stopping by nearby Carrari Rancho Alamo, which provides insight into the lifestyle associated with ranching in the California heat. Maybe you just want to take a break and catch up on that book you’ve been reading. Find a shaded patch of grass at Los Alamos County Park, and let the time pass by as you enjoy well-deserved rest.

Imperial Beach

Surfer Statue at Imperial Beach, California.
Surfer Statue at Imperial Beach, California.

Located just a stone’s throw away from the Mexico-America Border, it’s hard to find a town any more southern than Imperial Beach. If you want the vibrant sunshine of the Baja landscape without needing a passport, then Imperial Beach is the place for you.

One of the most popular things to do is spend your day relaxing along the lengthy sandy beaches that cover the town’s coastline. Head to Imperial Beach to spend a day basking in the sun. If you want outdoor adventure, venture out into the Tijuana River estuary and reserve for pristine hiking trails and the opportunity to witness wildlife in its natural habitat.

Familiarize yourself with one of California’s favorite pastimes, and learn about the origins of surfing and how the sport has developed into a mainstay within Californian culture at the Imperial Beach Pier surfboard museum. If surfing doesn’t catch your interest interest, simply choose from other exciting attractions that line the lengthy pier.

Two Harbors

Sailboats at Two Harbors on Santa Catalina Island.
Sailboats at Two Harbors on Santa Catalina Island. Image credit Larisa Grib via Shutterstock.com

This island town is located just off mainland California on Santa Catalina Island. Its official population is only 298 but fluctuates daily as the town is a hotspot for tourists. Visitors can feel a sense of escape, and the town is the perfect place to detach. It is only accessible via ferry twice daily.

Two Harbors has plenty of unique attractions to choose from. One of the more peculiar things to do is visit the bison that graze free amongst the island interior. Despite only being a 10-minute walk from one side of the island to the other, the bison have flourished here. There are also numerous hiking trails on the island. A popular route begins in town and takes you along the coastline to the scenic Cat Harbor.

If you prefer more of a relaxing trip, then set up shop at Harbor Sands Beach which is the place to be on a hot California day. Consider spending the night at the Banning House Lodge if you want to avoid the travel and wake up in paradise.


Downtown Kernville, California.
Downtown Kernville, California.

Hiding in the heights of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain range is a town that is packed with outdoor adventure. For the rush of a lifetime, buckle up your life jacket and paddle out into the surging rapids of the Kern River with a guided tour from Kern River Rafting. If you prefer the stability of land over the rushing rapids, venture along the nearby Unal Trail, which is a looped trail throughout the quiet expanse of forest, hike or bike the 3.5-mile trail.

You are going to want to bring a bathing suit as the town is settled along the banks of Lake Isabella. Rent a variety of outdoor equipment that will help you get out and enjoy the tranquil waters of the lake. An early morning kayak promises an unforgettable experience for those early birds.


Evergreen Cafe and Racoon Saloon decorated in Christmas holiday lights on Evergreen Rd in Wrightwood, California.
Evergreen Cafe and Racoon Saloon decorated in Christmas holiday lights on Evergreen Rd in Wrightwood, California. Image credit Jon Osumi via Shutterstock.com

If you are already daydreaming about the first snowfall and thinking about the first mountain you plan on soaring down, consider the winter oasis of Wrightwood’s Mountain High Resort, which promises some of the best skiing or snowboarding on the west coast.

During the warmer months, the same mountains that make great skiing also make perfect terrain for ziplines. Link up with Ziplines Pacific Crest Co. and get your adrenaline rush as you soar through the forested valleys surrounding Wrightwood.

All that activity can be exhilarating. Take time to slow down and explore the town’s legacies at the Wrightwood Historical Society and Museum. You can even enjoy a locally brewed adult beverage with the looming mountains serving as a backdrop at the Wrightwood Brew Co.

Palm Springs

Street view in Palm Springs, California
Street view in Palm Springs, California.

Basking in the heat of Coachella Valley, Palm Springs has a unique combination of desert charm and luxury. With its year-round sunshine and stunning natural beauty, Palm Springs offerings are sure to keep your itinerary full regardless of the duration of your stay.

Start your journey with a cruise on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, to witness amazing panoramic views of the valley below. Channel your inner creativity at the Palm Springs Art Museum or head to the Backstreet Art District to explore the unique subcultures of Palm Springs.

Be sure to get outside, with a hike through the Indian Canyons, or explore the surreal landscapes of nearby Joshua Tree National Park. Relax and rejuvenate at one of the many world-class spas, such as the Palm Canyon Resort, or find inner peace at the town’s renowned Wellness Park.

It is easy to understand why so many people flock to California, with its glowing sun, sandy beaches, and city atmospheres unlike any other. The state is the perfect place to spend a day, a week, or even a month. But, if you want to escape the crowds of popular destinations in 2024 and seek a truly unique experience, then you should plan on stopping by these eight cutest small towns in Southern California.

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