Aerial view of Aptos, California.

8 Of The Most Hospitable Small Towns In Northern California

If you are looking for a California town where people do not come off as arrogant or cold, Northern California brims with quite a number of options. Contrary to widely-held misconceptions, residents of the Golden State are some of the warmest in the United States. Californians may not be as chatty as, for instance, folks from the South. But they can still be infectiously warm and hospitable, depending on one's location. Away from Los Angeles — and Southern California — discover eight of Northern California's most hospitable small towns.

Foster City

Foster City, California.
Aerial view of Foster City, California.

Built on an existing island — and spotting an eye-catching 212-acre lagoon — Foster City is just as beautiful as it is hospitable. This planned community, one of a few on the West Coast, features beautiful, tree-lined streets, a plethora of parks (more than 20), and safe neighborhoods. Besides being among Northern California's most hospitable and inclusive small towns, Foster Cty is also among the most diverse. The town's Asian (non-Hispanic) population stands at an incredible 53% of the population. cityFEST is a three-day festival that paints the town red in June, while Neighbor Nights, held the same month, is a block party carnival designed to promote community togetherness and, hence, hospitality. And, for being in the Bay Area, Foster City is unbelievably quiet and peaceful.


A winery in Healdsburg, California.
A winery in Healdsburg, California.

This town features a nice mixture of suburban and rural ambiance and — for its top-notch wineries — is a lesser version of the Napa Valley. Healdsburg is a Sonoma County gem known to be clean, safe, and quite hospitable. To the northwest of town, the Dry Creek Valley, besides being a photogenic hiking venue, features more than 9,000 vineyard acres and at least 70 wineries. Lake Sonoma, about 12 miles from town, offers fantastic swimming and boating opportunities. It is not rare to see sheep grazing on a hillside — or a herd of deer roaming the woods. Downtown PizZando serves delicious wood-fired pizzas, while festivals such as the Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience (held in May) — are always greatly anticipated. 


Ruins of a sunken ship in Aptos, California.
Ruins of a sunken ship in Aptos, California.

Aptos is located right on the beach and boasts a sparse suburban feel. It is in Santa Cruz County, just where the redwoods meet the sea. The residents of Aptos are known to be incredibly hospitable, large-hearted, and friendly. Aptos is home to the S. S. Palo Alto, one of the most remarkable landmarks along this stretch of the California coastline. Known as "cement ship," the S. S. Palo Alto was a massive oil tanker built for use during World War I and remains one of a handful of concrete ships built in that period. Nearby, the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park spans nearly 10,000 acres and provides a world of outdoor adventure opportunities. For wildlife viewing, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, known to be among the most spectacular marine protected areas in the United States, offers some of the best wildlife viewing on Earth.


Aerial view of Quincy, California.
Aerial view of Quincy, California. Image credit: Kenneth Green via Wikimedia Commons.

Glassy lakes and sunny faces; Rugged canyons and expansive pine forests — are among Quincy's most identifiable features. Quincy is in Plumas County, about 81 miles west of Reno. It is a beautiful mountain town and plays host to Feather River College, a great community college whose students give Quincy a touch of vibrancy and dynamism. The town is known to be prettiest in fall when every leaf becomes a flower, and every spot turns magical. The community here is close-knit and hospitable — and is known to offer a helping hand — whenever the need arises. Nearby, Snake Lake offers peaceful camping grounds, while Bucks Lake, just 17 miles away, provides a world of outdoor adventure.


the historic 1898 Courthouse in downtown Auburn, California
The historic 1898 Courthouse in downtown Auburn, California.

Besides its great parks and tons of hiking trails, Auburn is known to play host to one of the most challenging endurance spots in the world. The Western States Endurance Run, which starts in California's Olympic Valley, is also the world's oldest 100-mile trail race. A world of outdoor adventure, including hiking and boating, awaits residents at the Auburn State Recreation Area, which is set on a picture-perfect stretch of the North and Middle Forks of the American River. Auburn is known to immediately set visitors at ease, a feeling that makes it among the most sought-after Northern California towns. The Canyon View Trail, the American River, and delicious weather - all make Auburn the envy of outdoor enthusiasts. Plus, Sacramento is just about half an hour's drive away.

Mill Valley

Aerial view of Mill Valley, California.
Aerial view of Mill Valley, California.

Tucked away close to the ocean in Marin County, Mill Valley is often mentioned among the best places to live in the Golden State. Primarily a suburban, this Northern California charmer, with the majestic Mount Tamalpais in the backdrop, has the look of an adorable European village. Yet, with its trees and green spaces, lush valleys, and awe-inspiring hillsides, Mill Valley is not just picturesque. It is also among the most hospitable Northern California towns. Residents are friendly, know each other, and are often ready to offer a helping hand. And with the Bay in the background and views that are among the most captivating, living here can make one look half his age. And we have not mentioned the trail-laden Muir Woods — or its famous Cathedral Grove. 


The rail station at Cloverdale, California.
The rail station at Cloverdale, California.

Set in the postcard-perfect Alexander Valley wine region, Cloverdale is more like a community of friends than a typical American town. Residents often gather at the cobblestoned town plaza, the site of the town's weekly farmers market, especially in summer. Cloverdale also plays host to the annual juried Cloverdale Sculpture Trail, which features sculptures that range from the irreverent to the thought-provoking. Also, the fact it is tranquil, close to the glimmering waters of Lake Sonoma, and incredibly safe — are features every potential resident will highly prize. Cloverdale River Park, which features a scenic trail along the Russian River, is a stunning spot and perfect for wildlife viewing. Then, of course, Santa Rosa, the largest city between Portland and San Francisco, is just about a 30-minute drive away.

Rohnert Park

Aerial images over a community in Rohnert Park, California
Aerial images OF Rohnert Park, California.

Rohnert Park, another Sonoma County entry, rounds off this list of Northern California's most hospitable small towns. To believe Rohnert Park is hospitable, it is even nicknamed "The Friendly City." Rohnert Park is also a college town and home to the Sonoma State University. As college students are often among the most free-spirited and outgoing, you may have an idea of what to expect here. This vibrant town offers residents an urban-suburban mix feel, safe and close-knit neighborhoods, and a delightful range of community events and festivals. These include the Annual Pacific Islander Festival, which keeps alive some Pacific Island traditions, including music, dance, and food. Besides, Roberts Lake is at the northern edge of the city — and adds to the town's sumptuous and rustic ambiance.

The Takeaway

Northern California, besides boasting a slightly cooler climate compared to Southern California — also features a more varied and spellbinding scenery. This part of the Golden State is also star-studded with a delightful array of hospitable small towns perfect for visiting, living, or retiring. If looking for specific recommendations, Foster City, with its eye-catching 212-acre lagoon, Healdsburg, a lesser version of the Napa Valley, and Aptos, located where the redwoods meet the sea, are among Northern California's most hospitable small towns. 

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