Aerial view of afternoon neighborhood view of historic homes in Truckee, California.

9 Coolest Small Towns in California's Sierra Nevada for a Summer Vacation

California's Sierra Nevada is a popular spot for summer vacations, with its friendly climate and beautiful scenery. The mountain range runs on the eastern side of California, and spans more than 400 miles, making it the longest contiguous range in the United States. The mountainous beauty shines through in any season, but there is something special about visiting when the days are at their longest. It is a high-altitude destination that provides access to Lake Tahoe, Kings Canyon, Mammoth Lakes, and Sequoia National Parks. The diversity of the Sierra Nevada shows even further with its access to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, which offers easy trails to the Devil's Postpile National Monument. Whether you are seeking a waterfall, want to relax by the lake, or plan to take up hiking, there is something for everyone in the coolest small towns in California's Sierra Nevada.


Beautiful town of Mariposa, California near Yosemite Valley
Wine tastings in downtown Mariposa, California. Image credit Jon Chica via Shutterstock

Home to approximately 1,200 residents, this area serves as the main entrance to Yosemite National Park. The town itself brims with history, featured prominently in the historic architecture and art galleries. Visitors can embrace the essence of class at Charles Street Dinner House or take a trip to the Alley for laid-back energy. The Mariposa Marketplace is an ideal stop for souvenirs, while the Gold Mine Escape Room and Yosemite Ziplines and Adventure Ranch make for a strong adventure. The Mariposa Museum and History Center round out the town's tourism features, providing directions through the park by offering a context for the experience. Positioned right near Mariposa Grove, this area is the home of some of the world's biggest and oldest sequoia trees.


Aerial view of historic homes in Truckee, California with the mountains in the background
Downtown Truckee, California.

Truckee is home to approximately 17,000 people and takes its name from the Truckee River, flowing for approximately 120 miles. Right by Lake Tahoe, this small mountain town is replete with charm. From the breathtaking view of a mainly alpine forest, the area opens up to its natural surroundings, like the Donner Memorial State Park or West End Beach. Coyote Moon Golf Course caters to summer guests. The KidZone Museum and Truckee River Regional Park also make fantastic stops. For those seeking an adventurous summer getaway, the ample opportunities for mountain biking and hiking at Donner Lake work with the shops in the community to offer everything that visitors might need.


Entrance to Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, California
Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, California. Image credit EWY Media via Shutterstock

The town of Murphys hosts around 2,000 individuals settled in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It includes a well-maintained main street that features quaint shops and restaurants. The local vineyards feature prominently throughout the central area. For a boost, visitors can go to Grounds or the Lavender Ridge Vineyard Tasting. The Columbia State Historic Park is a throwback to traditional times, making it a great stop for the whole family. With a host of vineyards, there are options for tours and tastings. Each wine comes from a different area in the Sierra Nevada, carrying forward the taste profiles. This attracts a host of tourists each year and is an ideal stop on a summer vacation in California.


Main street in Quincy, Plumas County, California.
Main Street in Quincy. Image credit Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia Commons

Quincy is a small but mighty location, with tourism attractions that include the Feather River Land Trust, a non-profit nature preservation. Plumas County Museum offers insight into the area, while Big Daddy's Guide Service is a fish charter that takes a hands-on approach to its activities. Approximately 1,700 people reside in Quincy, Plumas County. The entire surroundings highlight the best of the area's natural wonders. The Plumas National Forest provides ample chances to hike, fish, or discover the range of waterfalls and lakes in the area. Its natural preservation results in a lush presence of flora, especially wondrous at Keddie Wye, the lookout. It offers ample opportunity to spot wild fauna. Whether for a calm getaway or a high-energy excursion, Quincy has options for every style.

Nevada City

Vacationers frolicking in the river, South Yuba River, Nevada City, California
South Yuba River, Nevada City, California. Image credit Pascalipatou via Shutterstock

Nevada City boasts many tourist attractions and features all the accommodations to support them. The National Exchange Hotel provides a rest stop before visiting the Empire Mine State Historic Park and the Nevada Theatre. This town is home to an average of 3,000 people and is famous for its gorgeous downtown area that uses the tourism season to host festivals. Replete with galleries and theaters, the heartbeat of Gold Country gives it a special edge. Tourists can spend time at the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum or the Miners Foundry Cultural Center. This Sierra Nevada wonderland has a rich history from the gold rush and the energy that runs through the town.


Passing through Groveland on the way to Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada mountains
Downtown streets of Groveland, California. Image credit Sundry Photography via

The home of around 3,100 individuals, Groveland lies right on the west side of Yosemite Park. It stands out for its charming downtown, a picturesque spot that lets visitors take in the architecture, history, and scenery. Peaceful by nature, some of the main draws of Groveland include the close access to the Tuolumne River and Pine Mountain Lake. There are countless hiking opportunities, and the area features ample opportunities to seek a guide, take a tour, or venture independently. Visitors can enjoy the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum and stop for a bite at the Around The Horn Brewing Company. For a cup of coffee with many accolades, visitors can fuel up at Evergreen Lodge to make the most of this hidden treasure. 

Angels Camp

Sign in front of Lightner Mine, Angels Camp, California
Lightner Mine, Angels Camp, California. Image credit Mcgaffey via Wikimedia Commons

Around 3,700 people live in Angels Camp, also known as the "Home of the Jumping Frog." It is an ideal location for nature enthusiasts who want to explore all the flora and fauna that the Sierra Nevada offers through the Moaning Caverns Adventure Park and the Mercer Caverns. Angels Camp is an ideal vacation spot. Known internationally as the setting of Mark Twain's story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, it has an annual county fair and jubilee to celebrate the season and honor the location's heritage. Visits to the Angels Camp Museum provide context for the area, while Barrel of Monkeez serves as a modern stage for events.


Historic Bell Tower Monument and Old Town Centre of Placerville, California
Historic Bell Tower Monument and Old Town Centre. Image credit Laurens Hoddenbagh via Shutterstock

Placerville is the home of around 10,900, with an impressive mining history. It is an idyllic spot for nostalgics seeking a taste of older times. Eldorado National Forest pairs with the Gold Bug Park & Mine for an engaging day. Orchards like Abel's Apple Acres and the Lava Cap Winery give visitors a one-of-a-kind experience. The downtown setup is quaint while still offering the full range of benefits of a tourist area, and it provides ample accommodations for visitors. Replete with opportunities to rush through the American River on a white-water rapid trek, delve into the past at a gold mine, and embrace the charming downtown, it is a quintessential town for a Sierra Nevada trip.


Main Street of Bishop, California looking north
Main Street of Bishop, California. Image credit Michael Kaercher via Shutterstock

With a population of around 4,000, Bishop sits in Owens Valley, making it a perfect destination for mountain fans. It is surrounded by views of the mountains in the eastern Sierra Nevada. The local attractions mirror the geography through rock climbing and advanced hiking opportunities. From catching a matinee at Bishop Twin Theatre to taking a lane at Back Alley Bowl & Grill, there is plenty to do. It allows visitors to challenge themselves with impressive altitude changes and lengthy hiking paths. For those looking to relax, the town itself is a charming spot to breathe fresh air and take in the majestic sights at Bishop City Park or the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center.

Since the entire Sierra Nevada spreads across the interior portion of California, it offers visitors the best of the state's friendly climate while avoiding the surge of interstate travel and ocean visitors. It provides insight into the breadth of Californian culture by showing it as more than an ocean-side paradise by taking travelers through forests, mountains, and a series of water bodies that travel the hilly range. These mountains show the three-dimensional wonders of the state, and the towns that scatter throughout them reveal unique perspectives into the area. These towns are quiet enough for a calming summer vacation and lively enough for a nature-forward reprieve from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

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