Locals and tourists shopping in the town of Ferndale, Humboldt County, California

9 Offbeat Towns to Visit in California

The Golden State, world-renowned for popular destinations like San Francisco and Los Angeles, draws millions of tourists every year to experience its unique offerings. But beyond the urban hustle and bustle, California is home to an array of charming small towns waiting to be discovered off the beaten path. These little-known locations introduce the diversity of the state’s regions with their rich histories, captivating cultures, and unique festivals.

From historic gold rush towns and scenic alpine villages to idyllic coastal communities, they promise an authentic vacation experience away from rowdy crowds. Whether you are seeking to uncover forgotten state history, interact with friendly locals, or get lost in the great outdoors, these hidden gems harbor a variety of fun adventures. Here are some of the most offbeat towns in California to visit.


Street in Ferndale, California.
Street in Ferndale, California. Image credit mikluha_maklai via Shutterstock

Known as one of America’s best-preserved Victorian towns, Ferndale houses dozens of gorgeous Victorian buildings in its historic downtown that let you step back in time. This tiny Humboldt County village hosts a small community of about 1,500, and the Ferndale Museum welcomes visitors to learn about the town’s storied past. Here, you can peruse a collection of documents and archives dating back to the Gold Rush era, including a working Bosch-Omori seismograph. Also, the Ferndale Cemetery is a famous historic site that draws tourists to the town. Established in the mid-1800s, it is renowned as one of California’s most beautiful burial sites, reflecting the state's rich history.

Those who wish to explore the open spaces will find a cozy natural area at Centerville Beach County Park. This beautiful stretch of sand, sandwiched between dramatic sandstone cliffs and the clear waters of the Pacific, presents the perfect setting to relax and unwind. Meanwhile, you can look forward to the Ferndale Victorian Oddities Market on April 20th, 2024, to experience the town’s uniqueness during this pleasant public event featuring many family-friendly activities.


Street view of Post Office in Ojai, California.
Street view of Post Office in Ojai, California.

This tiny, artsy village in Ventura County boasts an impressive mix of galleries and New Age storefronts in its charming town center. It is also surrounded by gorgeous natural landscapes, including the Topatopa Mountains, making it a popular outdoor destination. At the Ojai Valley Museum, you can explore the region's history through its collection of historical art, documents, and artifacts. Art connoisseurs strolling through the quiet downtown can visit venues like the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts to experience the local art heritage.

For a more immersive experience, consider attending the 47th annual Art in the Park festival on May 25th and 26th, 2024, at Ojai Art Center, where you can be part of a long-held local tradition. Ojai also offers beautiful natural spaces, such as the Ojai Meadows Preserve, featuring a paved nature trail winding through fields of lovely wildflowers, ideal for a leisurely walk.


Downtown Eureka, California
Downtown Eureka, California, via calimedia / Shutterstock.com

From interesting historical sites to sprawling nature parks and vibrant art venues, Eureka offers a charming mix of attractions for all types of travelers. In this picturesque port town, enjoy water-based activities at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center, including sailing, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Explore the town’s past at the Fort Humboldt State Historic Site, founded in 1853 as a military post and now featuring several restored historic structures. Alternatively, delve into the vibrant art scene at the Morris Graves Museum of Art, which displays a diverse collection of paintings, sculptures, and other artworks from the Pacific Northwest.

Nature lovers will enjoy exploring the beautiful trails in the 67-acre Sequoia Park. These trails showcase majestic redwoods, pristine meadows, and delightful ponds, immersing you in the wilderness. Inside the park, find the Redwood Skywalk for high-altitude thrills and a zoo with incredible animal viewing opportunities.

Lone Pine

The town of Lone Pine with snow-capped Sierra Nevada peaks in the background.
The town of Lone Pine with snow-capped Sierra Nevada peaks in the background.

Lone Pine serves as the backdrop for iconic Western films, including the Oscar-winning "Django Unchained." The town preserves its rich movie heritage at the Museum of Western Film History, where you can explore a diverse array of memorabilia from various Western films, including cars, costumes, and cameras. Hollywood loves Lone Pine for its spectacular location. It sits at a 3,727-foot elevation, providing breathtaking vistas of the Alabama Hills, making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

The town offers multiple hiking areas, including the Mobius Arch Loop Trailhead, a highlight within the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area. This approximately 0.6-mile route is generally easy, accommodating all skill levels. Meanwhile, one of the best ways to explore the popular Alabama Hills is during the Wild Wild West Marathon, an esteemed trail marathon held for 45 years and scheduled for October 5th, 2024.


The small coastal town of Mendocino, California, is a popular getaway for Bay Area residents.
The small coastal town of Mendocino, California, is a popular getaway for Bay Area residents.

This charming coastal enclave, renowned for its dazzling beach scenery, is one of California's top towns for a relaxed getaway. Mendocino captivates tourists with its stunning outdoors and opportunities to experience the Pacific coast's natural splendor. Among its many natural spaces is Mendocino Headlands State Park, with secluded beaches, a rugged shoreline, and isolated trails. Heading inland, you'll find Russian Gulch State Park, a magnificent destination featuring 15 miles of scenic trails that wind through redwood forests, grassy headlands, and over an iconic bridge.

Beyond its unique natural spaces, Mendocino offers a variety of attractions, including historical gems. The Ford House Museum, a 19th-century landmark, houses thousands of artifacts chronicling local history. The town also boasts a cluster of restaurants serving diverse cuisines, such as Café Beaujolais, known for its French-inspired dishes.


Colorful stores in Main Street, Bridgeport, California.
Colorful stores in Main Street, Bridgeport, California. Editorial credit: Marc Venema / Shutterstock.com

Tracing its beginnings back to the 1800s, Bridgeport is a historic small town in Mono County with a vibrant cultural scene. It boasts a rich array of historical sites, highlighted by the Bodie State Historic Park. This site preserves an authentic California Gold Rush ghost town, featuring well-preserved buildings from the 1800s and deserted streets. Meanwhile, the Mono County Museum offers a window into the historical heritage of the communities that built the region. Visitors can explore a fine collection of artifacts, documents, archives, and other memorabilia documenting the area’s rich past.

Outdoorsy travelers will be spoilt for choice in Bridgeport. One of the town's most popular activities is visiting the Travertine Hot Springs, which features geothermal mineral springs where tourists enjoy soothing thermal baths. Alternatively, the Bridgeport Reservoir offers a variety of recreational activities, including camping, fishing, boating, and canoeing.


Columbia State Historic Park in Columbia, California.
Columbia State Historic Park in Columbia, California. Editorial credit: Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com

Columbia, an 1800s boomtown from the California Gold Rush era, remains a town frozen in time at the base of the Sierra Nevada. It serves as an exciting window into a momentous period in the state’s past, presented through sites like the Columbia State Historic Park. Designated a National Historic Landmark, this historic district offers visitors a stroll through a time capsule, with nearly 30 historic structures constructed during the gold rush period. While exploring the park, you'll encounter venues like the Matelot Gulch Mining Company, offering unique gold mining souvenirs and gifts.

Beyond exploring the local gold heritage, visitors can enjoy sipping a fresh glass of wine or honing their culinary skills at the Yankee Hill Winery & Cooking School. For accommodations, consider the 19th-century Columbia City Hotel, a restored historic inn providing a rustic stay with delightful Victorian décor.


Inyo County Courthouse in Independence, California
Inyo County Courthouse in Independence, California, By GFred1 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

This modest city in Inyo County, rich in museums and historical sites, features an interesting name chosen to commemorate the Declaration of Independence. Among its key attractions is the Eastern California Museum, where visitors can delve into the historical and cultural heritage of the Eastern Sierra region through its diverse collection of artifacts. Independence is also the location of the Mary Austin House, the former residence of the iconic author of “The Land of Little Rain.”

Sitting at an elevation of almost 4,000 feet, the town offers stunning vantage points for sightseers. It boasts nature spaces like Dehy Park, equipped with various amenities to entertain visitors, including a basketball court, picnic site, and a horseshoe-pitching area.


houses in Scotia, California. Scotia was a company town and houses were standardized.
Houses in Scotia, California. Scotia was a company town and houses were standardized. By Ellin Beltz - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

This quaint lumber town in Humboldt County is the perfect jump-off point for exploring California’s redwood country. It offers a wealth of outdoor opportunities amidst its densely forested wilderness, teeming with diverse natural wonders. Visitors can enjoy the open spaces by driving along the picturesque Avenue of the Giants, a tranquil route winding through a forest of imposing redwoods. The Drury-Chaney Trail also offers hikers and walkers a chance to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the area.

At the Humboldt Redwood Company Fishery Exhibit, you can experience the largest freshwater aquarium on the North Coast for a remarkable indoor pursuit. Alternatively, the historic Winema Theater, dating back to the 19th century and notable for its wooden construction, hosts captivating live performances.

Final Thought

While the big cities attract millions of tourists to the Golden State annually, it's the lesser-known locations in the rural areas that truly capture the heart and soul of the state. These offbeat towns in California exemplify the unique and enjoyable experiences to be found away from the bustling streets of its urban centers.

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