Street view in Half Moon Bay, California

California's 13 Most Underrated Towns to Visit in 2024

As a popular destination for everything from nightlife to history and breathtaking natural sights, California, as a state, is far from underrated. That said, there is much more to the Golden State than meets the eye. Those looking to avoid big-city crowds will find solace in California’s most underrated towns. Between unique local festivals, natural hidden gems, and small-town peace, these towns are sure to be memorable destinations for anyone traveling in 2024.


View of the pier and beach in Capitola, California.
View of the pier and beach in Capitola, California.

Surf's up in Capitola, California. Known for its colorful beaches and laid-back atmosphere, Capitola is a charming seaside town that is definitely worth a visit in 2024. Visitors can spend their time here catching waves and admiring the vibrant wharf at Capitola Beach. Or, take a more laid-back route and spend a few hours lounging beachside at New Brighton State Beach instead. Once beach-goers have had their fill, they can take a short 5-mile drive to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk where rides, games, and family-friendly fun are in ample supply. Those planning to visit Capitola in 2024 will also want to keep an eye out for the 40th Capitola Art & Wine Festival, which is set to take place in September. The festival is a long-standing tradition in the town and features live music, food, and wine tasting.


Main street, street view, and tourists in Solvang.
Main street, street view, and tourists in Solvang. Image credit HannaTor via Shutterstock.

Made popular by its rich Danish heritage, Solvang, California, is a memorable destination with plenty of things to see and do for the whole family. One of the main draws to this unique little town is their annual Solvang Danish Days festival. The popular festival will include costumes, authentic food, a parade, and various games and activities. In September 2024, Danish Days will return for its 87th year, and attending guests are encouraged to “live like Vikings,” according to the town's website. Those who may not be able to attend the festivities will find an abundance of fun things to see and do at any time of year. Spend some time exploring the great outdoors at Nojoqui Falls Park. Here, visitors will find a beautiful waterfall, hiking trails, and picnic areas. Or, book a ride with the Solvang Trolley and Carriage Company and take a peaceful ride past authentic Danish bakeries, windmills, and more.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay, California The Boat Yard marketplace in the waterfront of the town
Morro Bay, California The Boat Yard marketplace in the waterfront of the town, via M. Vinuesa /

Morro Bay is a quaint fishing village located almost exactly midway between San Jose and Los Angeles. The town is filled with stunning beaches, fun festivals, museums, and a unique volcanic rock that draws crowds of curious tourists from all over. During a trip here, guests will want to carve out a few hours to spend exploring Morro Bay State Park where they can enjoy hiking, views of the iconic Morro Rock, visit the Museum of Natural History, and camp out.

Those traveling to Morro Bay in 2024 will also want to plan their trip around some of the town's most popular events, including the annual Morro Bay Kite Festival. Taking place in April, this colorful and free festival invites guests to learn and participate in the art of kite flying on the town's windy shoreline. Later in May 2024, the town will host an old-fashioned car festival as well.

Half Moon Bay

Grocery store in downtown Half Moon bay California
Grocery store in downtown Half Moon bay California, via DreamArt123 /

Roughly 30 miles south of San Francisco, travelers will discover the gorgeous coastal town of Half Moon Bay, California. Renowned for horseback riding and world-famous surfing, this underrated town is perfect for adventure seekers. Spend an afternoon here riding horses on the picturesque shores of Half Moon Bay State Beach or Poplar Beach. For those who prefer to keep both feet on the ground, the California Coastal Trail offers a peaceful nature hike. The town boasts a tight-knit community with festivals and events always on the calendar. In 2024, visitors can look forward to the Half Moon Bay Wine and Jazz Festival in June and the World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in October.


The quaint town of Idyllwild, California.
The quaint town of Idyllwild, California. Image credit: APK, via Wikimedia Commons.

Anyone looking to immerse themselves in local art and nature will find Idyllwild, California, to be a delightful destination. Eclectic artwork is omnipresent, from small art galleries to pottery studios, making artists feel right at home. Nature lovers will not be disappointed either. Lace up your hiking boots and explore Mount San Jacinto State Park, where visitors can enjoy camping, hiking, and soaking up mountain views so breathtaking they could hang in a gallery. The Idyllwild Nature Center, offering over 5 miles of hiking trails, gardens, and a museum, frequently hosts family-friendly events, including games for kids, fishing days, and hayrides.


Rods and Roses classic holiday car show in Carpinteria.
Rods and Roses classic holiday car show in Carpinteria. Image credit L Paul Mann via Shutterstock.

From hiking and surfing to museums and summer beer festivals, Carpinteria, California, has something for everyone in 2024. Adventure seekers can hike through the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, where trails lead past ocean views, local birds, and baby seals, eventually reaching Carpinteria State Beach. Here, activities include swimming, surf fishing, hiking, guided tours, exploring Tar Pits Beach, and camping. The Carpinteria Salt Marsh offers additional opportunities for hiking and wildlife viewing. In August 2024, Carpinteria will host the 10th annual Surf 'n' Suds Beer Fest—a large festival featuring an array of craft beers and live music. The annual Avocado Festival, a Carpinteria staple since the late 1980s, is another beloved event; dates for the 2024 festival have not yet been announced.


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

A hotspot for apple picking and outdoor adventure, Julian, California, is a quiet small town with lush public parks and plenty of activities for tourists. Despite its small-town feel, Julian is only 60 miles outside of San Diego, making it a convenient spot for those hoping to explore both areas. Visitors will want to explore places like William Heise County Park, nestled along the north side of the Laguna Mountain Range, offering nearly 11 miles of hiking and horse riding trails, forested areas, and camping opportunities. The Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, featuring 2,900 acres of forest and a hiking trail leading to a summit with breathtaking desert views, is another worthwhile visit. Animal lovers will enjoy the California Wolf Center, and those seeking a peaceful event can look forward to the 2024 Lilac Festival in spring. Visitors arriving in Julian during the summer can visit the Volcan Valley Apple Farm for an afternoon of apple picking.

Mammoth Lakes

Downtown Mammoth Lakes, California.
Downtown Mammoth Lakes, California. Image credit melissamn via

With five sparkling lakes located within the town and hundreds more surrounding its borders, Mammoth Lakes is an ideal destination for anyone who enjoys fishing, boating, or simply relaxing by the water. In the winter months, visitors can enjoy some of the best skiing in California at Mammoth Mountain. And in the summer, be sure to check out iconic sights such as the Devils Postpile National Monument. This monument features unique columns of basalt rock that tower roughly 60 feet into the air. Here, visitors will also find spectacular mountain views and a waterfall that stands over 100 feet tall. Those looking for hiking opportunities will want to explore the Crystal Lake Trail—a short hike that offers expansive views of the Mammoth Lakes Basin.


Carmel, California: shopping on main street with luxurious boutiques all around,
Carmel, California: shopping on main street with luxurious boutiques all around, via oliverdelahaye /

Among California's beach towns, Carmel-By-The-Sea stands out as particularly charming. Known for its nearly turquoise waters and white sand beaches, this quiet, artsy town is filled with fun things to do in 2024. Those seeking a laid-back beach day complete with swimming, bird watching, and hiking will enjoy exploring Carmel River State Beach. For a more adventurous hike, head to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, offering breathtaking views and a favorite spot for hikers and artists alike. One painter even called Point Lobos “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” During the summer months, the town comes alive with food and art festivals. Visitors arriving in early June can partake in the annual Carmel Culinary Week—a showcase of the town's finest restaurants. Other notable events for 2024 include the Carmel Art Festival in May and the town’s 108th Birthday and Halloween Celebration in October.

Solana Beach

Aerial view of Solana Beach in San Diego County, California.
Aerial view of Solana Beach in San Diego County, California.

From quiet natural areas to lively music festivals, visitors can enjoy all that and more in the walkable town of Solana Beach, California. Those planning a visit in May 2024 can attend the 43rd annual Fiesta Del Sol—a free beachside music festival featuring a diverse lineup of artists. In past years, Fiesta Del Sol has showcased everything from cover bands to Jimmy Buffet tributes. Beyond the festivities, there is plenty on offer for outdoor lovers in Solana Beach. Spend a few hours enjoying swimming and surfing at Fletcher Cove, or take a roughly 6-mile drive to the nearby Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve—home to the rarest pine tree in the country.

St. Helena

Historic buildings in St. Helena, California.
Historic buildings in St. Helena, California.

Welcome to wine country! Located in the famous Napa Valley, St. Helena, California, attracts large groups of tourists each year, many of whom are eager to dive into the local wine and culinary scene. The town is home to The Culinary Institute of America, so it's no surprise that the restaurants here offer a wide range of exquisite meals. Those who only have time for one meal will want to visit the highly-reviewed Goose & Gander restaurant, which serves rustic, pub-style American food. For a little outdoor adventure, be sure to visit places like Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park and Moore Creek Park, where hiking and beautiful views are plentiful.

Point Reyes

A farmer's market at Point Reyes.
A farmer's market at Point Reyes. Editorial credit: oliverdelahaye /

Another beautiful town known for its active food scene and photo-worthy scenery is Point Reyes, California. While in town, visitors will have a wide array of sandy beaches and overlook points to choose from—each as beautiful as the next. Spend some time here whale watching and exploring the coastline at Point Reyes National Seashore, where curious travelers will also find the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse. One of the best views of Point Reyes Beach comes from the South Beach Overlook, which is only a short walk from the Lighthouse parking lot and is a perfect place to use binoculars to catch a glimpse of the elephant seals below. Those who enjoy observing local wildlife will want to plan their trip around the annual Point Reyes Birding and Nature Festival, which will take place for the 15th time in April 2024.


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

Auburn, California, is an unassuming town with a rich Gold Rush history and a welcoming small-town feel. But in addition to its cozy charm, this small town also offers visitors serene slices of nature and a few sweet activities. Speaking of sweet, citrus lovers will have a blast at the annual Mandarin Festival. Taking place in late November 2024, festival attendees can savor everything from fresh fruit to mandarin-glazed pulled pork and everything in between. After filling up on all things orange, head over to the Auburn State Recreation Area for an afternoon of hiking, biking, fishing, and gold panning. Then, pay a visit to the Gold Rush Museum to learn more about the town's history with this precious metal.

In Conclusion

Traveling to California’s underrated towns in 2024 will offer a huge payoff for visitors who enjoy getting to know a new area without the hustle and bustle of bigger city crowds. From food-centric events like Auburn’s Mandarin Festival to the Viking-inspired Danish Days festival in beautiful Solvang, there is truly something for everyone to enjoy this year.

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