People in Oak Glen, California, Celebrating Harvest Octoberfest.

Southern California's 7 Most Underrated Towns to Visit in 2024

Home to Los Angeles and San Diego, Southern California is a world-renowned destination with year-round pleasant weather. Even the scorching summer sun isn't a bother near a beach, such as Solana Beach, where visitors can enjoy surf breaks and magical tidal pools without large crowds. Kernville is a small-town-big-adventure spot along the Kern River, offering golden trout fishing and whitewater rafting for a fantastic getaway.

The often-overlooked Sonoran Desert town of Blythe is a summertime center for waterside recreation along the Colorado River, with activities like jet skiing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. The prehistoric cultures in the area left behind the Blythe Geoglyphs, ancient symbols dating back over 1,100 years. Santa Ynez, a rustic cowboy town with boutique wineries, offers a wine-filled getaway for friends or a family vacation, with scenic drives through the countryside. Oak Glen, tucked away in lush orchards, features the enticing scent of apple pie wafting through town and offers the opportunity to pick fresh, crisp fruit at a local orchard.

Agoura Hills

View of Agoura Hills looking from southern edge of the Historic Quarter
View of Agoura Hills looking from the southern edge of the Historic Quarter, By Arspickles17 at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Agoura Hills is a picturesque city in the eastern Conejo Valley of Los Angeles County, ideal for a nature-centric escape. It has a serene atmosphere with majestic oaks, rolling hills, scenic canyons, and rural charm. Located just a short distance from Malibu's beaches and in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains, Agoura Hills is home to the famous mansion from The Bachelor. It’s also the site of the upcoming world’s largest wildlife crossing, spanning the freeway. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore Chesebro Canyon and Malibu Creek State Park, while Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyon provides a gateway to local mountain trails through riparian woodlands, offering sweeping views from high above.

Agoura Hills has had a presence in the film industry since 1927, with recent appearances in films like American Sniper and shows like HBO’s Westworld. Paramount Ranch, which has survived a fire, features historic Western buildings and surrounding trails suitable for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. The area also offers opportunities to spot local wildlife like acorn woodpeckers, bobcats, and coyotes. The Santa Monica Range is a prime cycling destination, hosting the Amgen Tour of California. Serious Cycling offers high-end road bike rentals, while Paramount Ranch provides guided horseback outings.

There's no better place to enjoy lunch in Southern California than outdoors. You can enjoy a sandwich and salad from Italia Deli & Bakery, a traditional spot, or opt for a gourmet lunch box from Blue Table.


Cars lined up at California Agriculture Control near the Arizona-California border crossing on Interstate-10 in Blythe.
Cars lined up at California Agriculture Control near the Arizona-California border crossing on Interstate-10 in Blythe. Editorial credit: You Touch Pix of EuToch /

Despite its high temperatures, the often-overlooked Sonoran Desert town of Blythe in eastern California becomes a center for waterside recreation and sports along the Colorado River. Activities like jet skiing, kayaking, and paddleboarding are popular among locals and visitors alike. Prehistoric cultures in the area left their mark with gigantic figures known as "Intaglios," or Blythe Geoglyphs, dating back 1,100 years. Following the Colorado River-dwelling Mojave peoples, the friendly locals now warmly welcome archeology enthusiasts and nature lovers to explore the area's bounty of outdoor discoveries. Thanks to innovative irrigation methods, Blythe's desert terrain has been transformed into a rich agricultural and recreational area, offering a wide range of fresh food through a vibrant restaurant scene.

Six miles north of Blythe, in the Palo Verde Valley, visitors can find the original Blythe Intake—the site of the first legal claim for Colorado River water—which turned the desert into lush farmland. This historic location is ideal for hikes and scenic drives, with routes leading to nearby ghost towns. The Colorado River Recreation Area encompasses about 650 miles, with approximately 95 miles of waterways between Blythe and Imperial Dam in Yuma. It provides a unique desert oasis in Riverside County, where visitors can enjoy various warm-weather outdoor activities like boating, fishing, and other watersports, along with rockhounding and prospecting.


Downtown Kernville, California
Downtown Kernville, California

Kernville, a small town with big adventure, is an excellent choice for a getaway without the usual crowds. Visitors enjoy the lush summer banks along the Kern River, where golden trout fishing promises a delicious fire-cooked dinner at sunset. Whitewater rafting on this river is unmatched, while mountain bikers can ride challenging technical trails and speedy descents down the mountain slopes—perfect for adrenaline-seekers.

Kernville's laid-back atmosphere lets you enjoy most activities for free, like hiking around town. For a fun group hike, check out the Seven Tea Cups, a series of waterfalls cascading from pool to pool, providing a picturesque backdrop for photoshoots and misty picnics. Afterward, visit the award-winning Kern River Brewing Company (KRCB), a local brewery in downtown Kernville, to relax with craft beer and a bite to eat. With a population of under 1,000, this small town has few tourists but plenty of attractions. Explore Kern Valley Museum, lounge at Riverside Park, or discover Brush Creek without the usual summer crowds or admission fees.

Oak Glen

The Oak Glen Apple Festival: The Harvest U-Pick Greeting Area Curated By Los Rios Ranchos
The Oak Glen Apple Festival: The Harvest U-Pick Greeting Area Curated By Los Rios Ranchos, via Gerald Peplow /

Located just an hour from downtown Los Angeles or 24 kilometers east of San Bernardino, Oak Glen is a picturesque town perfect for a quick escape to nature. Nestled in a rural setting, it's an ideal spot to unwind and experience a simpler pace of life, reminiscent of childhood vacations. The town, filled with apple orchards, is often overlooked despite its charm, family-owned farms, and scenic hiking trails. You can spend your time picking apples, visiting fun-filled farms, and exploring beautiful landscapes, which are perfect for photos and picnics. Even with its rustic feel, Oak Glen offers a unique collection of shops housed in quaint buildings, and its population of under 700 residents treats every visitor like a new friend—a reminder of a more traditional American small-town spirit.

Oak Glen is renowned for its apple products, with the aroma of pastries and pies wafting through the air. You can enjoy a glass of hard cider or stock up on apple cider and apple butter for your pantry. Of course, you can pick your own fresh, crispy apples from roadside stands or orchards, which is a favorite family bonding activity. Nearby, Oak Tree Mountain, which has been in business for over 50 years, provides a memorable experience. Once just a small apple shed, it has transformed into a 14-acre family fun park. At Apple Annie’s Bakery, you can find a 5-pound mile-high apple pie, and the hand-dipped caramel apples at the Candy Store are a must-try. There’s also a petting zoo, local shops, artisans, and a short hike through Inspiration Forest.

Santa Ynez

Vineyard in Santa Ynez, California.
Vineyard in Santa Ynez, California.

Santa Ynez, located in Santa Barbara County, is a delightful mix of vintage wine country charm and cowboy culture. With a population of around 4,418, it is surrounded by vineyards and has a downtown that transports you back to 1884, with period-style buildings, saloons, and even the occasional horse hitched to a post by a feed store. The town retains its authenticity without the usual tourist trappings, offering museums, galleries, and horseshoe-embedded crosswalks that connect the historical sites. It appeals to modern trail riders, wine enthusiasts, and families with its variety of restaurants, ranging from chicken and waffles to seafood and Italian cuisine.

The Santa Ynez Valley Historical Society Museum and Parks-Janeway Carriage House showcase the area's Old West heritage. You can explore the history before joining in the town's events, like Old Santa Ynez Day in June, with a street fair, parade, and country-western entertainment. The Vaquero Show & Sale, a popular event in November, draws visitors from afar. The luxurious Chumash Casino Resort, located on the town's outskirts, offers non-stop gambling, live entertainment, and fine dining. Santa Ynez's rustic charm and boutique wineries make it a great place to explore by bike along serene country roads with stunning valley views and nearby mountains. Don't miss the Spanish-built mission, a beautiful and Instagram-worthy landmark in this quaint Southern California town.

Solana Beach

Aerial view of Solana Beach, California.
Aerial view of Solana Beach, California.

Often overshadowed by Southern California's more popular beach towns, Solana Beach is a hidden gem that locals covet. It offers an incredibly walkable downtown with eclectic shops and endless scenic trails in the sea breeze, making it a paradise for surfers and beachcombers. With excellent surf breaks and magical tide pools, Fletcher Cove, the main beach, is just a 30-minute walk from the district's family-owned businesses and the nearby Cedros Design District, which draws shoppers with its renowned designers, boutique agencies, and delectable restaurants.

This multifaceted town, which retains a quaint, local vibe, is perfect for a morning stroll along the beach, finding unique fashion pieces, and enjoying delicious dining. The upcoming 43rd annual Fiesta Del Sol, held in May, is an ideal reason to visit, featuring free beachside music and a diverse lineup of artists, including cover bands and Jimmy Buffet tributes. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy crowd-free swimming and surfing at the beach, with the nearby Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve just six miles away for hikes amid the fragrant pines, which are among the rarest in the country.

Trabuco Canyon

View of a firefighter rescue vehicle parked next to a firehouse in Trabuco Canyon, California.
View of a firefighter rescue vehicle parked next to a firehouse in Trabuco Canyon, California. Editorial credit: Orange Grove /

While many know about the Santa Ana Mountains and the nearby city of Anaheim, few have heard of Trabuco Canyon, a tiny Orange County town nestled at the foot of the hills. With its numerous green spaces, nature treks, and relaxed atmosphere, it's a perfect spot for a quick getaway from the city. This hidden oasis offers access to Cleveland National Forest and its very own O'Neill Park, ideal for picnics and outdoor activities. The Trabuco Rose Canyon Cantina & Grill is popular for its casual outdoor dining in a natural setting, with a touch of Latino influence.

Located in Trabuco Canyon, visitors can enjoy biking, hike the trails at Trabuco Mesa Park, and explore local historic ranches. The varied landscape attracts mountain bikers, equestrians, and wildlife photographers, providing a new scene to enjoy with a touch of colorful Spanish colonial history. For a memorable experience, visit the Hamilton Oaks Winery to sample their international award-winning varieties like Barbera and Mélange du Sud or enjoy a glass at one of the county's fine restaurants.

Southern California has many popular beach towns that attract visitors, but some hidden gems like Kernville and Agoura Hills offer crowd-free and unique attractions. Agoura Hills is home to the mansion featured in The Bachelor reality TV show and the set for American Sniper. This town provides a nature-centric escape with majestic oaks, rolling hills, and scenic canyons, all just a short drive from Malibu beaches and the Santa Monica Range.

Trabuco Canyon serves as a gateway to the scenic Santa Ana Mountains and features several town greens and a steakhouse, offering a laid-back getaway near Anaheim. Rich with history, Santa Ynez boasts an old Spanish mission, while Blythe, home to the ancient figures known as "Intaglios," provides a refreshing desert oasis in Riverside County. Blythe's waterways extend over 95 miles to the Imperial Dam in Yuma, making it a unique spot for a change of pace amidst its desert surroundings.

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