California boasts diversified culture and nature that is most concentrated on the quaint and vibrant streets in the hearts of the towns. From big to small, and from authentic Americana to European-themed, these are the ten best towns for the next vacation in the state.
Arcata is a small town set in Northern California with a prominent sense of community and laid back vibe on the streets that beckon for some R&R. The nationally-historic locale sits scenically on the northern side of the Humboldt Bay, not far from Eureka, with the bay-side attracting many nature-lovers and water fans. A youthful and humble vibe emanates from the campus of Humboldt State University, while the Arcata Plaza features rich architectural marvels and cultural sites like the Arcata Hotel and the Minor Theater.
It is known as one of the nation's most enlightened towns, from the balanced aesthetic appeal of the wonderful landscaping to the lifestyle on the streets. The laid-back main square has a variety of attractions and a hippie vibe in the air, while the minor league of the Humboldt Crabs brings the entire town together for games. Arcata is scenically surrounded by massive redwood groves in the Arcata Community Forest with boundless outdoor pursuits. There are ample bird-watching opportunities in the marshlands, as well as fun and relaxation at the nearby beaches.
The vacation-worthy town of Avalon is set on the beautiful and lush Santa Catalina Island. It offers a scenic Mediterranean feel with vegetation-covered hills dotted with homes at the bounds of the clear-blue waters. The pre-modern settlement of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe-turned resort town by George Shatto is a mega-popular tourist destination with one million annual visitors. Some 4,000 lucky souls reside in Avalon, the southernmost city of Los Angeles County on the west coast.
One will find an array of year-round activities with attractions in town and nature-bound pursuits to suit any taste. The mellow vibe on the streets is enriched by quaint shops, art galleries, and water-set restaurants with incredible views. The scenic outdoors offers boundless explorations in the complacent climate from June through December. One will feel part of one big, spectacular outdoor adventure among the gorgeous palms, food galore, and oceanic vistas.
Dunsmuir is Northern California's hub for tons of great attractions and getaways within the surrounding Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Castle Crags State Park. It is a hiker's galore with the Pacific Crest Trail running right through town, which is also beloved by cross-country adventurers. The mountainous setting offers ample sights through recreational pursuits, such as rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, and camping. Mount Shasta stands over 14,000 feet tall with forested hillsides of tall Jeffrey ponderosa pine trees.
The Hedge Creek Falls is a popular gathering spot for scenic relaxation in the fresh air, while Lake Siskiyou beckons the water fans. Dunsmuir is a serene and secluded mountain paradise with no traffic lights and a historic downtown district, a sight to behold. One can witness the rich history of the whole country with slices like the old railroad depot for a glimpse of California in the early 20th century. The Botanical Gardens are a must-visit in the city park for the Shasta lilies and other native flora, while the annual Tribute to the Trees solstice concert takes place during summer.
Julian features the most quintessential environment in the whole state to dive into countless fresh-air pursuits. The town is surrounded by William Heise County Park and Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, which fill the vibrant streets with fresh, mountain air. It is also located close to San Diego for big-city amenities and entertainment. The charming community was built thanks to the 19th-century California Gold Rush, reminiscent of old architecture and a historic vibe in the air. The small town blossoms with apple orchards that call for a fall-time visit, along with many pie shops and cafes to cozy up with a hot apple cider in the surrounding views of the Cuyamaca Mountains.
Julian is the optimal base camp for a Southern California adventure into the pine and oak forests' scented woodlands with boundless hiking trails. The historic town boasts numerous museums, art galleries, local farms, and unique activities, like learning to make cider. A horse and buggy ride through town comprises a comprehensive and fun way to see all of the must-hit spots for days to come. The History Hunt card at the chamber of commerce offers an exciting tour, including the Julian jail and pioneer cemetery, while other pursuits include mining for gems at the Main Street's shop and local-vineyard visits.
The lovely desert town of Ojai is just two hours out of Las Vegas, posing a great weekend getaway for the city rats. It retains a small-town charm despite its popular status, with a peaceful environment and spiritually-infused vibe calling to unwind. One can seek real R&R at one of the town's numerous meditation centers, soak in the local hot springs, or get in touch with nature through plenty of outdoor pursuits. There are many hiking spots, including the famously-scenic Rose Valley Falls Trail, with sights to stop for an atmospheric picnic.
One will find wonderful art galleries to browse and admire local artists' works in a real-wholesome time-spent. The renowned Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts offers a great location and displays some of the most eccentric collections one will ever find. There are also several locally-owned and operated markets for perusing on a pleasant day that sells fresh, organic food to round up the wellness-themed vacation.
This small town is a popular tourist destination with the renowned Pismo Beach Pier Plaza. The scenic Pier offers the most stunning ocean vistas during daytime strolls and sunset watches. It is just steps away from the town's inland, lively central district for dinner following the lovely spectacle. There are over 65 restaurants and staying options for any taste, from hotels to RV parks. The rough coast north of the Pier is great for hiking and scenic shots, along with the nearby popular Dinosaur Caves Park.
The seemingly-endless Pismo Beach shoreline comes with the vast Pismo State Beach, bounding the whole southern half of the town. The Oceano Dunes area calls for quintessential adventurers exploring via drives on the sand. The active will enjoy the town's boundless indoor and outdoor offerings, including bowling and biking, along with oceanic pursuits of surfing, swimming, sunbathing, clam digging, and freshwater fishing. The town is a popular destination for the boundless recreational spots to hit year-round in California's permissible climate, successfully avoiding summertime crowds.
Sausalito is set on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge, with easy access via drive or a bike ride over the scenic landmark. It is highly regarded as one of California's best small towns that is made for a vibrant yet tranquil getaway from the concoctions of city life. There's the Bay Area Discovery Museum right at the foot of the bridge for some wholesome family-time fun and learning about nature.
Sausalito features a gorgeous bay-front location and picturesque architecture that will put one in awe. The main thoroughfare of the Bridgeway comes with breathtaking water vistas all the way to San Francisco, along with a treasure cove of quaint shops and restaurants mere steps away. The atmospheric Galilee Harbor and Waldo Point Harbor feature endless vistas for incredible photoshoots and a line-up of colorful houseboats to sight from the waters.
Solvang is a charming village on the outskirts of Santa Barbara that offers a vacation to feel a whole continent away. The scenic community today was founded in 1911 by the Danes, with Danish-style buildings, festivals, and a street vibe reminiscent of Europe. The strong culture is evident in the beautiful Danish architecture and Denmark-inspired landmarks, such as the Little Mermaid, wooden shoes, and places to sample aebleskivers. There are over 150 shops for unique, authentic, and eclectic finds, along with many wonderful hotels.
The treasure cove of history includes highlights like the Bethania Lutheran Church, Elverhøj Museum of History and Art, etc. There are several themed restaurants serving authentic cuisine, numerous Danish bakeries, and wine tasting rooms, including plenty of local California wineries. The quaint village is set in the picturesque Santa Ynez Valley wine country for aficionados and nature lovers, with "Solvang" translating to a sunny field.
The sunny Sonoma is a part of Northern California's agriculturally-rich region, set in the bountiful heart of the namesake wine country. The birthplace of the Californian wine industry is surrounded by rolling hills dotted by vineyards for endless fresh-air wanders and tastings. It is the epitome of California's natural beauty, tastes, culture, and history, including the stunning colonial architecture and 19th-century adobes in-town.
While the world-renowned Sonoma Valley is a paradise for wine aficionados, the historic town is a highly-demanded base to start the explorations. One will find plentiful local fine-dining restaurants, wineries, incredible art, and boutique shops lining blocks of the Sonoma Plaza. It offers days worth of perusing and atmospheric strolls along the streets, while Sonoma is also home to the last Spanish mission in California, the Mission San Francisco Solano from 1823.
The small town with a big name is surrounded by diverse California landscapes for endless activities and sights. The two-hour drive from Sacramento to the Tahoe Lake-bound town comprises a year-round worthy vacation destination, including the nearby Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows for the winter's downhill skiing. The Lake Boulevard at the epicenter is tranquil and vibrant, with towering pine trees, beautiful lake views, local shops, and restaurants. Following an airy bike ride down the Truckee River Bike Trail, one must-hit Commons Beach that is perfect for year-round relaxation with views. The Tahoe State Recreation Area is a popular camping spot with a pier for fishing, diving, and scenic strolls. This beach and mountain town is ideal to satisfy any taste for adventure.
The historic downtown district houses an array of boutique shops and local restaurants along the scenic streets. Among the numerous festivals and events, there's the esteemed winter SnowFest and the 4th of July celebration that brings people from all around the region. The lake is California's pride and joy for breathtaking natural vistas during recreational activities or R&R. There is plenty of fishing, boating, swimming, and snow sports around the clear blue waters, while the town also offers an easy gateway to the Sierra Nevada range.
These towns are the epitome of California’s diverse landscape, culture, and rich history, along with a through-running wine trail. From beach communities to mountain-setting, these towns will satisfy all tastes for the best vacation in the Golden State.