The spectacular Morro Bay, California.

7 Underrated Destinations In California To Avoid Summer Crowds

Sure, California is no secret getaway for Americans during the glorious summer months, but how pleasurable can it really be with sweaty bodies all around you on crowded beaches and lines to the popular attractions? Avoid the tourist traps and venture into the Golden State's less popular, overshadowed, or hidden places to find seclusion and even more adventures for every taste and group's best summertime experiences. These seven underrated destinations are full of opportunities to seize every moment of your getaway, where you will really relax and feel refreshed one-on-one with nature. Enjoy easy access and low crowds on your best real escape in a long time to recharge for the game of life and work as your mid-summer or concluding the season hoorah.

Black Sands Beach

Black Sands Beach, Shelter Cove, California
Black Sands Beach, Shelter Cove, California.

Black Sands Beach in Humboldt County, California, is among the few similar, unique beaches around the world featuring charcoal-colored sands. The picture-perfect landscape will imprint itself in your memory, but the lack of crowds and most Instagrammable features beg to be photographed, also posing as a perfect place for photoshoots. Enjoy a distraction-free environment without others marring the impeccable views on a memorable respite to these far reaches of northern California.

Visit anytime for postcard strolls along the 3.5-mile stretch of black silk-like sands caressed by the Pacific, with swims, sunbathing, and relaxation to your heart's content at sights and sans the blistering heat of the summer months. The sands become blazing hot during the midday heat under the sun, presenting a great opportunity for ecotourism. Enjoy hiking and wildlife viewing of numerous native fish and bird species, as well as camping sights for nighttime nature. Choose the Inn of the Lost Coast in Shelter Cove, a boutique hotel with unmatched views of the Pacific Northwest coastline and quality restaurants.


The gorgeous town of Carlsbad in California.

Carlsbad is an unmissable SoCal city that offers the best getaway or vacation without crowds along the otherwise tourist-ridden coastline. Immerse yourself in the small town atmosphere, which the lively population of under 116,000 actively holds close to the heart and may help explain the missing accolades to avoid becoming a tourist trap. Escape from San Diego into a laid-back environment with a ton of relaxation action and fun attractions, only half an hour north along the coast. Find the seascape with the same soft, crawl-worthy sands, like along South Carlsbad State Beach, for days of lounging.

Carlsbad's shores recreate the quaint beach escape you've been dreaming of, along with family-friendly entertainment at its very own Legoland and SeaWorld. Dig your toes in the sands or explore the nature around you, including the seasonal Carlsbad Flower Fields and various walking trails for the active, all under the same blissful serenity. With so much to do and see in Carlsbad, the beach town will imprint itself in your memory during one endless summer, just the way you like, with stunning sunsets that take over the skies to the horizon after each blessed day.

Half Dome

The road leading to Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, California, with the Half Dome in the background.

Half Dome is an unmissable site crowning the Yosemite Valley in your travels through the densely forested Yosemite National Park. Enjoy refreshing wanderings and hikes through the woods with picnics and wildlife, among other natural sights, and the massive granite structure peaking above the dense forest over the park below. Access its sheer dome face feature for the hike up, accessible to those who obtained a permit prior. This weeds out the unprepared travelers, leaving more room for close-knit groups of active tourists to reach the one-of-a-kind views at the top that not many can brag about. The last 400 feet over the face have cable ladders to reach the summit, after which you can revel before an aching descent.

Revel in the panoramic views from the top, overlooking the way behind, the forest, and the truly picturesque Yosemite National Park itself. Half Dome is a spectacular natural wonder of the Golden State that comprises a strenuous 10- to 12-hour hike covering 14–16 miles to the 5,000-foot summit domineering over the UNESCO World Heritage Site park. Whether you are up for getting the permit and stretching your muscles big-time, pay the 35 dollars regardless to enter the park. Even during the season, the park's beautiful nature and every aspect of Half Dome are spectacular from every angle.

Morro Bay

Pier and port in Morro Bay City, California.
Pier and port in Morro Bay City, California.

Morro Bay draws a few tourists with its magnetic views but emanates a special energy as a real site of strength along the scenic NorCal coast. Enjoy strolls along the expansive sandy shoreline to the iconic structure, and let Morro Bay take your breath away on a getaway to recharge. This giant volcanic rock is an ultra-photogenic sight to relax under the awe-inspiring views and have a photoshoot. The namesake small town in the heart of Morro Bay State Park is a great place to set base and explore, including lagoons, marshes, and bird-watching.

The eco-friendly town and the remoteness of the destination allure avid venturers on a real-deal escape from daily life. Immerse yourself in a peaceful small-town feel with low tourist crowds through the summer and spectacular natural sights solely for your greedy eyes. Morro Bay awaits with feel-good pursuits like testing the Pacific waters at Morro Strand State Beach, utilizing one of its campgrounds, and exploring the most picturesque town's harborside, dotted with fishing vessels. Take a nature stroll for the beach's iconic structure and lounging, with waterfront restaurants awaiting to treat you to a seafood feast at sunset.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes Lighthouse in Point Reyes, California.
Point Reyes Lighthouse in Point Reyes, California.

The 71,000-acre Point Reyes National Seashore has something for every group, like a family trip into spectacular coastal nature without crowds. Enjoy easy access to these stunning landscapes, just an hour and a half north of San Francisco, from West Marin and across the Golden Gate Bridge during a summertime long-weekend getaway. Point Reyes is more than just fabulous outdoor adventures; it also has a delicious food scene that helps you keep going, like to the north along the west side of Tomales Bay, where the Marshall Store, named one of the US's best restaurants, serves oysters and more from a seaside shack. There's enough space along the vast seashore for fun and bonding, as well as many peaceful spots to divert into nature for some time for serenity, meditation, or self-reflection.

From various hiking trails to whale-watching and kayaking along unique waterways, Point Reyes is an ideal destination to get away, relax, or stay active from the bustling city life. Recharge with a refreshing hike to a rare tide fall to relax under the summer sun's rays or enjoy a misty photoshoot. There's also the seashore's iconic lighthouse hike, which takes quite a journey to the Lighthouse Visitor Center and 313 steps down to the structure itself. Relax over a picnic and take a lot of pictures with postcard views before packing your belongings for the hike back up. The unmissable Cypress Tree Tunnel features nearly 100-year-old planted trees that form a magnificent arch connecting into a tunnel—perfect for love birds, Instagrammers, and photographers.


Aerial view of residential town during blue sunny day in Temecula, California, USA.
Aerial view of a residential town during blue sunny day in Temecula, California, USA.

Find Temecula, a hidden gem in California, along the Temecula Valley Wine Trail. The charming town in the Inland Empire is one of the coolest and most underrated destinations in the state, with many explorations around. With the pricey and crowded Napa Valley usually making the headlines, Temecula, the underdog, is just right for sharing a few glasses each evening in close company and stocking up on quality bottles to share and enjoy back home. Browse through Temecula's over forty wineries in the immediate area for memories of a myriad of tasting opportunities and epicurean experiences, along with the most picturesque landscapes to wander in between.

The lush vineyards stay crowdless throughout the summer, so roam away or enjoy serene solitude under the sun over one-on-one time with wine and nature. Enjoy quick access from San Diego and Los Angeles, practically in your backyard, on a day trip or weekend getaway. The small town with a palpable Mediterranean flair offers an Italianesque countryside experience with under an hour's access to the coastline to taste the drink of the Gods. Find plentiful family-friendly activities like the interactive Pennypickle’s Workshop and the historic Temecula Valley Museum. Venture into the Old Town for historic atmosphere and sights, as well as the annual Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival, mimicking Turkey’s Cappadocia with wine flowing as if from the sky filled with colorful balloons.

Thousand Steps Beach

The Thousand Steps Beach in California.
The Thousand Steps Beach in California.

The overwhelmingly scenic Thousand Steps Beach is Orange County’s hidden gem that does not get crowded during the summer months despite its throw-in-your-face perfect seascape. Although you won't have to ascend nearly that many steps to find the blissful spit of hidden sands, it does require a bit of a hike. Located conveniently near Laguna Beach, Thousand Steps is a slice of natural respite you've been dreaming of, with many unique attractions you will not find anywhere else. Descent the many wooden stairs to the shore into a peaceful seclusion unlike the nearby beach town.

For even more seclusion, the southern end of the beach offers a walk through a large rock cave to emerge into a small cove. Only accessible at low tide, there are two man-made swimming pools hidden from the eyes for private enjoyment that only locals "in the know" may disturb. Choose the nearby perched hotel on a coastal bluff, the Montage Laguna Beach, with 30 acres that doesn't disappoint but complements the wilder adventure to the beach. Enjoy meals overlooking the Pacific from The Loft restaurant on site, including an interactive cheese bar with over fifty sharp and buttery delicacies from around the world.

These seven destinations offer a real refresh from the city with low crowds and all the beaches and activities that your entire family desires. Avoid the mile-long lineups and overpriced food for pure natural sights and unobscured views. Some summer escapes feel more like you need a vacation after a getaway with people all around and not a moment to slow down. Seize this opportunity to treasure the days with those who matter and the peaceful moments in solitude.


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