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17 Prettiest Small Towns In California That Are Too Beautiful To Ignore

Some of California’s most beautiful places are its scenic small towns which are full of charm and wonder.

There are so many of them scattered across the state!

The only problem is knowing which ones to visit (as some are way better than others).

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

We’ve done all the hard work and come up with this ultimate list of the prettiest small towns in California.

Many of these are still unknown to tourists so you can find some much needed peace and quiet.

Let’s get exploring!

1. Dunsmuir

Wayne Hsieh / Flickr

Dunsmuir is a small town located in northern California, right in the mountains near Mount Shasta. 

It’s famous for its beautiful natural scenery, with epic views of Mount Shasta itself, and is a great spot for outdoor activities. 

Many people visit to fish in the Upper Sacramento River which is known for its excellent trout fishing. 

Hiking is also popular, with trails like the Hedge Creek Falls trail offering stunning views and a hidden waterfall. 

In winter, you can enjoy skiing and snowboarding at the nearby Mount Shasta Ski Park. 

Dunsmuir also has charming local shops and restaurants that reflect its rich railroad history.

2. Trinidad

Trinidad is a small coastal community in northern California, located about 300 miles north of San Francisco. 

It’s famous for its dramatic coastline and the historic Trinidad Head lighthouse that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. 

You can visit Trinidad to enjoy its beautiful beaches, like Trinidad State Beach, which is perfect for picnics and exploring tide pools. 

Hiking is another favorite activity with many trails leading through lush forests to scenic viewpoints. 

Trinidad is also a gateway to the Redwood National and State Parks where you can walk among some of the tallest trees in the world. 

Additionally, the town has a quaint harbor where you can go kayaking or join a fishing charter.

3. Ferndale

Ferndale is a picturesque town in northern California, near to the Pacific Ocean and the redwood forests. 

It’s known for its well-preserved Victorian buildings and quiet, old-fashioned charm. 

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The entire town is like a step back in time with its historic Main Street filled with antique shops, art galleries and cozy restaurants. 

You can tour the grand Victorian homes that line the streets which look like they are straight out of a storybook. 

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

Nearby, there are plenty of outdoor activities including hiking in the redwood forests and exploring the rugged coastline. 

Ferndale is also home to various festivals and events throughout the year which celebrate everything from local art to traditional dairy farming.

4. Downieville

Downieville is a small mountain town in northern California, located at the confluence of the North Yuba and Downie Rivers. 

It’s famous as a historic gold mining town, where gold was first discovered in the 1840s. 

Wayne Hsieh / Flickr

Today, it’s a popular destination for mountain biking with the famous Downieville Downhill trail drawing riders from all over. 

Hiking and fishing are also popular as the surrounding mountains and rivers offer beautiful, natural landscapes to explore. 

Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship / Flickr

You can also learn about the town’s rich history by visiting the Downieville Museum which showcases artifacts from the gold rush era. 

During the summer, the town also hosts events like the Downieville Classic which is a renowned mountain biking race and festival.

5. Sutter Creek

Sutter Creek is a charming small town in Amador County, located in the heart of the Sierra Nevada foothills. 

It’s best known for its rich history during the California Gold Rush and still retains much of its 19th-century charm. 

Steve Walser / Flickr

You can explore historic sites like the Knight Foundry, one of the few remaining water-powered foundries in the United States, or tour old gold mines. 

The downtown area is lined with antique shops, boutiques and family-owned restaurants. It’s the perfect place for a leisurely afternoon stroll.

Anthony Dolce / Flickr

Sutter Creek also hosts a variety of events throughout the year including wine tastings and music festivals that celebrate its local culture and history. 

Additionally, the surrounding area offers beautiful scenery and outdoor activities like hiking and fishing in the nearby forests and streams.

6. St. Helena

St. Helena is a small town located in Napa Valley and is renowned for its vineyards and wineries. 

It’s known as the heart of the Napa wine region, making it a favorite spot for wine enthusiasts. 

Jim G / Flickr

You can tour various wineries to taste world-class wines and learn about winemaking. 

The town itself has a charming main street filled with boutique shops, art galleries and gourmet restaurants. 

Jim G / Flickr

For those who love the outdoors, there are plenty of options like biking through the vineyards or hiking in the nearby hills. 

Additionally, St. Helena offers cooking classes and food tours that showcase the local cuisine.

7. Sausalito

Sausalito is a picturesque town located just north of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge. 

It’s famous for its stunning waterfront views and vibrant houseboat communities that add a unique charm to the area. 

You can walk along the waterfront, enjoying the shops and restaurants that offer beautiful views of San Francisco Bay. 

The town is also known for its art galleries and the annual Sausalito Art Festival which attracts artists and art lovers from all over every Labor Day weekend. 

For outdoor activities, kayaking and sailing are popular. They give you the chance to see the town from the water. 

Additionally, biking along the scenic paths that offer spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline is a favorite pastime.

8. Bishop

Bishop is a small town located in the eastern part of California, between the Sierra Nevada and White Mountains. 

It’s known for its stunning natural scenery and outdoor recreational activities.

Bishop is a popular base for exploring nearby natural attractions like the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest which is home to some of the oldest living trees in the world. 

Rock climbing is also a major draw, especially at the nearby Buttermilk boulders, which are famous worldwide. 

Fishing is another popular activity with many streams and lakes around Bishop stocked with trout. 

In addition, the town hosts the annual Mule Days celebration which features a parade, rodeo events and other fun activities celebrating the area’s heritage.

9. Capitola

capitola california

Capitola is a vibrant beach town located on the coast of northern California, just east of Santa Cruz. 

It’s known for its colorful seaside charm and the historic Capitola Venetian Hotel, which features brightly painted beachfront cottages. 

The town’s main beach, Capitola Beach, is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, volleyball, kite flying and surfing. 

You can stroll along the Capitola Wharf to enjoy fishing or watching the sunset. 

The town also has a quaint village area filled with unique shops, art galleries and restaurants that serve fresh seafood and other local dishes. 

Throughout the year, Capitola hosts several events like art festivals and a beach festival which adds to its lively atmosphere.

10. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach town on the central coast of California, famous for its storybook cottages and white sandy beaches. 

It’s known for its artistic history with many artists and writers calling it home over the years. 

The town’s main street, Ocean Avenue, is lined with galleries, boutique shops and cozy coffee houses perfect for exploring on foot. 

Anna Irene / Flickr

The white sandy shores of Carmel Beach are a great spot for picnics, playing in the sand or just watching the waves. 

Nearby, you can also explore the scenic beauty of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve which features hiking trails and opportunities to see wildlife.

11. Morro Bay

Morro Bay is a coastal city in California, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

It is famous for its large distinctive rock, known as Morro Rock, which stands at the entrance to the harbor. 

Mike Trimble / Flickr

Visitors often come to see this natural landmark and enjoy the beautiful beaches surrounding it. 

The town is a haven for outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing, camping and bird watching, especially in the nearby Morro Bay State Park. 

The park also features hiking trails and a museum with exhibits on natural history and Native American life. 

Additionally, Morro Bay has a lively waterfront area with shops and seafood restaurants where you can try fresh catches from the local fishing boats.

12. Solvang

Solvang is a unique town in California, located in the Santa Ynez Valley, famous for its Danish heritage and architecture. 

It looks like a little piece of Denmark with windmills, half-timbered buildings and horse-drawn carriages. 

windmill in solvang california

The town was originally founded by Danish immigrants, and today, it’s a great place to experience Danish culture.

From authentic bakeries serving pastries like æbleskiver to museums that celebrate Danish art and history. 

You can also enjoy local wine tastings as Solvang is part of the Santa Barbara wine country. 

For outdoor fun, there are several bike trails and nearby horseback riding opportunities. 

13. Ojai

ojai valley inn

Ojai is a small town located in Southern California. You’ll find it in a valley in the Topatopa Mountains. 

It’s known for its scenic beauty, spiritual retreats and a relaxed, artsy atmosphere. 

Many people visit Ojai to unwind and enjoy nature with options for hiking, biking and horseback riding in the surrounding hills and mountains. 

Hwy 33 toward Ojai near Rose Valley.

The town is also famous for its local farms and orchards where you can taste fresh produce and olive oil. 

Ojai’s downtown area features boutiques, art galleries and restaurants that offer a taste of local and organic cuisine. 

14. Wrightwood

Wrightwood is a small mountain village in Southern California, located in the San Gabriel Mountains. 

It’s known primarily for its winter sports, especially at the nearby Mountain High resort, where people come to ski and snowboard. 

In the warmer months, Wrightwood becomes a hub for hiking and camping with access to trails in the Angeles National Forest that offer stunning views and the chance to see local wildlife. 

Marty B / Flickr

The town also has zip-lining and an adventure park, making it a great place for thrill-seekers. 

Wrightwood hosts several community events throughout the year including a fun annual chili cook-off and a music festival. 

Additionally, the village features quaint shops and cozy restaurants which are perfect for relaxing after a day of outdoor activities.

15. Pioneertown

Pioneertown is a unique town in Southern California, located in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. 

It was originally built in the 1940s as a movie set for Western films but today, around 400 people live there.

Erik Ogan / Flickr

Today, it’s known for its Old West-style buildings and Main Street which looks like it’s straight out of a cowboy movie. 

You can stroll through the town to see the historic buildings, watch live reenactments and even catch a musical performance at Pappy & Harriet’s, a famous roadhouse and music venue. 

Horseback riding and hiking are popular activities with trails that offer beautiful desert landscapes. 

16. Julian

Julian is a small historic town located in the Cuyamaca Mountains of Southern California, about an hour’s drive from San Diego. 

It’s famous for its apple orchards and homemade apple pies, a tradition that dates back to the 1800s. 

Many people come to Julian in the fall to pick apples, enjoy fresh apple cider and taste various apple pies. 

Deidre Woollard / Flickr

The town has a charming main street lined with old-fashioned shops, museums and restaurants that give a glimpse into its gold mining past. 

Hiking is another popular activity with several trails nearby, including those in the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, offering scenic views of the surrounding mountains. 

During winter, Julian sometimes gets snow, making it a favorite spot for those looking to experience a rare snowy day in Southern California.

17. Solana Beach

Solana Beach is a coastal city in Southern California, located along the Pacific Ocean just 25-minutes north of San Diego. 

It’s known for its beautiful beaches, such as Fletcher Cove, which is popular for swimming, surfing and sunbathing. 

Sergei Gussev / Flickr

The city also has a vibrant arts scene with many galleries and the Cedros Design District, where visitors can explore shops featuring handmade crafts and art. 

Solana Beach also offers a variety of dining options, ranging from casual beachside restaurants to more upscale establishments. 

Sergei Gussev / Flickr

You can even enjoy biking along the coastal trails or watching the sunset from the seaside cliffs. 

Additionally, Solana Beach hosts live music and cultural events at the Belly Up Tavern, a local venue known for its exciting performances.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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