6 of the Most Charming Small Towns to Visit in California

6 of the Most Charming Small Towns to Visit in California

When people think about California, the first places that come to mind usually include beautiful beaches and iconic cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. However, California has much more to offer people who go off the beaten tourist track.

The state has a large number of charming small towns that are worth a visit, if only for a day trip from one of the larger cities. Each of these towns has its own, unique feel, from sleepy seaside villages to single-street communities reminiscent of the Wild West.

Some of the towns that tourists should check out include:

1. Lone Pine

A small frontier town in Owens Valley, Lone Pine is located between Mount Whitney and the Bad Water Basin of Death Valley. Many people come to the small town in hopes of climbing to the top of Mount Whitney, but the town has much more to offer visitors.

Lone Pine California

Lone Pine developed as a supply hub for silver miners and got its name from a solitary pine tree that stands at the entrance to a nearby canyon. More than 400 films have been shot in the town with stars like John Wayne, Johnny Depp, and Clint Eastwood due to its unique frontier appearance.

People who want a break from the outdoor activities in Lone Pine should check out one of the nearby ghost towns, such as Cerro Gordo. There, one can learn about the mining history of California.

2. Sonoma

People mostly associate California wines with Napa Valley. However, Sonoma has also grown in popularity as a wine destination.

Today, Sonoma County is home to more than 400 wineries, from small family operations to larger companies that distribute across the country. The town of Sonoma serves as a convenient home base for exploring these various wineries.

Here, tourists will find the oldest winery in the state, Buena Vista, which was founded in 1857. Now, this winery has become a California Historic Landmark.

In addition, Sonoma Plaza has been declared a National Historical Landmark because of the presence of historic structures like the Mission San Francisco Solano, the last mission to be built in California. Tourists can also see the Sonoma Barracks, an adobe building that once belonged to the Mexican military.

3. Carlsbad

Many people who visit California choose to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway. This road trip will take them through a number of different beach towns. One of the must-see places on the route is Carlsbad, a town with a gorgeous coastline and a very relaxed vibe.


The city has the first skateboard park ever built in California and is home to skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. Visitors should try to come during one of the weekly State Street Farmers Market events, where locals love to mingle and buy fresh produce.

When individuals need a break from surfing, they can head to Pizza Port, a great microbrewery with excellent pizza.

4. Julian

Northeast of San Diego are the Cuyamaca Mountains, which are home to dense oak and pine forests. Julian is nestled in the woods. A visit here transports tourists back to the 1800s and Gold Rush-era California. Individuals should be sure to get a tour of Eagle Mining Co., where they can even try their hands at gold panning.

In addition, visitors need to get at least one slice of Julian’s signature apple pie, which is made from the harvest of local orchards. The debate rages about who makes the best pie, but Julian Pie company and Mom’s Pie House are perennial favorites.

The Main Street in Julian looks much the film set of a Western movie. Stores there sell antiques, locally-produced art, and Native American crafts.

5. Arcata

Located in Humboldt Bay in Northern California, Arcata has earned a reputation for being very progressive, especially in terms of ecological concerns. Here, visitors will find lush redwood forest and rocky coastline with acres of land for hikes. Another prime attraction is the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Arcata’s central plaza has a unique mix of Victorian homes and edgy businesses, including art galleries. Here, most people get around on foot or by bike using the many safe bike paths placed throughout the town.

Visitors can also explore the nearby Humboldt State University. Once a year, Arcata hosts the Kinetic Grand Championship race. That is an ideal time to visit and witness a truly unique competition.

6. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Colloquially known as Carmel, Carmel-by-the-Sea became famous when it was presided over by famous actor Clint Eastwood. While he has not served as mayor for decades, the town is still worth a visit.

The town has steep hills covered in redwoods that dive straight into the Pacific Ocean, not to mention some gorgeous, secluded beaches. Tourists should make sure to see Carmel Mission Basilica. It dates back to the 18th century but has undergone restoration. The mission continues to hold masses.

Many people think Carmel resembles a quaint European town because of its stone streets and decorative roofs. The town features shops from many high-end brands, as well as memorable restaurants. Plus, Carmel is just a short drive from many other Northern California attractions, including Big Sur and Monterey.