10 Most Beautiful Small Towns in California You Should Absolutely Visit

Last Updated on June 12, 2023 by Nikki Jain

California has long been a favorite vacation destination, but most visitors head straight for the biggest cities in the state. Why not take a break from the city and head to a small town instead?

Few travelers know about the vibrant small town culture within California. Here, you can find some of the most beautiful and interesting small towns you’ll ever discover! Add a few of these small California towns to your vacation plans, and you’ll have the opportunity to experience a new side to Cali culture.

Best Small Towns in California

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1: Avalon


Avalon is a stunning town! Located on Santa Catalina Island, this town offers the joys of Californian island life without the big-city bustle. This town about 4,000 inhabitants, making it the perfect place to experience both a small-town environment but still have plenty to keep you busy. The crown jewel of Avalon is the harbor, which opens out into the beautiful Pacific Ocean. This town is a popular place for tourists to visit, and cruise ships are a common sight in the port.

Address: Avalon, California

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2: Carmel-by-the-Sea

Flickr/Giuseppe Milo

Located on the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a beautiful place to live and work. In fact, many of the people within this lovely town have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of the arts. This town is not only perfect for actors, artists, and poets, but it is also a great place to be a pet! The town is very dog-friendly, and pet owners can take their furry friends to many of the restaurants and shops.

Address: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

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3: Dunsmuir

Flickr/Joe Wolf

Beautiful Dunsmuir is a popular place for tourists to visit. Here, the rivers, lakes, and mountains offer plenty of fun and relaxation for everyone. The town is particularly popular with fishers, who come from all over the world to try their hand at catching the famous rainbow trout fishing on the Upper Sacramento River. However, even those with less interest in the great outdoors will find plenty to love here. The town still looks and seems like a 1930s community, which makes it a fun place to explore.

Address: Dunsmuir, CA

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4: Solvang

Flickr/Alex Beattie

If a trip to Denmark isn’t in your immediate future, a weekend in Solvang is almost just as good! Many of Solvang’s buildings resemble authentic Danish structures, and the community still retains many traditions from its Danish roots. There’s even a Little Mermaid statue, just like the one in Copenhagen! If you visit, take some time to walk around downtown and enjoy the Old World culture. Danish clothing, traditional bakeries, and even horse-drawn carriages lend a charming air to the town.

Address: Solvang, CA

Also Read: Top 10 European Style Cities in America

5: Julian


This tiny California town has less than 2,000 people! Despite (or perhaps because of) its small size, this town has a delightful charm that visitors to the area thoroughly enjoy. Julian is known for its apple pies and historic architecture. It looks a bit like an Old West town, and the local government works hard to keep it that way. Old-fashioned storefronts, a slow lifestyle, and the mountains make Julian an ideal place to vacation.

Address: Julian, CA

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6: St. Helena

St. Helena
Flickr/Guy Huntley

If you love wine, then St. Helena is the perfect small town for you to vacation! This Napa Valley city has over 400 different vineyards that contribute to the area’s notability for grape growing and wine production. The town itself is a beautiful place to enjoy a glass of local wine. The buildings and streets are simply lovely, with plenty of vegetation and beautiful architectural work to enjoy.

Address: St. Helena, CA

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7: Ojai

Flickr/Ken Lund

Ojai, named after a Native American word for “nest,” is tucked away into a valley between various hills and mountains. The beautiful views from the town create an ideal setting for a small-town California vacation! Throughout the town, visitors can find boutique hotels, hiking opportunities, farmer’s markets, retreats, and more.

Organic enthusiasts will enjoy the sustainability and health focus in the town, spiritualists will revel in the culture, and everyone will love the aesthetic appeal of the town’s buildings. From lovely private homes to art galleries bursting with color, there is beauty everywhere you look! When you visit, don’t forget to head out of town little ways to enjoy the lovely natural world of Ojai’s surrounding hills.

Address: Ojai, California

8: Sonoma


This California town is one of the largest on our list, but at 11,000 residents, it is still small by California standards. Sonoma was built as a Mexican colonial settlement, and you can even see remnants of this historical narrative today.

The town’s central plaza features colonial-style buildings, which are as valuable for their beauty as they are for their historical significance. To get a taste of old Sonoma, take a look at the Mission San Francisco Solano and visit the Sonoma Train Town Railroad. Today, the town is known primarily for its wine industry. Enjoy a glass of local wine while relaxing in the beautiful environs of Sonoma.

Address: Sonoma, California

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Also Read: Top 10 Weekend Trips for the Wine Lover

9: Nevada City

Nevada City
Flickr/Darin Barry

This is the perfect California small town to visit if you’re hoping to enjoy outdoor adventuring! Nevada City is a base camp of sorts for visitors heading to South Yuba River State Park, Tahoe National Forest, and High Sierra. It’s not far from the Lake Tahoe Ski Area, either. If you’d rather spend time in the town itself rather than adventuring into the wild, you’re in luck! The town has plenty to see and do, as well. You can spend your time at one of the many local events, or learn about the Gold Rush era.

Address: Nevada City, California

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10: Arcata


This beautiful small town in Northern California is just the place to go for a seaside shopping excursion. This town is markedly different from most towns in the United States. Not only does it have a majority of local government seats held by the Green Party, but it has a strong emphasis on organic food and local businesses. As a college town, the city has had college students serve on the city council and even as mayor! This culture has led to a unique feel within the town, making it an exciting place worth visiting.

Address: Arcata, California

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