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25 Prettiest towns and cities in California

Danish style building, Solvang

California is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful states in the US and I am proud to call it home for the last decade. While Los Angeles and San Francisco may be the most famous cities in California and the United States, the state has many other pretty cities and towns that you do not want to miss! In fact, I love these other cities and towns more than the big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. If you visit California, I highly recommend taking a short detour and visit some of these prettiest cities and towns, most of them only a few hours away from major airports.

Carmel-by-the-sea

Woman standing in front of German style building

Carmel-by-the-sea

Carmel-by-the-sea

Carmel, California

Carmel is 2hrs away from San Francisco and is one of my favorite little towns to getaway from the hustle of Silicon Valley. It is a beautiful oceanside town with lots of boutique stores, nice restaurants and German style architecture. Beautiful coastline of Big Sur is also only a few miles away if you’d like to explore nature.

Things to do

  • Ocean Avenue and Downtown stroll
  • Sunset at Carmel Beach
  • Big Sur drive 

Santa Barbara

View of Santa Barbara from Courthouse

Santa Barbara is easily one of my favorite cities to visit in California. It is a pretty city with miles long beaches, Spanish colonial architecture and interesting history. It is a perfect weekend trip from Los Angeles or San Francisco. Check out my epic day trip guide to visiting Santa Barbara with lots of details about things to do. If you’d like to snap some photos for the gram, check out my post about Instagrammable places in Santa Barbara.

Things to do

  • Santa Barbara Courthouse and clock tower
  • Mission Santa Barbara
  • State Street stroll
  • Stearn’s Wharf

Solvang

Danish style building, Solvang

Solvang

Solvang is a cute Danish town in the Santa Ynez valley, about 30-45 minutes away from Santa Barbara. If you want a feel of Europe (Denmark) in California, Solvang is a must visit. There are many Danish inspired bakeries and restaurants and makes for a great day trip.

Things to do

  • Dining and shopping at the boutique stores
  • Wine tasting in Santa Ynez Valley

Capitola

Woman in Capitola beach colorful homes

Capitola Beach

Woman sitting at Wharf

Capitola Village

Not many people (even in the San Francisco Bay Area) visit this gem of a town. It is an oceanside town just a few miles from Santa Cruz and is so pretty with colorful buildings, a wharf and beautiful sunset views.

Things to do

  • Capitola beach
  • Capitola Wharf
  • Colorful homes at the Capitola beach

Paso Robles

Pubic library in Paso Robles

Paso Robles

Paso Robles is another favorite city of mine and is an underrated region in my opinion. It is surrounded by incredible wineries and has a downtown with great restaurants. Right between LA and SF, it makes for an awesome weekend trip from either Southern or Northern California.

Things to do

  • Downtown dining and shopping
  • Wine tasting
  • Paso Robles field of lights (open during winter)

Mendocino

Mendocino Headlands State Park

Mendocino Headlands State Park

Mendocino is a charming little town in the Northern Californian coast about 2 hours from San Francisco. Amazing ocean views, beautiful gardens and Victorian B&Bs of Mendocino make you forget you are in California. Mendocino is also a perfect weekend road trip from San Francisco. The road trip from San Francisco to Mendocino takes you through majestic redwoods and the wine region of Anderson Valley. 

Things to do

  • Mendocino Headlands State Park
  • Mendocino Botanical Gardens
  • Wine tasting in Anderson Valley

Sausalito

Sausalito is in Marin County just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. You can stop here for a quick bite after visiting the Golden Gate Bridge or spend a day checking out the marina, houseboats or walk by the water. 

Things to do

  • Sausalito Yatch Club
  • Boardwalk and boat homes
  • Battery Spencer and Golden Gate views

Napa

Darioush winery

Darioush winery

Rolling vineyards, world renown wineries and lively Downtown make Napa a great escape from the city. Some fun things to do in Napa in addition to wine tasting include Napa Downtown riverwalk, shopping in Yountville, Napa Valley wine train and biking the Silverado trail.

Things to do

  • Wine tasting
  • Downtown Napa stroll and dining
  • Visit Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga
  • Bike the Silverado trail

Sonoma

Jacuzzi Winery fountain and pink flowers pot

If you don’t care for the formal atmosphere of Napa, head to Sonoma. Sonoma’s downtown is filled is great brunch and dinner spots and wine tasting bars. There are also plenty of wineries just a stone’s throw away from the Downtown.

Things to do

  • Wine tasting
  • Brunch or lunch in Downtown Sonoma

Healdsburg

Healdsburg wineries

Healdsburg wineries

Healdsburg in Sonoma County is another quaint town if you would like to spend a quiet weekend surrounded by wineries. Nearby Dry Creek Valley has great wineries that produce excellent Zinfandel and you could spend some time at Lake Sonoma if you like being in nature. Check out my detailed blogpost about Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley.

Things to do

  • Wine tasting in Dry Creek Valley
  • Boutique shopping and dining in the downtown
  • Lake Sonoma

Sutter Creek

Even wonder what the gold mining area of the 1800s looks like now? Head to Sutter Creek in Amador Valley. It is a small town with wine tasting nearby and mining tours if you are interested!

Things to do

  • Gold Mine trail
  • Downtown stroll
  • Wine tasting in Amado Valley

Redding

Sun Dial Bridge, Redding

We stopped by Redding on our way to Crater Lake and enjoyed it so much. The main attraction in Redding is the Sacramento River that flows through the city and is a great place to kayak, boat or just relax on a hot summer day. Check out my detailed blogpost about Redding and visiting Crater Lake.

Things to do

  • Sacramento River trail
  • Sun Dial bridge

Palo Alto

Colorful Moroccan style door

Palo Alto

Palo Alto – the home of Silicon Valley’s rich and famous! Did you know that Palo Alto is also beautiful to explore? Grab a bite in the vibrant downtown, check out the beautiful Stanford Campus, Cantor Arts Center or hike one of the many trails in Palo Alto.

Things to do

  • Stanford Campus
  • Arizona Cactus Garden
  • Palo Alto Downtown

Los Gatos

Geese at Vasona Lake, Los Gatos

Vasona Lake Park, Los Gatos

Los Gatos is one of my favorite town’s in Silicon Valley. A must visit is the Vasona Lake Park with many trails and water activities. Los Gatos Downtown also has several restaurants and eateries as well along with beautiful architecture.

Things to do

  • Vasona Lake Park
  • Downtown Los Gatos 
  • Wine tasting in Santa Cruz mountains

Santa Cruz

Coastal views, Santa Cruz

Coastal views, Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is the closest to a warm sunny beach town in Northern California. The Beach Boardwalk is a fun place to hang out. I also recommend visiting Wilder Ranch State Park for beautiful ocean views and trails.

Things to do

  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
  • Wilder Ranch State Park
  • Natural Bridges State Park

San Diego

Balboa Park pond San Diego

Balboa Park pond, San Diego

San Diego is the biggest city of the list here and definitely a must visit. There are so many things to do in San Diego, thanks to incredible parks, museums, beaches, warm sunny weather and hip neighborhoods. I highly recommend spending a long weekend or more in San Diego to visit all the gems. Check out my blogposts on how to spend 3 days in San Diego and best restaurants to eat and drink in San Diego for more details.

Things to do

  • Balboa Park
  • Coronado Island
  • Sunset Cliffs Park

La Jolla

Childrens pool La Jolla

Childrens’ pool, La Jolla

La Jolla is a town just a few miles away from San Diego and is a must visit on your trip to San Diego. The downtown is full of boutique stores and restaurants with great sunset views. La Jolla cove and Children’s pool are great places to visit if you love being near water.

Things to do

  • La Jolla Cove
  • Children’s Pool

Santa Monica

Bougainvillea covered pink building in Santa Monica, CA

Pink Bougainvillea, Santa Monica

Have you even visited California or Los Angeles if you have not been to the famous Santa Monica? Most famous attractions in Santa Monica are the pier, the Promenade, trendy cafes and beaches. Santa Monica is a must visit if you want to get a feel of sunny California that you see in Hollywood movies!

Things to do

  • Santa Monica Pier and Beach
  • Downtown Santa Monica and Promenade

Venice

Venice sign

Venice, CA

Venice is a few miles south of Santa Monica and is also a great city to check out if you are in the area. There are many cool cafes in Venice. Venice Beach is also a great place to spend the day. Also check out the famous Venice canals, a beautiful neighborhood with canals that resemble Venice in Italy.

Things to do

  • Venice Beach
  • Venice Canals

Avalon, Catalina Island

view of Avalon, Catalina Island

Avalon, Catalina Island

Visiting Avalon in Catalina Island makes you feel like you are in the French Riviera. For a romantic getaway, take a ferry to the Island and stay in Avalon for a couple of nights. It is a great place to visit for nature lovers as well with lots of fun adventures, hiking and water activities.

Things to do

  • Catalina Island Museum
  • Green Pleasure Pier
  • Outdoor activities like Jeep tours, hiking

Long Beach

Queen Mary ship at Long Beach, California

RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach

Long Beach is a beautiful city south of Los Angeles. It is home to RMS Queen Mary. You can take tours of the ship or even stay there. Also take a stroll along the boardwalk and the cute neighborhoods.

Things to do

  • Queen Mary
  • Long Beach Waterfront

Laguna Beach

ocean views hike

Laguna Beach hike

Orange County is one of my favorite places in California. Laguna Beach in particular is a beautiful coastal city and a must visit in Orange County. The main beach and the surrounding downtown area is a major attraction in Laguna Beach. I also love 1000 steps beach and hiking for great ocean views.

Things to do

  • Downtown stroll and the main beach
  • 1000 steps beach
  • Hiking coastal trails

Palm Springs

Palm trees in Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Palm Springs is a desert oasis in the Sonoran desert in Southern California. It is full of boutique hotels with gorgeous pools, spas, golf courses and has many interesting things to do. You just need to time your vacation as summer in Palm Springs can be too hot.

Things to do

  • Palm Springs aerial tram
  • Indian Canyons
  • El Paseo shopping district

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach ocean views

Pismo Beach

About half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Pismo beach is a small beach town with beautiful ocean views, a pier and sand dunes. I love the seafood and taco stands in Pismo Beach.

Things to do

  • Pismo Beach Pier
  • ATV ride at Ocean dunes
  • Beach sunsets

Cambria

Cambria is another small coastal town in Central California. It is a quiet, peaceful town and a perfect getaway from the chaos of the city. There are many beaches and hiking trails around Cambria to explore. Hearst Castle is a stone’s throw away from Cambria and is a great place to visit.

Things to do

  • Moonstone beach
  • Elephant seal overlook
  • Hearst Castle

*****

Have you been to any of these cities and towns in California? If you did, what was your favorite place? Let me know in the comments below! Also let me know if I missed any other town or city!

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Prettiest cities and towns in California

25 Prettiest cities and towns in California

Aswani-Kurra-A-Charming-Escape

Hi there!

I am Aswani Kurra. I am an engineer, dreamer and part-time wanderlust, writer and wine lover. I always had an urge to write, create and travel. So I created this space to satisfy my creative itch and combine all my skills to help you plan your Charming Escape.

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