The California Mountain Towns That Are Too Beautiful to Miss

The California Mountain Towns That Are Too Beautiful to Miss

By California.com
October 15, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

Looking for a change of scenery? California’s mountain towns offer the perfect solution. Feel the same inspiration as one of the Golden State's most iconic Californians—naturalist and mountaineer John Muir—as you explore the authentic towns and aesthetic villages across the scenic landscape. Discover new horizons as you get to know the best mountain towns in California. Plan a Thanksgiving getaway to the tranquil mountain ranges of the Golden State to get together with family; invite your sweetheart on an unforgettable Christmas trip to California’s best ski resorts; or take a rejuvenating break from the city to breathe in fresh alpine air and meditate in the mountains. 

The Most Peaceful Mountain Towns in Northern California

Savor the fiery sunset above the lake in breathtaking South Lake Tahoe.

South Lake Tahoe

Find tranquillity in South Lake Tahoe—or in any of the most underrated small towns near Lake Tahoe. Located a two hour drive away from Sacramento, the largest alpine lake in North America seems to have magical powers, making its residents and visitors feel relaxed and peaceful in seconds. Head lakeside to take in the calming views of crystal-clear waters, or hike along alpine meadows and allow the sweet smell of wildflowers to lull you into a state of serenity. 

Go wild and free by backpacking through the Castle Crags Wilderness, or check in at the Landing Tahoe Resort and Spa for a luxurious stay in South Lake Tahoe. Discover fine dining at Evan's American Gourmet Cafe; explore the region's adrenaline-pumping activities including parasailing and mountain biking; and enjoy quiet evenings at Emerald Bay and Pope Beach—all within 20 minute's drive from your hotel. Make Lake Tahoe your new favorite escape plan when you're in need of a weekend away. Take a detour north of Lake Tahoe to stop by Truckee and meander around the town's art galleries and historic sites before heading back home.

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Enjoy a watery slice of haven in Mammoth Lakes—the mountain town that is equally wonderful during every season.

Mammoth Lakes 

At 7,800 feet above sea level, Mammoth Lakes is best known for being a popular skiing and snowboarding destination, but it has much more to offer than you might think. Tucked between Yosemite National Park and the Sierra and Inyo National Forests, the region features hundreds of miles of hiking trails that'll push you to your limits. Rejuvenate along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada in one of the most popular California mountain towns regardless of the season.  

Hike throughout Devil’s Postpile National Monument to witness natural wonders including the columnar basalt formations of Devil’s Postpile, the 101-foot plunge of Rainbow Falls, and the spring-fed Sotcher Lake. Next, bike the 5.2-mile Mammoth Rock Trail from Sherwins Meadow to the old mines at the edge of the Lakes Basin for a heart-racing adventure through Sherwin Range. Then nourish your body with a plate of homemade fettuccine pasta with pistachio pesto, squash, slow-roasted tomatoes, and mushrooms at Morrison’s before making yourself comfortable at Mammoth Mountain Chalets.

Willow Creek

Ride along the Trinity River National Scenic Highway (Route 299) from Redding to the “Bigfoot Capital of the World” to explore the Six Rivers National Forest. Make yourself at home in this small town hidden atop a rugged mountain and let the ambiance lift your spirits. 

Follow the call of the mountains, rivers, and forests and take up the quest of finding Bigfoot. Then visit Willow Creek China Flat Museum’s Bigfoot exhibit if your search doesn’t bear any fruits. Fish for salmon along the Trinity banks and picnic at Creekside Park. Join Redwoods and Rivers for a whitewater rafting adventure along the Trinity, Klamath, Cal Salmon, Eel, or Smith River and bond with family and friends before pitching your tent at East Fork Campground. Stop by Trinity Herbals and Wellness Center for natural and organic herbs, spices, tea blends, supplements, books, essential oils, and aromatherapy products to remind you of the healing powers of one of the most mysterious small mountain towns in California. If you can't get enough of Bigfoot, visit the Bigfoot Discovery Museum in Felton—one of the lesser-known towns in the Santa Cruz Mountains that's surrounded by coastal redwoods, live oaks, and douglas fir.

Southern California Mountain Towns You Need to Visit

Big Bear Lake is one of the most popular mountain towns. With stunning views, pristine wilderness, and seasonal activities, it's easy to see why.

Big Bear Lake 

At an elevation of 6,752 feet above sea level, Big Bear Lake is one of the most popular mountain towns in Southern California. While the mountains average 66 inches of snow between December and February, the remainder of the year brings many other exciting activities. 

Spot bald eagles as you hike and bike through the pine and oak forests surrounding Big Bear Lake. Set up camp at the Serrano Campground, then fish for your dinner near the Big Bear Solar Observatory and watch as the sun sets over the lake, transforming the sky into a crimson red shade.

After breakfast at Amangela's Sandwich and Bagel House the next morning, join a Big Bear Jeep Experience for an exciting jeep tour through Big Bear Valley. Next up is a visit to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo where injured wildlife from the San Bernardino Mountains are taken care of before they are released back into the wild. Savor scallops sautéed in fresh garlic, bell peppers, mushrooms, artichokes, black olives, and capers at Captain's Anchorage before stopping by Bear Essentials for thoughtful souvenirs for your co-workers. Make sure to explore the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains before making your way home.  

Tucked south of the historic Gold mining town of Julian, Lake Cuyamaca is a hidden gem you won't want to miss.

Julian

Halfway between San Diego and the Salton Sea, between the Volcan Mountains and the Cuyamacas, the historic gold mining town of Julian takes you back in time to another era. While a fleck of gold found in a nearby creek in the 1870’s led to San Diego’s first gold rush, sadly, there wasn't much gold to be found in Julian, so the settlers focused on farming. 

Today, Julian is one of the quaintest mountain cities in California, offering an authentic, laid-back lifestyle for locals and visitors alike. Go on a self-guided historic walking tour and discover sites such as The Eagle Mining Co., Julian Pioneer Museum, and Santa Ysabel School at Witch Creek. Allow Julian’s natural beauty to inspire personal growth and let the tranquil backdrop help you recharge. Stroll through the many orchards and pick your own produce from century-old apple and pear trees. Gaze upon the town’s dark sky and pristine views of the Milky Way before falling gently asleep in your suite at the Apple Tree Inn.

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