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California's Coolest Art Towns

California's Coolest Art Towns

For your next getaway, stroll through one of the Golden State’s charming art towns—there’s a world of magnifique awaiting.


6 min read

March 22, 2024

From the sun-kissed beaches of Southern California to the misty hills of the North Coast, California is dotted with towns famous for their art, drawing inspiration from the state's stunning landscapes, diverse communities, and rich culture. California beckons you to embrace your artistic flair, offering a rich tapestry of experiences from museums and concerts to cinema and photography. Consider making your next escape to one of California's enchanting art-centric towns, where a world of wonder and creativity awaits. Explore the artistic gems across every corner of the state for an unforgettable cultural journey.

The Artsy NorCal Cities to Visit Next

The most populous city in Butte County, Chico was founded in 1860. The nickname "City of Roses" appears on the Seal of the City of Chico.



Not far from San Francisco is a can’t-miss NorCal town with a burgeoning art scene. Nicknamed “The City of Roses'', Chico is one of the best cities for modern art lovers. The charming art city is also home to beautiful almond orchards and rice fields. 1078 Gallery is Chico's claim to fame when it comes to the art scene. Featuring exhibitions of contemporary and experimental pieces, the gallery invites you to marvel and reflect on cutting-edge artworks.

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At the Chico Art Center—an abandoned railway turned-gallery—art lovers are offered plenty of space to put on shows, host classes, and fuel their creativity in every way. With seasonal exhibitions throughout the year, the art center welcomes visitors to get in touch with their artistic side. The California State University, Chico invites students to host musical and theatrical performances. 

There have been plenty of TV shows and movies fully or partially filmed in Mendocino, including East of Eden starring James Dean.


Travel 150 miles north of San Francisco and you’ll arrive at Mendocino—a small NorCal town known for its cliffside trails and beaches. Though you could spend all day strolling the sandy shores, the art scene will leave you in a heavenly dream. Don’t believe us? See for yourself. As one of the best towns for artists, Mendocino is the perfect spot for landscape painters—the breathtaking ocean views along the rugged North Coast are the kind of inspo you’ve been looking for.

The Mendocino Art Center boasts up-and-coming West Coast talent on beautifully landscaped grounds. Home to roughly 150 annual workshops, the center is where imagination comes to life. The Artist’s Co-op Gallery of Mendocino invites connoisseurs to relish in the fusion of old-and-new. Representing local artists since 1988, the gallery kickstarts up-and-coming visionaries’ careers. Hence when it comes to the best small towns for artists to live in, Mendocino is a great option. 

Ukiah is home to several hidden gems in Northern California. The City of 10,000 Buddhas and Vectorr Train Prototype are both found here.


Ukiah is one of Northern California’s artsiest cities. Having long attracted creative minds, Ukiah is one of those towns that makes you swoon every time you visit. Known as a pedestrian’s paradise, Ukiah puts the “walk” in “art walk”. Each month, the city hosts a First Friday Art Walk (hosted under normal circumstances)—a top-notch educational program for art enthusiasts. Stroll Ukiah’s streets during this event and admire the gorgeous artwork on display.

Artsy Central Coast Cities to Visit Next

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a unique art town with its very own peculiarities. Did you know that there are no street addresses anywhere in this art town?


This charming Central Coast town will leave you craving for more. Misty mornings, calm sea breezes, and quaint cobblestone streets—Carmel-by-the-Sea is the place to be.

Perhaps what earns Carmel a coveted spot among the most artsy cities is its thriving music scene. Sunset Center Theater—a state-of-the-arts performing center—features 718 seats surrounded by stunning gothic architecture. Visitors from all over the state visit to enjoy musical and theatrical performances. Lush forests set the stage for thespian fun at the Outdoor Forest Theater. The amphitheater offers a mixture of Shakespeare and Broadway in a must-see open-air experience.

Classical music enthusiasts, summer may be your favorite time to visit Carmel. The world-renowned Carmel Bach Festival is held every summer (during normal circumstances). During this four-day paradisical event, soak up the sun as well as the music. The art town is also home to the Carmel Art Association—a renowned gallery founded in 1927. Boasting works from Carmel’s finest, the gallery is a fusion of stylistic installations and exhibitions. If you’re into photography, check out Ocean’s Edge Gallery, a contemporary art gallery home to seascapes, skyscapes, impressionism, and abstract art.

Visitors are attracted to not only the scenic Ojai Valley, but also to the abundant pottery studios, boutiques, and galleries.


Ojai is an enclave of artistic bliss. Downtown galleries, inspiring art programs, and a dynamic cultural center pack the city’s calendar with year-long exciting events. Start your art-centric journey in Downtown Ojai. The Ojai Art Center boasts an impressive array of local talent tucked away in a charming, quaint town.

Art-lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike gather at Libbey Park—home to the Ojai Storytelling Festival (held during normal circumstances). Whether you fancy music, theater, literature, or graphic art, Ojai is one of the best small towns for artists

Artsy SoCal Cities To Visit Next

Idyllwild is flanked by two large rocks, Tahquitz Peak and Suicide Rock. Both are popular rock climbing spots in Southern California.


Idyllwild, nestled in the mountains, offers a distinct artistic flair, recognized as one of the top art destinations in the country. This Southern California gem is pulsating with the rhythms of music and art, housing numerous galleries and museums that celebrate creativity.

Stroll through Idyllwild and you'll encounter over a dozen galleries and a collection of art walks that adorn the town's streets. Dive into the artistic atmosphere at local treasures like the Artspresso Art Gallery and the Idyllwild Living Room Gallery. For the young artists in your family, the Idyllwild Arts Academy provides an excellent summer program (operational under normal circumstances), fostering a community dedicated to artistic innovation and change. This academy not only offers exceptional educational opportunities but also hosts concerts and exhibitions throughout the year.

The Art Alliance of Idyllwild plays a pivotal role in nurturing a community of creative spirits, aiming to bolster the artistic scene in the region. It serves as a launching pad for local artists embarking on their careers. With its vibrant art scene, Idyllwild is undoubtedly a must-visit town for emerging artists and those passionate about the arts.

While Laguna Beach is famous for being a luxurious coastal vacation spot, the city has been known as an artist’s colony for more than 100 years.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is an OC favorite, and for good reason. Gorgeous scenery showcasing over 30 different coves and beaches, delectable gelato (hello Dolce Gelato), and of course endless art galleries make Laguna Beach an attractive place for all.

Laguna Beach became known for West Coast impressionism shortly after the artist’s colony was established in 1903. California landscape painting took off here, one plein-air canvas at a time. Laguna Beach is increasingly becoming one of the best cities for artists. Boasting arguably the best gallery scene in the nation, Laguna Beach nurtures small-town art like no other. The famous Laguna Art Museum is the heart and soul of the city’s art community. With a mission to collect, preserve, and exhibit the Golden State’s finest, the museum is an artistic tour de force.

The esteemed Peter Blake Gallery (open under normal circumstances) hosts local works boasting artistic excellence. A definitive source for modern and contemporary art, the gallery is centered on monochrome, concrete, and reductive abstraction. Minimalism, light, and space are the three main elements of the exhibits on display here.

La Jolla was deemed an art colony as early as 1894. With all the breathtaking galleries and festivals, the history of La Jolla makes total sense.

La Jolla 

Just 13 miles north of San Diego lies beautiful La Jolla—one of the best small towns for artists. Known as the “Jewel by the Sea'', the town is a breathtaking fusion of the au naturel and art scene magnifique.

The La Jolla Playhouse is where the magic happens. The Tony-award-winning theater hosts both classic and contemporary performances. This thespian paradise is a continuous source of pride for the art town and helps secure its longstanding status as the Golden State’s finest.

Hollywood's love affair with Palm Springs began when movie studios enforced a rule that stated the actors had to stay within a two hour radius.

Palm Springs 

While many associate Palm Springs with its luxurious resorts and spas, it's the city's vibrant desert art scene that truly sets it apart. Palm Springs is a melting pot of Hollywood glamour and cutting-edge art, making it a haven for those who cherish upscale cultural experiences.

The city is alive with artistic energy, highlighted by the prestigious Palm Springs Art Museum, which, under normal conditions, welcomes visitors to explore its national exhibitions and dynamic rotating collections. The museum also features an exquisite sculpture garden.

For fans of mid-century modern design, a tour through Palm Springs' neighborhoods reveals the architectural wonders that define the city's unique character. Additionally, if you find yourself in Palm Springs between February and April, don't miss Desert X, an innovative outdoor art exhibit that turns unconventional spaces into a sprawling gallery.

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