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California's Coolest Art Towns
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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.

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7 min read

April 23, 2021

From the sandy shores of sunny SoCal to the fog-shrouded slopes of the North Coast, world-renown artistic towns await your exploration. Inspired by the landscapes, people, and culture, the Golden State will encourage you to get in touch with your creative side. From museums and music to film and photography, California’s art locales have it all. For your next getaway, stroll through one of the Golden State’s charming art towns—there’s a world of magnifique awaiting. These are the artsy cities to visit next in every region of California.

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.

 

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.

Mendocino

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 

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?

Carmel-by-the-Sea 

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 

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

The serene mountain town of Idyllwild has its own vibe. Rated as one of the best art towns in the nation, Idyllwild’s SoCal charm is embodied in the form of music and art. As with many artsy cities, the town boasts art galleries and museums.

You’ll discover more than a dozen galleries and a series of art walks lining the streets of Idyllwild. Get in touch with your artistic side and check out the hidden gem Artspresso Art Gallery and Idyllwild Living Room Gallery. For the high schoolers in the family, the  Idyllwild Arts is a great art program occurring during summer (open during normal circumstances). The academy is a creative collective striving for change through the artistic medium. Not only does it run top-notch educational programs, but it also boasts year-round concerts and exhibitions.

The Art Alliance of Idyllwild is all about creating a community of imaginative minds. Intending to support artistic culture in the area, the Alliance is a good place for local artists to start their careers. Given the artsy vibe, Idyllwild is definitely on our list for towns best-fit for upcoming artists.

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 

You’d think that resorts and spas are what makes Palm Springs iconic—but did you know that the city is the mecca of desert art? Known for an electric fusion of Hollywood legacy and contemporary art, Palm Springs is made for those who appreciate the finer things.

This paradisical resort city boasts a thriving art scene. Its leading cultural institution is the Palm Springs Art Museum (open during normal circumstances). Hosting national shows and rotating collections, the cultural center is also home to a marvelous sculpture garden.

Are you a midcentury modern architecture enthusiast? Cruise around the neighborhoods of Palm Springs to see what makes this city recognizable. If you’re visiting from February to April, check out Desert X—a contemporary art exhibit that transforms unusual locations into an open-air gallery.  

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