November 01, 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.
From undulating coastlines and striking deserts to the fast-paced buzz of the big cities, the Golden State has it all. Yet its hidden gems are found in the places you'd least expect. Escape the crowds and experience the relaxed vibes of charming Southern California small towns.
Whether you're looking for a quick road trip from L.A. or a weekend getaway close to San Diego, prepare yourself for a transcendental journey as you venture to coastal cities, off-the-grid desert communities, and pastoral towns. The majestic small cities in Southern California await you.
Quaint Towns in Southern California
In need of a small-town escape? Ojai has everything you could ask for and more. Known for its charming downtown, cotton-candy sunsets, and upscale resorts, Ojai is truly divine. Considered one of the best small towns in Southern California, Ojai provides an exciting array of outdoor activities, including golf, tennis, cycling, camping, fishing, and hiking. You can also sign up for offroading tours with Cloud Climber Jeep Tours, which provides tailored sightseeing opportunities in open-air Jeeps; drive on dirt trails and country roads to see the town and experience gorgeous views. For the ultimate retreat, check in to the luxurious Ojai Valley Inn—home to rejuvenating massages, a farmhouse, a golf course, pools, and tennis courts. You'll love every second of your stay.
Known for its Danish-style architecture, the small city of Solvang transports visitors to a whole other country. The streets are decorated with multicolored Scandinavian-like buildings and several doppelganger sculptures of those found in Copenhagen. The Danish food in Solvang isn’t to be missed, either, especially the Danish Aebleskiver and sausage at Aebleskiver Cafe—the go-to spot for this famous sweet treat. For families with kids, the Solvang Trolley is sure to be an unforgettable ride. The historic, wooden horse carriage reflects Solvang’s rich culture and history. Antiquity lovers should head to the boutiques and shops packed with interesting finds. Stop by A Piece Of The Past, too, to pick up souvenirs for your family and friends back home. For the motorcycle enthusiasts, head to the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum and admire the collection of vintage and rare motorcycles and European race bikes.
One of the most underrated small towns in California is Wrightwood. Sitting high and mighty in the majestic San Gabriel Mountains, this town is within close proximity to L.A., making it the perfect escape for Angelenos looking to play and relax amid the snow. The town may seem quiet and calm on the outside, but don’t let that fool you! From June to November, Wrightwood is buzzing with activities—from the Mountain Classic Car Show to the Chili Cook-Off and Salsa Contest, there’s an event for everyone. Adrenaline junkies, make your way to Ziplines at Pacific Crest for an adventure-filled day; not to brag, but Ziplines is home to two of the most thrilling zipline courses in the nation, so you don’t want to miss out.
This small town located northwest of Santa Barbara boasts lovely restaurant options and top-notch art galleries, making the ideal place for a laid-back afternoon spent shopping and feasting at gourmet eateries. Gallery Los Olivos presents more than 40 local artists’ works; admire landscape and watercolor paintings and chiseled wood carvings. Shop at the Los Olivos General Store for high-quality, locally made goods such as jewelry, candles, and bath and body products. End the evening by checking in to The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern and enjoying a delectable dinner at the on-site restaurant. The sheep’s milk ricotta with burnt orange marmalade on toast is a definite must-have.
For your upcoming road trip from L.A., cruise to Kernville, one of the quaint towns in Southern California. Boasting spectacular spots for biking, hiking, rafting, and camping, this Kern County town will have you planning your next visit in no time—with a population of 1,400 residents, Kernville's small-town vibe is hard to match. Nothing beats a short boat ride on one of California's gorgeous rivers and lakes, and Lake Isabella doesn’t fail to meet expectations. The lake's just 10 minutes from town, and local shops like the French Gulch Marina offer great boat rental options, so spend a day on the water and soak in the relaxing ambience.
small beach towns in southern California
Getting to the small city of Avalon is a fun trip in itself. Located on Catalina Island, the only way to reach Avalon is via plane or boat. Besides enjoying the oceanside vibes and lounging on the pristine shores, spend your day meandering along Avalon's Crescent Avenue, the main drag in town featuring everything from local shops to architectural wonders like the Serpentine Wall. Forever remember your weekend by bringing back scented shower gels, moisturizers, and other bath necessities from the Island Spa Shoppe. Feast on locally caught fish and fresh produce from Avalon Grille before checking in to the beachfront Bellanca Hotel.
This coastal town located north of San Luis Obispo boasts plenty of activities to fill a weekend. Given all the opportunities for kayaking, fishing, biking, and surfing, there's no time to waste in Morro Bay. The most famous landmark here is Morro Rock, which rises 581 feet above sea level; although it's unclimbable, visitors search for peregrine falcons nestled atop the rock. When you're done seeing the sights, savor some local grub—the food in Morro Bay deserves its own Instagram page. Stop by Frankie and Lola’s Front Street Cafe or The Galley Seafood Grill for delicious fare. Then, grab your surfboards at Wavelengths Surf Shop and head to the cool ocean waters. You'll find yourself in the company of otters, sea lions, and if you're lucky, a dolphin or two.
Just south of Santa Barbara, the seaside city of Carpinteria combines pristine beaches with the ever-so-coveted small-town vibe. One of the best small beach towns in Southern California, Carpinteria pays tribute to the state fruit by hosting an annual avocado festival in October. But there's plenty to do here year-round. To explore your dining and shopping options, head to Linden Avenue. Then, stroll down to Carpinteria State Beach and relax to the gentle lolling of the waves before watching the epic sunset. Cap off your Carpinteria adventures with a meal at Giannfranco's Trattoria or Zookers Restaurant.