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The 13 Coolest Cities in California
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The 13 Coolest Cities in California

Whether you’re moving, exploring, or planning a ghost town expedition, the Golden State's cities keeps you on your toes.


5 min read

July 03, 2021

Setting out to see the state is exciting, dizzying, and overwhelming. The number of weird cities, art hubs, and coastal beauties won’t make life boring—that we promise—but they can make choosing the right destinations a difficult task. Our advice? Opt for the coolest cities around. Whether you’re moving, exploring, or planning a ghost town expedition, the Golden State keeps you on your toes. What’s cooler than that?

We're going to say this upfront: living in Lake Tahoe means being on vacation all year. Where do we sign up?

The Coolest Places to Live

1.Greater Lake Tahoe Area

The rumors are true—Lake Tahoe is as magical as the photos make it look. With crystal clear sapphire waters, dizzying peaks, and countless outdoor activities, this alpine gem is the coolest place to visit in California. There’s skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, rock climbing, and plenty of hikes to satisfy your wanderlust. So imagine doing all that and more all year round—now that’s uber-cool. 

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2. Los Angeles

This one should come as no surprise. The City of Angels is such a draw that many are calling it the coolest place to live in the Golden State—and who are we to disagree? 106 colleges within just 50 miles, two major basketball teams, unparalleled dining options, and 300 days of pure sunshine; moving here is nothing short of awesome.

Located a few hours south of Los Angeles is the sun-drenched city of San Diego, easily one of the most laid-back and beautiful places in the state.

3. San Diego

Often referred to as the birthplace of California, San Diego was the first site visited by Europeans on what we now call the West Coast. Follow in their footsteps and make the move—you won’t regret it. Sunny days, near-perfect weather (averaging between the mid-60s to mid-70s year-round), and attractions like Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, and SeaWorld; consider us packed and ready for this adventure.

Fun fact: Davis is home to the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame, which has a collection of antique bikes and trophies.

The Hippest Cities for Young Adults 

4. Davis

Many say that Davis is the cheaper version of Silicon Valley. And while there’s some truth to this statement, this hip city offers so much more. Starting out as a college town with a population of around 69,000, Davis is now a budding tech hub filled with bike paths and lush greenery. There are also a handful of galleries and performing arts venues—it really puts the cherry on top of that uni-tech-arts blend.

5. Redwood City

Only an hour away from San Francisco, Redwood City offers the typical college graduate a hefty salary. It’s also a young town, with most residents being 20-34 years in age. Redwood City has a vibrant downtown and is known as the entertainment hub for Bay Area residents—all the hipsters and cool kids come here on the weekends. 

Many tech companies are headquartered in Santa Clara, and the Intel Museum is one of the places where you can learn about technological milestones.

6. Santa Clara

Another Silicon Valley showstopper, Santa Clara is where Intel is headquartered, a multinational corporation ranked by Forbes as the fourth “happiest company for young professionals”. Santa Clara has no shortage of hipster coffee shops; you’ll have plenty of options to choose from on your way to your awesome position in the tech industry. Oh, and before we forget—EMC, the number one on that list by Forbes, also has a branch in Santa Clara.

The Coolest Small Towns 

7. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Headed to Big Sur from S.F.? Make sure to stop by one of California's coolest small towns, the pleasant Carmel-by-the-Sea. The name alone says this place is charming, and you’ll find it rings true as soon as you visit all the enchanting gardens and storybook cottages. However, that’s not to say that Carmel-by-the-Sea doesn’t have room for upscale living. High-end boutique shopping, chilled oyster dinners, and strolls down Ocean Avenue are all part of the typical day-to-day too.

Solvang frequently attracts tourists from the Nordic countries and has been the subject of several Danish royal visits like Prince Henrik in 2011.

8. Solvang

Fancy a Eurotrip in Southern California? If your answer is ja, head to postcard-perfect Solvang located in the Santa Ynez Valley. This near-ideal replica of a Danish village is the getaway of your Nordic dreams. Shop for wooden clogs, munch on aebleskiver (think donut holes), and take selfies in front of the iconic windmill. Vi ses! 

Bodie went into decline in the subsequent decades of the Gold Rush and came to be described as a ghost town by 1915.

The Coolest Ghost Towns 

9. Bodie 

Silent streets, abandoned homes, newspaper clippings from the 1800s—at Bodie, everything feels like a Western movie set. But it wasn’t always like this; this place was once a real Gold Rush boomtown. With time, Bodie frazzled; its remnants are currently shown only on self-guided tours. Walk through weathered buildings, old-timey trucks, gas pumps, and wooden churches as the desert winds blow through this once flourishing town.

10. Calico

Fun fact—Calico’s rise was spurred not by the discovery of gold, but rather by massive amounts of silver ore. At its peak, the town had a vibrant city life and 22 saloons. But as mining declined and the price of silver fell, Calico was practically abandoned by 1929. Nowadays, you can go on ghost tours, historical railroad tours, gold panning experiences, and indulge yourself in a little bit of mountain biking and camping.

Humboldt County's Shelter Cove is located on the Golden State's Lost Coast where the King Range meets the Pacific Ocean.

The Coolest Beach Towns 

11. Shelter Cove 

Shelter Cove is by far the most out-of-the-way coastal town you’ll find in NorCal. Getting here is a bit of a drive—you have to backtrack from Highway 101 and go along a winding 25-mile road. But it’s all totally worth the effort once you arrive at Shelter Cove. Incredible tide pools, meandering bike trails, and surreal black sand beaches add to the coastal town’s beauty; you can even stargaze here. Shelter Cove is pretty quiet and there are no street lights, so strike out a little outside of town and bask in the celestial glory.

12. Ventura 

Situated between Carpinteria and Oxnard, the harbor village of Ventura is a fishing paradise. The quaint beach town is dotted with shops, galleries, restaurants, and lots of waterfront activities. A hallmark of Ventura is Channel Island National Park’s Visitor’s Center that features a viewing tower where you can spot up to 445 species of birds. When in Ventura, try your luck at stand-up paddle boarding and jet ski with adorable sea lions—don’t forget to check out the Ventura Village Carousel. 

13. Venice Beach

An artist’s enclave since the 1960s, Venice Beach is full of vibrant, eclectic people rollerblading, biking, and body painting on the boardwalk. And in case you needed more proof that this is one of the coolest beach towns in the state, Venice Beach is a food mecca waiting to be discovered. The Aussie-owned Great White is perfect for breakfast burritos, OSPI for pasta, and Michelin-starred David Myers’ Adrift for burgers and shakes.

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