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The Most Underrated Small Towns in California

The Most Underrated Small Towns in California

With charming downtowns, beautiful scenery, and outdoor adventure, these are some of the best small towns in California. Team


4 min read

December 26, 2023

The Golden State is renowned for its diverse landscapes. With undulating coastlines, towering mountain peaks, dry desert expanses, and dense forests, the state's beauty often lies off the beaten path. While populated cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles tend to receive all the attention, the small towns in California can go unnoticed. But there’s plenty to explore and enjoy in these neat little small cities and California, and there’s, in fact, a whole list of underrated small locales to explore in the Golden State. Let’s take a look at the best small towns in California that are seriously underrated.

The Best Small Towns in California 


Nestled in Placer County and known for its Gold Rush history, Auburn is a sleepy town that deserves recognition for its cozy charm. The town was founded in 1888 and is located west of the Sierra Nevada on Highway 80 between Sacramento and Truckee. As a cool town with a vibrant history, Auburn offers a beautiful old quarter filled with lots of fun stuff to do. There are mom-and-pop boutiques, cafés, and wonderful restaurants featuring international cuisine from Chinese to Italian. The town is also lined with miles of running and biking trails, so there’s something for the outdoorsy folks as well. This small town in California is an idyllic getaway with a little bit of everything.

Auburn is a beautiful small town that accentuates the glorious nature within California.


Considered the oldest seaside resort along the West Coast, Capitola has been a go-to destination for over a century. Sitting on Monterey Bay, this little beach town is just 40 miles north of Monterey and is well known for its colorful beachfront homes and beautiful Esplanade Park on the seaside. Good weather, ideal surf conditions, and endless natural beauty are enough reasons to take a trip to this vibrant destination between Santa Cruz and Monterey, but add in the town’s quaint shops, tasty bites, and sandy beaches, and you’ll never want to leave. All these amenities come together to make Capitola one of those small towns in California you don’t want to miss. 

Capitola is a vibrant town steeped with history and unmatched ocean views.

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Situated about an hour east of San Francisco, Danville is the perfect family-friendly destination still within reach of the City by the Bay. Danville is famous regionally for its many annual community events, including the Danville farmer’s market, holiday fairs, and cool cultural events where you can learn to dance. Danville also sports dozens of incredible eateries, opportunities to explore the outdoors, and a refreshing lack of tourists, making this East Bay locale one of California's most underrated small towns.

Escape the bustle of the Bay Area's biggest cities by settling down in Danville, an underrated small town.


Ferndale is easily one of the coolest small towns in Northern California. Best known for its artisanal dairy producers, Ferndale is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and score some creamy cheeses or heavenly ice cream. One of Ferndale’s hidden gems is its Victorian Village, a downtown quarter filled with colorful Victorian buildings of all kinds. Peruse the village’s wide array of independently owned artisanal shops and enjoy the slow pace of life at unique vintage spots such as Golden Gait Mercantile, an Old West-style general store perfect for buying gifts and souvenirs. Once you’ve had your fill of the local arts and crafts scene, take a scenic drive along the Lost Coast and explore the nearby beaches and verdant landscapes that make NorCal so beautiful. It won’t be long before you appreciate why Ferndale is one of California's most underrated small towns.

Ferndale is another Northern California town that embraces its unique history.


This superbly scenic small town in Northern California is just across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco. Sausalito is famous for its magnificent views of Richardson Bay and its iconic community of floating homes constructed by artists after WWII. As a delightful small beach town in California, Sausalito has its fair share of gourmet oceanside eateries and plenty of beautiful beachside promenades. Enjoy a day on the water, take a ferry to the Embarcadero, or hang out on the rustic wood boardwalk. No matter what you do, you will have a wonderful time in Sausalito.

For those looking for a beach town that isn't overly busy, look toward the cozy town of Sausalito.


Known for its vineyards and picturesque landscapes, Sonoma is an underrated small city in California that’s perfectly placed for the ultimate low-key Wine Country experience. Sonoma is between Napa and the Pacific Ocean, and it is, in many respects, a quintessential Northern California city. 

Take a tour through its scenic vineyards, enjoy healthy eats from one of Sonoma’s many farm-to-fork dining establishments, explore the local classical art gallery, take a ride on Sonoma’s magical miniature railway, and revel in the glorious natural landscape that makes this one of the most picturesque small cities in California.

The endless vineyards and beautiful rolling hills of Sonoma are a highlight among California's underrated small towns.


Out of all the small towns in Southern California, Ventura is a favorite among tourists and residents. One great thing about this chill Southern California town is that it’s reasonably within reach of the City of Angels. In fact, Ventura is on the Pacific Surfliner line, meaning it’s just a comfy two-hour train ride away for Angelinos who want to live car-free. 

SoCal is graced with bountiful scenes of arid natural beauty, and this small town in California is no exception. Like all great small beach towns in California, Ventura has a well-developed pier and promenade. Here you can take a delightful stroll, admire the deep blue Pacific coast, and maybe sample some local seafood dishes at one of Ventura's high-end seaside restaurants, including English fish and chips, succulent oysters, and much more. 

Ventura is a shining jewel in Southern California that features some incredible restaurants to visit.

If you love history, we recommend checking out the San Buenaventura Mission, a beautifully preserved Spanish Mission full of beautiful artifacts. For more natural attractions, head over to the Ventura botanical gardens for a serene stroll amongst the desert blooms, or set out for the Ojai Paved Bike path for a nine-mile ride through SoCal wilderness. 

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