The Best Small Towns in California

California is known for the attractions around Los Angeles—like Hollywood and Disneyland—and San Francisco…and not much in-between. But while these urban focal points of SoCal and NorCal get lots of press, there are plenty of fantastic places to visit around the Golden State…especially if you like scenic small towns centered around Main Street.

Carmel by the Sea

Carmel by the Sea was founded in 1902, although the nearby mission of San Carlos Borromeo had already been there for a century. Carmel is known for its scenic arboreal streets stuffed with art galleries and restaurants. One of its star attractions is Carmel Beach, an excellent spot that’s best to visit in late summer and early fall.


Eureka is the largest city between San Francisco and Portland, perched on the coastline of Humboldt County. Farmers, fisherman, loggers, and gold miners have all played a part in Eureka’s storied history, which can be seen today in its numerous Victorian houses. If you like nature, redwood forests abound in the surrounding region.


Sausalito is right across the San Francisco Bay from San Francisco herself, and as such, provides incredible views of the Bay and the City. A main street, Bridgeway, travels along the water and numerous boutique hotels looking over the Bay. On a summer day, it’s a fantastic place to get some ice cream and maybe board a ferry to San Francisco.

Saint Helena

Saint Helena is in the heart of Napa Valley, that region of Northern California known for its numerous vineyards. This small town founded in 1876 is also known as a lexus of culture in the culinary world, especially because of the Culinary Institute of America. Fans of architecture will enjoy taking in the range of styles from the Romanesque to Spanish Revival to Italianate.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay is a small town between Santa Cruz and Santa Clara. While the town itself is a charming assemblage of seaside restaurants and hotels, without a doubt Morro Bay’s main attraction is the so-called Gibraltar of the Pacific, a massive stone rock that stands stoically almost 600 feet above the bay and beach. Lovers of nature will enjoy the numerous hiking trails and footpaths that meander through the area.

As you can see, there are a number of small towns off the beaten path, each one a little piece of Main Street, USA. Check out some other interesting places to visit by reading about the Top 10 Things to Do in Albuquerque.