From National Parks to amusement parks, ocean vibes to valley views, the most populous state in the U.S. has a lot to offer travelers. There’s so much history, culture, and entertainment to enjoy in the big cities, but one of the true joys of a visit to California is discovering the small, beautiful towns where you can relax and soak up all that the Golden State has to offer at a slower pace. From quaint towns nestled in the valleys surrounded by orchards to beachy little havens where you can take in miles of unspoiled coastline, California is brimming with small towns waiting to be explored. Whether you’re looking for the ultimate wine country experience or an escape into the mountains, you’re sure to find a California town on our list that you’ll want to visit in 2022!
You’ll find Danish fare, history, and architecture in this charming town that was founded in 1911 by a community of Danish Americans. Spend the day sampling kringle, stroopwafels, and other traditional treats while popping into shops that sell Danish clogs, Scandinavian literature, and other unique finds. You can also learn more about Solvang’s Danish history by visiting one of the many museums in town, including one dedicated to Hans Christian Andersen. Solvang is located 3 hours north of Los Angeles and 4.5 hours south of San Francisco, making it the perfect spot for a day trip or weekend getaway from one of the bigger cities. See which other small towns you can explore in Southern California here!
Nestled in California’s Central Valley you’ll find the small town of Visalia, surrounded by beautiful fruit orchards and just a short stop away from some of California’s best national parks. Visalia was founded in 1852 and you can visit museums that celebrate the agricultural history of the region. Visit one of the many orchards in the area to pick your own fruit, and explore the historic downtown area via a self-guided walking tour. Visalia is a great home base for exploring Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks where you can hike along rivers, visit waterfalls, and see the largest volume tree in the world. To plan your perfect weekend experience in Visalia, be sure to check out all our tips!
3. St. Helena
If Napa Valley is calling your name, you’ll want to add beautiful St. Helena to your 2022 travel list. There are over 100 wineries and tasting rooms within a 30-minute drive so the options for sampling the region’s amazing wines may feel endless! St. Helena was founded in 1854 and is home to the oldest continually operating winery in Napa and the oldest wine tasting room in California. In addition to the fantastic wine options, you’ll want to spend some time strolling St. Helena’s main street where you’ll find historic red brick buildings, old-fashioned street lamps, art galleries, shops, and plenty of restaurants. With so many wineries and restaurants to choose from, we narrowed down our favorites here!
The main city on Catalina Island, Avalon has European charm and a Mediterranean climate. Avalon is easy to explore by foot and is filled with hidden gems in the form of decorations adorning many of its homes. You’ll spy unique sculptures, artwork, tile, and more while you stroll along the residential streets. The tilework in Avalon is reminiscent of Spanish and Mexican tile and depicts the island’s history and scenes of everyday life. You can even participate in a tile-making workshop during your visit and take home your own beautiful piece of art. There’s so much to do in Avalon and on the rest of Catalina Island, so you’ll want to see all of our recommendations here.
5. Rancho Mirage
Rancho Mirage in the Palm Springs area is known for world-class golf courses and exclusive country clubs. The area has been home to a number of celebrities and you’ll feel like a celebrity yourself when you book a stay at the Ritz-Carlton. Situated 650 feet above Palm Springs Valley in the Santa Rosa Mountains, the resort offers stunning views and beautiful landscaping. Dine at one of the resort’s renowned restaurants and you’ll be treated to a fabulous meal surrounded by stunning scenery. The Ritz-Carlton is also known for its award-winning spa and would make the perfect relaxing weekend retreat. The entire Palm Springs area is filled with beautiful resorts and accommodations — check out 8 of our favorites here!
The charming seaside community of Sausalito lies just across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco. Escape across the Golden Gate Bridge for a day trip or weekend getaway and you’ll find a laid-back atmosphere that will make you feel like you’re near the Mediterranean. Taking the ferry to Sausalito is a fun experience and offers amazing views of Alcatraz Island and San Francisco. You can rent a bicycle for the day and take it on the ferry ride for exploring Sausalito. Don’t miss seeing the unique houseboat communities to get a taste of life on the water. Sausalito is also home to historic neighborhoods, plenty of shops, and amazing seafood restaurants. See how to spend the perfect day in Sausalito here.
You’ll find a slower pace and relaxing beach vibes when you visit Encinitas, which hasn’t changed much over the years. Encinitas is home to several spectacular beaches perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and taking in the beautiful California coastline. There are also lovely gardens to explore including the San Diego Botanic Garden, and 7 miles of walking and hiking trails through the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve and Nature Center where you can view wildlife up close. Encinitas is known for its distinctive and charming neighborhoods, filled with delicious dining options and shopping districts. You’ll love exploring this beachy community just a short drive or train ride outside of San Diego. Find all of our recommendations for Encinitas here!
Rest and rejuvenate in beautiful Ojai where you can spend a day at the spa, sip local wine, or explore the lovely mountain surroundings. Tucked into a valley, the city feels more like a quaint village with its art galleries and wineries. You can get out in nature on the numerous hiking trails through the foothills of the Topatopa Mountains or take a scenic horseback ride through the valley. After you explore the valley book a relaxing day in one of Ojai’s renowned spas, or while away a few hours shopping at one of the many boutiques in town. See all of the things you can enjoy during a relaxing trip to Ojai here!
Idyllic and naturally beautiful, Idyllwild is the perfect weekend escape from Los Angeles or San Diego. A visit to Idyllwild feels like an alpine retreat and there are miles of hiking trails to explore in the San Bernardino National Forest. The Idyllwild Nature Center and Regional Park are excellent stops for a leisurely hike to view wildlife followed by a scenic picnic. After exploring the woods, take a stroll through downtown where you’ll find offbeat shops and tons of local art galleries. You may even be lucky enough to meet the mayor — an adorable golden retriever named Max! For all of the charming and quirky reasons to visit Idyllwild, see our list here!
The destination for wine lovers in Southern California, Temecula is home to nearly 50 wineries nestled in the rolling hills surrounding the town. But wine isn’t the only reason to visit! In Temecula, you’ll also find seven highly rated golf courses, 90 miles of hiking trails, and several relaxing spas. Don’t miss strolling through Old Town Temecula, which will make you feel like you stepped into a Western movie with its rustic buildings and bustling antique fair. For a unique way to view the town and the surrounding hills, you can book a horseback ride or even float up in a hot air balloon for a truly unforgettable experience. See all the reasons why this charming Southern California town should be on your 2022 travel list!
11. Dana Point
If you’re looking to get out on the water for some adventure, then Dana Point is calling your name. Dana Point sits at the southern tip of Orange County and offers dramatic views of steep cliffs along 6.5 miles of oceanfront. There are 6 gorgeous beaches in Dana Point and each offers plenty of opportunities for swimming, surfing, and sunbathing. For an educational experience, visit the Ocean Institute to learn more about local marine life, and you may even catch a glimpse in the wild because Dana Point is known as the dolphin- and whale-watching capital of the world! There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and dining in Dana Point. Find out how to spend the perfect weekend in Dana Point here!
For a taste of the Old West, venture north of Lake Tahoe to Truckee. This mountain town was once home to gunslingers and lumberjacks and you’ll feel the history as you explore the downtown area where many of the buildings were constructed in the 1800s. After browsing through the unique shops head out into the mountain country and hike or bike along the Rail Trail, a paved path that follows what used to be the railroad tracks that went through town. If you visit in the winter, you’ll be treated with plenty of snowfall perfect for skiing, snowshoeing, and other outdoor activities. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or weekend getaway, we have plenty of recommendations for Truckee here.
13. Big Bear Lake
The mountain town of Big Bear Lake is a fantastic spot to visit during any season thanks to its location in the San Bernardino National Forest. The national forest covers more than 800,000 acres and three mountain ranges, making it the perfect spot for hiking and biking in the summer, and skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. You can also get out on the water on a paddle board, kayak, or boat rental from one of six marinas in the area. Don’t miss a visit to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, one of just two alpine zoos in the U.S. Big Bear Lake is a popular weekend getaway from San Diego, Los Angeles, or Orange County and you’ll find plenty of options for shopping, dining, and more. See all of our favorite things to do in this outdoor paradise here.
14. South Lake Tahoe
Stunning Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and has become an incredibly popular tourist destination thanks to its beautiful scenery and the endless list of things to do. If you’re staying on the south shore of the lake, you can launch out onto the water to cruise around the lake from one of the many marinas that offers tours. The south shore also offers plenty of opportunities for hiking and biking, including the popular Angora Lakes Trail, an easier .5 mile hike to the lakes where you can swim, fish, and relax. You’ll also find beautiful beaches, alfresco dining, and more to enjoy along the south shore. For all of our Lake Tahoe recommendations, be sure to see our full list.
15. Paso Robles
Paso Robles offers a charming mix of old and new California with its winding country roads and beautiful vineyard views. The town is the perfect spot for a day trip or weekend getaway and you’ll find no shortage of wineries to enjoy along with olive groves, breweries, and more. Spend part of your time driving from winery to winery and you’ll see rolling hills, gnarled old vines, and sweeping views of the lush valleys. After exploring wine country, don’t miss a stroll through Paso Robles’s city center where you’ll find restaurants, boutiques, and breweries in preserved historic neighborhoods. If you only have a day to spend in Paso Robles, we have an itinerary to help you make the most of your visit!
Known as the Trail Capital of California, Redding is the perfect destination for the outdoor adventurer. There are 100 miles of trails within 10 miles of the city center making this the perfect spot for hiking, biking, or just a scenic stroll through the densely forested mountains. Just 15 minutes west, you’ll find the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area where you can boat and fish in a crystal-clear lake. In addition to all of the outdoor activities, you can take a stroll across one of the world’s-largest working sundials, visit a partially restored ghost town from the 19th-century mining boom, and view the work of local artists at City Hall. See all of our favorite things to do in this California mountain town here.