A lot of travelers will have already experienced the pleasures of California’s big four destinations -- Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego -- but the state is so varied and diverse that there is plenty of adventure to be found in breaking out to the smaller towns that dot the Golden State. From the redwoods of the Pacific Coast to the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, California is full of unexpected, hidden towns rife with individuality. But where to go first? We got our Sherlock Holmes on and searched out eight of the best quaint hidden towns in California that you should visit next.
A road trip city if ever there was one, Eureka is the largest coastal city between Portland and San Francisco, which means it sees some action from the many who navigate the iconic Pacific Coast Highway 1. Beautiful views extend from the city across Humboldt Bay — and if you want to get a little closer to the water, you can embrace the Eureka way by taking to a kayak to explore the Redwood coast. For a view of the city’s past, visit the Old Town where the Victorian buildings give the theaters, stores, and restaurants picture-book appeal.
If the doozy of a name doesn’t get you stirred up, then first sight of the place probably will because Carmel-by-the-Sea is every bit as adorable as its name suggests. It’s a popular place to take a break from the state’s many faster-paced towns; long walks around Carmel, taking in the architecture of its fairytale cottages and its bird-rich beach path, are the California dream.
What could be more quaint and hidden than a quaint, hidden, and ever so slightly exclusive Californian town on its own island? Only reachable by ferry — or helicopter — the town of Avalon is located on Catalina Island, southwest of Los Angeles. With a touch of the Mediterranean to it, here you’d be forgiven for stepping ashore and thinking you’d arrived on the French Riviera. Visit the impressive Catalina Casino (not an actual casino), stroll the quaint streets of the town, and then venture to the outer reaches of the idyllic rocky island.
Once you’re done with Fort Bragg, you won’t be able to stop bragging about how amazing it is — see what we did there? A former company town and military outpost, Fort Bragg is located 150 miles north of San Francisco and the major reason to visit is for its spectacular location perched above the Pacific Ocean. Another reason to visit is for the town’s inimitable “glass beach.” Following years of legal dumping of glass bottles into the ocean, the glass all washed back to create a new kind of beach — a smooth, shimmering iridescent testament to what man and nature can create together.
N:B: Please don’t dump things in the ocean.
If you’re into photography, then you’ll love the opportunities afforded by the Temecula Old Town and its authentic “ye olde” style. If you’re not into taking pics, you can go hunt for antiques in stores that might be older than the antiques you find in them. Located only 20 miles inland from the Pacific coast, the town also provides a mellow gateway into Temecula Wine Country.
If you’re not visiting Mendocino County for the excellent wine or the pastoral beauty of this part of California, then chances are you’re visiting Mendocino town because you’re a huge fan of “Murder, She Wrote.” Many of the exterior shots of the show were filmed here, which should give you some idea of the beauty of the place. Jessica Fletcher aside, the town is full of small galleries, great gardens, water towers, and excellent hiking.
7. Nevada City
When you get to Nevada City, put your bags down, stare towards the horizon, and say, “There’s gold in those hills.” You’re in Gold Rush country now, which means it’s okay to rehash an old joke or two. After that, you’ll probably want to idle about the charming old mining town, located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Established in 1849, here much of the Victorian architecture brought by the settlers still exists and provides at least some competition for those views of the mountains and the town’s spectacular surrounding natural habitat. Plus, you want a chance to drink in an old-school Californian frontier saloon? Nevada City has it.
If quaint and hidden don’t go quite far enough for you, then how about a regular ghost town? Named after prospector W.S. Bodey, the town of Bodie (the spelling changed through the years) was for a time in the late 19th-century a small, but lucrative, gold mining town. However, when the gold dried up, the people vacated, leaving an eerie, near-complete town to gather dust, a monument to the end of the Gold Rush. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the Bodie State Historic Park is a genuine gold-mining ghost town in the Bodie Hills of the Sierra Nevada — and visitors are welcome.
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