The 11 Most Quaint Small Towns in Southern California

California is the poster child for paradise, the vacation destination par excellence. When people think of California, they think of wide beaches fringed by powder-soft sand. They think of swaying palm trees and hammocks in the shade. They also imagine how nice the weather is and the feeling of the warm sun kissing the skin. By far, though, it’s Southern California that most truly captures this romantic version of the 31st state. However, in addition to its beautiful beaches, swaying palm trees, and balmy weather, Southern California is home to several small towns. and picturesque that will leave any first-time visitor in awe. Many of these line the curvaceous California coastline. But some are further inland.

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The Elephant Walk store in Idyllwild, California

Idyllwild is an understated California charmer tucked away in the heart of the San Jacinto Mountains. Charmingly quaint and laid back, this city will be the perfect escape from Los Angeles and its frustrating traffic. Set against a stunning backdrop that features towering boulders, sweet-smelling cedars, and other evergreens, Idyllwild easily lets it live up to its name. Incredibly peaceful, this gem is surrounded by several attractions that will pique the interest of any first-time visitor. The sparkling Fulmor Lake, for example, is minutes away, while Idyllwild County Park is within walking distance, an oasis of calm you won’t want to miss. But with that said, Idylwild’s star attraction is San Jacinto National Park, whose jaw-dropping scenery cannot be done justice by words.


Evergreen Cafe and Racoon Saloon decorated with Christmas lights on Evergreen Rd in Wrightwood, Calif. via Jon Osumi /

Drawn by the fame of California’s spectacular coastline, many people naturally flock to California’s beautiful beach towns. However, the Golden State is home to a plethora of small mountain towns nestled in a rural landscape that will completely blow first-time adventurers away. Home to some 4,500 residents, Wrightwood is tucked away against the majestic backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains, approximately 90 minutes from Los Angeles. Since the city is shaded with many beautiful evergreens (perhaps its most defining feature), a meal at the aptly named Evergreen Cafe will be in order. Conveniently located at 1269 Evergreen Road, this is where you can enjoy a juicy, well-seasoned steak or any other delicacy you fancy. On the other hand, Mountain High Resort, just about three miles away, is consistently ranked among the most sought after resorts in Southern California.


Winding two lane highway in Crestline California with green trees lining both sides

Home to 9,300 residents, Crestline is another California wonder that will make you understand why California is among the most beautiful states in the country. Here’s why Crestline is a gem. The town is located within a forest: the San Bernardino National Forest. On the other hand, Lake Gregory, a sparkling 84 acres of calm that is surrounded on all sides by the dazzling solemnity of pine and cedar trees, sits right in town. Any town would be called “quaint” if these two elements were its central features. However, Crestline is packed with other attractions. First-time visitors should check out Heart Rock Falls, for example, a unique waterfall defined by rocks shaped like a human heart.


Welcome Sign, Bell Street, Los Alamos, by NHRHS2010 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Los Alamos, not “Lost Almost,” is another small California town that will effortlessly put a spell on any first-time visitor. Nestled in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, a three-hour drive from Los Angeles, Los Alamos is as quaint as a city located in wine country should be. The name of the city translates as “poplars”, in reference to the enormous trees that line the banks of the San Antonio stream, and many other places in the surroundings of the city. Tucked away in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, Los Alamos was once the hideaway for the rich and well-to-do who wanted to escape the public spotlight for a while. Today, Los Alamos is many things to many people, including a much-sought-after culinary destination. Culinary hotspots include Bell’s, a French-inspired bistro that makes its peers look disappointingly average.


Aerial view of the Hotel del Coronado and other buildings in Coronado, California

Coronado is a jewel whose postcard beauty is the stuff of travel magazine covers. This California wonder sits on a beautiful peninsula between San Diego Bay and the deepest ocean on Earth. Home to some 19,500 residents, Coronado is home to the 135-year-old Hotel del Coronado, a silhouette of Victorian architecture long considered one of the world’s finest resorts. Patrons can have the opportunity to sleep where Marylin Monroe once slept and eat where Franklin Roosevelt once ate. Plus, first-time visitors will be in awe at the views of the San Diego skyline from places like Centennial Park, one of Coronado’s most-visited spots. Meticulously groomed, seductively secluded, and with a long, wide beach, few towns in California can compare to Coronado.


Street Scene View of Historic Old Town Julian California, via littlenySTOCK /

A first-time visitor to the small town of Julian will envy its approximately 1,300 residents who enjoy not only its stunning scenery, but also its delicious apples and apple pies. Tucked away in the picturesque Cuyamaca Mountains, a mountain range east of San Diego, Julian might also be the friendliest town in Southern California. A stroll down its quaint main street will reveal a decent collection of eclectic shops and casual eateries that will meet, perhaps even exceed, a California tourist’s expectations. An afternoon at nearby 9-acre Jess Martin Park, a stunning outdoor paradise complete with a skateboard area, exercise area, and playground, will be an afternoon well spent.

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A beautiful bird’s eye aerial view of Del Mar in San Diego County, California

To a first-time vacationer, Del Mar may seem like a diamond that has always been hidden under a rock, waiting to be discovered. In vacation circles, however, this Southern California charm is no secret. Located just 20 miles north of San Diego, Del Mar can be a quick getaway for those in the “Birthplace of California,” as San Diego is known. It often does. Visitors always enjoy its vibrant small-town charm and upscale suburban vibe, amid an atmosphere that’s partly casual; sophisticated part. While Del Mar is the poster child for a California beach town where beach bums will frolic, it also offers other amazing outdoor opportunities such as hiking, which is something San Diego County is into. is big. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, for example, designed as “a wilderness in an urban sea,” is located a short drive from downtown Del Mar.


Aerial view of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island

This gem of a city is nestled in a beautiful bay on the southeast side of California’s Santa Catalina Island. The southernmost city in Los Angeles County is home to about 3,200 residents. First-time visitors will enjoy strolling through Avalon’s downtown area in a city considered to be one of the most walkable in the United States. Framed by stunningly beautiful scenery, a view of the city’s rugged surroundings will create a whirlwind of goosebumps on any viewer. If you’re not short of cash, a first-time visitor should rent a cabana at Descanso Beach Club and embark on a dazzling adventure on a beach surrounded by breathtaking scenery at every turn of the eye. However, for some tasty Mexican dishes, Buffalo Nickel, located at 57 Pebbly Beach Rd, will be a must.

Borrego Springs

View of Grange Hall and Livery Room at Palm Canyon Hotel and RV Resort in Borrego Springs, California

For outdoor enthusiasts, a city located right in the middle of a desert is a dream. As it turns out, Borrego Springs is located in the heart of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California. This vast park alone is excuse enough to visit Borrego Springs. And if this is something anyone wants to consider, Fonts Point is an amazing vantage point offering spectacular views of the rolling ridges that make up the Borrego Badlands. Located about three hours southeast of Los Angeles, Borrego Springs is also the perfect dreamscape for flower lovers. The city is home to a stunning bloom of wildflowers that any artist will want to capture on canvas. Then again, avid stargazers may not find a better spot than Borrego Springs has to offer.

Solana Beach

Aerial view of Solana Beach and cliff, California

This California wonder is another revelation that should be on every California adventurer’s itinerary. Home to 12,600 residents, Solana Beach is located 100 miles south of Los Angeles along the north shore of San Diego. While this quaint city is brimming with outdoor opportunities, first-time travelers will want to stroll through its famous Cedros Avenue Design District first. Surrounded by beautiful palm trees, this small two-and-a-half block is home to world-renowned architects and interior designers. In a quaint space that features more than 85 stores, avid shoppers will have fun sampling a world of offerings on display. Art lovers can’t miss the stunning nature photography at the Aaron Chang Ocean Art Galleries. Outdoor enthusiasts, however, will have to explore Annie’s Canyon Trail, which features a short hike through a slot canyon.

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Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs, California

Tucked away in the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains, approximately 84 miles east of the “City of Angels,” as Los Angeles is called, Running Springs exudes small-town charm that will leave any first-time visitor speechless. time. Perched at an elevation of 6,000 feet, Running Springs is the access point to Snow Valley, the oldest continuously operating ski resort in Southern California. Located just six miles from downtown Running Spring, Snow Valley is also known for receiving the most natural snowfall in Southern California. If you need something to nibble on, Old Country Coffee Shop, located at 32019 Holiday Lane, is a small restaurant serving tasty treats in a quaint, retro setting that will appeal to many foodies.

Food to go

If California ranks among the most scenic states in the country, Southern California plays a big part in that reputation. For many, it is the quintessential California: beach, fun and all. However, while cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Long Beach are major attractions, this part of California is also home to several quaint towns that tourists will love to discover. From Los Alamos to Running Springs, and many towns in between, the small towns of Southern California are ethereal portraits of beauty.