Top 11 Small Beach Towns in California
There is no shortage of huge cities in California with large populations of people. While this will keep you busy because there are a ton of things to do, larger cities like Los Angeles and San Diego can lose their small-town appeal.
A large city will offer tons of attractions and allow you to meet new people and enjoy everything it has to offer, but it’s also nice to get away to a small town where life is quieter.
If you’re visiting California you should add a detour and check out a small beach town after exploring your bucket list locations, it may surprise you.
If you’re from California, consider taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the large cities and get away for the day or weekend.
You’ll get a different experience in a quaint beach town of California vs. the larger hubs of the state. Both are great, of course, just very different experiences.
11 Small Beach Towns in California
Below you’ll find a list of some of the best small beach towns across California. They’re all beautifully situated along the coast and have so much to offer.
The best thing about Carlsbad is it’s just outside the large city of San Diego, which means you can experience the best of both worlds.
San Diego has everything you could ever want, so you could spend time there and once you’ve exhausted all of its resources, consider visiting Carlsbad, the tiny next-door neighbor.
Carlsbad is a fantastic beach location, but one of the top activities is not beach-related.
Legoland is an amusement and theme park that children and families will thoroughly enjoy.
Carlsbad State Beach is an excellent beach for swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and more.
There are also fantastic hiking trails surrounded by nature and along the coast. One of the most incredible things in Carlsbad is Buena Vista Lagoon, the only freshwater lagoon in California.
Other exciting things include the Flower Fields, which pop up seasonally where you’ll find acres of flowers to enjoy.
Leo Carillo Range Historic Park is within a canyon which is super cool and there are a ton of things to do and enjoy in Carlsbad.
2. Hermosa Beach
Hermosa Beach is in Los Angeles County and is an outstanding coastal town. It’s the perfect place for beachgoers on more of a budget because of its small and gritty charm that a bougie place doesn’t have.
You’ll find tons of diners, dive bars, and small restaurants.
The beach town is 45 minutes south of the populous city of LA, which makes it the perfect sanctuary from the crazy day-to-day life that Los Angeles can create.
For one, you must stroll the pier and look out over the water because there is no building on the end like most other California piers, so you’re provided with unobstructed views of the ocean.
There is also a fantastic path along the beach known as The Strand.
It’s great for walking, running, and biking to get in your exercise each day while simultaneously enjoying the views.
Enjoy the beach, the art that decorates the city, and the small-town charm that it provides. You won’t be disappointed.
Goleta is located in Santa Barbara Country and just became a city in 2002, so it’s relatively new in that aspect. Goleta is known as “The Good Land” as it’s a wonderful place to visit.
At Goleta Beach, you can take up paddle boarding and you may even spot sea lions or dolphins.
Campus Point is a great surfing spot, and there are also great hiking trails in the surrounding hills.
There are tons of butterflies in the Goleta Butterfly Grove and the Coronado Butterfly preserve. A bike path known as Coast Route also goes through both wooded and sea landscapes, the best of both worlds.
There are tons of outdoor activities in Goleta to keep you busy.
Goleta is a Santa Barbara locals secret, but now you’re let in on this quaint beach town so go check it out for yourself. You’ll understand immediately why it’s known as “The Good Land.”
Located on the central coast of California, Pismo is a great place to visit. Because of its central location, it’s easy to get to, and it’s absolutely worth the trip.
It’s most known for its wineries, beaches, and views.
In the winter months from October to February, butterflies group in the Eucalyptus trees at Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.
It’s one of the largest colonies of butterflies in the world, with over 25,000 each winter. It’s a beautiful site to experience if you’re in Pismo during this time period.
Margo Dodd Park will provide a great place to relax and enjoy the views. Have a picnic, go snorkeling or swimming, or just bird watch at the park.
Then, enjoy the stunning views at Pismo Pier and walk to its end for amazing views of the ocean. Pismo is a beautiful place to enjoy.
Cambria is a unique location because within the little town you’ll find a forest of Monterey Pine trees with only a few locations around the world with these native trees.
Cambria is also directly in the middle between San Francisco and Los Angeles, making it the perfect getaway location or stop on your way to either city.
Another great thing about Cambria is it’s almost entirely walkable. You can wake up, walk to a coffee shop, walk along the beach and spend your days idly relaxing.
A free trolley runs through Cambria from Thursday to Sunday, which is a great way to get around.
If you visit Cambria, you must go to Hearst Castle, which is about a 15-minute drive in the neighboring town of San Simeon.
The castle was built between 1919 and 1947 and is a stunning piece of architecture. Cambria will not disappoint!
Carmel by the Sea is a small historical beach town on the Monterey Peninsula. Carmel was a popular artist colony in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Today, the creative and artistic side of the town still shines through and influences its residents and visitors. It’s a peaceful place where artists today still live to work on their masterpieces.
The town of Carmel by the Sea has fairytale-looking homes and buildings, with the historic town center resembling a quaint village.
All of this gives it the small-town feel that you won’t find in LA or anywhere else on the coast. Also, check out Carmel Mission, a National Historic Landmark, and a beautiful church in Carmel.
Carmel Beach is an excellent spot for surfing, while Carmel River State Beach is great for scuba divers.
Also, check out Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, where you might spot sea animals. Altogether, the beaches in Carmel are quiet and breathtaking.
It is also the perfect spot to stop on your Californian road trip.
7. Half Moon Bay
South of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is the perfect northern California coastal town. It has a historic downtown with tons of shops and restaurants to explore. Above that, Half Moon Bay has terrific beaches, trails, and great surfing spots.
Half Moon State Beach is a beautiful place to explore with trails to hike. Other great things to do in the small beach town include visiting Pidgeon Point Lighthouse, renting kayaks, and surfing.
Believe it or not, pumpkin picking is also a huge fall activity. In addition, HMB is home to wildflowers and wild animals, including goats and other farm animals.
Quarry Park will bring you peace and quiet among the eucalyptus trees, Montara State Beach has the best hiking trails, and Half Moon State Beach has 4 miles of sand along the bay to explore.
Half Moon Bay is a great place to consider visiting if you’re looking for a less populated beach experience in California.
Half Moon Bay is also home to the great Mavericks waves, which is a great spot to watch big wave surfing when the swell is right.
Fun fact, Mavericks is the 4th largest wave in the world. Want more fun facts about California?
Mendocino is a tiny beach community in Mendocino County. The population of the northern California town is under 1,000 people.
Yes, you read that right. It’s much different than beach towns you’d find in SoCal. It can often get overlooked and overshadowed by other more prominent and well-known locations, but it’s absolutely worth the visit. That is why is it one of the best places to visit in California.
The best part is the slower way of life in Mendocino. California living can be so fast-paced at times that it’s nice to take a step back and enjoy small-town life.
Mendocino is most well known for its cliffs along the water.
There are fantastic trails and beaches, especially in Mendocino Headlands State Park to hike and explore. Big River Beach is a great place to swim and perfect for families to enjoy.
Also, make sure to check out the redwood forests in the area; you’ll be astonished at how magical they are.
Another must-do in Mendocino is Russian Gulch State Park, another transformative and beautiful place to explore. Mendocino has a ton of natural beauty, and it’s a very picturesque location.
9. Fort Bragg
Not far from Mendocino, Fort Bragg is most well known for Glass Beach, one of the most unique beaches in the world.
The beach is in MacKerricher State Park, and the shore is covered head to toe with sea glass of all colors, shapes, and sizes. It’s astounding to see in person and, even better, free to visit.
The Noyo River Canyon is also home to redwood forests, a must-see in Northern California.
Fort Bragg also has a unique botanical garden with tons of colorful and thriving plants and flowers. This coastal town is also home to a small freshwater lake, Cleone Lake, which is s beautiful place to check out.
Another great activity in Fort Bragg is walking along Pudding Creek Trestle, a bridge over the water. The views are just incredible.
There is so much to do in Fort Bragg you’ll be kept busy, no doubt. Glass Beach might already be on your bucket list and Fort Bragg as a whole will not disappoint!
Capitola is on Monterey Bay, and it has a Mediterranean vibe because it’s full of colorful buildings that give it a sense of vibrancy and charm.
The colors make it a very picturesque place along the water. It’s known as being the oldest beach town on the West Coast.
The colorful buildings are fun to spot while walking around Capitola. In addition, you’ll find a significant art presence in the beach town, and in general, it’s a unique place to visit.
There are tons of things to do including surfing at Capitola City Beach and there are also volleyball courts, restaurants and bars along the pier.
There is also a lot of shopping in Capitola, and it’s the perfect place to stroll along the palm tree-lined streets.
New Brighton State Beach has impressive coastal views and is an excellent place for hiking, fishing, camping, and more.
The Capitola Wharf is a pier with popular restaurants and shops to explore. Capitola is both beautiful and offers so much to do!
Davenport, California, is primarily known for one picture-perfect thing: Shark Fin Cove. It’s one of the most famous beaches in California and one of the most photographed rock structures in the world.
The rock jetting right out of shore almost perfectly resembles a shark fin. It’s a phenomenal thing to see in person and brings people to Davenport each year to experience the beauty.
Davenport isn’t a large beach town and isn’t consistently recognized by name, but some heads might turn if you mention Shark Fin Cove.
Davenport has tons of rock formations and is a generally picturesque and relaxing beach town to enjoy.
It’s located in Santa Cruz County and is almost directly in the center of the state’s coastline. Besides Shark Fin Cove, there are many other great things to do in the beach town
The massive swing at Davenport Pier is a must-stop, and there are great wineries and little shops in town to explore. It’s the perfect destination if you’re looking to slow down and enjoy the views.
Conclusions on Small Beach Towns in California
There are tons of quaint beaches in California to enjoy. So pick one and have a great time. Sometimes it’s nice to leave the busy cities behind and go out and find a place with authentic character and charm.
Do you have a favorite small beach town in California that is not mentioned on this list? Say so in the comments below.
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