California is one of the most diverse states within our country offering so much to do, see, and experience. From the lush, sprawling forests of Northern California, to the jaw-dropping desert sunsets in SoCal, the Golden State is full of excitement, magic, and wonder. The only downfall, is that California has so much to offer, that it can prove rather difficult when you’re facing the decision of which destinations to include on your itinerary. It’s okay – you can relax now. We’ve compiled a list of 6 of the most mesmerizing, overlooked small towns in California that you simply must visit in your lifetime.
Located in Santa Barbara County, Los Olivos offers a quaint small-town charm where wine tasting and dining in solitude are plentiful. Leisurely stroll downtown and admire the artistic skill of local artists in this small town’s galleries while you enjoy a lively jazz melody playing in the background. If you’re hoping to enjoy a palatable meal following your day of exploration at the charming downtown, Los Olivos is proud to cater to a variety of tastes, offering Italian deli style eateries like Panino Los Olivos and one of a kind organic garden dining experiences like you’ll find at Global Gardens, the whole family will find something new to enjoy. Can you imagine the memories you’ll make?
Coastal California is absolutely gorgeous year-round. Balboa Island, one of California’s secret gems, transports you from the hustle and bustle of urban California to the laid-back coastal vibe of a small beach town. Family-friendly, Balboa Island offers fun adventures for the whole family. Take a boat tour and go whale and dolphin watching, ride the Ferris wheel and attend the fun zone arcade, or enjoy a day of fishing off the pier. Are you a junkie for adventure? Take a surf class at Newport Surf Camp. Jump on the Ferry and head to Balboa Island – make a day of it!
Ah, Malibu. There is so much to be said about this gorgeous beach town, but no words can truly describe the beauty of this California beach town destination – you really have to experience it for yourself. Where most California beach towns are crowded and rapidly growing in population, Malibu remains thriving yet quiet, emitting a feel of contentment, calm, and relaxation. Offering small town nostalgia like community gardening classes and events, combined with modern touches like fine dining, Malibu is a great place to spend the day if you’re looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of a California metropolis and reconnect with natural surroundings.
Old Town Temecula
Once you discover Old Town Temecula, it’s sure to become a favorite. Filled with so much history, Old Town has a rustic vibe. From antique stores and art galleries to boutiques and unique dining, you’ll never want to leave this charming SoCal destination. The old architecture is esthetically pleasing to your eye, and the Spanish-style décor is incredibly warm and artistic. You can take in the historic Western nostalgia and the friendly atmosphere while you enjoy a fresh meal on the patio at Palumbo’s Ristorante or Baily’s Old Town Temecula, or you can grab a brew with friends at one of the delightful pubs the town has to offer. Don’t leave California without visiting!
In the heart of the Ynez Valley, the tiny European-inspired town of Solvang thrives. When you visit Solvang, you’ll feel like you’ve just stepped into a magical fairytale. There aren’t many places left like historic Solvang, and the experience is worth the trip. Offering more than 150 shops and boutiques, you’re sure to find the perfect souvenirs to accompany you on your trip home. This whimsical town resembling a Swedish village is sure to become rooted deep in your fondest memories.
Envision a Mediterranean view, boats in the harbor, a blue sea and lush green cliff sides. Beautiful, isn’t it? Now imagine the same rejuvenating setting just a short distance away. Yep! Avalon will remind you of a Greek Oasis, but it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to get there. Situated along the coastline of Catalina Island, this gorgeous town has all you’ll need during your stay. Go for the day or stay for a week – Avalon boasts some of the most inviting hotels, delectable dining, and rejuvenating spas. Go boating, enjoy the landscapes, and unwind. Avalon is definitely a location that tops our bucket list!
Best Romantic Escapes in California
Even for those attempting to date in Los Angeles county, California is a place for lovers. It is an endless escape for those searching for their idyll. Here in California we love with our souls and those around us.
Inspired by the glowing sunshine and perpetual beauty the state has to offer, we at Calimited have compiled your ultimate list of the best romantic escapes we have in California.
Author Kay Smythe has been published in both national and international press for her works in travel journalism. She holds a degree in social and physical geographies, and is a huge advocate for the treat yourself concept. As both a tourist and a local to California, Smythe has developed the following list of luxury locations for you and your significant other (even if you're currently dating yourself!).
The intimate spacing of the Airbnbs (ranging in price from under $100 per night, to well over $2000) or plethora of luxury hotels, Laguna Beach is just a short drive from Los Angeles and San Diego. During off-season, this pretty little town made famous by MTV is a hotspot for local Californian escapees. When my parents came into town last winter, I sent them to the coastal town for some “them” time. It's just OC enough to be posh, but just far enough away from Newport Beach to not be nouveau riche. Best things: seafood, shopping, luxury body treatments at the spas, the crashing ocean.
You have to be a special sort of crazy to not enjoy a romantic weekend away in the glorious vineyards of Napa Valley. Obviously this is not a recommendation for friends of Bill, but it's still gorgeous. Waking up every morning, you could quite easily mistake the landscape for the valleys of central France. As the sun starts to dip over the valley walls, casting long golden shadows across the fields of vines, you'd be forgiven for thinking yourself living in a dream. Best things: it's very quiet, wine, the food is excellent, wine, year-round beauty, wine.
San Luis Obispo
I defy you to find a better part of California on a lazy Thursday afternoon. Higuera Street near the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa comes alive with everything from fresh foods to live music and more. You'll be spoiled for choice by the multitude of interesting and delicious foods that SLO has to offer. Don't worry if you're only coming for a Friday through Sunday stint, during the other six days of the week San Luis Obispo is just as perfect. Like something out of Weeds (season one), SLO is the quintessential Central Californian town. Spitting distance to the beach and whale watching trips; a stone's throw from the botanical gardens; a short drive to the tackiest and tastiest Taco Temple. Best things: good for all the family, nature, wine tasting, great theatres, bubblegum alley.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
Affectionately known as the Land of Giants, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are by far the most dauntingly enormous, yet enigmatically stunning landscapes California has to offer. Escape into nature at this beautiful, enchanting habitat in the heart of California. Allow you and your significant other to be blown away by the sheer scale of the living creatures around you. Whether it's the tallest redwoods, the broadest sequoia, or one of the many mammals that the national parks has to offer, you will both be blown away by the sheer beauty of this state. If hiking isn't your thing, then stroll through the undergrowth, and embrace the scents and sounds away from the city. The accommodation in the parks isn't too bad either! Best things: the trees, the food, the smell first thing in the morning, chipmunks running through the rafters.
Las Vegas (okay, so not quite California, but driving distance all the same)
Sometimes it takes pulling up to an empty truck stop, somewhere on the road between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, to remind you what the trailblazers of America had to endure. As the wind whips across this desolate landscape, you're truly reduce to all that you are: a handful of cells that have combined to create you. In less than a hundred years you'll die and be forgotten, unlike the rows of strata that have pushed their way up over millennia. However, this mildly depressing thought can be erradicated through a quick getaway to Las Vegas! If you're a philistine then Vegas will be nothing but buffets and coke. If you've a head on your shoulders, then Vegas can be so much more. Rent a suite, not a room. Give yourself a spa treatment. Play some cards and win some money. Catch a show. Eat steak at Mastro's. Do Las Vegas properly and it can be the greatest place on Earth for you and your partner to escape reality together. Best things: always an excuse to dress up, huge beds, bigger tubs and showers, spa treatments, shows, steak, free drinks whilst playing.
If nature is you're thing, but the national parks are that little bit too far away from the big blue then I recommend Monterey. The world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is a great place to fall in love with all of the wonders that nature as to offer, as well as each other. Three days in this great spot can encompass everything from incredible seafood on Fisherman's Wharf to whale watching trips along the Pacific coast to a stroll through Pinnacles National Park. In the spring and fall, bring a cosy sweater and cuddle up on the beach to watch the sunset together. Best things: whales, sharks, sea otters, clam chowder.
Okay, so we might be into camping and getting down in the mud every now and again. Other times, just like Vegas, you gotta glam it up a bit. What could be better than the beautiful vistas over Lake Tahoe? Winter or summer, spring or fall, Lake Tahoe is a perpetual beauty. Treat yourselves to a spa hotel. Bring books and games and swimming gear and relax together. Take a dip along the shores of the lake. If you're interested in getting out there, then check out Heavenly Mountain Resort for all the best in skiing, zip-lining, and snowboarding. Hike to Eagle Falls. Visit Vikingsholm. Honestly, this enchanting little enclave of California is worth every penny. Best things: skiing, swimming, boat rides, hiking, luxury accommodation, camping.
Beverly Hot Springs
If your significant other is yourself or a member of the same gender, then I highly recommend the Beverly Hot Springs. Situated just outside of Beverly Hills, these natural hot springs are just one of the geological marvels that California has to offer. Whether you're here on holiday or looking for a break in the stress of day-to-day life, Beverly Hot Springs cannot be recommended enough! The spa treatments are favorites of the patrons, but if you're just like to enjoy the amenities then you will have access to: cold plunge pool, hot pool, steam sauna, dry sauna, showers, rest areas, as well as all of the personal pampering products you might need. These are gender separated, so could be a great opportunity for couples that want to get away from each other for a moment, but still love each other really! Best things: how quiet it is, everything else.
For the die-hard California fan, these might not be your idea of a romantic getaway. One of the spots on the list isn't even in California. Please feel free to comment with your opinion on where the best places are and I'll be sure to check them out!
3 Best Things to do in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco
By Kay Smythe
The following items are the personal preference of the author. Kay Smythe has been widely published and won awards for her travel writing. Here is what she has to say about the three major cities in California.
Though San Diego is often seen as the dullest of the California triplets, this is a popular misconception of the city. However, there are certain things that will simply not be endorsed on here that you may find on other sites (watch Blackfish for more information).
- Balboa Park and Museums
Arguably the best day out in the whole world, bar the Grand Canyon, Balboa Park is a vacation unto itself. With everything from a replica Globe Theatre to one of the best zoos in the world, we highly recommend dedicating a whole day to exploring this vastly underrated part of Californian culture. Back in 1835, the Alta California authorities set aside the 1,400 acre tract of land for public recreation. It is this site where Balboa Park remains today. Though land wasn't officially turned into a park until 1870, it's fate has always been decided.
- San Diego Zoo
Okay yes, this is technically in Balboa Park, but this is a whole other day out in and of itself. Home to almost 4,000 animals from more than 650 species, San Diego Zoo is famous the world over. Unlike many other zoos, San Diego was the pioneer in open-air, cageless exhibits that recreate natural habitats for the animals that reside in the zoo. If this wasn't good enough, then the zoo is also one of the few in the world that successfully breed giant pandas!
- Beer, beer, and more beer
San Diego is home to so many breweries that it is impossible to find an exact figure. We imagine it is over 100 at this point, but that is probably a conservative figure. Thanks to the joys of Uber and Lyft, day-drinking like Europeans is now possible across the county. Of course we cannot endorse non-stop drinking all day every day, and we certainly don't want to inflict San Diego with all of the drunkards that the world has to offer, but it is a must-do for visitors. Most breweries offer food and other refreshments for friends of Bill. They also give tours of how your favorite micro-brews are produced.
Fear not, this list will not be made up of Hollywood Boulevard and Griffith Park (although this is a favorite). Los Angeles is far from the strictly entertainment-based fandom of visitors, and there are elements of this sprawling county that are relatively unknown to the average tourist. However, these three things are essential for all guests of La La Land.
- Driving Mulholland
As well as developing most of the infrastructure that makes Los Angeles a liveable city, Mulholland gave his name to the infamous road that tracts around the hills of LA. The vistas from this road high up above the city will allow you and your tour to see Los Angeles like a king. Look down upon the western side, surveying everything from the Hollywood sign to the Pacific Ocean and embrace the magnitude of the scale. From there, follow the road around to the Valley. On any given day you can watch as the smoke of wildfires billow like an erupting volcano beyond the hills, or look down at where people actually live their day-to-day lives in Los Angeles. For me, this is my favorite thing to do in LA when I have guests.
- Venice Canals
Just shut up and relax. Venice is a great neighborhood with loads to offer. You can wander down Abbot Kinney and watch the locals go about their fairly slow and relaxed day. You'll see things you cant un-see on the Boardwalk. Hell, if you're into architecture then Venice should be your one-stop in Los Angeles above all else. The canals (yes, Venice was predominantly canals during it's first incarnation) is one of the most underrated and unobserved parts of the weird little town. Merely a block or so from the main road, the canals are often bathed in silence. Even as an honorary local, it is one of the few places in Los Angeles where I can always be amazed and relaxed.
- The Getty
Okay, so this was an obvious one, right? Everything I fly into Los Angeles, I find myself set upon the Getty and the memories it holds. My first Christmas in LA when my parents came to visit. One of my closest friends and clients was one of the eight original architects. This building and the contents it holds is some of the greatest in human history. The art, the views, everything about this building inspires everyone not matter what their demographic. For the youngest children to the oldest pensioner, the Getty is ESSENTIAL for your soul. Go! Go now!
San Francisco is hella awesome. Locals will laugh.
Seriously though, San Francisco is the original California. Who hasn't daydreamed about the Golden Gate Bridge, or whimpered at the horror stories of Alcatraz Prison? This city is rated by many as the best city in the world, and this is a fair statement.
- Ride on a cable car
You haven't actually done San Francisco unless you've spent time on one of these historically marvellous contraptions. Unlike other modern transport, cable cars are a social experience as much as they area mode for commuting. Even if you're only going five blocks, please ensure you check out these excellent machines.
“Why would I want to spend the day in a prison?” Is the response I often receive to this recommendation. There are SO MANY reasons to spend even just half a day at this epic monument to the hideousness of American history. If we do not remember our past, then we are doomed to repeat it. Imagine how the inmates felt looking out at that beautiful skyline on 4th of July. Picture the short history of the Golden State, a beautiful home that is still in it's infancy. Alcatraz, like Hearst Castle or Grant Grove or the Hollywood Sign, is one of the most culturally explicit parts of American history and should be learned about by all visitors of California.
Most cities have one, but San Francisco's is special. The architecture, the food, the scents and smells of Chinatown culminate in a belief that you really are in China. The bustling nature of this enclave makes crossing the road an all-new dangerous pursuit (because the road becomes a sidewalk unto itself). If you're looking for gifts for your loved ones, random items to decorate your home, bizarre ingredients for a new meal, or just about anything else, it can be found in Chinatown. Take time to hang out here. You'll see things you can't unsee.