The best coastal towns in California for picturesque living

The best coastal towns in California for picturesque living
Photo by Adrianna Calvo on

The best coastal towns in California offer stunning seaside views for idyllic living. California’s coastline spans over half of the West Coast, from misty redwoods to sunny beaches, and with ample coastline comes picturesque coastal cities. These cities and towns demand to be appreciated and explored.

Take a coastal road trip with a gaggle of friends and family or plan a weekend getaway with your significant other in one of these beautiful locations. Rent a vintage van with a bed, wood paneling and kitchen amenities for an extended road trip, bring your camping gear for a backpacking journey or plan a series of comfortable nights in AirBnBs and hotels. Get ready for fresh seafood, quaint architecture, small beachy businesses and more. Here are our picks for the best coastal towns in California.


Once you smell the air of Northern California, you’ll forever say your favorite scent is sea salt clinging to the redwoods. Mendocino and its surrounding area embodies that scent. Pack your hiking shoes and your flannel for a camping trip in the redwoods, or take your surfboard and your warmest wet suit for a surf trip on the coast.

Visit Mendocino Headlands State Park for a view of the coastline, a selection of gentle trails and, of course, a chance to brood over the edge of a foggy cliff. If you love flora and fauna, plan a trip to see a wealth of wildflowers at Headlands State Park, or check out the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. The rhododendron collection will please any avid gardener.


Just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco floats the coastal town of Sausalito, an upscale area with unrivaled views of the Bay Area and the comings and goings of the various ferry systems. Spend a day here to shop and dine in style.

The warm weather, the laid back vibe and the small businesses give it a Mediterranean feel, so be sure to dress up like you’re on your way to the Amalfi Coast. Try to avoid gazing too long at the hundreds of houseboats, or you may be tempted to make a lifestyle change. As far as pricey seafood goes, it doesn’t get much better than the Bay Area. Book a table at Scoma’s for expensive but scrumptious crabcakes.

Half Moon Bay

The allure of a small town along the California coast traps most of us in daydreams of escaping our daily routines. So plan a weekend trip to Half Moon Bay.

For whale watchers and outdoor enthusiasts, no place could top this area thriving with water sports and giant marine mammals. Make sure to bring your surfboard, your paddle, your kayak or your windsurfing gear for a weekend of fun in the water.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara boasts an impressive list of specialty coffee shops for any caffeine fiend. What could top a day exploring seaside cafes searching for the best cappuccino and croissant? Aside from the charm of Santa Barbara itself, visiting the tiny town of Solvang is an ultimate California bucket list item.

Step into Solvang and you no longer stand on American soil, but a slice of Denmark (or at least it feels that way). Compete with Danish architecture like colorful facades and cottages with thatched roofs; Danish treats like aebleskiver (an extra-sweet doughnut hole); and Danish souvenirs like wooden clogs and traditional garbs, Solvang is for anyone for yearns for a Northern European adventure but can’t commit to an overseas voyage.


This island sitting off the coast of San Diego draws flocks of retirees and veterans for its lazy, picture-perfect atmosphere. Take the ferry over from Downtown San Diego and stroll down Orange Avenue for an afternoon of window shopping along cute souvenir stores, cafes, boutiques and bookstores.

If you’d rather explore by bike, rent a cruiser on the island and zoom around the exquisite neighborhoods full of flowers, greenery and white picket fences. A visit to Coronado wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Hotel Del Coronado, a golden-era resort. It looks like an elaborate sand castle come to life.

La Jolla

Just north of San Diego perches La Jolla, a beautiful town full of wealthy soccer moms, retirees and college students. What isn’t there to do in La Jolla? From snorkeling with sharks and kayaking along a cove to chowing down on tacos and shopping in boutiques, La Jolla has something for everyone.

Got kids? Head over to La Jolla Cove to visit the sea lions and seals or check out the tide pools around Scripps Pier – though make sure to respect the marine life. If you love cats, book a spot at The Cat Lounge, a nonprofit organization that allows visitors to play with cats rescued from high-kill shelters, read and even adopt a furry friend.

For quality tacos, head over to Galaxy Taco, which serves masa made with heirloom blue corn sourced from farms in Oaxaca. Not a taco fan? Reserve a table at Whisknladle Bistro & Bar for a meal from various worldwide cuisines.

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