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Located in the Santa Ynez Valley, the town of Solvang is known for its distinctive, Danish-inspired architecture.
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19 small towns around LA you should absolutely visit

For when you need to leave city life behind for a while

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Located in the Santa Ynez Valley, the town of Solvang is known for its distinctive, Danish-inspired architecture.
| Photo by Shutterstock

Los Angeles is a great place, but everyone has days when the traffic is too much and all the sprawl begins to feel oppressive. When that happens, we recommend packing up the car—or hopping on the train—and heading to some of these small towns within a few hours of the city.

From quaint beachside communities to artist retreats to truly off-the-grid communities, Southern California is filled with all kinds of towns to explore on a long weekend or a strategically planned sick day. Below are more than a dozen options for when you feel like leaving city life behind for a while.

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1. Three Rivers

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Heading to Sequoia or Kings Canyon? Three Rivers is a nice place to do a little shopping and dining en route to hiking, rafting, or simply admiring the beauty of the natural wonders nearby. Stop by the Flora Bella Farm for some fresh produce, or visit the town’s brewery of the same name.

2. Kernville

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A former gold mining outpost, Kernville is now one of California's finest spots for biking, hiking, rafting, camping, and a host of other activities. The town itself is worth a visit for its rustic charm and stunning natural surroundings. Learn a thing or two about its history at the Kern Valley Museum.

3. Morro Bay

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There's plenty to do in this pretty seaside town north of San Luis Obispo, including kayaking, biking, and eating (fish and chips, anyone?). Take a stroll through the kitschy shops and grab some saltwater taffy and a postcard. Of course, the main attraction is the striking—and very photogenic—576-foot rock that rises majestically from the bay. Just don't try to climb it without a proper permit. It will not go well.

A giant rock protrudes from a bay at dusk. In the foreground, pitched rooftops and colorful buildings.
Morro Bay.

4. Arroyo Grande

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Lined with antique stores and historic buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Arroyo Grande is as charming as small towns get—and it’s close to some of Southern California’s best wineries. A 171-foot bridge that spans a small creek near the town center is purported to be the only swinging bridge of its kind in the state of California. At the far end is an old schoolhouse where you can learn about the area’s history.

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5. Los Olivos

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The town of Los Olivos, northwest of Santa Barbara, has plenty of nice restaurants and art galleries, but most come for the wine. With dozens of wineries and tasting rooms, it’s no wonder the town’s website declares that “every weekend is a wine-fest.”

A small town intersection. On two sides of the street are multiple assorted houses and trees. There is a flagpole with a United States flag.
Los Olivos.
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6. Santa Ynez

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This Santa Barbara County cowboy town has been around since the 1880s, and many of the buildings in its Old Town area were constructed around that time or shortly after. The historic facades along Sagunto Street offer a bit of nostalgia, while copious wineries and horse ranches offer plenty of activities for visitors. The area is also a popular spot for bicyclists, with miles of winding country roads.

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7. Solvang

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1680 Mission Dr
Solvang, CA 93463

An entire town devoted to the Danish heritage of its founders, Solvang can feel a bit like another country—or maybe Disneyland. The streets are lined with colorful Scandinavian-style buildings and replicas of notable monuments and sculptures found in Copenhagen. There's also plenty of Danish food to be found, including the aebleskiver for which the town is famous. The dish consists of pancake-like pastries smothered in jam and powdered sugar.

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8. Ojai

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With a combination of quality wine, mission-style architecture, and a legion of spas and health resorts, Ojai has everything one could want from a small town retreat from city life. Take a hike. Read a book. Meditate. Ojai has long been the place Southern Californians go to relax.

9. Carpinteria

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The seaside community of Carpinteria combines beautiful beaches with a low-key small town vibe. A great place to hang out and watch the waves, the town is also home to the popular Island Brewing Company and an annual avocado festival in October. It's also got a stop on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner route, so you can leave the car behind.

10. Wrightwood

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1269 Evergreen Rd
Wrightwood, CA 92397

Perched high in the San Gabriel Mountains, Wrightwood is the kind of town that looks like it belongs in a snow globe. And less than 90 minutes from Los Angeles (weather permitting), it's one of the closest towns where Angelenos can go to play in the powder.

11. Lake Arrowhead

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Another mountain town, Lake Arrowhead is about as tourist-y as they come. But that’s not always a bad thing. The small community in the San Bernardino Mountains offers terrific skiing in the winter months, lakeside recreation in the summer months, and a seemingly endless array of festivals and events all year round. Highlights include the huge Oktoberfest in fall, a summer concert series, the Blue Jay Jazz Festival, and the popular antique and wooden boat show in June. Who doesn’t love antique boats?

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12. Joshua Tree

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This desert town is, of course, known for the national park by the same name. But downtown Joshua Tree offers numerous art galleries, restaurants, and vintage motels. As an added bonus, you’ll find plenty of roadside oddities along the way.

13. Oak Glen

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Like Julian, Oak Glen is known for its apples. You can pick them for yourself at several orchards during fall months, when the town hosts festivals and live music events to celebrate the season. Quaint shops, restaurants, and bakeries are open year-round.

Oak Glen barn
Oak Glen.
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14. Idyllwild

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Nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains above the desert communities of Riverside County, Idyllwild is known for its natural beauty and thriving artistic community. The unincorporated community features miles of hiking trails and rock faces popular with climbers. There’s also an annual film festival in the winter and a popular jazz festival in the summer. Fun fact: Idyllwild is home to Frank Gehry’s very first project: the little-known David Cabin.

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15. San Juan Capistrano

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Historic San Juan Capistrano, the romantic setting for the first of Johnston McCulley’s Zorro stories, is a must-see for history buffs and architecture lovers alike. Its oldest structure is the Great Stone Church, constructed between 1797 and 1806 and partially destroyed by earthquake in 1812. Also of note are the 31 historic structures of the Los Rios District.

Mission San Juan Capistrano.
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16. Avalon

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The resort community of Avalon, located on Santa Catalina Island, can only be accessed by airplane or boat, making travel to and from this destination a bit more complicated. Once there, though, you can shop, snorkel, or just sit back and enjoy the sea breeze.

Avalon.
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17. Slab City

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Look, quiet beach communities are one thing, but if you're really looking to get lost, Slab City is the place for you. The site of a former Marine Corps base, it's now occupied by a colorful cast of squatters and nomads. There's not much in the way of services, but over the years a library and makeshift performance spaces have popped up. The community is best known for its incredible works of outsider art, including the striking acrylic paint monument known as Salvation Mountain.

Salvation Mountain.
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18. Julian

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An old gold mining town up in the Cuyamaca Mountains, Julian has carefully preserved its old west aesthetic over the years. The town is perhaps most famous for its apples, which apparently took first prize at World’s Fairs in Chicago, Saint Louis, and San Francisco. Every September, Julian holds its Apple Days festival featuring apple pie, cider, and plenty of other apple-related things.

19. Solana Beach

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This small oceanfront community north of San Diego offers plenty of shops and restaurants, along with frequent live music performances. The real draw, however, is the beach, speckled with tide pools and overlooked by majestic bluffs. Like Carpinteria, the town is conveniently accessible by Amtrak.

Solana Beach.
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1. Three Rivers

Three Rivers, CA 93271

Heading to Sequoia or Kings Canyon? Three Rivers is a nice place to do a little shopping and dining en route to hiking, rafting, or simply admiring the beauty of the natural wonders nearby. Stop by the Flora Bella Farm for some fresh produce, or visit the town’s brewery of the same name.

2. Kernville

Kernville, CA

A former gold mining outpost, Kernville is now one of California's finest spots for biking, hiking, rafting, camping, and a host of other activities. The town itself is worth a visit for its rustic charm and stunning natural surroundings. Learn a thing or two about its history at the Kern Valley Museum.

3. Morro Bay

Morro Bay, CA
A giant rock protrudes from a bay at dusk. In the foreground, pitched rooftops and colorful buildings.
Morro Bay.

There's plenty to do in this pretty seaside town north of San Luis Obispo, including kayaking, biking, and eating (fish and chips, anyone?). Take a stroll through the kitschy shops and grab some saltwater taffy and a postcard. Of course, the main attraction is the striking—and very photogenic—576-foot rock that rises majestically from the bay. Just don't try to climb it without a proper permit. It will not go well.

4. Arroyo Grande

Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

Lined with antique stores and historic buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Arroyo Grande is as charming as small towns get—and it’s close to some of Southern California’s best wineries. A 171-foot bridge that spans a small creek near the town center is purported to be the only swinging bridge of its kind in the state of California. At the far end is an old schoolhouse where you can learn about the area’s history.

5. Los Olivos

Los Olivos, CA
A small town intersection. On two sides of the street are multiple assorted houses and trees. There is a flagpole with a United States flag.
Los Olivos.
Geri Lavrov/Getty Images

The town of Los Olivos, northwest of Santa Barbara, has plenty of nice restaurants and art galleries, but most come for the wine. With dozens of wineries and tasting rooms, it’s no wonder the town’s website declares that “every weekend is a wine-fest.”

6. Santa Ynez

Santa Ynez, CA

This Santa Barbara County cowboy town has been around since the 1880s, and many of the buildings in its Old Town area were constructed around that time or shortly after. The historic facades along Sagunto Street offer a bit of nostalgia, while copious wineries and horse ranches offer plenty of activities for visitors. The area is also a popular spot for bicyclists, with miles of winding country roads.

7. Solvang

1680 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463

An entire town devoted to the Danish heritage of its founders, Solvang can feel a bit like another country—or maybe Disneyland. The streets are lined with colorful Scandinavian-style buildings and replicas of notable monuments and sculptures found in Copenhagen. There's also plenty of Danish food to be found, including the aebleskiver for which the town is famous. The dish consists of pancake-like pastries smothered in jam and powdered sugar.

1680 Mission Dr
Solvang, CA 93463

8. Ojai

Ojai, CA 93023

With a combination of quality wine, mission-style architecture, and a legion of spas and health resorts, Ojai has everything one could want from a small town retreat from city life. Take a hike. Read a book. Meditate. Ojai has long been the place Southern Californians go to relax.

9. Carpinteria

Carpinteria, CA

The seaside community of Carpinteria combines beautiful beaches with a low-key small town vibe. A great place to hang out and watch the waves, the town is also home to the popular Island Brewing Company and an annual avocado festival in October. It's also got a stop on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner route, so you can leave the car behind.

10. Wrightwood

1269 Evergreen Rd, Wrightwood, CA 92397

Perched high in the San Gabriel Mountains, Wrightwood is the kind of town that looks like it belongs in a snow globe. And less than 90 minutes from Los Angeles (weather permitting), it's one of the closest towns where Angelenos can go to play in the powder.

1269 Evergreen Rd
Wrightwood, CA 92397

11. Lake Arrowhead

Lake Arrowhead, CA
Getty Images

Another mountain town, Lake Arrowhead is about as tourist-y as they come. But that’s not always a bad thing. The small community in the San Bernardino Mountains offers terrific skiing in the winter months, lakeside recreation in the summer months, and a seemingly endless array of festivals and events all year round. Highlights include the huge Oktoberfest in fall, a summer concert series, the Blue Jay Jazz Festival, and the popular antique and wooden boat show in June. Who doesn’t love antique boats?

12. Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree, CA 92252

This desert town is, of course, known for the national park by the same name. But downtown Joshua Tree offers numerous art galleries, restaurants, and vintage motels. As an added bonus, you’ll find plenty of roadside oddities along the way.

13. Oak Glen

Oak Glen, CA 92399
Oak Glen barn
Oak Glen.
Shutterstock

Like Julian, Oak Glen is known for its apples. You can pick them for yourself at several orchards during fall months, when the town hosts festivals and live music events to celebrate the season. Quaint shops, restaurants, and bakeries are open year-round.

14. Idyllwild

Idyllwild-Pine Cove, CA

Nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains above the desert communities of Riverside County, Idyllwild is known for its natural beauty and thriving artistic community. The unincorporated community features miles of hiking trails and rock faces popular with climbers. There’s also an annual film festival in the winter and a popular jazz festival in the summer. Fun fact: Idyllwild is home to Frank Gehry’s very first project: the little-known David Cabin.

15. San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano, CA
Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Shutterstock

Historic San Juan Capistrano, the romantic setting for the first of Johnston McCulley’s Zorro stories, is a must-see for history buffs and architecture lovers alike. Its oldest structure is the Great Stone Church, constructed between 1797 and 1806 and partially destroyed by earthquake in 1812. Also of note are the 31 historic structures of the Los Rios District.

Related Maps

16. Avalon

Avalon, CA 90704
Avalon.
Shutterstock

The resort community of Avalon, located on Santa Catalina Island, can only be accessed by airplane or boat, making travel to and from this destination a bit more complicated. Once there, though, you can shop, snorkel, or just sit back and enjoy the sea breeze.

17. Slab City

Niland, CA
Salvation Mountain.
Shutterstock

Look, quiet beach communities are one thing, but if you're really looking to get lost, Slab City is the place for you. The site of a former Marine Corps base, it's now occupied by a colorful cast of squatters and nomads. There's not much in the way of services, but over the years a library and makeshift performance spaces have popped up. The community is best known for its incredible works of outsider art, including the striking acrylic paint monument known as Salvation Mountain.

18. Julian

Julian, CA 92036

An old gold mining town up in the Cuyamaca Mountains, Julian has carefully preserved its old west aesthetic over the years. The town is perhaps most famous for its apples, which apparently took first prize at World’s Fairs in Chicago, Saint Louis, and San Francisco. Every September, Julian holds its Apple Days festival featuring apple pie, cider, and plenty of other apple-related things.

19. Solana Beach

Solana Beach, CA
Solana Beach.
Shutterstock

This small oceanfront community north of San Diego offers plenty of shops and restaurants, along with frequent live music performances. The real draw, however, is the beach, speckled with tide pools and overlooked by majestic bluffs. Like Carpinteria, the town is conveniently accessible by Amtrak.

Related Maps