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Small California Coastal Towns for a Beach Vacation [Affordable, Cool Vibe, Surprising]

Small California Coastal Towns for a Beach Vacation

California’s small coastal towns are the ideal destination for a beach vacation. With miles of pristine coastline, these towns offer a relaxing and affordable visit. From charming fishing villages to world-famous surf spots, these towns offer a variety of activities and experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or an adventure-filled family holiday, California’s small coastal towns have something to offer for everyone. This makes me wonder, what are the best small California coastal towns for a beach vacation?

So, what are the best small California coastal towns for a beach vacation? Here’s a list of 15: Carlsbad, Hermosa Beach, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Cambria, Carmel, Half Moon Bay, Mendicino, Fort Bragg, Monterey Penninsula (Capitola), Davenport, Cayucos, Morrow Bay, La Jolla, and Shelter Cove.


— California’s small coastal towns are ideal for a beach vacation, with miles of pristine coastline and plenty of activities to enjoy.
— Affordable, cool vibe and surprising towns include Carlsbad, Hermosa Beach, Goleta, Pebble Beach, Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail, Carmel Valley, and Santa Cruz Beach.
— These towns have many things to do, from swimming, surfing, kayaking, and biking to shopping at local stores and exploring nearby attractions.
— The Time of year visited will depend on the desired experience (romantic/adventurous).
— Looking for the most affordable town? Consider Santa Cruz or Encinitas.
— Small California beach towns offer something for everyone – beautiful scenery and an escape from everyday life.

Small California Coastal Towns for a Beach Vacation Affordable, Cool Vibe, Surprising

There are many factors that come into play when considering a great beach town. First and foremost, it’s the location and scenery. California is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with its 800 miles of coast providing stunning views of the ocean and sandy shorelines.

Beyond the shoreline, these towns also provide a variety of activities to enjoy, from swimming in the ocean and kayaking to building sandcastles and learning how to surf. Additionally, the towns are usually brimming with friendly locals and great restaurants, allowing visitors to experience the town’s unique culture and cuisine.

These beach towns also offer a sense of peace and tranquility away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, allowing visitors to relax and take a break from the stresses of everyday life. All of these factors come together to create a perfect beach town.

small coastal beach towns are often right on a beach, making it perfect for vacations

I’ll cover this and a whole lot more in discussing small California beach towns to visit on vacation. Stick with me and keep going – you won’t want to miss this!

15 Small California Coastal Towns That Are Great For A Beach Vacation

Exploring Carlsbad: A Beach City In Southern California

Are you looking for a fun and relaxing getaway? Then you should consider Carlsbad, a beach city in Southern California. With its sun-filled days, tranquil surf, and quaint downtown area, Carlsbad is the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Located just 30 miles north of San Diego and 100 miles south of Santa Barbara, Carlsbad is within easy reach of many great attractions.

And if you want something different than lazing on the sand, why not check out one of Carlsbad’s numerous shopping centers or take a day trip to nearby Carmel Beach? There’s something for everyone.

Discovering The Beauty Of Hermosa Beach

From Carlsbad’s bustling downtown to its tranquil shores, Southern California has no shortage of beauty and adventure. If you’re looking for a truly unique beach destination, look no further than the breathtaking Hermosa Beach. This stunning coastal town is full of culture, charm, and natural wonders that will keep you coming back again and again.

Hermosa Beach offers a range of activities for all ages. Whether you spend your days lounging on the sand or participating in one of the many water sports available, there’s something for everyone here. And if you’re looking for a change of pace, why not explore some other nearby beaches like Laguna Beach or Davenport Beach?

Or take a trip to Mandalay Beach or Butterfly Beach to glimpse some spectacular scenery? No matter what type of beach experience you’re after, Hermosa Beach has it all.

Coastal towns have many beaches which are perfect for a small vacation

Exploring Goleta: A Coastal Town Near Santa Barbara

Goleta, a coastal town near Santa Barbara, is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. This charming beachside community is perfect for anyone looking to experience the beauty of coastal living.

With its laid-back atmosphere, breathtaking views, and convenient location, Goleta has become an increasingly popular destination for people seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Goleta offers a wealth of activities to keep visitors busy. There’s something for everyone here, from outdoor recreation such as kayaking or surfing in nearby El Capitan State Beach to biking along scenic pathways or visiting local wineries. Plus, with its proximity to downtown Santa Barbara, it’s easy to explore all these vibrant city offers.

Exploring Pismo Beach: A Popular Beach Town In California

Pismo Beach is the perfect destination for those looking for a classic beach town experience. Located along California’s Central Coast and just south of San Luis Obispo, this coastal city is home to stunning white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. Whether you’re looking to go surfing in the Pacific or explore the quaint downtown area, there’s something for everyone here.

-Pacific Coast Highway is an iconic highway in California.

-It offers stunning views of the coast.

-It is close to attractions such as Hearst Castle and Big Sur.

-It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in California.

Del Mar coastal town in California

Exploring Cambria: A Small Town On The Central Coast Of California

If you’re looking for a small town that offers the charm and beauty of California’s Central Coast, look no further than Cambria. Located just north of San Luis Obispo and close to Hearst Castle, this quaint beachside town has stunning natural scenery, unique shops, and plenty of activities for visitors to enjoy.

Cambria is home to Cayucos State Beach, a scenic stretch of coastline where visitors can surf, swim, or simply relax in the sun. The nearby Linden Avenue is also worth exploring; it’s lined with colorful boutiques and eateries that offer something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or an extended weekend getaway, Cambria is a great choice.

Exploring Carmel: A Charming Beachside Village In Northern California

Just north of Monterey and south of San Francisco, Carmel is a charming beachside village that offers visitors a wealth of outdoor activities and fun things. This small town offers something for everyone from its quaint shops and galleries to its stunningly beautiful beaches.

-Carmel’s beaches are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and sightseeing.

-There are plenty of trails nearby for hiking and biking.

-Carmel’s downtown area is filled with unique boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants.

Exploring Half Moon Bay: A Hidden Gem On The California Coast

Half Moon Bay is tucked away along the northern California coast, a hidden gem perfect for a weekend getaway. This small town offers visitors plenty of activities and attractions, from its picturesque beaches to its nearby nature trails.

First, be sure to check out the beach. With its warm sand and gentle waves, it’s the perfect place to simply relax or participate in fun water sports like swimming, surfing, or kayaking. And if you’re looking for more adventure, try hiking or biking along the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail – you’ll get amazing ocean views and plenty of fresh air!

Exploring Mendocino: A Quaint Coastal Town In Northern California

Just north of Half Moon Bay, you’ll find another gem on the California coast – Mendocino. This quaint town is known for its stunning ocean views, charming cottages, and top-notch restaurants. It’s a perfect destination for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of San Francisco.

Start your visit by exploring Mendocino’s two main attractions: Fort Bragg and Shelter Cove. Fort Bragg offers visitors many activities, from kayaking in Humboldt Bay to hiking through the nearby redwood forest. Meanwhile, Shelter Cove is a great spot for beachcombing and whale watching. And don’t forget to take some time to explore the town itself – stroll along the main street, browse the shops, and sample some of Mendocino’s delicious local cuisine.

Exploring Fort Bragg: A Coastal Town Rich In History

Fort Bragg is the perfect destination for those looking for a unique coastal experience. Situated on the northern coast of California, this historic town offers visitors a wealth of attractions and activities. From exploring the famous Glass Beach to visiting Hearst castle, there’s something for everyone in Fort Bragg.

Start your visit by taking in some stunning views of the Pacific Ocean at Noyo Harbor. From there, head south to explore the beaches of Morro Bay or Catalina Island. William Randolph Hearst’s Castle is a must-see for those interested in history and architecture. And don’t forget to spend some time among the redwoods at Muir Woods!

Exploring Capitola: A Beach Town On The Monterey Peninsula

The Monterey Peninsula is home to some of California’s most spectacular coastal towns, and Capitola is no exception. This idyllic beach town offers a variety of attractions and activities that will appeal to many different types of travelers. Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, Capitola has something for everyone.

Start your visit by taking in the stunning views of Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean from Capitola City Beach. Afterward, head south to explore Manhattan Beach and the Cedros Design District. These two areas are full of shops and restaurants that offer great food and unique souvenirs. For those who want to take in more nature, drive down the Big Sur Coastline, where you can enjoy picturesque views of the rugged coastline.

Exploring Davenport: A Scenic Beach Town On The Central Coast

Davenport is a beautiful beach town located on California’s Central Coast. Its scenic views and charming atmosphere make it the perfect place to explore and relax. Whether looking for adventure or a peaceful getaway, Davenport has something for everyone.

-Explore the downtown area of Davenport for shops and restaurants.

-Drive down the coast for beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

-Take advantage of the hiking trails in Davenport.

-Try kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding around the bay.

Uncovering The Charm Of Cayucos, California

The Central Coast of California is full of charming beach towns, and one of the most delightful is Cayucos. Located just north of San Luis Obispo, this sleepy little town offers a variety of activities and attractions to explore. From Shark Fin Cove to Bodega Bay, there are plenty of spots for outdoorsy types to enjoy.

If you want a more laid-back experience, head over to Capitola Beach or Cayucos Beach for some fun in the sun. Here you’ll find plenty of sand and surf and plenty of places to picnic or stroll. And if you’re feeling especially adventurous, visit nearby Montara Beach for stunning views and wild waves.

Exploring Morro Bay: A Seaside Village On The Central Coast

For a unique seaside escape, look no further than Morro Bay. Situated on the Central Coast of California, this quaint village offers the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure. With its charming waterfront restaurants, vibrant tide pools, and stunning views of Morro Rock, you won’t find a better spot to unwind.

The best way to experience Morro Bay is by taking a stroll along Morro Strand State Beach and Coast Village Road. You can explore the rocky shoreline and find hidden gems like Mackerricher State Park. Not only will you get the chance to observe sea life in its natural habitat, but you’ll also be able to snap some amazing photos for your Instagram page!

Sea lions at La Jolla Cove. It's a great beach town and coastal town in California

Exploring La Jolla: A Beautiful Beachside Town In San Diego

La Jolla is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a serene beachside escape. Located in San Diego, this quaint village boasts stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and plenty of opportunities for relaxation and exploration. Whether you’re looking to take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline or explore the nearby Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, La Jolla has something for everyone.

In addition to its breathtaking beaches, La Jolla also features a variety of charming coffee shops and eateries. Take your pick from cozy cafes with panoramic views of Newport Beach or waterfront restaurants offering fresh seafood dishes. Of course, no trip to La Jolla would be complete without a day trip up the coast to San Simeon State Park. Here you can explore tide pools and spot sea lions lounging on the rocks.

Exploring Shelter Cove: A Remote Coastal Town In Northern California

For those searching for an off-the-beaten-path getaway, Shelter Cove is the perfect destination. Nestled along California’s Lost Coast in Humboldt County, this small coastal town offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and a tranquil atmosphere to make your vacation feel like a true escape.

Shelter Cove is home to stunning growths of redwoods and lush vegetation. Stroll through the park and marvel at the towering trees or dip in one of the outdoor pools that dot the shoreline. Of course, no visit to Shelter Cove would be complete without spending some time on its pristine beach. Take a leisurely stroll along miles of sandy shores and enjoy mesmerizing views of the Pacific Ocean.


What Are Some of The Affordable Small California Coastal Towns?

California’s most affordable small beach towns offer a tranquil and peaceful getaway, from Cayucos, Central California on the west coast to Fort Bragg and Glass Beach in Northern California. These towns offer spectacular oceanfront scenery, adventurous outdoor recreation, hip eateries, eclectic boutiques, and chic resorts, all while still providing a tranquil, small-town escape with plenty of recreation, attractions, and natural beauty.

What Activities Can Be Enjoyed in These Small Coastal Towns?

The Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail, Carmel Valley, and Santa Cruz Beach offer a variety of activities to enjoy, from the sunset at Asilomar State Beach to a leisurely walk or hike along Trinidad Head. Enjoy tranquil moments by the sea, explore the splendor of redwood forests, and enjoy local wines. Beach businesses can also be enjoyed with vintage and boho chic shopping and surfing breaks at Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point.

What Kind of Vibe Can Be Experienced in These Towns?

The towns offer a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere for visitors to enjoy, offering a variety of activities such as hiking, swimming, surfing, browsing for vintage boho chic, and enjoying healthful meals made of organic, local ingredients. These towns provide a beautiful backdrop for exploring the outdoors and leaving lasting memories.

Are There Any Hiking Trails Along the Coastline?

Yes, there are plenty of hiking trails along the Northern California coastline. From Trinidad Headland Trail and Polamarin Trail to Point Arenas Trail and Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail, there is a wide variety of trails to explore and take in the views of the pounding coastline. For a unique and unforgettable experience, head to Mori Point in Pacifica, where you can take a scenic hike and maybe even spot some wildlife.

What Is the Best Time of Year to Visit These Towns?

When planning a trip to the beautiful seaside towns of California, the best time of the year to visit depends on what type of experience you are looking for.

For a more relaxed and romantic vibe, visiting during spring or fall is ideal. The mild temperatures and fewer crowds make it the perfect season for exploring and reconnecting with nature. With activities ranging from hiking to beach going and shopping, there is plenty to do for a weekend getaway.

On the other hand, summertime may be more suitable for those looking for an adventurous escape. Warmer temperatures make it the prime season for swimming, surfing, and other outdoor activities. Plus, seeing celebrities in the area during this time is the bonus.

What Is the Most Affordable Beach Town in California to Visit?

Santa Cruz is one of the most affordable beach towns to visit in California. Located on the central coast, this charming town offers stunning beach views and plenty of outdoor activities to entertain you. Encinitas, close to San Diego is also considered one of the most affordable beach towns.

Are There Any Small Beach Towns in California

Yes, there are many small beach towns in California. Examples include Malibu, Santa Cruz, and Laguna Beach. These beach towns offer a variety of activities and attractions, from surfing and swimming to exploring scenic trails and restaurants.

What Is the Best Small Town to Live in California?

The best small town to live in California is Santa Barbara. It is a coastal town with a population of around 90,000 people and is known for its beautiful beaches and Mediterranean climate. Santa Barbara is a great place to live, with plenty of outdoor activities and a vibrant food scene.

What Is the Safest Beach Town in California?

The safest beach town in California is Coronado, just outside San Diego. It has consistently ranked as one of the safest cities in the United States, with a low crime rate and a strong sense of community. Coronado is also known for its beautiful beaches and stunning views, making it the perfect destination for a safe and relaxing beach holiday.

Are There Small Beach Towns in La?

Yes, there are small beach towns in LA. For example, Manhattan Beach is located in the South Bay region of LA and is a popular spot for surfing and swimming. Likewise, Hermosa Beach is located in the same region and is known for its scenic pier and beachfront promenade.

What Is the Coolest Thing About Southern California Beach Towns?

The coolest thing about Southern California beach towns is the year-round sunshine, perfect for soaking up the sun and enjoying the beach. There’s also a great selection of restaurants and shops to explore and plenty of exciting activities to do. Best of all, the nearby mountains and desert provide an amazing contrast to the coastal atmosphere.

My Private Thoughts and Experiences Of Small California Coastal Towns

When I lived in San Diego, California as a teenager, I had the privilege of exploring the many small coastal towns around the area. From Carlsbad to La Jolla, each town had its unique charm. Whether strolling along the boardwalk of Mission Beach or admiring the sea lions at La Jolla Cove, I was captivated by the beauty of these small beach towns.

I found that each of these towns had something special to offer, from the vibrant nightlife of Pacific Beach to the quaint shops of Encinitas. Not only are these small beach towns a great place to explore, but they are also very affordable for short vacation getaways.


Wrapping up, it’s clear that California offers some of the most beautiful coastal towns in the world. With a variety of locations to choose from, visitors can find one that suits their interests. There’s something for everyone from Carlsbad in the south to Shelter Cove in the north.

One thing is certain: when it comes to small coastal towns, California has plenty to offer. Whether you’re looking for an exciting beach town or a quiet seaside village, you’ll find what you want in this wonderful state. I’ve personally visited each of these places and can confirm they are worth exploring!