California is one of the most stunning states in the United States. From coast to coast, it offers everything from scenic beaches to snowcapped peaks. But beyond the coasts, the Golden State has some truly breathtaking landscapes. And while the Pacific Ocean is home to endless sandy shores, those who want to explore the inland side of California can find plenty of natural wonders. Whether you’re seeking a relaxing retreat or a fun adventure, here are 27 charming mountain towns in California that are worth exploring.
#1. Big Bear Lake, CA
Big Bear Lake is located about 90 minutes north of Los Angeles. With over 300 days of sunshine per year, visitors enjoy hiking, skiing, swimming, boating, fishing, camping, and golfing. There are even several wineries nearby.
#2. Mammoth Lakes, CA
Mammoth Lakes is situated in the Eastern Sierras near Yosemite National Park. It features gorgeous views of the surrounding area and is surrounded by national forests and wilderness areas.
#3. Bishop, CA
Located in the heart of Northern California, Bishop is home to a number of great attractions including the Bishop Winery, the Bishop Museum, and the historic Old Town Square.
The Best Mountain Towns in Northern California
Truckee is located at the Northern edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s nestled between Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe, and it’s surrounded by some of the most stunning views you’ll find anywhere. And there’s no better way to experience those views than hiking around town.
With miles of trails surrounding the city, visitors can explore everything from lakeside beaches to hidden coves to the high peaks above. In addition to hiking, there are plenty of things to do in Truckee, including white water rafting, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, biking, golfing, swimming, picnicking and camping.
There are many wonderful hotels and inns in Truckee, too. From cozy bed & breakfasts to luxury resorts, there’s something for everyone here. You might even want to plan a vacation around a weekend festival like the Truckee River Festival or the Fourth of July Fireworks Celebration.
South Lake Tahoe
Elevation: 6,237 ft. Population: 21,934
The town of South Lake Tahoma is the largest in the lake area, but it still manages to maintain its small Californian mountain town vibe.
South Lake Tahoe is known primarily for its proximity to beautiful state parks in the summertime, including DL Bliss State park and Emerald bay State park, as well as its abundance of winter outdoor recreation opportunities.
In addition to its natural beauty, there are many things to do in South Lake Tahoe. There are several breweries in town, such as Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Deschutes Brewery, as well as bars like the Broken Shaker Pub and the Blue Door Tavern.
There are lots of restaurants serving everything from Italian fare to Mexican cuisine, and you’ll find some good Chinese food too. And don’t forget about the local favorite, Shake Shack!
Elevation: 3,586 ft. Population: 3,275
The small mountain town of Mt Shasta lies in the shadow of the famous eponymous mountain itself, which towers over the area like a giant sentinel. But despite being dominated by its towering neighbor, Mt. Shasta is certainly no underdog. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This charming mountain town offers everything you’d want in a vacation destination – beautiful scenery, great food, cozy lodging, and friendly locals. And best of all, there are plenty of things to do here year round. Whether you’re looking for some outdoor adventure, a relaxing retreat, or just want to make memories with friends and family, Mt. Shasta has something for everyone.
Elevation: 2,477 ft Population: 3,144
Located in the Sierra Nevada foothillss, the city boasts some charming Victorians and plenty of fine dining options.
Nevada City is one of California’s oldest towns, having been founded in 1849. Today, it’s home to a number of historic buildings, including the Old Courthouse Museum, the Pioneer Cemetery, the Nevada County Historical Society, and the Nevada Theatre.
And while Nevada City may be old, it’s definitely not stuck in time. There are tons of fun activities to enjoy here, including skiing at nearby Squaw Valley, hiking, bicycling, boating, fishing, and more.
If you’re planning on visiting during the winter months, check out the annual Winter Carnival, held every February. It features carnival rides, live music, and other events throughout the entire month.
Elevation: 2,411 ft. Population: 12,8911
The town of Grass Valley sits nestled in just south of Lake Tahoe, offering visitors a plethora of outdoor activities including hiking, skiing, fishing, boating, and golfing. This small mountain town is home to several wineries, breweries, and restaurants.
Elevation: 1,227 ft / 371 m14,011 Population: 5,842
The charming mountain town of Auburn sits top a high plateau surrounded by steep hills and beautiful forests. A popular destination for hiking enthusiasts, visitors enjoy walking along the banks of the scenic American River and exploring the surrounding state parks, such as the Auburn State Recreation Area, where you’ll find plenty of opportunities for fishing, boating, camping, picnicking and horseback riding. There are also several historical sites worth seeing, including the Old Town District and the Gold Rush Museum, both located downtown.
Elevation: 1,868 feet10,971 Population:
Placerville is a historic gold mining boomtown in Northern California about 50 miles north of Sacramento. In 1850, Placerville had a population of 4,000 people and was the largest city in Nevada County. Today, Placerville still retains much of its original character, especially along Main Street, the heart of downtown. There are many charming Victorian homes dating back to the late 1800s.
The area is known for its beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities. Lake Tahoe lies 20 minutes away; Mount Lassen National Park is 30 minutes south of Placerville. Nearby wineries include Silver Oak Vineyard & Winery, Pangaea Cellars, and Janssen Vineyards.
In the late 19th century, Dunsmuir was a bustling mining town. Its population swelled to over 10,000 people during the Gold Rush. Today, the city is still one of the most popular tourist destinations in California.
The name “Dunsmuir” originated from Scottish immigrants James and Andrew Dunsmuir. They came to California in 1852 and opened up a general store in what is now downtown Dunsmuir.
Today, there are many things to do in Dunsmuir including hiking, fishing, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, golfing, camping, and sightseeing. There are several museums, restaurants, hotels, and shops.
Elevation: 3,195 ft. Population: 3,966
The charming town of Burney sits nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, just north of Lake Tahoe. Burney is known for being the closest town in California to McArthur-Burnie Falls Memorial State Park, where visitors can enjoy hiking trails, camping, fishing, swimming, bird watching, horseback riding and much more.
In addition to state park activities, Burney is also a good base for exploring nearby Lassen Volcanics National Park and Lassens National Forest.
The Best Mountain Towns in the Western Sierras
Sonora sits nestled among some of California’s most scenic mountains. Located just south of Yosemite National Park, it offers visitors a taste of what life used to be like in the Gold Rush era. A trip into the heart of Gold Country provides travelers with a glimpse into history.
Sonora, located about 120 miles northwest of Sacramento, is filled with historic buildings and quaint shops. Visitors are greeted with a wide variety of galleries, boutiques, restaurants and cafes. There are many places to eat out, including Mexican food, Chinese food, pizza, barbecue and coffee houses.
There are plenty of things to do while you’re here too. For example, there are three museums within walking distance of each other. You’ll find the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Sonoma County History Center and the Sonora Railroad Depot Museum. All offer free admission.
You might want to take advantage of the outdoor activities in the area. Hiking and biking trails abound. If you enjoy fishing, Sonora Creek is stocked with trout. And if you’d rather go golfing, there are 18 courses nearby.
Elevation: 3,136 ft. Population: 247
The small town of Groveland is located just east of San Francisco along Highway 120. It’s a gateway to Yosemite National Park and is the quintessential “Low Sierra Mountain Town.”
As a gateway to Yosemite, it offers visitors all sorts of amenities including lodging, restaurants, gas stations, groceries, ATMs, etc.
Groveland is also quite close to Hetchey Reservoir for those wanting to see a quieter side of Yosemite, far away form the crowds of the valley.
Elevation: 3,999 ft
Entirely located within Yosemite national park, Wawona is one of the most popular destinations in Yosemite National Park. Located just off Highway 41, it is home to several lodges and hotels, including the historic Wawona hotel.
There are all sorts of cabanas in Yosemite National Park, some of them located in Wawa, as well as the historical Wawona hotel. In addition, there are the Wawona covered bridge and the swinging bridge, as well as the pioneer history center.
Elevation: 3,415 ft.
Located just 14 miles from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park and situated within the Sierra National Forest, Bass Lake is a stunning mountain lake getaway in the heart of Northern California.
The small town of Mariposa sits nearby, offering visitors easy access to many outdoor activities including hiking, biking, horseback riding, golfing, camping, fishing, kayaking, swimming, white water rafting, bird watching, wildlife viewing, rock climbing, and much more.
The Best Mountain Towns in the Eastern Sierras
Mammoth Lakes is one of those towns that looks like a postcard. Located in the Eastern Sierran mountains, Mammoth Lakes is a gorgeous little town that offers everything from skiing to snowboarding to hiking to fishing to rafting to boating to swimming to golfing to sightseeing to shopping. And Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is just down the road.
And that’s just what makes Mammoth Lakes such a fantastic mountain getaway destination. There are lots of things to do here, whether you want to ski, ride bikes, go hiking, fish, play golf, take scenic drives, shop, eat, drink, dine or simply relax.
Mammoth Lakes sits at an elevation of about 7,800 feet above sea level. This gives Mammoth Lakes a slightly cooler climate than some other areas of California because there’s less humidity. But the cool temperatures don’t mean you won’t find warm days during the summer months. In fact, Mammoth Lakes actually gets warmer weather than San Francisco does most of the time.
Elevation: 7,654 ft
The town of June Lake sits nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains along the western edge of Yosemite National Park. A small community since the late 1800s, June Lake offers visitors a variety of outdoor activities throughout the year. Summertime brings tourists seeking the area’s beautiful beaches, while snow sports enthusiasts come to enjoy skiing and snowboarding during the winter months.
Summertime brings tourists seeking the areas’ beautiful beaches, while snow sport enthusiasts come to enjoy skiing & snowboarding during the winter.
Elevation: 4,150 ft. Population: 3,745
The town of Bishop in the eastern Sierras is a good base camp for all kinds mountain adventures in the area. Visit the Railroad Museum, take a hike, see what it looks like in the fall, climb, explore nearby hot springs or explore the majestic bristlecone pine forest.
Elevation: 3,727 ft / 1,207 m
– Lone Pine is situated in California’s Inyo County, about 120 miles north of Los Angeles.
– Located along Interstate 395, it’s a popular stopover for travelers heading into Yosemite National Park.
– With a population of 5,926 people, Lone Pine is one of the smallest incorporated cities in America.
– It’s named after Chief Lone Bear, who lived here during the Gold Rush era.
– The city is also home to the famous Mount Whitney, which rises 4,421 feet above sea level.
– Lone Pine sits in the heart of the Mojave Desert, surrounded by mountains and valleys.
– It‘s known for its rich history and culture, including the annual Independence Day celebration, which takes place every July Fourth weekend.
The Best Mountain Towns in Southern California
Ojai is one of those towns where it feels like everyone knows each other – even though there’s less than 10,000 people living here. This small city sits in the middle of Ventura County, surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Santa Monica and Topanga.
In fact, Ojai is known for being a “small town big city.” There are plenty of things to do here including shopping, dining, and wining and dining. If you’re looking for something fun to do, check out the Ojai Valley Winery Tour & Tasting Room. You’ll learn about the history of the area while tasting some delicious wines.
If you want to spend the day relaxing, try taking a hike along the many trails around Ojai. Hiking is popular here because the city limits are set up in such a way that allows residents to take advantage of the natural beauty of the surrounding areas.
There are also plenty of places to eat in Ojai. If you’re craving Mexican food, head over to El Cholo Taqueria. Or maybe you’d prefer Italian cuisine. Try Ristorante La Palma.
Elevation: 505 feet
Population: 5,804 – Located in the Santa Yneiz Valley, amid rolling hills and Figuera Mountain in the background. Enjoy the historic European-style half timbered houses that were built during the town’s settlement by Danes. Be sure to help yourself out to some delicious Danish pasties, such as the local favorite aebleskiver!
Elevation: 5,400 ft Population: 430
The beautiful Southern California mountain town is a beloved place to go for apple picking as well as in the Winter for a spot of snow if you are lucky!
Oak Glen is also known for it’s shopping, local festivals and it’s Wildlands Conservancy which offers a great place to take walks amongst local flora and fauna – there is even a trail called ‘Apple Creek Trail’ that takes visitors along the creek where apples grow!
Elevation: 4,226 ft. Population: 1,019
Julian, California is another mountain city in southern California known for its apple farms. In the springtime, you’ll find all the apple trees blooming bright pink, white, red, and yellow. You can come in the summertime to enjoy the cool air, hiking trails, and swimming pools. Or come in the wintertime to ski down the mountains.
In addition to being a beautiful area, Julian is also a great spot for stargazing. With some of the darkest skies in California, there are many places to go outside and gaze up at the stars. There are several hotels and inns located near the mountains where you can spend the night under the stars and wake up to the sound of birds chirping.
Elevation: 5,174 ft Population: 8,940
Lake Arrowhead is a beautiful lakeside oasis in the mountains just south of San Bernardino, CA – great for a summer escape or cabin escape in the winter. Located about 40 miles northeast of Los Angeles, it’s charming no matter the season and a great place for a variety of outdoor activities. There are many hiking trails nearby and you’ll find some of the best views around at the top of Mt. Baldy. You might even spot a deer or mountain lion while out exploring.
The town itself offers plenty of things to do including shopping, dining, and entertainment. If you’re looking for something different, check out the annual “Festival of Lights” during the holiday season. Or maybe you’d like to enjoy a relaxing day trip to Disneyland. In the summertime, there are concerts, festivals, and fireworks displays throughout the area. And don’t forget to bring your fishing gear because you’ll definitely want to go fly fishing in one of the local streams.
Elevation: 5,413 ft. Population: 2,510
A short drive from either Los Angles or San Diego, Idylwild is a great place for visitors to play in the snow during winter or enjoy the hiking trail system in summer. This small mountain town offers affordable cabins and quaint shops along Main Street. You’ll find many restaurants and bars within walking distance.
Big Bear Lake
Elevation: 6,752 ft
Population: 5,241 – Big Bear Lake is located about 80 miles east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County, California. The city of Big Bear Lake is situated at the base of Snow Canyon Mountain, where the lake itself sits at an elevation of 6,752 feet above sea level.
The population of Big Bear Lake is approximately 5,241 people. This makes Big Bear Lake one of the smaller cities in the United States. However, there are still many things to do in Big Bear Lake during your vacation. You’ll find shopping centers, hotels, restaurants, parks, museums, and much more.
There are over 40 ski resorts within 30 minutes of Big Bear Lake. These include Alpine Meadows, Bear Valley Ski Resort, Black Diamond Ranch, and Whitewater Basin. There are also plenty of hiking trails nearby. Some of the best hikes near the town of Big Bear Lake are the Bear Creek Trail, the Bear River Trail, and the North Fork Trail.
Big Bear Lake is home to the Big Bear Discovery Center Museum. This museum features exhibits on local history, geology, wildlife, and natural habitats. If you’re looking for something fun to do while you’re in town, check out the Big Bear Lake Aquarium. This aquarium houses hundreds of different species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals.
If you want to see some amazing views of the surrounding area, take a ride on the Big Bear Aerial Tramway. This tramway takes passengers up into the mountains, offering stunning views of the area. Another way to view the beautiful scenery around Big Bear Lake is to go fishing. Many locals recommend catching trout, bass, steelhead, and salmon.
You’ll probably hear a lot of people talk about how warm it gets in Big Bear Lake during the wintertime. In fact, the average temperature here is nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit every day of the year. While you might think that the winters are cold, there are actually lots of activities to keep you busy during those months. For example, you can play ice hockey, downhill skate, cross country ski, snowboard, sled dog racing, and even snowmobiling.