10 of the Most Picturesque Tiny Towns in Northern California [Interactive Map]
California is home to several renowned cities, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world. With skyscrapers, bright lights and warm beaches teeming with sunbathers — there’s something enchanting and glamorous about visiting cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
However, there is something equally as magical as discovering a quiet gem tucked away from the foot traffic. There are plenty of tiny towns dotting the coastline, mountains, and valleys of Northern California. Explore some of our favorites, featuring quaint historic downtowns, stunning views, and that unmistakable small-town lure. Then plan your next road trip using our interactive map!
Auburn is a quiet town situated in the heart of California’s Gold Country. It is a designated California Historical Landmark with a picturesque downtown comprised of homes and buildings from the mid 1800s. Downtown Auburn combines Old West charm with modern appeal and sophistication through its wine bars, restaurants and breweries. The best part? If you love this town enough during a visit, we can help you make your stay a bit more permanent! Our agents in Auburn are experts in the town’s hot spots, recreational opportunities, and of course — the local real estate market.
Photo Courtesy of Visit Ferndale
On your way to California’s Lost Coast, a gorgeous untouched section of coastline, make a stop in Ferndale. This adorable well-preserved Victorian village may be quaint, but it has plenty in store. You will feel like you stepped back in time as you stroll along Ferndale’s Main Street, which is included on the National Register of Historic Places. Step into its Victorian buildings hosting art galleries, specialty shops and local eateries. Complete your quintessential Northern California road trip with a visit to the preserves of Coast Redwood forests nearby.
Photo Courtesy of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce
This quiet Gold Rush town is a must-visit. Nevada City is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains’ western foothills, just 45 minutes from the Donner Summit skiing area and just over an hour from Lake Tahoe ski areas. Nevada City was first settled in 1849 during the California Gold Rush, and the town still maintains its original charm and vintage architecture. Most of the buildings in Nevada City date back to the 19th century. Walk along the narrow streets of Broad Street, where you will discover art, clothes, books, jewelry and delicious cuisine. There are a number of renowned events in Nevada City each year, including the Nevada City Bicycle Classic, First Friday Art Walks and Victorian Christmas.
Photo Courtesy of the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce
St. Helena is the perfect home base for those visiting the many wineries throughout Napa Valley. This picturesque town is often regarded as Napa Valley’s Main Street. St. Helena’s architectural wonders house a collection of boutiques, galleries and dining establishments featuring some of the best wines in the world. The area is known for its hiking and biking options as well, making this an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts in addition to the many visiting wine connoisseurs.
Photo Courtesy of the Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce
Dunsmuir is a hidden mountain town in Northern California known for its peaceful atmosphere and stunning geography. The town is situated along I-5, making it easily accessible from other cities. Dunsmuir is popular amongst fishermen, skiers, rock climbers and hikers. The official city slogan is “Home of the Best Water on Earth.” Hedge Creek Falls and the city’s Botanical Gardens are popular during the warmer months, but the historic downtown is a must-visit all year long. Dunsmuir hosts buildings dating back to the early 20th century, with an abundance of quaint boutiques, local eateries and charming details throughout.
Located right in our backyard, Placerville is a quintessential Gold Country city and registered California Historical Landmark. It is situated in the heart of the Sierra Foothills just a few miles from the renowned Apple Hill, famous for its fall season festivities, apple and fruit farms, wineries, bakeries, and Christmas tree farms. After one look at its picturesque downtown, it’s easy to see why Placerville inspired artist Thomas Kinkade, who was once a resident. Interested in becoming a resident of this charming town as well? Our agents in Placerville would be happy to help you find a home — whether you’re looking for an equestrian ranch home, condominium, or an estate with acreage.
Eureka is by far the largest on our list, but in comparison to many cities in California, it still maintains its endearing small-town feel. Nestled along the coast near the renowned Redwood forests in Northern California, Eureka is filled with natural beauty and stunning architecture. Its historic Old Town is lined with adorable shops, restaurants, coffee shops and art galleries, all of which are just steps from the shimmering water connecting Arcata Bay with the Pacific. This is a refreshing stop for those traveling up the 101 or exploring groves of Redwoods in the area. The city of Eureka is a state historic landmark because of its impressive collection of significant Victorian homes, including the nationally recognized Carson Mansion. The historic accolades continue, as Eureka is home to California’s oldest zoo, the Sequoia Park Zoo.
With a population under 1,000, Mendocino certainly is a tiny town. This quiet seaside oasis is known for its natural beauty. It hosts a collection of Victorian villages residing along the coastline, picturesque vineyards and towering redwood forests. In fact, this charming town was included amongst Frommer’s lists of the Best Places to Go in 2016. Stroll along the network of streets lined with historic buildings, then take in the cool ocean breeze at any of the coastal parks in Mendocino. Admire the breathtaking sight of ocean waves lapping against cliffs and rocks covered in bright green moss.
Photo Courtesy of the Sutter Creek Business Association
Lying in the shadow of Napa Valley, Amador County is an underrated wine region with over 40 boutique wineries and tasting rooms. Sutter Creek makes an excellent home base while exploring the robust selection of wines in the area. This quaint town has an array of shops and restaurants in historic buildings, many of which date back to the 1800s. Many of the town’s original brick buildings are still standing, and a number of mansions have been constructed by wealthier residents in hills surrounding Sutter Creek. Stop by the visitor center to get acquainted with the area, then take a drive through rustic vistas lined with gorgeous vineyards.
Just a few miles from the busyness of San Francisco, this quiet town is a renowned houseboat community with some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You will feel like you’ve escaped from it all while in Sausalito, but you can still access the excitement of the city with a short drive — or a ferry ride! You’ll love cozying up at a local pub or bistro, escaping to the spa, and enjoying the amazing scenery of the area. Sausalito retains one of the few ungated marinas in the Bay Area, hosting over 400 houseboats of various shapes, sizes and values.
It is impossible to pick just 10!
We left out so many adorable tiny towns in Northern California. Which would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!