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A giant rock protrudes from a bay at dusk. In the foreground, pitched rooftops and colorful buildings.
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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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Morro Bay.
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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, you can always pack up the car—or hop on a bus or train—and head to some of these small towns within a few hours of the city.

From quaint beachside communities to mountain towns to desert retreats, Southern California is filled with all kinds of towns to explore on a long weekend or a strategically planned sick day. Around this time of year, some of them might even have snow on the ground.

Below are more than a dozen options for when you feel like leaving city life behind for a while.

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1. 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.

Arroyo Grande.
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2. 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. But it can be a fun place to visit during the off-season, when you won’t have to contend with summertime crowds. Your lodging will likely be cheaper as well, leaving a little extra spending money for the shops and restaurants that dot the waterfront.

Avalon.
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3. 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. It's got a stop on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner route, so you can leave the car behind.

Carpinteria.
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4. 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 is accessible to miles of hiking trails, many open in winter months—when you’ll want snow chains if driving up. Fun fact: Idyllwild is home to Frank Gehry’s very first project, the little-known David Cabin.

Idyllwild.
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5. Joshua Tree

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

6. 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. Hot cider and pie make for a natural combination during the winter months.

7. 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.

8. Lake Arrowhead

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Another mountain town, Lake Arrowhead is about as touristy as they come. But that’s not always a bad thing. The small community in the San Bernardino Mountains offers skiing in the winter months, lakeside recreation in the summer months, and a seemingly endless array of festivals and events all year round. For family-friendly winter festivities, you can bop over to nearby Skypark at Santa’s Village.

Lake Arrowhead.
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9. 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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10. 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.
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11. 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. In winter, you’ll find plenty of hot cider. Quaint shops, restaurants, and bakeries are open year-round.

12. 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. Take a hike. Read a book. Meditate. Ojai has long been the place Southern Californians go to relax.

Two people walk along a long arcade with white archways along one side and shop windows along the other
Ojai.
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13. 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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14. 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.

Vineyards in Santa Ynez.
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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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. Between Thanksgiving and early January, you can check out the annual Julefest: a light-filled holiday event with food, drink, and hidden nisse (gnomish creatures from Danish folklore).

A row of shops in buildings with bay windows and gable roofs; a tall windmill stands in the background.
Solvang.
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18. 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.

19. 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.

A long green building labeled Evergreen Cafe, decorated with strings of lights Shutterstock

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1. Arroyo Grande

Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
Arroyo Grande.
Shutterstock

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.

2. 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. But it can be a fun place to visit during the off-season, when you won’t have to contend with summertime crowds. Your lodging will likely be cheaper as well, leaving a little extra spending money for the shops and restaurants that dot the waterfront.

3. Carpinteria

Carpinteria, CA
Carpinteria.
Getty Images

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. It's got a stop on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner route, so you can leave the car behind.

4. Idyllwild

Idyllwild-Pine Cove, CA
Idyllwild.
Shutterstock

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 is accessible to miles of hiking trails, many open in winter months—when you’ll want snow chains if driving up. Fun fact: Idyllwild is home to Frank Gehry’s very first project, the little-known David Cabin.

5. Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree, CA 92252

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

6. 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. Hot cider and pie make for a natural combination during the winter months.

7. 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.

8. Lake Arrowhead

Lake Arrowhead, CA
Lake Arrowhead.
Getty Images

Another mountain town, Lake Arrowhead is about as touristy as they come. But that’s not always a bad thing. The small community in the San Bernardino Mountains offers skiing in the winter months, lakeside recreation in the summer months, and a seemingly endless array of festivals and events all year round. For family-friendly winter festivities, you can bop over to nearby Skypark at Santa’s Village.

9. 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.”

10. Morro Bay

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

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.

11. Oak Glen

Oak Glen, CA 92399

Like Julian, Oak Glen is known for its apples. You can pick them for yourself at several orchards during fall months. In winter, you’ll find plenty of hot cider. Quaint shops, restaurants, and bakeries are open year-round.

12. Ojai

Ojai, CA 93023
Two people walk along a long arcade with white archways along one side and shop windows along the other
Ojai.
Shutterstock

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. Take a hike. Read a book. Meditate. Ojai has long been the place Southern Californians go to relax.

13. 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.

14. Santa Ynez

Santa Ynez, CA
Vineyards in Santa Ynez.
Getty Images

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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. Solvang

1680 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463
A row of shops in buildings with bay windows and gable roofs; a tall windmill stands in the background.
Solvang.
Shutterstock

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. Between Thanksgiving and early January, you can check out the annual Julefest: a light-filled holiday event with food, drink, and hidden nisse (gnomish creatures from Danish folklore).

1680 Mission Dr
Solvang, CA 93463

18. 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.

19. Wrightwood

1269 Evergreen Rd, Wrightwood, CA 92397
A long green building labeled Evergreen Cafe, decorated with strings of lights Shutterstock

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