7 Best Small Cities in California to Live in

When people think of the Golden State, their thoughts likely head to popular centers, like Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Diego. While these are certainly amazing places to dwell, there’s something quite special about the smaller cities in California that offer residents a fantastic lifestyle surrounded by natural beauty, be it the mountains or the coastline.

In fact, most of the state is made up of smaller towns that combine both the beauty of the outdoors with plenty of amenities that make it easy to live, work, and play all in one glorious place.


Here is a list of some of the best small cities in California to call home, in no particular order.

1. Grover Beach

Located in the hub of California’s Central Coast is Grover Beach, the perfect spot if you’re looking for then best of both worlds in terms of the beach and the mountains. The climate is somewhat like that of the Mediterranean: mild year-round with limited precipitation.

Housing is moderately affordable here, unlike any larger cities throughout the state, with the average median price for a home sitting at $444,100. Plenty of employment opportunities are available in Grover Beach’s healthy agricultural district, so there’s a great opportunity to live and work in the same locale.

Gorgeous landmarks can be enjoyed here, including the Arroyo Grande Valley wine region, as well as the famous beach boardwalk. Residents can also participate in the annual Stone Soup Ethnic Music Faire at Romona Garden Park, where you’ll also find an amphitheater and gazebo.

2. Sonoma

Not far from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco is Sonoma, an old valley in the center of California’s multi-billion-dollar wine industry. This trade alone offers plenty of job opportunities for those interested in working virtually in their own backyards. 

The beauty of Sonoma’s natural landscapes can’t be ignored: its rolling hills decorated with picturesque vines that are glistened by the incessant sunshine makes for some of the most spectacular settings anyone can dream of.

In addition to the area’s obvious wineries, residents can also enjoy the area’s thriving agriculture and excellent fine dining options that range from local dishes to Mediterranean cuisine. Rich in culture and history, Sonoma is among the greatest small cities in California to call home.

3. Avalon

Avalon is situated on the eastern part of Catalina Island, and is only accessible by ferry or helicopter. Despite its somewhat confined mobility, the town is certainly worth the small sacrifice, given its surrounding waters, Mediterranean and tropical feel, and incredible climate. The land is so highly coveted that it can be tough to find real estate here based on limited housing options available.

Aquatic opporuntities abound in Avalon, including snorkeling, diving, boating, and even frolicking in the waters. Residents can also enjoy golfing and hiking year-round.

Almost one million visitors make their way to Avalon each year, lending to the area’s healthy tourist industry. That’s a large number, considering the island’s population is a lot less than that. Once tourists leave following peak travel times, the town is as serene as can be.

4. Nevada City

This is where old-world charm in California is at. The name “Nevada City” might seem synonymous with the bright lights and loud casinos of Vegas, but this particular town’s version of gambling came in the form of gold panning back  that started in the mid-1800s.

In fact, gold panning is still participated in today in Nevada City. Quaint bed-and-breakfasts, vintage saloons, antique shops, and classic theaters keep the town tied to its historic roots. The town’s National Hotel is still in operation, and has been since the 1850s!

5. Montague

Another California town rich in history is Montague, with its old-fashioned feel and historical landmarks, like Railroad Park, which depicts life in the old gold mining days. Despite the town being established more than a century-and-a-half ago, it’s not nearly as settled as many other towns across the state with only 1,443 residents calling Montague home. However, plenty of tourists flock to the town every year thanks to its gorgeous scenery, clear skies, and pleasant climate.

Montague is home to an annual Balloon Fair in the Shasta Valley’s mountainside desert. Hot air balloon fanatics enjoy taking to the blue skies with their colorful globes. 

6. Sausalito

The small town of Sausalito is the perfect haven for artists and entertainers thanks to its rich history of famous artists who once called it home, such as musician Otis Redding, and literary legend Isabel Allende. Downtown Sausalito features a plethora of art galleries, bookshops, and cafés that provide a clear sense of the art scene in California. The European settlers who planted roots in Sausalito over a century ago have had a huge influence on the town, which is still notable today.

The housing in Sausalito is also unique and incredibly diverse. From the classic Victorian homes to the contemporary glass houses, Sausalito’s real estate is certainly an eclectic one.

7. Ojai

The gentle hills, rustic ranches, and picturesque vineyards of Ojai make it an attractive option for Californians to dwell. So important and celebrated is the wine industry here that the annual Ojai Wine Festival has been taking place every June for nearly three decades along the shores of Lake Casitas.

Thanks to the area’s fertile grounds and ideal climate, Ojai is abundant in agriculture, including fresh fruit. The myriad of natural resources provides the town with a welcomed break from the concrete jungle of the big city. Less than two hours away from L.A., it’s not uncommon to see Hollywood types venture to Ojai looking for a quick getaway.

From coastal towns to mountainous villages, some of the most breathtaking places in California are not necessarily in the more populated centers, but rather in the smallest cities. There’s no denying the lure of breathtaking scenery and natural beauty set amidst old-world charm mixed with modern luxuries. These seven small cities mark some of the best spots in the Golden State to live in.