Part of the fun of a California vacation is exploring places that are off the beaten path. The tourist towns certainly have their charms, but for an authentic California experience, we highly recommend going a little off the grid. Some of our best hidden gems can be found in our less popular spots.
Before you plan your full itinerary, make sure you get into a good rental car that will go the distance. Our car rental reservations Los Angeles can get you from LAX into a brand new car in a short period of time. And since Super Cheap doesn’t discriminate based on your age, we’ll have plenty of underage car rental Los Angeles options as well.
Once you’re behind the wheel of your perfect rental car, you’re free to explore the state. Here are 12 under-the-radar towns on the California Coast we recommend visiting.
Point Arena is a mecca for lifelong hippies and old school Californians. Once a prominent fishing village, this sleepy little town is a charming place with a pier to the south and the Pacific Coast’s tallest lighthouse to the north. It’s located up in Mendocino County about three hours north of San Francisco, so you’ll want to plan a multi day road trip if you visit.
You might feel as if you’ve stepped into a little New England town when you enter Pescadero, another Northern California gem located about an hour south of San Francisco. Its 19th century buildings and white picket fences are like nothing else on the coast. Pescadero is locally famous because of Duarte’s Tavern, a 120-year-old establishment that serves some seriously scrumptious food.
Capitola is the oldest seaside town in California, and its rows of colorful Venetian inspired bungalows give it the kind of old world charm you just don’t see anymore. It’s a lowkey place, but it has all the shops, restaurants and hotel amenities you’ll need. You’ll find Capitola in Santa Cruz County next to several other charming towns.
Also located in Santa Cruz County, Davenport was founded in 1868 and named after a sea captain. You can taste wine at the Bonnie Doon Vineyard, taste jam at the Swanton Berry Farm, and relax on Davenport Landing Beach.
Carpinteria is a delightful beach town with friendly residents, amazing scenery and arguably the best cupcakes in California (from Crushcakes). It’s only a 15 minute drive from Santa Barbara and also happens to be home to the “world’s safest beach.”
Oxnard is laid back, unpretentious, and beautiful. It’s located in Ventura County about an hour’s drive from Santa Monica, and it’s a great place to visit if you’re on a budget. Channel Islands National Park remains perpetually uncrowded.
Oceanside isn’t as “under the radar” as the rest of the places on this list—it’s the third largest city in San Diego County. But it’s lacking the hint of pretense than most modern Southern California beach towns seem to embody, but it has everything you could hope for in a coastal city. If you’re there on a Thursday evening, don’t miss the notoriously amazing Sunset Market.
Located off Highway 1 between Morro Bay and Cambria, Cayucos lies nestled on the Central Coast. This resort destination has somehow remained immune to overdevelopment despite its white sandy beaches and amazing wine nearby. Cass’ Wharf, the free public fishing pier, is a great place to people watch.
San Pedro is technically part of LA, and in fact, it’s only about 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles. It’s full of casual-fast seafood, coastal walking trails and coves, art galleries, vineyards and shops, as well as middle class locals who are living the good life without paying (quite) as much as others.
In the late 90s, a disastrous oil leak forced the people of Avila Beach to bulldoze and rebuild the entire beachfront area. But this may have been a blessing in disguise, because it’s now even more appealing than it used to be. This funky Central Coast gem is full of wine bars and tasting rooms, and the Avila Pier is beautiful.
Playa del Rey
Playa del Rey (not to be confused with the more well-known Marina del Rey) is a mere 15 minutes from LAX, though you’d never know it. This coastal enclave is quiet, relaxing and fun. The 20 mile stretch of white sand beach is located just a few blocks from the restaurants, markets and shops.
This picturesque place has lofty bluffs, coves and stunning beaches, making it one of Orange County’s most photogenic places. The early surf mecca vibe has never quite faded from this place, and it’s got a few timeless dive bars as well as stunning mansions and yachts. Dana Point is conveniently located in between Los Angeles and San Diego, so if you go on a road trip, it’s a perfect place to stop.