As harvest season approaches, head over to wine country. Not only does St. Helena in Napa Valley have some of the best wineries in the area, such as the fairy-tale like Beringer Winery (pictured here), the downtown is a sweet archetype of an Americana main street.
This tiny town hugging the Russian River is noted as a LGBTQ enclave. After splashing around in the river, be sure to stay at one of several ledges. Lazy Bear Weekend, an annual summertime bash for the queer bear community, is one of the area’s biggest draws.
Occidental is a tiny town nestled in evergreens and Redwoods. Since the ’60s, it has been a stronghold for the hippie movement, many people left the big cities of the bay area to join one of the many communes here. The hippie spirit is still alive and sure to be felt at the sunny and tranquil Union Hotel or Barley and Hops Tavern.
Noted as one of the toniest towns in Wine Country, this is the place to go is you’re hungry and packing a black AmEx. The French Laundry. Redd. Ad hoc. All of these places have helped this small town become one of the country’s biggest artisan pilgrimage. While you’re tossing around money, be sure to spend the night at Hotel Yountville. Oh la la, indeed.
It is hard not to be absorbed by Petaluma’s nostalgia. The carefully maintained historic downtown and residential neighborhoods easily transport voyeurs into the ’50s, probably the reason Pleasantville was filmed there. The ever-popular Lagunitas Brewing Company also has its headquarters in Petaluma and is open for tours daily.
The sleepy town of Marshall feels like a fishing village in Maine, worlds away from San Francisco’s modern pace. The cottages in Nick’s Cove will no doubt provide respite for weekenders, and be sure to check out the bioluminescence tour and oyster farming in Tomales Bay.
As all small towns should, downtown Inverness has a general store, post office, library, two restaurants, and a coffee shop, no more no less. One foggy morning, take a boat out on Tomales Bay, listen to the fog horns groan, and feel how blissful solitude can be.
Of special note: Saltwater is one of the area’s best restaurants. Per Eater SF, “Adjacent to the local post office, it’s awash in windows and wood, slotted rafters and white clapboard, with a long, concrete-topped bar that’s backed by Northern California wines on tap and fronted by a trough of oysters sitting on crushed ice.” Swoon.
8. Port Costa
Port Costa feels trapped in 1879, in the best way possible. The very small town (less than 0.2 square miles) was once a loading port for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and had a brothel and a few saloons to cater to the SPRR workers passing through.
Though Port Costa’s Gold Rush past is over, many of the businesses from those glory days still remain. For example, Warehouse Cafe, built in 1883 and relatively unchanged to this day, is full of memorabilia and a 16 foot stuffed polar bear grimacing over a stuffed seal cub.
Once thought of as the epicenter of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake due to the fault rifts still visible along a nearby hiking path—that seismic distinction, it turns out, goes to Daly City—this small town just south of Point Reyes along Highway 1 offers a few shops, a couple of restaurants (be sure to check out Sir & Star), a lodge, and a handful of bed and breakfasts. There’s also a campground for those who prefer to rough it.
The seaside community of Bolinas is the oldest town in Marin County, and is isolated from the outside world by the Bolinas lagoon. The tranquil village almost got erased by a four-lane highway, but luckily has been able to preserve its classic 19th century character through the years. For instance, Smiley’s Saloon and Hotel has been operating in the same fashion since 1851.
11. Stinson Beach
Just an hour north of San Francisco, go for the nice, clean beach and burgers and beer at sunset at the Siren Canteen. The hike to Alamere Falls is one of Stinson’s main attractions, though it is 8-miles round trip through Redwoods and sandy beach, the 40 foot waterfall into the ocean at the end is breathtaking.
Though one of the larger small towns on this list and within view of San Francisco, Tiburon possesses all the charms of a quaint town, partly because of the strong efforts to preserve the area’s history. Tiburon’s Main Street has been maintained exactly as it was when the area was a Gold Rush boomtown.
Take the ferry across the bay and enjoy a hike to Mt. Livermore, go back in time at the historic Lyford House, and dine at world-class restaurants with a spectacular view.
A simple ferry ride across the bay will take you to this popular tourist destination in Marin County, which is the most accessible town on this list due to its close proximity to the city, located directly across the bay. In addition to restaurants galore and views of the bay, there are several house boat communities in area. Adorable. All of it.
If you’re looking to spend the night in the coastal town—and don’t mind throwing down a chunk of change—it doesn’t get much better than the Inn Above Tide.
Fremont, CA 94536
Niles is a small district in the town of Fremont with a lot going on. The main street is full of antique stores and silent-film era history, as this was the setting of Charlie Chaplin’s production company. Niles holds a film festival in his honor, vintage car shows, and a historic train ride through the canyon. Also, for an easy and popular hike outside of town, try the Little Yosemite trail.
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
The main feature inside this tiny unincorporated town is its harbor, boasting several piers and docks. Princeton also has a number of shops, restaurants, and hotel accommodations. Just north of Half Moon Bay and south of Moss Beach, this is an ideal spot in between two more popular, and at times crowded, locales.
16. El Granada
El Granada’s concentric-circular street layout was designed by noted architect and city planner Daniel Burnham. Neighboring cities include Montara and Moss Beach to the north and Half Moon Bay to the south. Being a coastal town, it also has great beaches and views aplenty. Ideal for a day trip.
17. Half Moon Bay
From surfing Maverick’s to picking blackberries overlooking the sea, Half Moon Bay is a great destination only 30 minutes out of the city. The drive southward along the Highway 1 ain’t too shabby either. For the ultimate getaway, be sure to check out the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay—most noted for its Sunday brunch.
At Pescadero State Beach you’ll find sandy coves, rocky cliffs, and tide pools. In the nearby town of Pescadero there is the bucolic bar Duarte’s Tavern, a little chapel, and a Taqueria operating out of the local gas station.
19. Ben Lomond
Home to Big Basin Redwoods, California’s oldest state park, this census-designated place (CDP) up in the Santa Cruz mountains is a world away from the Bay Area’s tech scene and serene beaches. It features equestrian and biking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, and 80 miles of hiking trails.
Located nine miles north of Santa Cruz, this small coastal town not only offers astounding cliffs and bluffs above the Pacific, it’s also the the former headquarters of Odwalla. Of particular interest is the Davenport jail, used only twice from 1914 to 1936, which is now a museum.
Technically along the central coast area, this Monterey County town got a boost after the success of HBO’s Big Little Lies. Known for its pricey shops, historic Carmel Mission, and the fairytale cottages dotting the landscape (some of the most adorable homes are located here), this small spot is a must for an overnight stay. Also of note, the Scenic Bluff Path running from Carmel Beach to aviary-heavy Carmel River State Beach.
22. Big Sur
After being hit by one of the worst storms in state history, resulting in the destruction of two main arteries into the town, Big Sur bounced back after Highway 1 reopened earlier this year. And now is a great time to check out this bohemian enclave off the coast. It’s also a choice spot for checking out and tuning out inside one of their many cabins and cottages.