Skip to Content

7 Best Small Towns in California (And Awesome Nearby Campsites)

7 Best Small Towns in California (And Awesome Nearby Campsites)

California may be best known for sandy beaches and the big city vibes of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.

But, California is also home to plenty of small towns packed with charm, culture, and peaceful vibes.

Don’t miss these 7 best small towns in California!

San Luis Obispo: Happiest Small Town in California

Why You’ll Love It: Known by the acronym SLO, this central coast town is famous for its relaxed vibe and wine culture. San Luis Obispo was once rated as the happiest town to live in in America. This is truly one of the best small towns in California! SLO is the perfect place to slow down enjoy a spa treatment or explore the variety of local cuisine as you breathe in the ocean air.  

Nearby Camping: Morro Dunes RV Park

Miles to Downtown: 14

Morro Dunes RV Park is just steps away from the sand with full hookups for around $60 a night. With just a short walk to a cute little fishing town and sea lions visible from the campground, this park has everything you need for a beachy central-coast getaway. 

Small Town California Vibe Score: 9.5/10

Ojai: Small Mountain Valley Town in California

Why You’ll Love It: Ojai Valley is tucked beneath the Topatopa mountains of Ventura County. This quaint town is a mecca for independent art galleries. It has a village-like center full of bohemian shops and a selections of restaurants to entertain you for days. Stop in at Ojai Olive Oil farm for a tour and tastings from the oldest producer of extra virgin olive oil in the region.

Nearby Camping: Camp Comfort Ojai

Miles to Downtown: Just 2 miles to downtown Ojai and 8 miles to downtown Ventura and the beach. 

San Antonio Creek winds through this small, secluded campground offering 15 full hookup and pull-thru sites. Mature trees create plenty of shade and the spacious lots are suitable for large rigs. 

Small Town California Vibe Score: 10/10

Laguna Beach: Classic Small Beach Town

Why You’ll Love It: A hidden gem between San Diego and Los Angeles, Laguna Beach is a region well known for it’s sandy cove beaches, natural tidepools, and sea caves. Enjoy the view from a beachfront hotel and get connected with the origin of this town through a local art class.   

In Laguna Coast Wilderness Park you can explore 40 miles of winding coastal canyon trails in this area dedicated to preserving Coastal Sage Scrub.

Nearby Camping: Crystal Cove State Park – Moro Campground

Miles to Downtown: 3

This big-rig friendly State Park on the bluff boasts several ocean-view sites inside Moro Campground. Between the convenient hiking and biking trails, close proximity to town, and incredible sunset views, you won’t want to miss this California beach destination!

Small Town California Vibe Score: 9/10

Arcata, California

Why You’ll Love It: This old college town is full of life and unique atmosphere. The community takes pride in their local businesses, eco-friendly practices, and big-hearted nature. A peaceful town in the summer when college students head home, Arcata is the perfect combination of small beach community meets woodland forest vibe. 

Nearby Camping: Mad River Rapids RV Park

Miles to Downtown: 3

Choose one of Mad River RV Park’s 92 large pull through or back in camp spots with full hookups including 30 and 50 amp electric. Other amenities include a pool and spa, playground, rec room, pet area, camp store, and laundry room, making this RV park a nice destination for families. 

Small Town California Vibe Score: 8.5/10

Half Moon Bay

Why You’ll Love It: Half Moon Bay is one of the best coastal small towns in California.

Tucked into a cove just south of San Francisco, this tiny town is named for it’s crescent, a.k.a. “half-moon” shape hugging along the coast.

Home to the famous Mavericks surf spot with some of the biggest waves in the world, Half Moon Bay is legendary in surfing culture. Enjoy a local-favorite sandwich served on fresh baked bread at San Benito House in downtown. 

Nearby Camping: Half Moon Bay State Park

Miles to Downtown: Less than 2

This picturesque campground sits on top of the bluff overlooking the ocean, making it a prime sunset-watching spot. Take your pick of one of their 50 campsites sites and enjoy miles of nearby biking paths.

Small Town California Vibe Score: 10/10

Nevada City

Why You’ll Love It: Unlike most of the small towns on this list, Nevada City is deep in the Tahoe National Forest and far from any coastal beach. Visit the Crystal Hermitage Gardens to view blooming tulips in springtime or The Nevada Theatre’s oldest original-use theatre building in California. 

Nearby Camping: Inn Town Campground

Miles to Downtown: Less than 2

This spacious and rustic location is far enough from the main city give you peace and quiet, but close enough to be a quick and convenient drive to town. Be sure to visit the Nevada City Railroad Museum next door!

Small Town California Vibe Score: 9/10

Image Source: Wikiphotographer on Flickr

St Helena

Why You’ll Love It: Situated deep in the Napa Valley, St. Helena is a central part of California’s  wine culture. Savor a local dining experience Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, or visit one of the region’s impressive 416 vineyards for high-quality wine tasting and grounds tours. 

Nearby Camping: Napa Valley State Park – Bothe

Miles to Downtown: 5

Popular for smaller RVs and tent camping, this is a beautiful park full of lush trees and bushes. Watch out for poison oak though! 

Small Town California Vibe Score: 9/10

small towns in california st helena
Image Source: Jasperdo on Flickr

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *