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20 Mountain Towns in California For When You Need To Get Away

Why mountain towns in California offer the perfect escape

If you want a change of scene, mountain towns in California offer a great respite from the daily busy life in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and the like. Small towns nestled in California, among the most majestic ranges you ever saw, are the ideal way to take time out. The "Golden State's" perfect tiny spots are so picturesque, it's almost like viewing a live postcard. These small mountain towns in southern California and northern California are full of character. They will leave you spellbound with lakeside charm, tree-lined avenues and paths, quaint shops and rich history. There are recreational and relaxing activities to partake in too.

Where are the best mountain towns in California?

Some of the best mountain towns in California exist in both the southern and northern regions of the state. The Golden State's renowned naturalist and mountaineer, John Muir, swears that he feels inspired in any small mountain town in California. These towns make people feel alive with the fresh air they exude, not to mention authentic village life and aesthetic landscapes. From mountain towns in southern California, like the popular Big Bear Lake to South Lake Tahoe, you'll find a wide range. The tranquility that all these mountain towns offer, even in their own peak seasons, is something you'll never experience with city life. The gamut of small mountain town varies from alpine ski resorts to lake-centric areas to relax and do some fishing or kayaking in.

Best Mountain Towns in California

Mountain towns in Northern California and those in Southern California offer you great spots to escape to, either for a weekend getaway or for longer. Some folks go for a visit and never want to leave. These visitors make mountain towns their permanent place of residence. Here's a round-up of the optimal mountain towns in California offering peaceful getaways from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Willow Creek - Northern California

If you're talking about resplendent mountain towns in California, ride along the Trinity River National Highway (on Route 299) from Redding. Willow Creek is home to the 6 Rivers Forest. This town, hidden on top of a rugged mountain, has all the makings of "Bigfoot land". You can visit the Willow Creek China Flat Museum and see the Bigfoot exhibit for yourself. On the banks of the Trinity River, fishing for salmon is a common way to pass the time. At Creekside Park, you and your family can enjoy a blissful picnic as you take in nature's bounty.

Whitewater rafting is a big thing here and you can join Redwoods and Rivers to explore the rough currents of the rivers here. The East Fork Campsite lets you pitch tents and have an adventurous camping vacation. At the Trinity Wellness Center, experience the healing powers of natural oils and herbal tea blends. If you're not satisfied with knowing about Bigfoot and want to discover more, visit Felton. This is a lesser-known town in the Santa Cruz Mountains, surrounded by live oaks, coastal redwood trees and Douglas firs.

Big Bear Lake - Southern California

Beautiful mountain towns near Orange County exist, not more than a 90-minute drive away. At an elevation of a little under 7,000 feet (2.13 kilometers) above sea level, Big Bear Lake is a famous mountain town in the region. Between December and February, you'll find the mountains averaging 66 inches (1.68 meters) of snow. During the rest of the year, there are many outdoor activities to do. As you hike, you can spot bald eagles. Pine and oak forests surrounding the Big Bear Lake are rife with flora and fauna. The Serrano Camp ground offers you wonderful fishing opportunities near the Solar Observatory. As the sun sets over the lake, you can take in the crimson sky.

A great place to dine, especially if you want to begin your day with breakfast or brunch, is Amangela's Sandwich and Bagel. You can then go for a Big Bear Jeep ride which takes you on a tour of the valley. The Big Bear Alpine Zoo is a draw for children and adults alike. Uniquely, injured animals from the San Bernadino Mountains are tended to till they can be released into the wilderness again. At Captain's Anchorage, you get to savor the best seafood like scallops in fresh garlic and capers with fresh olives. Souvenirs from Bear Essentials will make your trip memorable. On your way up, or down the mountain, you can stop by the Pioneertown Preserve.

South Lake Tahoe - Northern California

Mountain towns in California wouldn't be complete without a mention of South Lake Tahoe. This is an underestimated town near the well-known Lake Tahoe. A two-hour drive away from Sacramento, this is the largest alpine lake in North America. Locals claim the lake has mystic powers that transform the most stressful person into the calmest. You can sit and gaze at the crystal-clear water of the lake or hike across alpine meadows. The sweet aroma of wildflowers will carry you to a place of serenity.

Backpackers enjoy going wild and free along the Castle Crag's Wilderness. If you aren't high on physical adventure, you can relax at the Landing Tahoe Spa. Parasailing and mountain biking are activities for the more daring kind. Quiet evenings spent at Pope Beach and Emerald Bay will soothe your senses after a long day outdoors. If you take a detour north of South Lake Tahoe, you can reach Truckee, a quaint old town with galleries and historic spots.

Green Valley Lake - Southern California

In your search for mountain towns near Los Angeles, at 90-minutes east, you'll discover a hidden secret in the San Bernadino Mountains. Tucked away at 7,200 feet (2.19 kilometers) above sea level, Green Valley Lake makes you experience an "authentic" winter with snow, skiing and all the trappings of a frozen lake. Summer sees pleasantly cool weather and offers a refreshing relief from California's heat. You can rent out your own cabin, or have an old-fashioned stay at the Lake House. Whatever time you visit Green Lake Valley, the place abounds with outdoor activities. This is what makes it such a versatile getaway.

In summer, the 9-acre lake is fit for a swim in the morning. You can go kayaking in the afternoon. Explore forests nearby with lush greenery and wildlife, there for the asking. Winter brings snow and offers the ideal landscape for cross-country ski training. Children will love snowboarding and building a snowman.

Mammoth Lakes - Northern California

At 7,800 feet (2.38 kilometers) above the level of the sea, Mammoth Lakes has become a go-to ski resort. Among the best mountain towns in California, it is distinctively set between the Sierra and Inyo National Forests and Yosemite National Park. The area contains hiking trails stretching for hundreds of miles, pushing avid hikers and trekkers beyond their limits. The town lies on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada range, and regardless of the season, it has a lot to offer.

You can hike through Devil's Postpile Monument and as you make your journey, you see natural basalt columns and the 101-foot Rainbow Falls' plunge. Biking across the Rock Trail from Sherwin's Meadow to the ancient mines lying at the lake's edge rejuvenates you. After you've built up an appetite, you can head to Morrison's for delectable pasta. Mammoth Mountain Chalets is a super place to stay to get a realistic feel of the place.

Julian - Southern California

Half the distance between San Diego and the Salton Sea is the location of Julian, an old gold mining town. Strategically located between the Cuyamacas and the Volcan Mountains, this town can take you back to a bygone era. In the 1870s, a speck of gold was found in a creek close by and this led to a gold rush in San Diego. Unfortunately, Julian wasn't part of it, so settlers began farming the land. Today, Julian has the distinction of being a sought-after town in California. Locals and visitors can enjoy a laid-back lifestyle with historic walking tours. There is a museum to discover as well as the Eagle Mining Company. Many orchards house the oldest apple and pear trees on the West Coast of the USA and you can take leisurely walks through these.

Burney - Northern California

Heading to Burney in Shasta County is a great idea for an unmatched NorCal adventure in an alpine surrounding. Out of all the mountain towns in California, Burney is highly acclaimed for fly-fishing, attracting several fishing enthusiasts from all over California. As mountain towns go, this is a smaller town, and fishing is all about catching brown and native rainbow trouts. Trekking and hiking to Burney Falls are common. This is among the most awe-inspiring waterfalls in the state.

Bass Lake - Central California

South from Yosemite Park is the little mountain town of Bass Lake. The population is only 500, so you will get the feel of a village rather than a town. Yosemite may be crammed with tourists, but this town is still quite underrated and sparse. A great way to avoid the hoard of tourists and crowds, you can chill out here in peace by a great lake.

Ojai - Southern California

An escape to Ojai is not like any other SoCal getaway. The town is so strict about maintaining its quality of life that no chain stores are permitted here. Everything in this town is authentically native. There's plenty to see and do. You get your choice of boutique hotels, recreation and a host of farmers' markets. This place is eminent for the pink-hued sunset over the Topatopa Mountains and tourists say you shouldn't miss it!

Kirkwood - Northern California

Among the most sought-after winter mountain towns in California, Kirkwood is tiny and sees most visitors for Christmas breaks. The unmatched Kirkwood Ski Resort is home to over 2,000 acres of terrain for skiing. This is a fabulous place to learn how to ski, and seasoned skiers get to go on the most thrilling cliffs.

Idyllwild - Southern California

As its name suggests, this is a tiny, idyllic mountain town chock-a-block with tall pines and cedar trees that smell sweet. Living in a cabin here for a couple of days can make you forget the stress of city life. Hiking trails offer you challenging physical activity and you can relax later with a nice mug of hot chocolate in your cabin.

Auburn - Northern California

Filled to the brim with the history of the Gold Rush period, this NorCal town is located between Truckee and Sacramento. A small town that bikers adore, hikers and horseback riders love it too. Plenty of hiking trails exist around lakes and through lush greenery.

Mount Baldy - Southern California

Below Mount San Antonio (affectionately called Mount Baldy), this is a mountain town that resembles a winter wonderland in the months from December to February. Transforming itself into a snow-capped dreamland every Christmas, it attracts people, not only from California but from the world over. You get a novel hiking experience on the Bridge to Nowhere. Drive across Mount Baldy Road for the best scenery on this side of the USA.

San Simeon - Central California

The Hearst Castle and the Light Station are iconic must-see landmarks in one of the most charming mountain towns in California. San Simeon blends scenery and history in the best possible way for an unforgettable break. Too beautiful to miss, there's a range of activities from hiking to biking on offer. Within the region of the Central Coast, this is a superb, and oft-forgotten, place to visit.

Truckee - Surprise mountain town in California

Often missed out on due to its more flamboyant neighbor, Lake Tahoe, Truckee is a town your radar shouldn't miss. Downtown is elegant with its old-world charm. The ski slopes here are as coveted as any other ski resort town. This small town has some of the best eateries you can find in a mountain staycation. You get a "peak" experience here as it's still not as crowded as other tiny towns on the map. Gradually, though, Truckee is bound to have its place in the sun, as it's an appealing draw for tourists from the USA and abroad.

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