6 Northern California Towns You Haven’t Heard Of But Are Charming AF

If you think you’ve been anywhere in Northern California, chances are you’re seriously mistaken. From the Lost Coast to Monterey Bay, a handful of small communities are every bit as charming as their better-known counterparts, minus the crowds.

So whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway, you’ll find what you’re looking for in these six under-the-radar cities.


Ferndale, CA: Storybook Vibes + An Old Saloon in Humboldt County

(Courtesy of @killertown)

The Victorian village of Ferndale is so perfect that it has starred in several movies and TV shows; Legoland in San Diego even paid homage to the city by building its replica in the form of tiny plastic bricks. Located just south of Eureka, a few miles inland from the Pacific, Ferndale is packed with storybook houses and bay-window shops.

The dead rest in its spooky but beautiful cemetery, which towers over the village on a hill, while historic churches with steep spiers beckon the living. You can easily see the heart of the village in a few hours, but the eclectic Victorian B&B known as The Gingerbread Mansion Inn well worth a night. Either way, don’t forget to stop by for a cocktail and a round of shuffleboard at The palace loungethe westernmost bar in the continental United States

Dunsmuir, California: A Historic Railroad Village A Stone’s Throw From Mount Shasta

(Courtesy of @seesiskiyou)

By the 1930s Dunsmuir, a small railroad town just south of Mount Shasta, had become a destination for visitors looking for a gateway to the Trinities. Apparently, that’s where time stood still for this little village, now accessible via I-5. It’s so evocative of that period, in fact, that all of Dunsmuir’s town center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In recent years, the quaint character of the village has attracted a host of entrepreneurs who have set up businesses like the brick-walled cafe-pub The wheelhouse and gourmet restaurant Cafe Maddalena in its historic buildings. Although Dunsmuir’s iconic mid-century cinema is currently closed, a local group is working to save and reopen it. The city is also home to one of California’s most scenic waterfalls. But beware : Mossbrae Falls is technically on private property and trespassers can be fined, despite what you may see on instagram.

Murphys, CA: Tall Trees + Gold Rush History

(Courtesy of @visitmurphys)

Murphys emerged quickly in the heat of the Gold Rush in 1848 and by the early 1900s had become a tourist destination due to its proximity to the majestic redwood of Calaveras Tall Trees State Park. Over the past century, this slow trickle of visitors has helped make Murphys a destination surprisingly rich in restaurants, wineries (there are two dozen tasting rooms on Main Street alone), art galleries and bedrooms. of hosts, not to mention a healthy dose of history in its architecture and monuments.

Stop at Ironstone Heritage Museum to Ironstone Vineyards to see the world’s largest gold nugget, then spend the night in historic Murphy’s Hotelwhich has hosted luminaries like Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain since 1856.

San Juan Bautista, California: A State Historic Park with a Troubled Past

(Courtesy of @filmpotato_)

San Juan Bautista began abruptly, with a Spanish mission destroying the indigenous Amah Mutsen communities and enslaving its people. But as the settlement has evolved into a charming modern village, it has not forgotten its history, both the dark side and the light.

The original mission church still stands, as do many adobe homes and businesses built along the old El Camino Real in the early 1800s. Many of those on the Alameda (Third Street) have been redeveloped into modern shops and restaurants and, just a block away, some of the city’s 200-year-old buildings – the Plaza Hotel, Zanetta House/Plaza Hall, the Plaza Stables, a historic jail, and more – have been preserved under the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park. When you’re done strolling, grab a meal at Michelin-starred chef Jarad Gallagher’s barbecue restaurant and whiskey bar, The smoke pointfollowed by a good night’s sleep in the hacienda-inspired boutique hotel, Leal Hacienda.

Niles, CA: A silent reminder of Hollywood’s silent movie era in the East Bay

(Courtesy of @zeruch)

Although it sits right in the middle of the East Bay, it has been about a hundred years since Niles has been known. At the time, the village, isolated from the city of Fremont by the topography of Niles Canyon, became famous as the Hollywood of the silent film era; Charlie Chaplin, the king of those early films, made five films here, including the iconic 1915 The homeless man.

Geography is still in favor of Niles today. Although much more accessible than it was then, between Niles’ ubiquitous antique shops, train depot and golden hills, visiting its main street (Niles Boulevard) still gives the feel like stepping back in time. For a real insight into the town’s early days, watch one of its original black-and-white films on the big screen at Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Capitola, CA: Americana in the Quinter neighborhood of Santa Cruz

(Courtesy of @capitolalove)

The colorful seaside village of Capitola is nestled in the shadow of Santa Cruz at the northern end of Monterey Bay. Like its neighbor, Capitola is a laid-back community where surf and sun are paramount. But the small center of town does the trick for Santa Cruz when it comes to charm.

Wander streets adorned with the best of Americana—ice cream parlors and sweet shops, taquerias and ocean-view eateries—before laying down on one of three beaches: Capitola, Hooper, or Trees. If you just can’t get away, spend the night at the historic pastel vacation condos of Venetian Courtand don’t miss the brunch at Shadowbrook through Soquel Creek, a classic 75-year-old restaurant with a cable car funicular.

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