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The Charm of California’s Small Coastal Towns

Illustration By : Jenna Hartzell

La Jolla


La Jolla offers a sense of natural beauty and upscale village lifestyle opportunities to ensure that it lives up to its nickname, “the jewel” of San Diego. For golf aficionados, there’s the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course. Other attractions include the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Swimmers, snorkelers, scuba divers, kayakers and surfers may enjoy the golden sands of La Jolla Shores, the Cove and Windansea Beach. Enjoy drinks with a panoramic ocean view at Birdseye rooftop restaurant and bar at the new Cormorant Boutique Hotel. Stay at San Diego’s iconic seaside Pink Lady, La Valencia Hotel, a Spanish Revival-style property on the La Jolla coastline dating back to 1926 (though it doesn’t look a day over 26).


Dana Point


Fall is a fantastic time to visit the sometimes-overlooked beach haven Dana Point, as the Ohana Festival takes over the beach with good music and good vibes, and performances from more than 35 well-known indie, surfer rock and alternative music artists. Start the day off with a trip to the newly opened Giana Bakery + Provisions, located in Dana Point’s Lantern District, for some freshly baked bread and pastries. Indulge on a private sailing excursion with Aventura Sailing. In the evening, enjoy appetizers and drinks at 180blu which delivers impeccable views of the ocean, before stopping for dinner at Bourbon Steakhouse. Spend the night at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa which is perched on a bluff and recently debuted the coastal seafood restaurant, Outer Reef, spearheaded by Chef John Tesar, a four-time James Beard-nominated chef and two-time contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef.”




Oxnard is just a 40-minute drive from Malibu and offers the same shoreline and opportunities for fun and adventure, minus all the celebrity enclaves. It’s a time capsule of what old California used to be; taco shacks and beaches, next to rolling hills of farmland, a refreshing take on California living. So seek out the perfect taco on the Oxnard Taco Trail. Next, stop by Hollywood Beach, which is one of Oxnard’s gorgeous and uncrowded beaches. Explore the historic Heritage Square in downtown for its wine tasting rooms, fine dining in the family-owned La Dolce Vita and even an underground speakeasy, serving Prohibition-style craft cocktails. Board an authentic Venetian gondola at Seabridge Marina or sail through the Channel Islands Harbor (or take a yacht cruise aboard the authentic Scarlet Belle paddlewheeler riverboat). And spend the night at the newly opened Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach, just steps from the beach with its sugary, soft sands and picturesque sunsets.




Montecito is an upscale, tranquil haven tucked away from the urban bustle in the Santa Barbara region. Active guests can head to Mad Dogs & Englishmen to rent an e-bike to explore solo or with a guide, or hike amongst the dozens of trails in the majestic mountains that back the city. There’s also the legendary Lotusland, a breathtaking 25 gardens on a 37-acre Montecito estate that was once owned by a well-known opera singer and socialite but has since been transformed into one of the world’s best gardens. And lovers of shopping will rejoice on Coast Village Road, known for its lively atmosphere and impeccable restaurant scene. For a more relaxing escape, sunbathe with a book on Butterfly Beach or wind down with a treatment at Sense, the spa at oceanfront resort Rosewood Miramar Beach.


Morro Bay


This seaside town has more of an East Coast harbor town feel than anywhere else on the California coast. Maritime enthusiasts should stop by the Morro Bay Maritime Museum, harboring an abundance of knowledge on the history of Morro Bay, and its fleet of sea vessels. Those seeking a more “active adventure” can embark on a kayaking excursion with Central Coast Outdoors — or book a seaweed foraging tour and harvest some of the region’s best edible seaweed. Participants of the seaweed tour will finish off the experience by enjoying the fruits (or kelp, rather) of their work with a bowl of Japanese-style ramen. Wind down after a big day at Stax Wine Bar & Bistro and enjoy dinner at Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant for that true fishing village seafood experience before retiring to Bayfront Inn — a retro-style hotel right on the beach of scenic Estero Bay.




The one-square-mile, European-style village of Carmel-by-the-Sea seamlessly blends history, arts and culture and stunning ocean views for a relaxing experience. Wander through hundreds of shopping boutiques and art galleries, charming courtyards and scenic passageways in this village, soaking up the sights of heart-shaped statues and smelling scents of fresh flowers. At the foot of Ocean Avenue is Carmel Beach, offering majestic scenery and fun activities from morning to night with dog access, a scenic pathway above the bluff overlooking the beach, prime surfing conditions and a place to relax in the sand. Spend the night at Hyatt Carmel Highlands Inn which combines true Carmel luxury with an approachable and sophisticated spirit — a haven for artists and discerning travelers.




With a population under 10,000, Capitola is small and quaint. Start out the day with a pastry, cookie or cheesecake slice made from scratch at Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria. This local favorite serves healthy sandwiches and pastries for a quick, satisfying lunch to go. For dinner, Shadowbrook is a historic institution in the city featuring an iconic tram that takes diners down the side of the hill. In the Rock Room at Shadowbrook, visitors can order a selection of local wines, craft cocktails and even the elusive delicacy, cream of artichoke soup. Take in the family-friendly Capitola Beach Festival featuring events like a horseshoe tournament, lighted nautical boat parade and sand sculpture contests. The Art & Wine Festival shuts down the streets to bring together lovers of great art and wine. Stay at the quaint, upscale Inn at Depot Hill (it used to be a train depot); each room is uniquely fashioned and decorated with inspiration from an international destination.

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