18 Best Mountain Towns in California To Visit in 2023

California’s nature has evolved through the ages and has had a dramatic impact on its landscape, beauty, beaches, redwoods, and mountains.

From grassy meadows with yellow flowers, the wilderness of Yosemite National Park to mountains, and the border of Mexico, The Golden State has everything. 

Best Mountain Towns in California

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This is why everyone wants to move in, resulting in expensive California. The majestic areas are also full of a busy lifestyle. 

Hence, for affordable living in California with a simple life, the small mountain towns in California near Sierra Nevada are the perfect home for you. 

I will take you around through some gorgeous spellbound lakeside charm and mountain towns that enrich your residing memories throughout your life.

Let’s learn about the few mountain towns in California where you can reside.

Mountain Towns in Northern California

I have seen a lot of people relocating to Truckee or Ojai, so I decided to take you around the mountain towns in California that are more untouched and affordable. 

Anywhere you plan to reside near Sierras will offer a great scene, a huge space to breathe, and world-class recreational activities to perform.

So, here I list 18 of the best California mountain towns

1. Mt. Shasta 

  • Population: 3,189
  • Elevation: 1,093 m

Mt. Shasta is a quiet spiritual town that sits in Siskiyou County of Cascades Mount surrounded by alpine mountains, and complete peace.

It sits in the shadow of the active volcano offering residents a stunning landscape and ample opportunity to live an adventurous life. 

Things to do in Mt. Shasta

  • Hike to Heart Lake to witness gorgeous flowers, greenery and views of Castle Lake
  • Drive up to the base and spend a few days hiking to the summit of Mount Shasta. The view of lenticular clouds and the whole experience are majestic.
  • Trek to Burney Falls close to Mc Arthur. You will see a lot of rainbow trouts
  • Trek alongside the railroad tracks to reach a hidden spring gem, Mossbrae Falls. The lush green mosses and glistening sound of waterfalls make the place magical
Castle Lake
Castle Lake

2. Nevada City 

  • Population: 3.168
  • Elevation: 755 m

60 miles northeast of Sacramento and at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains sits Nevada City. The city gives the vibes of the exuberant Victorian era. 

Nevada City is the most affordable mountain town in California. The average expense of a single adult is around $42,676 a year including health care too. 

Things to do in Nevada City: 

  • Visit the intriguing “Never Come, Never Go” at the Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum.
  • Make your Instagram friends jealous by clicking a lot of photos on Broad Street, the Downtown area of Nevada City. Come to Mama Madrones and Nevada City Chocolate Shoppe
  • Do not miss kayaking or canoeing at the pristine mountain lakes of Sierra Nevada
  • Bring your partner and drive to Nevada City Winery, Clavey Vineyard, Montoliva Vineyards, and Szabo Vineyard. Not only their wine but the view of mountains, herb gardens and awe-striking.
  • If by any chance you are here on 27th February then you are in luck my friend, you will witness the annual Mardi Gras Parade & Street Faire celebrating under tall pines.
Best Mountain Towns in California_Nevada City Winery
Nevada City Winery

3. Dunsmuir

  • Population: 1,719
  • Elevation: 698 m

Along the Upper Sacramento River in the Trinity Mountains sits Dunsmuir, the beautiful mountain town in California which is also called the “Home of the Best Water on Earth”. 

Do you know that people here do not filter their water because it’s so pure? The snow melts and then gets filtered through the volcanic rocks of Mount Shasta.

Things to do in Dunsmuir: 

  • Rather than sleeping in the afternoon, plan a trip to Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens. You will see various types of national and international plants and flowers. I love how beautifully native white dogwoods were blooming.
  • In the heart of Dunsmuir sits a beautiful Hedge Creek Falls. Do not forget to bring your food and chill with your friends.
  • Tour the Siskiyou Arts Museum to learn about local literature, visual arts and artistic works.
  • Go for a friend’s trip to Tauhindauli Park for swimming, fishing, and hiking all in the lap of pristine nature with no commotion.
Hedge Creek Falls
Hedge Creek Falls

4. Placerville

  • Population: 10,819
  • Elevation: 569 m

Finding affordable places to retire in California is hard, but here comes Placerville, ranked on the Interstate 50 side of the Sierras. 

The town sits near the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park with a perfect blend of active life, open playgrounds, farms, vineyards, and charm.

Things to do in Placerville:

  • For the history buff, take a stroll along the historical treasured heritage town’s main market. Go for Antique and Craft Fairs, Festival of Lights, Bell Tower Brewfest, and Festival of Lights.
  • Come to Apple Hill Farm and taste their apples!
  • Visit Sherwood Demonstration Garden, and Japanese Garden in the afternoon
  • Have a great and unforgettable stellar experience at The Community Observatory 
READ NEXT:  10 Best Free Things to do in Sacramento
Placerville
Placerville

5. Kirkwood

  • Population: 196
  • Elevation: 2,344 m

Kirkwood is a beautiful small quiet mountain place to live in northern California for families. You will see a lot of tourists coming here at Christmas.

However, the best part of Kirkwood is that it is home to over 2,000 acres of terrain that is used for skiing. The wind of Kirkwood whispers suggesting you try ski tours.

Things to do in Kirkwood:

  • Stroll alongside the lake and enjoy the peace and views at Snowkirk Ski Lift.
  • Spend one day at Kirkwood Ski Resort, a popular ski resort in California.
Kirkwood Ski Resort
Kirkwood Ski Resort

6. Auburn

  • Population: 13,866
  • Elevation: 374 m

Auburn is a beautiful small mountain town of Placer County in California which got famous for its California Gold Rush history. 

There are numerous hiking trails like Pioneer Express trail, Point trail, Hidden Falls and more. Remember that trail should match your confidence and willpower. 

From trekking tours to competitive races, horseback riding trails are also unique and fun activities to try in Auburn.

Also, in 2003 Auburn was declared the “endurance capital of the world”. It took part in the Tevis Cup 100 Mile Endurance Equestrian Ride and the Western States 100 Miles Endurance Run. 

Things to do in Auburn:

  • Spend some quality time hiking, walking, or exploring at Auburn State Recreation Area
  • Do you love wine? Then taste the local of Auburn at Lone Buffalo Vineyard
  • Add some golfing experience to your life at Golf Course & Events Center
  • You do not have to leave your dog or pets at home, Ashley Off-Leash Dog Park welcomes dogs offering a beautiful experience to run on green grasses.
Auburn State Recreation Area
Auburn State Recreation Area

7. Bridgeport

  • Population: 549
  • Elevation: 1,970 m

Enjoy the Pacific Northwest charm in Bridgeport, a small mountain town in California that is famous for the views of the Sawtooth range. 

In the heart of the Eastern Sierra, you will find the finest backcountry that is also famous for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and skiing. 

Things to do in Bridgeport:

  • Come to Bodie State Historical Park to know more about its title – “a town frozen in time in a state of arrested decay”
  • Take Highway 395 to visit Travertine Hot Spring. This sits just off Jack Sawyer Road.
  • Follow the Pacific Crest Trail to witness some glorious views of nature
  • Camp at Virginia Lakes and also follow the trail to hike
  • Take a sneak peek in the 1800s building – Mono County Courthouse
Bodie State Historical Park
Bodie State Historical Park

8. Grass Valley  

  • Population: 14,248
  • Elevation: 735 m 

As the name sounds, Grass Valley is a pact with green sceneries and rice history. In the heart of Sierra Nevada Foothills sits Grass Valley, the largest mountain city in California.

Grass Valley also has a rich history because of the presence of the Empire Mine, and North Star Mines. However, it is closed by a town that is thriving so well. Come here during Spring!

Things to do in Grass Valley:

  • Come to Historic Downtown Grass Valley to shop from various shops and stores. Do not forget to get spiritual items and a few candies back with you. Come to Bamboo Home Store or The Grass Valley Antique Emporium. 
  • Do you know Grass Valley is home to the best wine and beer? If you are searching for gluten-free foods, come to South Pine Café. Their lobster Benedict, potato pancake, muffins, and the Portobello scramble are so tasty. For wine lovers, drive to the main street and go to Lucchesi Vineyards.
  • Enjoy some artistic workshops at The Center for the Arts.

9. South Lake Tahoe

  • Population: 21,316
  • Elevation: 1,901 m

If you are planning to relocate to California, South Lake Tahoe should be your first preference. South Lake Tahoe is a beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain town.

South Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America that has the mystic power to transform your crippling stress into positive calmness. 

The sight of a clear teal water lake surrounded by snow-covered pines, and boulders are magical. Also, on the main street, you will find good restaurants and casinos.

Things to do in South Lake Tahoe:

  • If you want some peace with gorgeous vistas, come to the Emerald Bay State Park. Just sit and enjoy the calmness!
  • For legendary natural surroundings, hike the trails of Van Sickle Bi-State Park, Moraine Trail, Lam Watah Trail, Mt. Tallac, and Rubicon Trail – these are some of the most beautiful hikes in Lake Tahoe.
  • Enjoy the Castle Crags Wilderness.
  • Join the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association and go mountain biking. If you follow the Saxon Creek trail, after riding 13- 20 miles of challenging terrain you will witness incredible views of South Lake Tahoe. You can also go to Bijou Bike Park.  
READ NEXT:  16 Best Botanical Gardens in California You Shouldn’t Miss

Read Also: 11 Fun Things To Do In Lake Tahoe In Summer

South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe

10. Sonora

  • Population: 5,023
  • Elevation: 898 m

If you are looking for the best California mountain getaways, there is no place like Sonora in Tuolumne County also known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines”. 

Sonora is a little small town blended with rich history, great sights, and full of outdoor activities to perform. 

Also, since the Gold Rush era, Sonora has been a popular town to reside with an average cost of living of $1941. 

Things to do in Sonora:

  • From Sonora downtown, you will find the New Melones Lake, a beautiful place for fishing and hanging-out
  • Visit Columbia State Historical Park, a living town with restaurants, museums, hotels, gift shops, and bars. The most fascinating thing about these buildings is they were constructed in the 1850s and are still operating without any new constructions. 
  • Go for a day hike along the Dragon Gulch Trailhead to get beautiful views of California oak woodlands. 
  • 20 minutes away from Sonora sits Moaning Caverns which is must visit the place

11. Mammoth Lakes

  • Population: 8,263
  • Elevation: 2,402 m

Nested in the Inyo National Forest at 7,800 feet above sea level, Mammoth Lakes is one of the best mountain towns in California. 

The prime location near Sierra and Yosemite National Park offers people the mountain fun they dreamt of. Also, it has the deepest snowpack.

Things to do in Mammoth Lakes:

  • Witness 60 feet tall basalt columns, a unique geological formation at Devil’s Postpile. Also, you can combine it with a short hike to Rainbow Falls.
  • Hike to the famous Inyo Craters, inside you will find two small lakes.
  • Add some thrilling experiences and hike the entire Mountain View Trail. You will see a giant fault through the Mammoth mountains
  • For all the fishing fans, come to Hot Creek Trout Hatchery. 
  • Explore the hot springs in Mammoth Lakes.
Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes

12. Groveland

  • Population: 528
  • Elevation: 957 m

At the Sierra Nevada foothills near Yosemite National Park sits Groveland, a remarkable mountain town that is also one of the safest places in California.

As per FBI crime analysis, your chance to become a victim of crime in Groveland is 1 in 87. Moreover, the lovely green space and natural setting are so beautiful in Groveland.

Things to do in Groveland:

  • Go for a unique trip to the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum to learn the local history and displays of the Gold Rush era. 
  • Book a ride with Sierra Mac River Trips and go river rafting
  • Book your spot to ride horses at the Pine Mountain Lake Equestrian Center. You can call your friends and have a nice afternoon picnic
  • If you want to explore Yosemite more peacefully come to Hetch Hetchy

13. Bass Lake 

  • Population: 585
  • Elevation: 1,041 m

Bass Lake offers rustic village life which is free from all the hustle and bustles of Yosemite. Also, this is a beautiful watersport destination for all California residents. 

Bass Lake offers simple life and Sunset Magazine voted it as one of the “West’s Best Lakes”. You can fish, hike, sit, or just soak up in the sun!

Things to do in Bass Lake

  • Enjoy the best lake experience by booking a stay at Yosemite RV Park. There are 178 campsites with hook-ups, cables, and WiFi. You can also camp at Bass Lake. 
  • Hike towards the lake west to follow the Spring Cove Trail and reach Goat Mountain. Do not forget to check out The Willow Brook trail too.
  • If you want to experience a genuine California experience then a visit to Miller’s Landing Resort is a must. It is a historical site with a lot of food options and unique souvenirs around
  • Shop from the Bass Lake Farmers Market. Come to Pines Market and Deli and shop for snacks, toys, ice cream, and more. 

14. Bishop

  • Population: 3,807
  • Elevation: 1,265 m

Bishop near the northern end of Owens Valley is a beautiful Eastern California getaway that is blessed with gorgeous scenery, rock climbing spots, and unspoiled terrains. 

You will be happy to know that Bishop every year hosts the largest non-motorized parade called Mule Day.

Things to do in Bishop

  • In the spring you can spot a large number of migratory birds at Bishop’s Big Backyard, trails of High Sierra and Red-Winged Blackbirds in Mono Lake, or along the canal in Bishop.
  • Come to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest which is home to bristlecone pine trees, and some oldest trees. You can hike through the Methuselah hiking trail, and Discovery trail to witness limber pines and some spectacular surroundings.
  • Soak yourself in a hot mineral spring at Keough’s Hot Spring. Also, the high amount of Silica and minerals in the water will soften your dry skin.
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Bishop
Bishop

Mountain Towns in Southern California

15. Julian

  • Population: 1,822
  • Elevation: 1,288 m

In San Diego County sits Julian, the most captivating and the best mountain town in southern California famous for its apple orchards, cider, and pines. 

The aroma in Julian’s air is so addicting that you cannot leave this place without residing for a few days.

Things to do in Julian:

  • Go for a gold mining tour at Julian Mining Company and learn its rich history. You can also opt for one hour tour at Eagle and High Peak Mine
  • Did you forget to pick apples for your family? Come to O’Dell’s Organic Orchard with a basket to grab your apple from the tree.
  • Go for moderate 4.1-mile hiking through Three Sister Falls to take shower below the three waterfalls. 
  • Downtown Julian is tiny and very picturesque, do not forget to explore this tiny area.
  • Go hiking to high deserts at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Go for an Applepie date at the famous Mom’s Pie House in Julian Main Street. 

16. Idyllwild

  • Population: 4,221
  • Elevation: 1,650 m

Idyllwild is the best mountain town to live in California surrounded by tall pines, and cedar trees, with the natural environment doing its magic over the town.

John Muir, a legendary naturalist described Idyllwild as “the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this Earth”. 

Idyllwild is just a short drive from San Diego and sits in the shadow of San Jacinto Peak. 

Things to do in Idyllwild:

  • Register for a wilderness permit, and go for the hardest Devil’s Slide Trail. Pass the Pacific Crest Trail and enjoy the views of the Sierra Nevada and Mexico to Canada. 
  • Also, try to hike Mount San Jacinto via Marion Mountain to enjoy an amazing view of the town
  • Relax and take a massage from the Idyllwild Wellness Water & Massage centre.
  • Enjoy an exquisite dining experience at Mile High Café. Order their burger, eggs benedict, or beef bulgogi.
Idyllwild
Idyllwild

17. Oak Glen

  • Population: 594
  • Elevation: 1,443 m

Just 10 minutes away from Los Angeles sits Oak Glen, a popular and wonderful south California mountain town that offers great scenery and relaxed life.

Oak Glen is well known for berries, historic apple orchards and a rare variety of apples that are found nowhere in California. 

Things to do in Oak Glen:

  • Come to Los Rios Rancho, the century-old apple farm in California. In May, Oak Glen celebrates Apple Blossom Festival and in November, they celebrate Apple Butter Festival.
  • Come to Wildlands Conservancy, 3,200 acres of land where the Oak Glen trek starts.

18. Lake Arrowhead

  • Population: 9,741
  • Elevation: 1,577 m 

Lake Arrowhead is a beautiful lakeside oasis in the mountains of California. It is also called the “Alps of Southern California”. 

At Lake Arrowhead you can enjoy life by the shore relaxing and enjoying the scenery around you.

Things to do in Lake Arrowhead:

  • From Rim of the World Scenic Byway come to Lake Arrowhead Village to enjoy the sight of lakeside views.
  • Take the non-motorized path and hike along the lake to enjoy beautiful views and unique rock formations.
Lake Arrowhead
Lake Arrowhead

Conclusion

My mother says, every place speaks to you and I agree with her. 

So I recommend you to come to any of the above California mountain towns and decide for yourself.

Just a reminder, do not blow your entire budget on housing because for settling down you need some more money. To that, I congratulate you on a new beginning. 

Read Next:

FAQ – Mountain Towns in California

1. What cities have mountains in California?

A: Cities that sit on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada experience mountains. Cities like Idyllwild, towns like Mammoth Lakes and South Lake Tahoe have mountains.

2. What are the towns around Lake Tahoe?

A: Around Lake Tahoe, the best towns are Incline Village, Carson City, and Truckee. Moreover, these are famous and quite affordable to rent a property and reside in. 

3. What is the prettiest town in California?

A: The quaint Main Street and charming aroma of Julian in San Diego County are so pretty and gorgeous. 

4. What is the best ski resort in California?

A: Palisades Tahoe in Olympic Valley is the best ski resort in California. 

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