16 Best Cities in California

California’s sunny skies have long attracted travelers from all over the world, as well as those living in the USA. It’s a state where modern cities mix with iconic national parks and famous coasts.

Highway 1 connects many of California’s most beautiful cities. It takes you through San Francisco’s old-world charm to San Diego’s cool, laid-back city. You will pass many charming seaside towns as you travel along the highway.

The best cities in California showcase not only their modern sensibilities, but also their unique history. Uncover a world of Spanish architecture that combines effortlessly with California’s unrivaled scenery.

Top Cities in California

It is difficult to rank these cities after visiting California many times. We love Monterey’s relaxed atmosphere, but also love the interesting Spanish influences found in Santa Barbara and San Diego. California is one of the most popular places in America. These are our picks for the top cities in California.

1. Los Angeles

Beuatifl California Cities Los Angeles

The city of Angels is where people travel from all over the world to find fame and fortune under the western sky. It’s a city that blends new-world charm and modern skyscrapers with California’s cool and beach bum culture.

Los Angeles is the largest of the California cities we have on our list. In fact, it’s the second-biggest metropolis in the US, based on population. It’s home to around 3.8 million people who combine to make L.A. a must-stop on your travels.

Travelers will find endless options for activities, from following celebrities through Hollywood and Beverly Hills to shopping on Rodeo Drive. You’ll be able to fill your itinerary quickly with the amazing food trucks and beaches nearby.

Los Angeles: Read More

2. San Francisco

San Francisco Skyline

Los Angeles can feel like a sprawling suburbia as you travel outside of Los Angeles. You won’t have that sensation in San Francisco. Its rolling hills simply won’t let you. On the city’s 50-square mile area, 40 tumbling hills can be found, some of which are so steep that they become their own attractions. But they’re just one piece to explaining how beautiful the Golden State city is.

The city juts out into San Francisco Bay where you’ll find rows of early Victorian-era homes. They were designed to be a nod towards the London Row homes and have since been incorporated with the skyscrapers to create an impressive skyline. But it’s the local parks that lead to the water and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge that really showcase the city’s splendor.

Wander across the famous bridge from the Presidio in San Francisco to enjoy views of Alcatraz Bay, San Pablo Bay, and the Pacific.

These resources will help you plan your San Francisco vacation:

3. San Diego

San Diego Skyline sunset

San Diego is the younger brother that’s now all grown up. San Diego, once a shadow of these cities, has now emerged. It’s slowly changed the once-solid tourist path that linked Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and the national parks.

San Diego has beautiful weather all year and can show off its diversity without ever needing to take a break. The city’s central area is filled with bars and a lively live music scene. It also has the charming Gaslamp Quarter. The Taco Tuesdays here are the best in the entire state.

Heading out of the inner-city, you’ll have an embarrassment of local riches to choose from. For beaches, you’ve got Coronado, Mission, Pacific, and Ocean to choose from. Hodads is the home of the best post-surf hamburgers on the planet in the latter.

Find out more about San Diego

4. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Beach

Santa Barbara is located on the Pacific Coast, ninety-minutes north of Los Angeles. This is the “The”. Queen of MissionsIt is one of the most beautiful cities in California.

After a 1925 earthquake, the picturesque city was destroyed. It was painstakingly rebuilt with Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, heavily influenced by the city’s most iconic landmark, the Mission Santa Barbara.

Its Spanish connection can be seen throughout the state, with perhaps the most prominent example being Santa Barbara. The first mission was built in 1820. It has been an integral part of local life since then. Mission-style architecture can also be found throughout the city, including along the palm-lined streets of downtown.

Santa Barbara is easy to explore by foot. Most attractions are only a short stroll away. You will find miles and miles of beautiful beaches in the vicinity of Santa Barbara, thanks to its location on California’s West Coast.

Find out more about California

5. Palm Springs

Cities in California Palm springs

California’s coast has many of the most desirable cities. Because the Golden State is a place where the mind can easily imagine endless beaches and west-facing sunsets. Palm Springs is different from other cities.

Palm Springs, located in central California, was once the playground of the wealthy and famous. But over the years it’s become the perfect winter escape for average Joe and Jane. Visitors will find a town which seamlessly blends fashion and art with the natural world.

It’s a city that promises to surprise you as you can easily spend the day at a resort pool party before checking out one of the many high-end local galleries and museums. You can take a thrilling hike or ride the Aerial Tramway for breathtaking views of the mountaintops.

6. San Jose

Many people associate San Francisco with Silicon Valley. However, San Jose is the heart of the world’s tech capital.

San Jose is located at the southern end the Bay Area. It connects the community to a variety of outdoor adventures. A few minutes from town and you’ll find yourself in Castle Rock State Park. After getting around on foot, you can relax and explore the local vineyard scene.

San Jose’s Historic Downtown District features Spanish and Italianate architecture. Enjoy the beautiful facades before you try the diverse international cuisine. With dinner done, stick around for San Jose’s burgeoning nightlife.

7. Monterey

Cannery Row in Monterey

Monterey, once the capital of Spanish California was now a historic seaside town. It grew to become the center of the cannery industry, best described in Joseph Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row. Today, the row has been revitalized to become the center of Monterey’s mouthwatering dining scene along the city’s beautiful waterfront.

Monterey is an ideal destination for families. You’ll find a wide range of activities to pursue, from the outdoors and beaches to fascinating museums and the beloved aquarium.

Cannery Row, the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and 17-Mile Drive combine to make the scenic city incredibly romantic. You and your partner can spend the day kayaking around the bay before returning to the waterfront for golden hour with Monterey’s twinkling lights splashing against the Pacific.

Explore the Monterey Area

8. Sacramento

City of Sacramento California

Sacramento, California’s capital, is located northeast of San Francisco. Although you may not be able to see the beautiful beaches of the west coast, What you will find is a city that is rich in history, culture, and art.

The city is situated at the confluence the American and Sacramento rivers. The Sierras and nearby lakes provide the latter. Combining them, they offer outdoor adventures such as kayaking and rafting. A day at the lake is a great way to unwind and escape the hustle and bustle of downtown.

Speaking of, Sacramento’s inner city is packed with museums and renowned art galleries. Old Sacramento, which features many charming buildings from the mid-1800s, is not to be missed. Visit for the sights, stay for the vibrant food scene.

Learn More About Sacramento

9. San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo is a small city with a population of just under 50,000. But it’s still one of California’s best cities. So come and discover why it’s known as the The happiest American city.

It’s a place where residents are as welcoming as the eternal blue sky. It’s a delight to walk along the charming, leafy streets of downtown. These streets lead you past rows of Spanish architecture dating back to the 19th century, which are now home to modern restaurants. None better than those on Higuera Street, which traverses San Luis Obispo’s beautiful waterfront.

Each weekend, you’ll come across local markets that bring everyone together. While you’re less than 30 minutes from the coast to one side and the mountains on the other.

10. Long Beach

The city of Long Beach California

Long Beach is a well-known city in the state. Residents can enjoy all the amenities of a small coastal town while still living in the big city. No wonder it’s called the Beach with many benefits

Thanks to its proximity to Los Angeles, it’s easy to get to Long Beach. But don’t worry about hiring a car as you can use the city’s Passport bus service for a free way to get to the best local attractions. These include nature centers, Japanese Gardens, multiple art museums, as well as the iconic Queen Mary ocean liner.

All this is complemented by the stunning waterfront and seemingly endlessly balmy weather. Before you head out to the nightlife, take a dip or sunbathe. Find out more about the 24 Best Beaches in California

11. Oakland

Oakland is located on the opposite side of San Francisco Bay. The city has followed a similar path to New York’s Brooklyn and is the perfect complement to the high-brow city of San Francisco.

Hip and up-and-coming, it’s a city with a genuine soul. This is evident as you walk around the city, which is brimming with repurposed areas, now bursting with boutiques, restaurants and artisanal wares.

Oakland has been a melting-pot city since its inception. Its history plays out in its dining scene, where you’ll find authentic dishes from a range of international cuisine. The city is growing into a major metropolis and its festival and events calendar is constantly expanding. You will find a wide variety of community festivals and street fairs that celebrate the local culture.

12. Napa

Wine region of Napa from above

Oakland and San Fran are gateways to one of the US’ top wine regions. Napa is the capital of the Napa Valley region. It is home to many renowned vineyards that are equally pleasing on the eyes.

Napa’s downtown has seen a resurgence over the last decade as more people move out of the major cities. Enjoy the Napa River’s beautiful scenery, the public markets, and a romantic gondola ride along the river.

Wineries are the main draw. There are more than 300 wineries in Napa Valley, spread across Sonoma County. To enjoy the best local wines, and delicious food, take the Napa Valley Wine Train. All in one century-old railcar.

13. Eureka

The well-preserved Eureka, originally founded in 1850s as a port, is still as it was. The Old Town, which is lined with 19th-century buildings, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here you’ll discover opulent Victorian mansions once home to rich lumber merchants. Some have been turned into charming bed and Breakfasts.

Admire the beautiful facades of the historic streets as you stroll along. You can then head to the Waterfront to explore the boardwalk along the coast.

Eureka can be reached by a short trip from the Oregon border. This places Eureka in redwood country, with beautiful forests surrounding the city to its east. The charming northern beaches are only a short distance away.

14. Palo Alto

Downtown Palo Alto California

Between San Fran and San Jose, Palo Alto is an innovative city home to one of California’s leading universities. Palo Alto is a blend of old and new. It’s home to historic buildings that have stood the test of time while being at the center of the modern world.

These historic buildings include the Museum of American Heritage and the Cantor Art Center. While exploring the Stanford University campus will give you a great example of Palo Alto’s split personality.

There are over 30 parks in the city, including Rinconada Park. The city’s pleasant year-round weather means there’s no bad time to enjoy a picnic. Enjoy the great dining scene, fueled by local students, before heading out to the Baylands Nature Preserve.

15. Fresno

Home to the fifth largest population in California, Fresno is the gateway to some of the state’s best national parks. The city is worth a visit. It’s a family-friendly destination with plenty of attractions to keep young and old entertained.

Fresno is home to many beautiful parks, including Woodward or Roeding. The former is home to the city’s Chaffee Zoo and features a sprawling lake within its 90 acres. Woodward Park, located on the San Joaquin River, is home to the annual Shakespeare Festival.

You’ll find live sporting events, including regular baseball and basketball, in town. But the real action lies east where you’ll find Yosemite and the Sierra National Forest.

16. Healdsburg

Healdsburg in Sonoma county California

Healdsburg, another Sonoma County city worth your attention, is also worth a look. The charming town is a popular weekend spot for San Franciscoites due to its rolling hills and glistening waters.

Because of this, you’ll find plenty of elegant bed and breakfasts. There are also charming bakeries and cozy cafes in the heart wine country. Healdsburg is quiet and peaceful, but it’s far from a small town. Just steps away from award-winning wineries, Healdsburg shares Napa Valley’s love of great wine and mouthwatering food.

Food and drink aside, you’ll find plenty of adventure on the local trails that take you into deep valleys and preserves. You can also paddle down and jump between beaches along the Russian River.

When is the best season to visit California

Summer Season in California

California’s exceptional weather makes it a true year-round destination. Your goals and budget are the two main factors that will decide when it is best to visit California.

If you want to spend your days on Long Beach’s sands, then late summer, summer, or fall are the best times. Although it doesn’t get cold in the winter, the Pacific Ocean is famously chilly in California. But if you’re looking to go on a road trip and tick of all the cities on this list, visit in the shoulder seasons to avoid large summer crowds.

Avoid expensive hotel rates by visiting in the winter or early spring to save money. This may limit your beach days, but you’ll still have pleasant sunny days and fantastic hiking conditions.

What are the top cities in California based on population?

Los Angeles is the most populous city. It also has twice as many people than San Diego, which is second.

You might be surprised to know that San Francisco is not higher. The popular city is divided into several sections, including Oakland.

Which city in California should you visit first?

Los Angeles can be polarizing for many travelers. Some love the glitz and glamor of the famous city, but others find it’s too easy to fall into the tourist traps.

If you’re flying into California, then L.A. is likely to be your first destination. It should be at the top of your itinerary. This will give you plenty of time for changes if you like it or not.

What is the most beautiful California city?

Many cities in this state are home to beautiful Spanish Revival architecture and the Pacific Ocean. Two things I’m admittedly biased towards. These qualities make places such as Santa Barbara and Monterrey so stunning.

Monterrey’s unique qualities include Cannery Row, and the incredible 17-Mile Drive. This makes it one of the most beautiful cities in California.

For sheer popularity, you can’t pass Los Angeles. The top U.S. destination is New York, which is the city that is most famous. San Francisco takes second place. It’s an exciting city to explore, punctuated by the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

These resources will help you plan your next California vacation

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