California's 10 Best Adventure Towns

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From the high reaches of the Sierra to the crash of waves along the Pacific, California is an adventurer's paradise for its diversity of experiences. Our adventure towns are portals into the natural beauty that draws outdoor enthusiasts from all corners of the world.


Here are a few of our favorite adventure towns, but this list is by no means exhaustive. What it is, however, is a nod to not only the incredible outdoor recreation opportunities mentioned below, but the people and communities that give each place its character.

  1. Truckee: Seen by many as the gateway to the Tahoe area, Truckee is growing up and pairing the après ski and beach town vibe with the sophistication many Bay Area travelers seek when they head into the mountains. From helpful and relevant gear shops to fine dining to casual pubs, Truckee is one of the best mountain towns this side of the Rockies.
  2. Mount Shasta: More and more visitors flock to Mount Shasta each year to summit it's peak, fish in the McCloud and Sacramento Rivers, and soak in the mountain scenery, yet this community still manages to hold onto it's small town, NorCal character.
  3. Big Sur: Few places along the Pacific Coast offer as much beauty as the Big Sur area and surrounding state parks. From the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge to the waterfalls of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, everywhere you look is stunning. Unfortunately, severe mudslides and road damage during the 2016-2017 winter season have put a huge damper on summer tourism here. We advise waiting until late fall of 2017 or even in 2018 to plan a trip here.
  4. Santa Cruz: Nothing says California beach town like Santa Cruz. The laid-back, boho beach vibes are made even better by the iconic surf spots, the surrounding redwood forests, and the chill downtown and touristy boardwalk. It's a place where you will never run out of things to do, whether you are checking extreme outdoor adventure or family fun off your list.
  5. San Luis Obispo: Often referred to as "slo," San Luis Obispo offers plenty of class and central coast charm alongside rolling hills and expansive beach access. In addition to surfing, adventurers kayak alongside otters in Morro Bay, dig for clams on Pismo Beach, and soak in the hot springs of Avila Beach. This fertile area also boasts some pretty tasty wine and farm to fork fare that California is known for.
  6. San Diego: A waterfront city known for it's premier beer scene, San Diego is just plain fun. Surfers, paddle boarders, kayakers and water sports enthusiasts all choose this city for a reason. It's one of the best larger cities along the coast for it's easy going and adventure-ready vibe.
  7. Santa Barbara: With some of the best beach camping around, access to the crazy-beautiful Channel Islands, and Mediterranean style approach to leisure, food, and wine, this coastal retreat packs plenty of charm.
  8. Bishop: Described as an outdoorsy adventure town with a surprisingly artsy side, Bishop is as remote as you can get in California. It's located over the mountains in the Eastern Sierra and offers incredible access to rock climbing and backcountry skiing in some of the most dramatic peaks of this mountain range.
  9. Mammoth Lakes: Another Eastern Sierra resort destination, Mammoth is an awesome ski town that provides access to some of the most incredible lines in California. It's also equally majestic in the summer, when epic mountain views and alpine lakes make your time here well spent.
  10. Mendocino: With close access to the Kings Range Conservation Area, the Lost Coast backpacking trail, and public beaches preserved up and down the coastline, this north coast town is hard to beat. It's also a great place for food, wine, and craft beer.
This article was written by Jill Sanford for Outdoor Project.

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