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California has more to see than Los Angeles and San Francisco. Up and down the coast, there are dozens of small towns where you can find ocean views and a quiet, more peaceful way of life. They’re not filled with giant skyscrapers, but rather small antique, book, and clothing shops, art galleries, museums, and parks. These are just eight of the many quaint seaside communities you should stop in sometime to explore.

1. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is like stepping into a storybook on the Monterey Peninsula. Set along a white sandy beach, this small European-style village has fairy-tale cottages, shops, and fun things to do for the whole family. You’ll find museums and art galleries to browse, and lots of wonderful restaurants to choose from (we recommend a pizza from Dametra Cafe). Carmel also has a fabulous city beach with deep sugary white sand.

2. San Clemente

San Clemente is a cozy beach town on the southern coast, about midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. The area’s known for their Spanish architecture, and stunning mountain & ocean views. When you get hungry, make a trip over to Nick’s for a burger or one of their house specialties. Bring a beach towel so you can rest on the sand of San Clemente Pier Beach.

3. Dana Point

Dana Point is a seaside oasis just north of San Clemente. Home to the breathtaking Salt Creek Beach, the town encompasses miles of coastline, and a range of local restaurants for every meal of the day. Try the Banana Macademia Nut Pancakes for breakfast at Stacks Pancake House, a burger for lunch at Shwack Beach Grill, and a warm plate of real Italian pasta for dinner at Luciana’s Ristorante.

4. San Simeon

On the Central Coast, San Simeon is famous for being the home of this elegant hilltop mansion. Hearst Castle isn’t just captivating from out front, but you can take a tour inside for a first-hand look across the grounds. And if you opt to see the upstairs suite, you can also take a peek inside rooms where icons have stayed, like Charlie Chaplin and Joan Crawford.

Elephant Seal Rookery is another key highlight to see in town, near the Piedras Blancas Light Station. This popular spot offers a picture perfect viewpoint to watch elephant seals all year round.

5. Bodega Bay

A quaint fishing village on the Sonoma Coast, Bodega Bay has both places to explore and places to relax. You’ll find long, sandy beaches here, secret coves, and a variety of local restaurants serving fresh, locally-caught seafood (like at the popular Spud Point Crab Co.). Drive around the bay to Bodega Head to see an amazing beach and a hiking trail loop with outstanding views.

6. Monterey

About ten minutes north of Carmel, Monterey is a scenic town with a rich history and attractions for all ages. By the waterfront, Cannery Row is a local hot spot with gift shops, seafood joints, and bars, all set inside of converted old sardine-canning factories.

Another must-see in Monterey is their huge aquarium.  It’s home to thousands of marine animals and plants, and they feature several underwater and interactive exhibits.

7. Mendocino

On the northern coast, Mendocino was first established back in the 1850s and still maintains several of its Victorian-style buildings and sailboat cottages. One of the local bed and breakfasts, Blair House, was even famously seen in the popular TV show, “Murder, She Wrote” as the main character’s house.

Here you’ll find a beautiful stretch of coastline, trails through redwood forest, family fun attractions, and wine tasting for those 21-and-up. There’s also a handful of antique shops, and outdoor activities like hiking, biking, horse riding and golf. Plus, the town’s home to lots of great restaurants to choose from, no matter what you’re hungry for – ranging from small, homey cafes to fine, upscale dining.

8. Encinitas

Photo by Mike Fairbanks on Wikipedia

North of San Diego, Encinitas is a fun surfing town with lots of fabulous restaurants, shops, and local accommodations. The town’s located along a six-mile stretch of the Pacific coastline, right next to the Pacific Coast Highway. Across the neighborhood you’ll find a charming blend of coffee shops, taco shops, an iconic record store, and the beautiful, sandy Moonlight Beach.

Of course, these are just eight of the many charming towns you can find on the coast. What are some other seaside communities you love visiting in California?