Live Like a Local: 5 Off-the-Beaten Path Destinations in California
Capitolia township in Santa Cruz At Sunset, California. Photo: Jonathan Clark / Getty Images
If you’d like to venture beyond San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego on your next trip to the Golden State, here are some must-see stops from a California native.
With its multi-hued cottages tucked into a corner of a fine beach and a lively downtown shopping scene, this might be the best California seaside town never mentioned in a Beach Boys’ song. You’re only about an hour south of San Francisco if you take the inland freeways, but I prefer the slower drive along Highway One to enjoy the great coastal views. Capitola has several restaurants right on the sand, including a good Mexican place called Margaritaville. There’s also a pier you can walk out on to admire the surfers and the pretty bluffs. Downtown has lots of great gift stores, galleries and surf shops, as well as a wine-tasting room. Shadowbrook is a lovely restaurant that cascades down a hill alongside Soquel Creek, with wonderful gardens and a tiny funicular. It can get crowded on the weekend, but there are parking lots a short walk from downtown.
This is an outstanding coastal town about a half hour north of San Diego. There’s a great, walkable downtown filled with cool restaurants such as Shorehouse Kitchen and The Goods, which dishes out inventive donuts and good coffee. You’ll find plenty of independent shops, including Fahrenheit 451 book store. The Beach Terrace Inn is a fun, boutique hotel on the water. Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park is named for a Hollywood actor who played the role of Pancho in The Cisco Kid TV show, and had many movie roles over his career. He built a wonderful ranch high in the hills above the city, which you can tour. The Flower Fields is an incredible facility that grows acres and acres of ranunculus flowers, which bloom in late winter or early spring. There’s also a rose garden, a Santa’s Village and a playground for kids. Taking the kids or grandkids? Carlsbad also is home to the Legoland theme park.
3. Tri-Valley (Bay Area)
This is one of the oldest wine growing regions in California. It also may be the easiest wine region to visit in the state, as there’s a Bay Area Rapid Transit Station in Dublin/Pleasanton. The town of Pleasanton has a handsome downtown with independent, boutique shops. Ditto for next-door Livermore, which also is home to the San Francisco Bay Outlets shopping centre. Danville also has a great, walkable town centre with cafés and restaurants. The region is popular among cyclists, golfers and outdoors lovers, with gentle, rolling hills and pretty canyons lined with oak trees and sweet-smelling eucalyptus. The Livermore Wine Trolley is a vintage-style trolley with large, opening windows that can take you through wine country, allowing you to enjoy your sips and avoid having to drive. There are more than 50 wineries to choose from.
The home of the California government features one of the most beautiful capitol buildings in the U.S., surrounded by palm trees and stately gardens. Look for colourful street art and lively coffee shops in the city’s growing downtown. Old Sacramento is a fun spot, with dozens of historic buildings and an “Old West” feel from the state’s Gold Rush days. Stop for a bite at The Spud Shack, which serves “fries from around the world,” including poutine. The California State Railroad Museum is regarded as one of the top rail museums in the U.S. Just 15 minutes from downtown is The Old Sugar Mill, a towering old brick building that used to process sugar beets and now houses more than a dozen wine-tasting rooms.
This is an up-and-coming wine region in southern California, only an hour or so from Orange County and roughly the same distance from Palm Springs. The wines are bold and flavourful, and more wineries seem to be opening up every day. Old Town Temecula has a throwback feel, with a mix of old brick and wood-front buildings. The Temecula Lavender Company sells lovely products, while Old Town Spice and Tea Merchants makes tea with lemongrass, hibiscus, orange and peppermint. The funky Hotel Temecula dates back to 1891 and has great stories to tell. For great views, try a hot air balloon ride over the valley with the folks from A Grape Escape.
A version of this story was published on Oct. 26, 2021.