California Coastal Dream Towns

All along the extensive coast of California are dozens of small towns set on the beach, the rocky cliffs, and the magnificent scenes of the Golden State of Opportunity. Away from the hustle and hubbub of the megacities, these coastal dream towns seem like a setting from a fairy tale, full of enchanting vistas, quaint attractions, and plenty to see and do for your student group.

Solana Beach - Extremely walkable, beautifully close communities, and the quintessential Southern California glow, Solana Beach is a small town with big promise. Nature is a big factor in Solana Beach's attractiveness, with a 1,000 acre San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve full of wildlife, hiking trails, and stunning scenery. The nature side also lends to the 1.7-mile-long beach perfect for beginner and pro surfers, the soft and gentle waves off Fletcher's Cove and some of the biggest surfs on the West Coast. And when you're craving some "indoor" time, in lovely restaurants and art galleries, Solana Beach has everything you could want within a two-mile radius.

Pacific Palisades - Located in the Westside region of Los Angeles, hugged by both the mountains and the sea, Pacific Palisades is where many of Hollywood's top celebrities go to relax and unwind. This high-class region may not be perfect for a student's budget but for visiting, it's a veritable dream. Temescal Gateway Park and Will Rogers State Historic Park are amazing destinations to hike, view wildlife, and see the city from a new perspective, cradled by the Pacific down below your feet. On Main Street, you'll find some of the best seafood restaurants in L.A., lovely boutiques, and plenty to see and do apart from the favored beaches.

Carmel-by-the-sea - Did you know that Clint Eastwood was once mayor of Carmel, California? The small city has a lot more history though, dating back to the Alta California mission churches of the 18th century. Fairy tale cottages with sloping shingle roofs, some of the most beautiful coastline in the entire world, and close proximity to the attractions of Monterey and San Francisco make Carmel a nature lover's dream. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a must-see destination with spectacular dreamlike waterfalls, soft beaches, and fields of blooming spring flowers. Downtown Carmel, however, is perfectly walkable with a wonderfully scenic quality complete with delicious restaurants (one that used to be owned by Mr. Eastwood), boutiques, quaint shops, and plenty more.

Capitola - Postcard-perfect scenes of pastel-colored fishermen's houses, sugar-soft sand beaches, and the Caribbean feel stand Capitola out from the competition. Set in northern California, Capitola is a tiny city with a vibrant village setting. As with many northern Cali cities, Capitola has its own brewery/winery scene, dog-friendly accommodations and restaurants, lovely community events, and to top it all off, an annual Begonia Festival complete with a parade, sandcastle contest, and floating rafts overflowing with flowers. Their up and coming businesses and growing tourism market mean that you should visit Capitola before the world catches on to how great this little town is.

Bodega Bay - You might recognize the setting as the film location for Hitchcock's The Birds but Bodega Bay is known for its intense beauty and gorgeous sunsets over the rocky cliffs. Situated on the Pacific Coast Highway, Bodega Bay is just 90 minutes from San Francisco in the pastoral northern region full of sheep ranches, boutiques filled with homemade candy, and quaint fishing villages. There are more than a few wineries (for the over 21 crowds) in this lovely Sonoma destination but you also have wildlife at the Doran Regional Park Bird Walk, festivals like the Bodega Bay Fisherman's Festival, and historic businesses like Patrick's Salt Water Taffy which has been there since 1960. The scenery alone, as fog rolls in over the rock-strewn beaches and sunset-colored cliffs, is enough to make you swoon.

Avalon - Perhaps better known than some of these other destinations, Avalon is the resort city on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. Built as a historic tourism destination to resemble a Mediterranean island, you can do practically anything you want here. Eco-tours around the island's wildlife or under the waves to see the endangered native species, shopping along the downtown strip literally built for tourists' pleasure, or visiting the Catalina Casino's grand ballroom and theater are popular options for visitors. You can also take a ghost tour of the island and judge for yourself if the legends are true. Beware, though, that Avalon is not the cheapest of destinations so visiting as a day trip is recommended for those on a budget.

San Clemente - 300 sunny days a year, historic origins, and plenty of Spanish charm, San Clemente is a hidden treasure. With a recent influx of new young professionals, San Clemente is renovating and expanding around the new age with up and coming businesses. But it's main focus is still the palm tree-shaded soft sanded beaches leading into the bright blue Pacific. Laidback attitudes, rustic charm, and new amenities make for exciting adventures. Find almost every kind of restaurant along Avenida Delmar plus plenty of scenery and the local art gallery for when you need a touch of culture. Plus, San Clemente is less than an hour from both Los Angeles and San Diego.