Southern California is one of those places where you can be at the beach, sip wine at vineyards, ski down slopes, witness fall foliage at high elevations, and soak up warmth in deserts, all within two hours. There’s also a number of underrated towns — from the beach to backcountry mountains — which are not on many travelers’ radar. Below are three that we love👇
Solvang: Denmark, but make it 45 minutes from Santa Barbara. Travelers who adore the European country will love Solvang, a charming town designed to be a pastiche of old Danish villages. Founded by Danes in 1911, the town houses four wooden windmills with four blocks, five authentic Danish bakeries within five blocks, and even a museum dedicated to author of “The Little Mermaid” and the motherland’s most famous literary figure, Hans Christian Anderson — the attached bookstore (@thebookloftsolvang) is worth spending some time in as well.
Encinitas: A beach town sandwiched between La Jolla and Laguna Beach, Encinitas is bohemian with a dose of cool (something recent). When heading down Highway 101, visitors will pass coffee shops and juice bars with curated kombucha menus, thrift shops that serve as a time-machine to the 1960s, as well as charming restaurants and craft breweries with expansive patios that were made for enjoying the region’s quintessential sunshine. To get into beach-mode, whether it’s at San Elijo or Moonlight (both are stunning), we recommend grabbing board shorts and perusing aisles replete with different types of surfboards at Hansens Surfboards (@hansensurfboards).
Julian: A mountain town just under two hours from San Diego that won a place on the map with its 1800s gold rush, Julian’s main street is aesthetically redolent of the wild west with wood-paneled storefronts and charming cottages. Although, nowadays, the town is best known for its Apple Pie — our favorite spot is the Julian Pie Company (@julianpiecompany). When visiting in fall, travelers can engage in DIY apple picking at the areas ever-spanning orchards; or if not your thing, panning for gold is a fun activity too.