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Top 15 Small Cities In California

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15. Arcata
Photo credit: Konabish ~ Greg Bishop / Flickr

California’s big cities get plenty of love, but it’s a huge state with hundreds of miles of coastline; so, what about other, not world famous living areas? Coastal fishing villages pepper the state’s northernmost beaches, with quiet towns nestled into central mountains and valleys.

Communities close to major cities (such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego) tend toward the upscale or the impoverished, but the majority of California is made up of smaller, humbler towns that combine the beautiful outdoors with a friendly neighborhood feel. Learn about fifteen standouts on the California Energy Commission’s list of towns with fewer than 20,000 people.

1. Arcata

Arcata is home to Humboldt State University; the college’s hilly, laid-back campus is technically part of California State University, but HSU feels like its own, mellow universe, and so does Arcata. It’s the rare college town that’s also very safe, family-friendly and wholesome; according to the relocation tool Find Your Spot, the whole town is known to gather together to watch the Humboldt Crabs, Arcata’s very own minor league baseball team.

According to Frommer’s, part of Arcata’s appeal lies in its diverse and scenic ecosystem, which includes a redwood forest and a marshland full of birds, as well as its mild-to-cool temperatures and quaint downtown square. Arcata even placed sixth on Hardie House’s annual list of America’s “Ten Most Enlightened Towns”; the literary publication called it a walkable and green town.

The San Francisco Gate assured readers that Arcata more than makes up for its rainy, foggy weather. The town continues to stand out for its vintage charm, beautiful redwood forests, and easy-access beaches that are never crowded and always beautiful. The City of Arcata makes a special effort to preserve that native landscape.

Its official website keeps residents updated on volunteer opportunities, such as creek clean-ups and efforts to replace invasive plant life, and lets the whole community decide on eco-friendly initiatives such as a proposed public toilet and a system of bicycle lanes called Arcata Bicycle Boulevards.

Other local efforts to protect the environment include HSU’s solar-paneled dormitories, as well as the work of a local recycled glassware company, Fire & Light Original. According to its website, the company was the first to distribute tiles, decorative décor, and dishware composed of 100% recycled glass.

Arcata might appeal to so many Californians because it represents a microcosm of the state itself. Neither urban nor rural, its diverse population and comfortable climate fosters a sense of community and understanding that isn’t easy to find in the state’s bigger cities.

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