Cities Journal

Top 21 Small Cities In California

10. El Segundo
Photo credit: Kirk Crawford / Flickr

6. El Segundo

A rarity in Los Angeles County, El Segundo offers relaxing, remote beaches that aren’t usually full of tourists and beachcombers. Waves tend to be rougher, keeping away casual surfers and paddle-boarders who hit the waves as a weekend hobby.

Serious swimmers and surfers, as well as those who just want to relax in the privacy of a secluded beachfront, will choose El Segundo Beach over the sardine-packed shores of Long Beach and Malibu.

Southern California isn’t usually associated with affordable parking or ease of transportation, but El Segundo Beach makes up for the region’s snobbier and less accessible beaches. Secured bike racks, affordable parking meters, and well-placed parking lots are among the perks that reviewers cite most frequently.

El Segundo works hard to keep its beaches clean; according to the City of Segundo’s official website, the city government runs its public beach and parks, not the state. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that residents take pride in the beauty and hospitality of their humble setting; they recently erected brand new bathrooms near one of their main parking areas, and are known to help pick up trash along the beach.

Prev6 of 23Next
  • Abraham Nader Ammar

    Pretty sure Benicia was the 3rd capital unless you include Monterey. Not a very well written article considering 2 or 3 of the cities are basically Los Angeles. Try to think outside the box.

  • ecb97068

    and if you ever had a nightmare that you died and went to the worst type of tourist town in the world, it was probably South Lake Tahoe

  • nick

    What you failed to mention(and I really mean lied about) the water in Avalon, which is home to one of the most polluted beaches in the entire country. 6 sewage spills into the ocean since 2005? And the water STILL isn’t clean after “remediation” ? That’s unacceptable.

    • Megan

      You guys have clearly not spent enough time in Arcata.

    • BlueLaker54


  • nigel

    Hmmm … if I read this and traveled to Arcata to spend a few nights, I’d feel a bit mislead. The “traveler” (aka homeless) element — there cannot be many other places with a higher per capita concentration of the stoned homeless in the nation — sets a significant and undeniably tone – affecting texture for visitors, certainly worthy of at least brief mention in a blurb aspiring to capture place for the uninitiated … Makes me wonder about other towns mentioned.
    I love Arcata, but also value objectivity and accuracy in travel writing…

    • nick

      Pieces of shit like you are unimportant and that’s why they didn’t mention it, because not every is a douchy asshole like you. Homeless people need help, not to be alienated by assholes like you who think they’re better than people who have nothing. Prick.

      • Kaiser Derden

        by definition they are better than people who have nothing … and most of those people have chosen to have nothing … they are simply lazy … period … and you know it …

      • PVF

        Captured your thoughts well. I agree about your comments regarding homeless people, the homeless got where they are on no fault of their own; however, instead of getting out of their situations, many in my town prefer being homeless, enjoy taking/stealing from others, and consider everyone not like them pricks. Personally, I give money when I can, but trying anything to get off the streets works just as well.

      • Skippadoodoo

        Hey Nick, cussing and bad mouthing others with a different opinion than yours isn’t necessary or appropriate. Alot of the homeless in Arcata are drug addicts and have mental health issues and don’t want to help themselves.
        The “Alternative Lifestyle” folks can get bothersome after awhile. Not everybody likes to take a bath and get a job but that is what it takes in order to survive in society in the 21st Century. I am willing to help those that are also willing to help themselves but just hanging out all day and getting stoned and/or drunk or shooting or sniffing just to get through the day doesn’t work for me. True Hippies take care of themselves and don’t expect others to take care of them. That is the difference between the street dwellers of today and the hippies of long ago and I see few hippies and many street dwellers in Arcata today.

        • Snowqueen85

          Yes, chide the person defending the homeless with your holier-than-thou “no need to bad mouth someone with a different opinion” while not saying a thing to the person who actually started out bad mouthing the homeless.

          • Skippadoodoo

            Thanks Mom!

    • Meh

      I’m sorry but I totally agree with this statement…Arcata is a party town for the college students and a chill place for homeless people to sit on their ass all day on the plaza. They ask for money or try to steal from you so they can smoke weed and get drunk. Nothing really appealing about that.

    • susanp

      I tried living in Arcata and got tired of almost stepping on human shit on my way to the store in the morning..

  • CrazyB

    I guess if you like cold, rainy and foggy weather throughout the year, this is the place for you. Which is one of the reasons the beaches are never crowded. And it is full of homeless people and punks. Aside from nature itself, all the towns in Humboldt are garbage.

    • Frumboldt

      Thank goodness for people like you. Your misleading comments keep this town nice and small, keep the beaches pristine and beautiful, and the outdoor opportunities uncrowded. Keep believing that the weather sucks in Humboldt buddy – You are helping keep this place the way I like it!

      • CrazyB

        I lived in Humboldt for 5 years, I know the weather. A bunch of hippies, punks and homeless people hanging out at the Arcata square. Did I mention the foul stench as well? Yeah wonderful place to live! SMH.

        • Snowqueen85

          Oh man, hippies, punks, and homeless people? Man good thing there’s other places in California where you can live that don’t have those. Oh wait.

    • Dumboldt

      The weather allows for the awesome environment including redwoods. It’s not for everyone! I second your comment about towns in Humboldt, though. There appears to be a lack of standards and common decencies! Great place to live if you like giant diesel trucks, camouflage clothing, zero diversity, and complete lawlessness.

      • Bigweezy

        that sounds like a great place

  • skihuntr

    It’s true….. Arcata sucks…. I live next door in a community to the north.. Lived in Arcata and had nothing but problems with students puking in your yard and dumping their trash after partying. The homeless problem is in your face on most corners and especially on the plaza…….Parking sucks HSU does not have enough parking for itself which forces cars into the surrounding neighborhoods …. There is a lack of good dining establishments,… Not to say there aren’t a couple though, but not that reasonably priced… And most of the year the weather sucks, go inland just a few miles to get sun. There are far better places to live in Humboldt than Arcata… The plus side beer.. Arcata sits in the middle of 6 micro breweries

  • FormerArcadian

    The City of Arcata has an ordinance prohibiting more franchises then the nine already existing ones! A very progressive achievement.

  • Susan A

    What “Arcata” are you referring to in this article?

    Certainly not the one I grew up in.

  • Yasmedic

    Whoever wrote this must be from the San Francisco area. Most of the towns are up north. There are a lot of amazing little towns in SoCal that didn’t make the list. I’m surprised the Ojai made it. Towns such a Julian, just to mention one, can give any of those other small towns a run for their money. Small but beautiful with a wonderful energy about it.

    • BlueLaker54

      Don’t know why you have your panties in a wad. While you are correct, most of the towns listed are north of San Francisco…by 1. 8 north of San Francisco and 7 south of San Francisco. You say, “Towns such a Julian, just to mention one, can give any of those other small towns a run for their money.” I doubt you’ve been to most of the towns mentioned so you have no reference. I’m not saying Northern California is better. I grew up in So Cal and my family is still there and I enjoy visiting often.

      • Yasmedic

        Actually I have visited a lot of those towns. I’ve traveled extensible throughout California for the past 27 years. I’ve been to just about every little town and national park there is in this state. I love small towns. While others take the major highways, I prefer the smaller two lane highways. You get to see things that you miss while traveling on the major highways. Since I am a photographer, small highways and towns give me a lot of interesting things to photograph.

        Taking about getting my panties in a wad. Talk for yourself. I never said that there are not nice towns up north. I found it odd that the author listed mostly towns from up north. Leading me to believe that the man or woman have never been to many of the small towns in Southern California.

        • Linnhe

          Yay Yasmedic … photographer here as well, and we do get around!

        • Snowqueen85

          The generally accepted dividing line between north and south is the northern boundaries of San Luis Obispo, Kern, and San Bernadino counties. San Luis Obispo and anything south is therefore SoCal. 21 cities on the list,
          SoCal Cities: Grover Beach, Avalon, El Segundo, Los Alamitos, Malibu, Ojai, San Clemente, Solana Beach, Pismo Beach
          NorCal Cities: Arcata, Dunsmuir, Sonoma, Sausalito, Ft. Bragg, Nevada City, Exeter, Montague, St. Helena, Healdsburg, Capitola, Larkspur

          That’s 9 to 12. You’re really bitching about SoCal being out-represented by 3? Jesus christ, you’re petty. We get it, you love SoCal. Get over it. Considering 3 of the NorCal towns are within an hour of the Oregon border, let’s call it even so you can shut up?

          Desert towns can be quaint but you have to go during specific times of the year if you don’t want to be scorched to death by triple digit temperatures. If a town has seasonal requirements, it probably doesn’t deserve to be on this list.

          Barring some intellectual deficiency you suffer from, I can’t fathom how you assume towns like Arcata, Dunsmuir, and Montague are in any way relevant to someone who lives in the Bay Area, aside from the fact that geographically they are in the northern part of the state. Yeah, excuse me while I take a daycation to any of those towns, which are 5 hour drives and thus as far from SF as SF is to LA. They’re more relevant to people living in southern Oregon than a San Franciscan.

          Take some time to learn a bit more about geographic relativity instead of seeing everything in black and white because you have the mind of a child.

    • CaliforniaHal

      LEAVE JULIAN OUT OF THIS. It is the fastest way to ruin a great little town, by people putting it on a list like this! I have seen it happen with Oak Creek and Prescott!!!

  • Greg

    Love that El Segundo made the list

  • PVF

    Avalon? As in King Arthur times or the tired club in Sac? There is no Avalon up North, sorry.

    • It’s in SoCal.

      • Linnhe

        It’s the town on Catalina island … 26 miles off the coast of So. Cal.

    • Eddie

      North Pacific

  • Linnhe

    I’m a ‘5th generation’ born and bred Californian that has repeatedly driven zig-zags and circles around almost all available hwys. potholed backroads, rutted alleyways, and dead-end, unmarked, dirt/gravel, pitted piggy paths in this state, and have seen or stayed in all these places you’re writing up here … yet, among the attributes you claim are charming or interesting, there are three glaring examples of misinformation you’re touting. I live on the beautiful coast of Central CA. and most of us who live here, within driving distance of (#1) Grover Beach, consider it the one destination we would never recommend to any conscious traveler who realistically respects his idea of charm and/or interest (are you doing payola?). A few years back this town was called Grover City, until they decided trying to ‘chi chi’ it up by taking away the City part and lending it a Beach title … and if that doesn’t tell you enough about Grover the amount of standing trailer parks, and that they let you pay to drive your cars on their beach should. Tell me, have you been to Morro Bay, Cayucos (wonderfully original old beach town), San Luis Obispo (great little university town), Arroyo Grande, Templeton, Paso Robles, or Old Town Orcutt … all rate a high10 to Grover’s -0.

    (#2) Lived in Manhattan Beach 27+ yrs., and our nickname for El Segundo was ‘El Smellgundo’ due to the malordorous drift from the sewage processing plant that stands facing the ocean front. Not a single person I know would’ve dared venture into the waters of El Segundo beach, due to the sometimes leaky raw sewage and contaminates from the Standard Oil refinery not far away … other than that it lies directly adjacent to the bone-rattling flight path of Los Angeles Intl. airport … go figure! However, not to seem too derisive about my former neighbors, they do have an exceedingly beauiful old, original, untouched High School still standing … although. considering all the the retro-fitting, I hope they still do! Have a sweet little Main Street too, and really good Mexican food!.

    (#3) Oh come on now, really … Exeter … EXETER! Dare anyone to go there! Located in the center part of the San Joaquin Valley, backed up to the hills, freezy and foggy in winter, eyeball blistering in summer. My uncle was Chief of Police there for a short time … missed the coast, came home and stayed hydrated for the rest of his life. And yep, ya did … you missed Santa Ynez as well, along with Cambria and most of the whole kit and kaboodle of Hwy, 49 gold country! Hey, go check out Hornitos, Mariposa and Murphy’s as well, and beautiful little Ferndale (next to Arcata) … could go on and on with an endless summary of what makes California great, but time and space stops the blathering on. You got a lot right, but more than a few terribly wrong!

    • Eddie

      Hey Linnhe, I also notice no mention of real estate prices. Some of the cities on the list such as Avalon, Malibu, Capitola, Sausalito, etc, have home prices in the millions! I’m sure at least in the upper 6 figures. Isn’t that some type of deterrent for some people?

      • Snowqueen85

        Why would it be? I don’t believe this is an article of “Top 21 Small Cities to Live In” in fact the last sentence of the intro says “Learn about these 21 standouts that will wow you no matter when you come to VISIT them.”

        I do think its silly to list towns like Avalon, Malibu, and Sausalito NOT because they are expensive to live in, but because everyone already knows about them and they’re practically international names at least with the wealthy (who are the ones more likely to travel long distances). These lists really should be about opening people’s eyes to towns that are objectively charming but not well known.

        Of course the catch 22 is that the more people know about them, the more likely people will be to move there or saturate the local real estate markets and drive prices up, increasing their exposure, pissing off locals, and tarnishing the original charm. Many of us want to keep these hidden gems to ourselves but if you’re going to have a list like this, it might as well be something relatively fresh and informative. It takes no research to write up something obvious like “hey guys this beach town named Malibu has been a status symbol and filming location for several decades, isn’t it great? Maybe you should check it out since there’s a chance you’re an Ethiopian street child who has never heard of it”

  • Most of these towns were completely unknown to me. Looking forward to visiting one day soon

  • Kevin McCluskey

    This is kind of like reading an argument about which is better – vanilla or chocolate ice-cream.

  • Kim Gibson

    Does anyone have an opinion on Garberville? I went through there a few years ago and liked it. People were very friendly.

  • zolish

    Capitola is not a nice, little resort town. It’s got one of the highest crime rates in California. Pretty much on par with Oakland and Stockton.

  • cameron

    Nevada City bad. Denies health services to women as the hospital is Catholic. Pass.

  • Timothy Clarke

    I think SLO is a pretty cool place

Stay In Touch

Recommended For You

The Latest