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Best California Towns to Live in if You Hate to Drive

Point Equity

Believe it or not, if you Google “towns with the highest walkability scores,“one list rates Berkeley, California as #1. To be fair, this particular rating pertains to small cities favored by retirees and includes criteria other than just getting around on foot, or by bicycle. It also dates to 2013, but it was surprising nonetheless.

Berkeley's central business district is compact and attractive, even though it stretches up the city's hills to the campus of UC-Berkeley. The city boasts nicely-developed residential neighborhoods that invite strolling and lingering, although many of them are quite a distance from downtown. The weather is a bonus, making getting around without a vehicle pleasant most of the time. 

But what if you want something smaller and more quaint than the Bay Area?

If you prefer a smaller California community where you can completely do without an automobile, are there any options? Although cities with great public transportation systems might meet the criteria, smaller towns offer bigger advantages in some other ways. 

USA Today compiled a list of the state's best walking towns in 2018.  A few are legendary but there are some surprising names you might not even recognize.


Fort Bragg

Not to be confused with the giant military base of the same name in North Carolina, California's Fort Bragg is situated on the Mendocino County coastline. It's a prime tourist destination as well as a quintessentially friendly small town. Well-preserved Victorian homes and white picket fences are commonplace, and the bustling downtown boasts both a great ice cream parlor and an award-winning brewery. A tourist train departs regularly for an hour-long tour of the coast, and the famed Glass Beach is only about a half-mile stroll from the town's center.



Yes, Clint Eastwood was once mayor of this picture-postcard-pretty coastal town. The small seaside village only occupies about one square mile of land, but it still has everything anyone could want, including a wonderful, sandy beach just a two-block walk from downtown. 

Another bonus of living in Carmel is its dog-friendly vibe. Most hotels, restaurants, and stops are dog-friendly throughout the town, and dogs are even allowed off-leash on Carmel Beach—as long as they respond to voice command. 


Santa Cruz

Home to another prize University of California campus, Santa Cruz has a population around 70,000, but it still retains its small-town flavor and its residents still love to walk. Bike and Segway rentals are readily available so it's possible to garage the car and only take it out for longer trips. 

The popular Beach Boardwalk, with a Ferris wheel, carousel, arcade, games, and food is just 10 minutes from downtown, and for a more mature outing, you can visit Capitola and dine on the water near a multitude of unique shopping experiences, all within walking distance. 

This lively, young-at-heart community has an interesting, multi-cultural vibe, with an emphasis on the good life whether in the classroom or out on the town.


La Jolla by the Sea

A boutique community of San Diego with a personality all its own, La Jolla is known as "the jewel of San Diego." Defined by the sea and by nature, few would want to spoil it with the sound of engines or the smell of exhaust. La Jolla casts a spell upon visitors and residents alike. 

Despite the nearby bigger-city attractions of San Diego, it's a wonderful place to savor the beauty of the coast, to enjoy local seafood, and wander peacefully with no destination in mind.



Step into the past of this frontier mining town at the entrance to Yosemite National Park, and forget that you ever knew that a traffic light existed. California's oldest still-standing courthouse is here, as is the Mariposa Museum and History Center. 

Oh, and there's also a saloon that hearkens back to the gold rush days and is still a favorite "watering hole." It's a thriving community and there's still no need for a car here!



Deep in the heart of the state's wine region, Sonoma also marks the site where Mexican rule was overthrown during a revolt in 1846. Today, the town features an eight-acre town square, the state's largest, with shops, restaurants, bakeries, tasting rooms, and a historic theater—all thoroughly walkable. 

An international film festival held each spring attracts many visitors, as does the northernmost Spanish mission, San Francisco Solano, and there's no shortage of culture and fun.



Situated northwest of Los Angeles, Ojai has a town center that's a treasure trove of Spanish Colonial architecture. Fill many hours with places to visit and things to do, including wellness treatments, a great bookstore, and enticing restaurants. If the walking gets to be too much, take a jeep tour of the surrounding countryside before retreating once again into a pattern of doing as little as possible in a charming small town.

Other little cities to love -- for their charm and walkability -- include Cambria, situated near Hearst Castle and known for its creative spirit, sunny San Clemente with a two-mile-long Coastal Trail, seaside Capitola in northern California, famed because of its wharf, and Catalina Island's stunning Avalon. Go to visit, or to settle in for a lifetime. All are special.

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