9 Amazing Lake Towns You Must See in California

Shasta Lake in California in summer
© iStock.com/Strekoza2

Written by Kirstin Harrington

Updated: July 13, 2023

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When many people picture California, they envision the bright lights of Hollywood and the towering palm trees lining the never-ending coast. Although you can go surfing, sunbathing, and enjoy beautiful weather at the ocean in the Golden State, there are plenty of beaches there as well! 

Big Bear is a luxurious lakeside town that often sees visitors that you may recognize from your favorite films!

Whether you live in the Golden State or you’re just visiting, we’ve found the must-see lake towns that will make you feel like you’re on a permanent vacation! 

#1 Tahoe City

Fishing is one of the most popular pastimes at Lake Tahoe.

Fishing is one of the most popular activities at Lake Tahoe.


As one may be able to assume from the name, Tahoe City is home to the ever-stunning Lake Tahoe. On warm summer days, the sidewalk is dotted with flower baskets that overflow with vibrancy at every turn. 

You can see the mountains on one side of the town, and the glistening Lake Tahoe on the other. Visitors enjoy shopping, visiting an art gallery that features some truly amazing photos of the region’s natural splendor, and grabbing a bite to eat. 

Since the town has easy access to the lake, activities including boating, waterskiing, paddling, swimming, fishing, and lake cruises become popular during the hottest times of the year. Cycling and hiking keep individuals active all year long. 

State parks and hiking trails welcome guests to their picturesque retreats and are the ideal locations to bring a packed lunch. 

#2 Lake Shasta

Lake Shasta landscape

Lake Shasta is beautiful all year-round.

©Devin Powers/Shutterstock.com

Located in Shasta County, Lake Shasta is another beautiful area to visit in California. The lake is the largest man-made reservoir in the entire state! The area lies 10 miles north of Redding and on an ordinary summer day, fishing boats, speedboats, inner tubes, and just about anything else that floats may be seen in the clear blue waters. 

Mirror-smooth coves are surrounded by over 370 miles of beach that are perfect for relaxing. Watch bald eagles and osprey flying above while casting for bass, crappie, or sturgeon. From modest hotels with cozy rooms to multi-level, floating mansions with jacuzzis, culinary kitchens, and luxury suites there is something for everyone here. 

There are various campgrounds in the vicinity, some of which are reached only by boat. A public tour of Shasta Dam is one of the lake’s other excellent attractions. It is the second-largest concrete dam in the nation at 602 feet!

#3 Donner Lake

Beautiful Donner Lake in Truckee, California. June 2020.

Donner Lake is known for having incredibly clear water.

©Robyn Havard/Shutterstock.com

Donner Lake is the crown jewel of the lakes throughout Truckee! The first view is quite breathtaking when you cross Donner Summit on I-80 heading north. It’s a beautiful lake for biking, hiking, and enjoying the water views and beaches. 

At this stunning mountain lake, which the Shallenberger Ridge borders on the lake’s side, visitors enjoy jet skiing, parasailing, boating, canoeing, paddle boating, and paddle boarding.

Donner Lake is home to some of the largest lake trout throughout the state of California, making fishing there another well-liked activity.

Every year, there is a triathlon at Donner Lake that involves swimming in the lake, jogging around it, and biking up Old Highway 40, across the Rainbow Bridge, toward Kingvale, and back to Donner Lake. 

#4 Clear Lake

Reflection in clear blue lake in Northern California

Clear Lake is a hiker’s paradise.

©Andrew Zarivny/Shutterstock.com

If you’re ever in Lake County, check out Clear Lake in northern California. This watersports mecca is surrounded by over 100 miles of shoreline and is the biggest freshwater lake entirely within California. 

There are various boat marinas that rent out all types of watercraft, notably man-powered kayaks, in addition to fishing equipment. It’s a perfect area to try having a go at catching one of the lake’s fabled big monsters since this is the home of bass fishing. 

Even from the campgrounds at Clear Lake State Park, the crisp air at night allows for some amazing stargazing. Clear Lake offers a variety of hiking paths for hikers to enjoy. An easy half-mile self-guided route, the Indian Nature route demonstrates how the Pomo people made use of the local resources. 

The location of the former Pomo settlement is where the route passes, immersing visitors in history!

#5 Lake San Antonio

Lake San Antonio by Cam Vilay

This quiet area is about four hours from LAX in both southern Monterey County and northern San Luis Obispo County

©Cam Vilay, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Despite the name reminding you of The Lone Star State, Lake San Antonio is located in Monterey County, CA. On the stunning central coast of California, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Lake San Antonio Recreation Area is a practical getaway spot or stopover for tourists. 

While groundwater recharge and flood management are the reservoir’s main goals, Lake San Antonio’s 335,000 acre-feet of water, 16-mile course, and over 100 miles of shoreline offer an excellent recreation area as well.

The best freshwater recreational area is located here in Monterey County. It spans 4,200 acres and is separated into two sites. The South Shore has 3,020 acres and North Shore has 1,180 acres.

People can engage in recreational activities year-round at the South Shore and North Shore park locations. This includes angling, swimming, boating, hiking, horseback riding, camping, and more! 

#6 Big Bear

Big Bear Lake Near Los Angeles - Swimming Holes Near Los Angeles

Big Bear Lake has some of the most expensive lake homes in the state.

©Sahani Photography/Shutterstock.com

Big Bear is a mountain town with a lake of the same name. This is a luxurious lakeside town that often sees visitors that you may recognize from your favorite films! Big Bear Lake is a four-season mountainous lake getaway in Southern California. 

It’s a short drive from Arizona and Las Vegas, making it a great location for many. The crowning glory of the San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear Lake is renowned for superb fishing, skiing, snowboarding, climbing, cycling, and much more!

The city has a laid-back atmosphere, awe-inspiring natural scenery, and a wealth of outdoor activities. 22 miles of coastline are found here along with breathtaking mountain landscapes. Big Bear Lake allows swimming during the summer but at your own discretion.

Swimmers are required to keep within 50 feet of the coast or no more than 20 feet from a private pier. There are no lifeguards on duty.

#7 Mammoth Lakes

Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak Reflected in an Alpine Lake.  Ediza Lake, The Ansel Adams Wilderness, Mammoth, California

Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak surround Mammoth Lakes.

©Tobin Akehurst/Shutterstock.com

You can find Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. This place is nothing short of a dream! It’s a spectacular location where you are surrounded by breathtaking views in all directions. where craters, hot springs, and lakes coexist with unearthly vistas.

If you enjoy the great outdoors, Mammoth Lakes offers a variety of thrilling excursions and breathtaking vistas throughout the summer. Anything from exhilarating mountain bike rides to tranquil fly fishing in streams and lakes will keep you busy. You can also opt for a remote camping adventure to a relaxing evening trek in the woods.

Winter is another popular time for people to visit this area. There are numerous activities available for everybody to take advantage of in this breathtaking, snowy winter paradise. This includes skiing and snowboarding at the renowned Mammoth Mountain. 

You can also try endless cross-country and snowshoe trails, snowmobile excursions, and family-friendly activities like sledding and snowball fights. 

#8 June Lake

Fall road during autumn at June Lake, California with yellow aspen trees, view of road, falling leaves

The Aspen trees in June Lake make this place feel like an autumn dream.


You’ll find June Lake in an unincorporated area of the Golden State. June Lake appears to be something you’d see on a postcard. With its crystal-clear waters encircled by the Sierra Nevada’s jagged peaks, it’s hard to find something not to love about this area of California. 

June Lake is one of the biggest and few natural lakes in the area, with a total area of about 320 acres. It is well known for fishing, particularly trolling. June Lake has a number of marinas and boat ramps for anglers.

On the eastern shore of the lake, the June Lake beach offers velvety sand, a swimming area, and jaw-dropping vistas. Along the 1.5-mile-long lake, paddling, kayaking, and windsurfing are additional popular activities.

#9 Lee Vining

Ellery Lake, set in the upper Lee Vining Canyon,few miles from Yosemite National Parks east entrance. Ellery Lake offers beautiful Alpine scenery,great fighing and camping.

Ellery Lake offers beautiful Alpine scenery, great fishing, and camping.

©Mara Phraner/Shutterstock.com

The unincorporated village and census-designated place of Lee Vining is located in Mono County, CA, in the United States. At the foot of the Sierra just below Tioga Pass, Lee Vining serves as the entryway into Yosemite National Park and Mono Lake.

This small town makes a great starting point for experiencing Yosemite or the surrounding Mono Basin. Tioga Pass, which is Yosemite’s Heavenly entryway and a fantastic site to explore while you’re in the area, is located at a height of 9,945 feet.

Saddlebag Lake, a popular and unique location for hikers, fishermen, and travelers who camp, is situated on the Eastside not far from the summit of Tioga Pass. A ferry boat transports visitors to the trailhead for the magnificent five-mile circle at Twenty Lakes Basin on the west side of the lake throughout the summer.

Lundy Lake is a well-known canyon for its springtime blooms and autumn color show once the leaves change colors, located at the foot of Conway Summit. For camping and day tourists, a resort on the lake’s coast provides boat rentals and other essential facilities.

Summary of the 9 Best Lake Towns in California

RankLake TownCounty
1Tahoe CityPlacer County
2Lake ShastaShasta County
3Donner LakeNevada County
4Clear LakeLake County
5Lake San AntonioMonterey County
6Mammoth LakesMono County
7Big BearSan Bernardino
8June LakeMono County
9Lee ViningMono County
Summary Table of 9 Amazing Lake Towns You Must See in California

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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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