10 Awesome Hidden Gems in California
As one of America’s most-visited states, we all know — or think we know — what California has to offer. But there’s more to this region than the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hollywood Sign. If you’re looking to get a different perspective on California’s major cities — or leave them behind entirely for a trip up the Central Coast — these hidden gems in California will give you plenty of ideas to guide you. Whether you want to tour a mansion or rent one out for the night, you’ll find a range of public and private spaces here to help you enjoy the mountains, beaches, deserts, and more.
1. The Hearst Castle in San Simeon
Hearst Castle isn’t exactly a secret — it was built by the newspaper tycoon who inspired Citizen Kane, after all — but its remote location means it doesn’t get as crowded as some of California’s other attractions. A four-hour drive from both Los Angeles and San Diego, it’s a can’t-miss stop on any trip along Route 1. You won’t get to see every room in this sprawling mansion, but you can choose from several tours that focus on different parts of the mansion and grounds.
2. A vibrant artist loft in Downtown LA
While Hollywood was known as the center of the movie industry, locals will tell you that that isn’t where the magic happens any more. Many of LA’s most creative, artistic residents have set up shop in Downtown LA, turning former warehouses into vibrant artist lofts. This creative studio is one of our favorite hidden gems in California. It’s perfect for a traveling photographer looking for a photo studio or a set for a music video, or even for someone seeking a memorable venue for a birthday party in the center of LA’s arts district. Book it through Peerspace to arrange for catering and equipment rentals through the Concierge service.
3. A rustic speakeasy bar in the Castro
The Castro is one of San Francisco’s most famous neighborhoods, known for being the center of the city’s LGBTQ+ nightlife. For a private party in a low-key venue, check out this speakeasy tucked away behind a hidden bookshelf. With a fireplace, dart board, and sound system, it’s a great choice for a surprise birthday party with options for beverage packages included. If you have a larger crowd, rent out the upstairs area, too, which features an outdoor terrace, blackjack table, and even a barber’s chair (in case you want to gift the birthday boy or girl a haircut).
4. Salvation Mountain in Slab City
A few hours east of Los Angeles is Slab City, an area that’s become a bit of a no man’s land inhabited by artists and off-gridders. One of the most outstanding art pieces in the area is Salvation Mountain, a manmade sculpture made of adobe and straw by local artist Leonard Knight. While the religious theme won’t appeal to everyone, there’s no denying the magic of encountering this colorful mountain rising up in the middle of the remote California desert.
5. A sunny beachside getaway in Half Moon Bay
A half-hour drive south of San Francisco is the beautiful Half Moon Bay, a laid-back town close to the beaches and redwoods, with its very own historic Main Street. It makes for a great stop on a road trip, or for an all-day getaway from the city for a birthday party or office retreat. We recommend this private event space that has direct access to the beach, as well as a full kitchen, a lounge area (with foosball!), and a deck overlooking the sea!
6. A picturesque ranch house in Sun Valley
This hidden gem in California is the perfect wedding venue, with a magical backyard garden that can fit up to 90 guests. It features a koi pond and grassy lawn, with plenty of room for a seated ceremony and a dance area. There’s a modern chef’s kitchen (available for an added fee), and enough lights and shade cover to make it suitable for both daytime or evening events. If you want to get outside of LA for your event, consider booking this venue through Peerspace.
7. Mono Lake
Most visitors overlook Mono Lake for the more famous Yosemite National Park, which is right next door. But if Yosemite is closed due to snow or wildfire — or just plain crowded — it’s worth taking a detour to this out-of-this-world environment. While you can swim in the lake, it’s best-known for its limestone towers called “tufas,” which look like ancient columns rising from the deep. If you can, camp here overnight to see these natural features lit up by moonlight.
8. A modern desert hideaway in Joshua Tree
The Joshua Tree desert is one of the top hidden gems in California, but the harsh environment can make it hard to plan a successful photo or video shoot or getaway. At this beautiful home, you won’t have to worry about the elements. It features minimalist decor, an enclosed cactus garden, and 270-degree views of the mountains and desert. Rent this venue for a small party, video production, or even just a quiet, peaceful space to do yoga and meditate.
9. A mid-century home and swimming pool in LA
Party like a movie star at this sprawling complex that has over 8000 sq.ft. of space. With a large swimming pool surrounded by tropical plants, and three private bungalows that can be used for offices or changing rooms, you can host a birthday party or a full-scale movie production at this incredible hidden gem in California. Best for 100 guests or less, this location is ADA compliant and has additional amenities that include a fire pit, ping-pong table, and full modern kitchen.
10. A private tasting room in wine country
This beautiful venue in Livermore, CA, is only a 45-minute drive from San Francisco, making it a great choice for a birthday party, a corporate outing, or a wedding. The tasting room can fit up to 80 guests, and it overlooks the vineyard and surrounding hills. There’s also a patio and an outdoor pool, so the venue is suitable for indoor or outdoor events during any season. Tables and chairs are included with the rental, and food and drink are allowed on-site. You can ask the host directly for catering recommendations, or book them through the Concierge service.
With so many major cities and areas of natural beauty, there’s no way to see all of California on a single trip — or even if you’ve lived here your whole life! These hidden gems offer a range of options that show off some of the best of what this state has to offer. From remote deserts to beachy getaways, from artist lofts to vineyards, we hope you enjoy exploring some of these incredible venues and lesser-known attractions up and down the California coast.