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The 7 Coolest Cities in the Sierra Nevada for a Summer Vacation in 2024

Summary

  • Discover hidden gems in charming Sierra towns, from historic sites to artistic streets.
  • Enjoy exhilarating hikes, relax in hot springs, or explore the vibrant art scene in the Sierras.
  • Plan a summer trip to Truckee, Auburn, Grass Valley or Lake Arrowhead for outdoor fun.


Imagine being surrounded by towering pine trees, crystal clear lakes reflecting sapphire blue skies, and enchanting towns full of history and personality. You'll experience all of this and more when you vacation in one of Sierra's most beautiful towns this summer.

In the California Sierras, almost every town has hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. Whether you're looking for exhilarating hikes, a relaxing soak in natural hot springs, or simply exploring a vibrant art scene, you'll find a city to suit your every need in the Sierra Nevada.

In this article, we have compiled a list of the coolest cities in the Sierra Nevada for summer vacation 2024.

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7 Truckee

Take a hike down Donner Peak, explore Gold Rush history, and enjoy the beauty of the Sierras


Truckee is tucked away in the heart of the Sierra Nevada at 5,830 feet. In the 1860s this place was an important stop on the famous train route that crossed the country. Then came the gold rush and Truckee boomed.

Today you can still see the cool history all over the city, with the lovely Victorian buildings lining the streets. If you want to learn more about history, the Emigrant Trail Museum shows more about the pioneers who traveled west.

Truckee also has beaches with sand so soft they're perfect for building sandcastles or just relaxing for a picnic. Your summer vacation would be incomplete without taking a trip along Lake Tahoe.

June to September is the best weather for outdoor activities with warm days and cool nights. By visiting during this period you can enjoy some peace and quiet. July and August are the busiest months, so you can expect more people and higher prices.


Population

16,850

Top attractions

Donner Memorial State Park, historic downtown Truckee, Palisades Tahoe

Summer activities

Kayaking, paddleboarding (Donner Lake), hiking and biking trails (Donner Summit Railroad Trail, Donner Peak), beaches at Donner Memorial State Park, concerts at Donner Memorial State Park (July-August)

6 Auburn

Visit historic sites and take part in exciting summer festivals

Auburn is the perfect summer vacation spot for outdoor enthusiasts. This foothill town offers a charming small-town experience with a surprising amount of adventure waiting around every corner.

If you're up for a hike, you can stroll the tree-lined streets and visit the Auburn State Railway Museum, where you'll find a historic locomotive. The museum also offers scenic train rides through the canyons.


Beyond its natural beauty, Auburn comes alive with summer events. The annual Gold Country Fair, held in July, is a vibrant celebration of the region's rich heritage. The festival even features livestock shows, live music, rides and of course delicious food.

To get a taste of the local culture, you can visit the Auburn Farmers Market, held every Thursday evening during the summer months.

Population

13,838

Top attractions

Victorian Architecture, Auburn State Theater, American River Canyon, Folsom Lake State Recreation Area

Summer activities

Hiking and biking trails in the Auburn State Recreation Area, gold panning tours, whitewater rafting on the American River

5 Grass Valley

Small town full of rich crafts, colorful Victorian buildings and great cafes


Grass Valley's history began in the 1850s with the California Gold Rush. Nicknamed the “richest square mile in the world,” the city has seen a boom in gold miners seeking their fortune. The first thing that catches your attention might be Empire Mine State Historic Park. This monument was once the most productive hard rock mine in California.

Quirky art galleries line almost every street, displaying everything from traditional paintings to modern sculptures. If you prefer a live performance, check out the historic Grass Valley Center for the Arts. Don't miss the city's famous “First Friday” Art Walks, held on the first Friday of every month during the summer, where galleries stay open late and the streets come alive with music and entertainment.

Population

13,550

Top attractions

Empire Mine State Historic Park, Nevada County Courthouse, South Yuba River, Nevada County Fair (August), Grass Valley Arts Festival (July)

Summer activities

Miners Ridge Trail, Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Trail, Art and Wine Walk (third Saturday of every month)


4 Lake Arrowhead

Small town with breathtaking mountain scenery and a lively resort atmosphere

Without a doubt, Lake Arrowhead is one of the most charming towns in the Sierra Nevada. The mountains surrounding the lake offer numerous scenic hiking and biking trails for every experience level.

You can take a boat tour on the massive Lake Arrowhead, which is 2,200 acres in size. The boat tour offers breathtaking views of the San Bernardino Mountains that surround the lake. If you prefer to be in the water, rent a kayak or paddleboard to explore the crystal clear waters at your own pace.

Population

9,647

Top attractions

Lake Arrowhead (for boating, kayaking, paddling), Lake Arrowhead Village (shops, restaurants), Skyforest Park (ziplining), Arrowhead Arts Center

Summer activities

The Rim Trail and Arrowhead Lake Loop, Taste of the Mountains Festival (August), Live Music at Lake Arrowhead Village, Ziplining at Skyforest Park


3 Mammoth lakes

Quiet mountain town with exciting water adventures and endless hiking opportunities

There's no better feeling than waking up to fresh mountain air, snow-capped peaks glistening in the sun, and a world of outdoor adventure right on your doorstep. This is what Mammoth Lakes offers you. There are no crowded beaches or scorching deserts here.

The city is best known for Mammoth Mountain, a world-class ski resort that transforms into a summer playground in the warmer months. But there are many more interesting things to do in Mammoth Lakes than just hit the slopes.

Population

7,321

Top attractions

Mammoth Science Center, Devil's Postpile National Monument, Twin Lakes, Mammoth Mountain

Summer activities

Mountain biking, rock climbing, gondola rides on Mammoth Mountain, Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, swimming in natural hot springs, Mammoth Science Center


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2 Great Bear Lake

Iconic city with crystal-clear lakes, towering pine trees and mountain trails

Big Bear Lake is a place where families can splash in the lake, adventure seekers can conquer mountain trails, and stargazers can gaze at a ceiling of diamonds above.

In the evenings, there is free live music outside under the stars during the Big Bear Music in the Mountains series. Or check out the fun nightlife. After a day of adventure, relax on the sandy beaches of Boulder Bay Park or simply retreat to your cozy Airbnb vacation rental on Big Bear Lake.

If you want to stay outside, you can sunbathe with the locals, have a picnic and breathe in the fresh mountain air.


Population

5,068

Top attractions

Grizzly Peak Trail, Woodland Loop Trail, Boulder Bay Park, Big Bear Historical Society Museum, Snow Summit

Summer activities

Water activities on Big Bear Lake, scenic boat tours, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, gondola rides, village shops and restaurants

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1 bishop

The perfect summer vacation spot for adventure lovers and stargazers

Bishop is designated (along with other beautiful towns near the Sierra Nevada mountains) as a “Dark Sky Community,” meaning it has minimal light pollution, making it one of the best places in the United States for stargazing .

On a clear summer night, with minimal light interference, the naked eye can see stunning displays of stars, planets and even the Milky Way.


Population

3,800

Top attractions

Owens Valley, Bishop Creek Canyon, Laws Railroad Museum, Bishop Mural Walk, Schulman Grove

Summer activities

Stargazing, mountain biking and hiking trails, water activities at South Lake, fishing at Bishop Creek, historic downtown Bishop

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