California’s Central Coast
Leave the city slickers of San Francisco and Los Angeles behind to experience the real California dream — the Central Coast. Stretching 350 miles from Santa Clara to Ventura, this paradisiacal piece of the Golden State promises a road trip unlike any other, thanks to Monterey Bay’s inviting beaches, Big Sur’s rugged shoreline, Santa Barbara’s Mediterranean ambience and much more. So buckle up and head to California State Route 1 (also known as the Pacific Coast Highway), your gateway to discovering the most bewitching coastline in America (and, quite possibly, the world).
Hang Ten in Monterey Bay
Start your journey north of Monterey Bay and dive into the world-class big-wave town of Santa Cruz. Known as “Surf City,” Santa Cruz invites beginners and pros to hit the waves from many locations. Ogle at some of the best surfers at Steamer Lane, the most famous surf spot in town because of its massive swells. You can also read up on surfing history at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum located at the nearby lighthouse.
The young and young at heart will want to swing by Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to enjoy its seaside amusement park, classic arcade, beachside shopping and tasty food stalls. Go fishing from the Santa Cruz Wharf if you’d rather catch your dinner. Stretching half a mile out into Monterey Bay, the Santa Cruz Wharf is a great way to satisfy your Pacific fishing itch with no boat required. Likely catches include white croaker, walleye, sole, rockfish, lingcod and various kinds of perch.
A Whale of a Time
Cruise south along the bay to reach Monterey. Packed with lush parks, scenic beaches and the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, the area’s sprawling golf courses include the famed Pebble Beach. Monterey demands that you spend a few days here before continuing your Central Coast adventure. The area is also one of the best places in the world for whale watching. No matter the time of year, you’re bound to spot a whale migrating along the coast.
The Outdoor Wonderland of Big Sur
Drive an hour south of Monterey to reach the enormous, awe-inspiring Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Drive at a leisurely pace and plan to pull off frequently to catch views of dramatic cliffs, postcard-worthy bridges, vast redwood forests, fog-trimmed waterfronts and charming coastal towns. Keep your binoculars handy to spot California condors soaring above or sea otters frolicking in the ocean below. Park your vehicle and trek one of the many trails available.
Favorites among hikers include the Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View Trail, which takes you to the enchanting 80-foot-tall Pfeiffer Falls before leading you to Valley View overlook for sweeping views of the Pfeiffer River emptying into the ocean in the distance. You’ll want to visit Big Sur’s most photogenic spot, too: McWay Falls. Traverse the short McWay Waterfall Trail to reach a lookout showcasing the 84-foot cascade of McWay Creek tumbling onto the sandy shore below.
Rock Out in Morro Bay
Morro Bay is a coastal town with a picturesque harbor that’s best known for the 581-foot Morro Rock jutting out at the end of Morro Beach. Boasting a lively waterfront, oceanside golfing and an abundance of ecological habitats to explore, Morro Bay is a must-visit destination on your Central Coast trip. There are loads of activities to do here as it’s surrounded by Morro Bay State Park and the Morro Bay State Marine Reserve. Whether you want to hike trails, paddle through lagoons, bird-watch in saltwater marshes, drop a line from the pier or embark on a deep-sea fishing trip, you’ll find Morro Bay caters to all your outdoor pursuits.
San Luis Obispo: Take It SLO
Get into full vacation mode in San Luis Obispo. Described as one of the happiest places in America, “SLO,” as the locals like to call it, will keep you smiling with its world-class attractions and entertainment options. Hike, bike or drive to Prefumo Canyon Scenic Overlook for panoramic vistas and dazzling sunsets. A roughly two-mile hike above Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will take you to Serenity Swing, where you can feel like a kid again as you swing away to a backdrop of rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Conclude your visit by hopping on the Old SLO Trolley for a historic ride through downtown, and get off at the popular Bubblegum Alley to leave your mark on the city.
Experience the American Riviera
Santa Barbara welcomes you with red-tiled roofs, whitewashed walls, sparkling blue waters and a mountainous backdrop. Featuring Spanish colonial architecture and an undeniable Mediterranean vibe, you’ll feel as if you were transported straight to the Cote d’Azur the minute you arrive. Ritzy restaurants, little boutique shops and art galleries wind their way down the mountainside along palm-lined streets, all the way to the oceanfront. Uncover the city’s vibrant past by exploring the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, old Spanish Mission or a Spanish fort from 1782, or by joining the informative Red Tile Walking Tour. Wine lovers will be in their element as handfuls of vineyards pepper the city. Sample the region’s best vintages on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, an itinerary consisting of almost 30 wineries and tasting rooms within walking distance of the downtown core.
The Galapagos of North America
California’s Central Coast saves the best for last if you’re a naturalist or outdoor enthusiast. Situated just north of Los Angeles, Ventura draws visitors to Surfers Point, a popular surfing and windsurfing spot. You can also unpack your rod and cast out from Ventura Pier, one of the oldest piers in the state. The real gem of this region is Channel Islands National Park. Coined the “Galapagos of North America,” these remote islands are about an hour away from the mainland and home to over 2,000 plant and animal species, with 150 of them found only here. With no accommodations, stores or restaurants, the Channel Islands are the perfect place to get off the grid and bask in tranquil solitude. Spend your days hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling or bird-watching.
For More Information
Central Coast Tourism Council