Highway 1 in San Luis Obispo, CA– 200 miles of trails, over 100 miles of coastline
As seasons change, each brings with it a newfound desire to explore wide open spaces and enjoy a breath of fresh air. One can find open spaces locally, say the neighborhood park, or go beyond to find wide open spaces, environments that encourage us to spread out and disappear within a world of vast vistas and our own imaginations. These escapes come in many forms, from infinite views over the ocean to a trail swath that meanders through a valley meadow of wildflowers. We also capture these moments in a variety of ways, whether we gaze out through our car window, head off for a hike, or saddle up on a bike or horse. However, you envision your getaway, one perfect way to explore the great wide open is on the Highway 1 Discovery Route, a mere 4-hour drive from Northern California.
The hundred miles of Central California coastline is just the start. This region also offers 200 miles of trails that take us within oak groves, down into valleys, and up to several peaks. Highway 1 itself provides so many turnouts, trailheads, and breathtaking views, the 87-mile Route includes one of America’s Scenic Byways. And given over 50 percent of the coastline is protected, where you pull off to explore becomes part of the fun. Here are some ideas about how best to spread your wings and take flight in the wide open spaces along the Central California coast.
With 200 miles laid out among scores of trails, there’s a trailhead not far from Highway 1 for every type of adventure. You’ll find 17 distinct trails alone at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, 70 acres that host the rare Monterey Pine and include exceptional tidepools on the rocky beach. With 12 preserves, sanctuaries and estuaries, among them the Pismo Preserve, which provides insight into yet another distinctly Central Coast habitat, a ridgeline that reveals the Pacific Ocean to the west and, looking eastward, Edna Valley, among the uncrowded wine regions where you can still meet the wine makers and their family dog. Like most of the parks and wineries here, mountain bikers, equestrians, and leashed pets are welcome.
The Pacific is never far from sight along the 65 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails in Montaña de Oro State Park. This iconic park encapsulates the diverse Central California Coast. You can wander beside the shoreline, taking breaks to explore tidepools and search for moonstones, or ascend to Oats, Hazard or Valencia Peaks, arduous climbs to the tallest summits in the area. The tasting rooms always feel most welcome after a climb to these heights. Should you prefer a stroll to a hike, just hop on the Bob Jones Trail in Avila Beach, a casual, multigen-friendly 1.5-mile riparian journey.
The Highway 1 Discovery Route also presents serene locales that require no additional steps. Numerous interpretive pull-outs, including ten specific to the famous Whale Trail, provide unobstructed views of the southern-most end of the 6,000-square mile Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Taken together with freshwater habitats like the Morro Bay National Estuary, kayak through this astounding natural environment hosts more than 300 bird species and dozens of terrestrial and marine mammals. The Piedras Blancas Rookery offers the closest public view of elephant seals in the world. The Monarch Butterfly Preserve is equally stunning, a eucalyptus grove that provides critical habitat for an astounding 25,000 migrating butterflies. In each of these places, you can spread out to watch a cluster of incredible wildlife.
Elephant seals and monarch butterflies may not require wide-open spaces, but those of us looking for our first getaway in a while certainly appreciate the opportunity to stretch our legs, breathe in the coastal air, and travel solo, with our partners or accompanied by our families. The same environmental factors that led to exceptional agricultural success—mild temperatures coupled with abundant sunshine—led to the natural evolution into one of only a handful of coastal wine regions in California. The Central California Coast has always offered this explorer’s paradise, from the tycoon who chose remote San Simeon for his castle to the artists, actors, and writers who chose this area to establish galleries and found a respite from their everyday lives. Visit the Highway 1 Discovery Route website to start planning your escape to wide-open bliss.
HIGHWAY 1 DISCOVERY ROUTE
When cruising the coast, most of us choose to begin with the beach. And why not? From Morro Rock sunset silhouettes to surfing off the Pismo Pier, California’s Central Coast is home to several of the most recognizable sun-filled images on the entire continent. The names Oso Flaco, Moonstone, and Oceano Dunes evoke visions of white sand leading to hidden coves, intricate tidepool ecosystems, and mountains of sand taller than almost every dune structure on earth. You can sneak away to a romantic black-sand beach in Ragged Point, romp with kids and puppy in tow on Avila or Cayucos State Beach, and walk in the toe prints of the luminaries who once wandered W.R. Hearst State Memorial Beach, formerly the private enclave of the great publisher and castle builder.
The beaches along Highway 1 invite us to spread our arms wide and claim our coastal passion. Cayucos State Beach paints that perfect portrait of a California beach town, historic buildings in a downtown situated just off the waves that roll in gently for novice surfers, boogie boarders, and standup paddleboarders. Families cast ideal days exploring the tide pools, constructing sandcastles and at the playground within steps of amenities like outside showers, cafés, and restrooms. Known for their diverse activities and gentle surf, Avila Beach and Spooner’s Cove are also family favorites. Older kids and adults alike bound over the Oceano Dunes, where jumping off peaks leads to soft landings and seemingly endless body rolls.
The Central California beaches rise as high as the dunes and disappear around corners to quiet coves perfect for a romantic picnic. Gather up goods at Cambria’s Soto’s True Earth Market & Kitchen or a deli basket from DePalo & Sons—don't miss the house-made mozzarella—then take a stroll along the historic pier in Avila Beach. After lunch, and perhaps a beach siesta, pick your trail along the surf among the sandpipers or high above coastal meadows dappled with wildflowers and filled with birdsong.