Your Central Coast
Drive north up the coast with Santa Barbara in your rear-view and Big Sur in your sights, and you'll find yourself on the San Luis Obispo County Highway 1 Discovery Route. It's a grand tour of the verdant, sun-splashed heart of the Central Coast, where jaw-dropping vista points, world-class wineries, uncrowded beaches, charming towns and endless recreation await you at nearly every turn-off.
LOS OSOS &
Bob Jones Trail
Avila Beach’s “city-to-the-sea” Bob Jones Trail takes cyclists, joggers and hikers down a
paved route cut through the lush green valley that runs along bucolic San Luis Obispo Creek.
This easy trail gives you a little visual taste of everything: bridges across the creek, the Avila
Beach Golf Course, the downtown area, and, finally, the Pacific Ocean. The trail parking lot is located on Ontario Road, a simple pull-off from Highway 1.
From October through February, Nipomo’s Monarch Dunes Butterfly Habitat comes alive with fragile-yet-vibrant black-and-orange beauty. Thousands of Monarch butterflies flock to this protected eucalyptus grove from 1,000-plus miles away to take refuge from the winters of harsher climes, charming and captivating visitors in the process. From Highway 1, head east on Via Concha Road. Turn right on Eucalyptus, then left on Kingston.
Monarch Butterfly Grove
SLO Wine Country runs alongside Highway 1 throughout San Luis Obispo County. Uniquely, grapes thrive nearer to the ocean than usual in this hilly wine region, which spawns cool-climate varietals (think Chardonnay and Pinot Noir). Take your pick of more than 30 local vineyards and pull off for a tasting. Then sober up with a hike up a verdant “morrow” (rock formation) such as Bishop Peak. From the top, you can see for miles. (Multiple locations)
Hiking & Wine Tasting
Montaña de Oro features rugged cliffs, secluded sandy beaches, and beautiful wildflowers every spring. Solitude and freedom — and epic views — abound in this craggy oceanfront state park. Hike or bike the 4.5-mile round-trip trail that ascends 1,347-foot Valencia Peak, or relax on the beach among the tide pools of Spooner’s Cove. To get there, take the Los Osos/Baywood Park exit from Highway 1 and follow the signs to Los Osos.
Montaña de Oro
You’ll find Cayucos Pier at the north end of Estero Bay. Its view of Morro Rock is excellent, but fishing is really the name of the game here — and you don’t need a license to get in on the fun. The waters around the pier yield frequent catches, often of remarkable variety: halibut, mackerel, flounder and more. From Highway 1, take Exit 285 for Cayucos Drive and head south for seven blocks. Turn left into pier parking when the road dead-ends.
Between Morro Bay and San Simeon, Highway 1 runs through the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. This large plot of picture-perfect coastal wildland lies smack-dab in the middle of Cambria, splitting the town in two. A rustic respite that’s open to the public, the preserve is a self-contained ecosystem in which pine forests give way to beachfront bluffs. It’s chock-full of wildlife, visible along its many walking and biking trails. (Multiple entrances)
Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
Observing elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas Rookery in San Simeon is a bucket-list must. Spend an afternoon with these lumbering-yet-majestic marine creatures for an unforgettable experience that’s by turns surreal, peaceful and downright funny. This is wildlife you have to
see (and hear) to believe. Witness birthing and breeding in January and February. From Highway 1 heading north, turn left on Vista Del Mar Ave., then right on Hearst Drive.
Elephant Seal Rookery
Avila Beach is a perfectly picturesque Central Coast destination right off Highway 1: an oak-strewn oceanfront paradise with a low-key storybook-California vibe. This seaside town's on-the-sand wine tastings, picture-perfect biking trails and charming Victorian lighthouse make it another essential stop along the Golden State's iconic westernmost highway.
Truly unique accommodations abound in Avila Beach. Options range from an ocean-view condo above an old-school grocery store to inns secluded in the trees and numerous beach cottages, plus hotels — from bungalow to boutique — right on the sand, and more. See your options.
Hike along secluded beaches and rugged cliffs on the exclusive Pecho Coast Trail (guided).
Get your wildlife fix by visiting with the sublime marine creatures of the Central Coast Aquarium. Near the beach, hit the Promenade and stroll a lively-yet-quaint small-town downtown.
Food is always a joy in Avila Beach. You’ll find romantic garden bistros, chilled-out pizza joints, and high-end seafood restaurants located right on the pier. There are casual cafes and a bar-and-grill or two (or more) with friendly locals serving up classic dishes. So, what are you having?
Test your bravery by hiking down the epic Cliffside Trail, which starts outside the inn, drops you more than 300 feet, and spits you out on the exotic black sand of Ragged Point Beach. Climb back up and head toward Hearst Castle to see if you can spot any zebra — that’s right, zebra.
Like the inn, Ragged Point Restaurant is exclusive in its category, being the sole place to eat on
the point. Fortunately, this long-standing restaurant offers fabulous California cuisine all day and a floor-to-ceiling glass dining room that will wow you with its cliffhanging vistas. Learn more.
If you want to spend the night on Ragged Point, there’s only one place to do it: Ragged Point Inn.
Its rooms’ incredible views are a given, but you’ll also appreciate the inn’s gourmet dining, manicured grounds, artisan craft shops and waterfall-graced trail to the beach. Find out more.
Ragged Point, a.k.a. the gateway to Big Sur, enjoys a well-earned reputation among travelers as one of the best Highway 1 pit stops thanks to its grand views and A+ roadside nosh. But don’t motor off after the snapshots are taken and the car and stomach are refueled. Stay and experience unforgettable cliffside hiking, exotic wildlife and romantic accommodations.
Hike to Piedras Blancas Light Station for a tour of this 144-year-old beauty. Learn about the delicate, fascinating local ecosystem at the Coastal Discovery Center at San Simeon Bay.
Then catch fish off the pier and have a picnic or boogie-board at William R. Hearst State Beach.
Comfort food and mom-and-pop charm are the name of the game at most restaurants here. At Sebastian’s General Store, try one of the Central Coast’s best burgers, featuring prized Hearst Ranch grass-fed beef, and join the locals for wine tasting. So, what are you having?
Unfortunately, no one actually gets to stay at Hearst Castle anymore, but San Simeon plays host to a good number of overnight options at all price points, including hotels and vacation rentals with views of the rugged coastline and pristine beaches. See your options.
From down on the beach where the beloved elephant seals hang out to the top of the hill
with that famous, opulent castle, San Simeon’s got the stuff of Central Coast legend. If those landmarks weren’t enough, this little burg also has a historic lighthouse, a partially preserved old west village, a winery and a smattering of quality places to eat and to rest your head.
Just north of Cayucos, get your hike on in Estero Bluffs Park and soak in the biodiversity of
Estero Bay. Chill with the barnacles, mussels and other small seafarers in the tide pools along
the park’s coastline. Check out historic buildings and get some R&R on Cayucos State Beach.
Cayucos has character, and so do its restaurants. A nautical theme prevails, with many eateries offering locally caught seafood. Multiple spots serve such fare. There’s even a chowder house.
You’ll also find bistros, a smokehouse, a sausage place and more. So, what are you having?
From chateaus by the sea to modest, old-school motels in town to multi-level rentals on hillsides
with stellar ocean views, lodging in Cayucos is abundant whether you want to spend a lot or a little. Either way, you can be sure you’re staying somewhere memorable. See your options.
Cayucos is the best little beach town no one’s heard of, and that’s a good thing. Thanks to
its strong surfing roots and small-scale mid-century look and feel, classic Cayucos keeps 1950s/’60s California beach culture alive in spirit. This groovy waterfront wonderland boasts an expansive white-sand beach, an easygoing resort-town attitude and fun activities galore.
Rugged Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is the place for hiking and recreation in Cambria, with greenspace galore. Watch for orca and other marine mammals from shore on the Whale Trail in San Simeon State Park. Marvel at the Pacific Ocean and stroll the boardwalk at Moonstone Beach.
Cambria’s restaurants are various: mouth-watering bakeries, cafes, taquerias and bar-and-grills, plus organic/sustainable eateries, too. Fans of Italian cuisine will be happy to find no less than two proper Italian ristoranti and at least two additional pizza joints. So, what are you having?
Accommodations run the gamut here, with options to match just the kind of getaway you desire.
You can choose from a cottage on a pine-wooded hillside, a chateau on the beach, a ranch villa on
a sprawling estate, all manner of well-appointed inns and more. See your options.
“European-style hamlet in the pines” might not be what comes to mind when you think “coastal California.” Yet a surprise called Cambria awaits along Highway 1. With its tall trees, historic architecture and artsy-village vibe, this place could convince you it’s a Welsh seaside town. Warm beaches and craggy hiking will bring you right back to a Golden State of mind.
Enjoy an otherworldly hike through El Moro Elfin Forest, with its pygmy oak woodland and
rare plant life. Encounter shorebirds, ducks and Monarch butterflies at Audubon Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. Wander the serene beaches of Baywood Park Back Bay and enjoy the views.
From Mexican to Italian to Thai, the restaurants of Los Osos and Baywood Park have it covered.
Dig old-school American-style cafes and ale houses? These towns have something to offer you. Into more refined fare, such as farm-to-table cuisine? It’s here. So, what are you having?
Quaint accommodations abound: a bay-front bungalow perched on a bluff, a cottage at the edge of the water, a farmhouse, or a golf course retreat nestled among grand old pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees. All are ideal places to settle in for a perfect sunset. See your options.
It’s where the mountains of gold meet the sea: scenic Los Osos and Baywood Park. These idyllic, directly adjacent small towns play host to a lively music and arts scene. Located on the southern end of Morro Bay, they’re also situated amid amazing parkland, offering some of California’s best hiking and biking trails, birdwatching, and coastal kayaking zones.
Los Osos & Baywood Park
LOS OSOS &
Take an Edna Valley Wine Country hike and find your inner calm. Walk the 2-acre Old Edna Townsite and see its five landmarks and signature wildlife: the blue belly lizards found in Bluebelly Barn. If you crave the waterfront, drive due east of Edna and dip your toes in Lopez Lake.
Markets and delis are popular around these parts. One in particular that merits special attention is the Gourmet Deli at Old Edna. Housed in a 110-year-old building, this deli is a busy wine trail snack stop that's beloved for its paninis, smoked meats, quiches and desserts. Find out more.
Multiple ranches offer accommodations in Edna Valley, and they’re a great place to stretch your
arms and legs for a big relax. Or opt for a farmhouse, cottage, or hilltop guest house on a vineyard. You’re in for a serene, memorable stay no matter which you select. See your choices.
Like Arroyo Grande to the south, Edna Valley is pure wine country. Within it you’ll discover a number of wonderful wineries offering tastes of their signature chardonnays and pinot noirs. Local produce stands and a historic townsite add to the ambiance. This is about as pastoral as it gets along Highway 1, so take a deep breath of country air and enjoy the quiet breeze.
Brave the historic Swinging Bridge above Arroyo Grande Creek, the only one of its kind in California. Visit the Arroyo Grande Farmers’ Market and say hi to the free-range roosters that roam the grounds. Check out the historic Huansa Townsite — the scenic drive alone is worth it.
Delis, cafes and country kitchens are plenty in the Village, a pedestrian-friendly historic section
of the City of Arroyo Grande. Fare includes everything from Chinese to Italian to sustainable and beyond. You’ll also find saloons and taverns for a good night out. So, what are you having?
Interesting lodging can be found throughout the bucolic valley. Choices include a casita on an estate, a rural family home and a Victorian farmhouse. How does a coastal country retreat on some acreage strike you? How about a hilltop ranch with panoramic views? See your options.
Vino aficionados, take note: Arroyo Grande Valley is home to multiple can’t-miss wineries where you can sip award-winning varietals while gazing at the Pacific Ocean only a few miles to the west and rustic hills to the east. Everyone will love this place for its excellent walkable historic village and its nearby recreation, including a lake, a historic townsite and more.
Arroyo Grande Valley
Rent an all-terrain vehicle or drive your own 4X4 and go on an excursion to the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, where you can enjoy some lively quality time tearing it up on the big sand. Are horses more your speed? Livery Stable provides equine rides on the beach.
Grab ribs or a burger from one of Oceano’s tasty burger joints (one is a 1950s-themed diner built
into two railcars). Numerous Mexican eateries are ready with the taco fix. Or hit up a sustainable restaurant in nearby Grover Beach, minutes to the north. So, what are you having?
Oceano boasts a bevy of beachfront and beach-adjacent rentals, and they represent a baffling
range of architectural styles; examples go from a handsome ‘80s contemporary split-level to a whimsical Swiss chalet. The town’s inns and hotels are also a delight. See your options.
So low-profile is tiny Oceano that you might not realize you’re driving through it on Highway 1. Heads-up: You’d regret missing it. This tucked-away treasure of a town boasts professional
live theater, a railroad museum and more. But what makes Oceano extra-special are its rare beachfront sand dunes — and the fact that you can drive on them.
Hit the links of California’s coastal highlands for a round of golf on a championship course with dazzling Pacific views at Monarch Dunes. Afterwards, go get your feet wet at Oso Flaco, a hidden state park with a lake and great birdwatching that’s just a stone’s throw from the ocean.
Nipomo’s got the edge on hearty fare, with a down-home southwestern-style American eatery,
a few barbecue pits and burger joints, a Tex-Mex spot or two, and pizzerias. But don’t worry — there’s also a sushi place, an organic bistro and more. So, what are you having?
Stay somewhere both serene and unique while you relax in Nipomo: Consider a rental condo at a lush, elegant “golf resort” to tee off your vacation in style. Or try a villa, a cottage, a local rental home, or a room in a legendary bed and breakfast (all also very stylish spots). See your options.
It lies along Interstate 101, but Nipomo is a perfect taste of the Central Coast style you’ll discover on a Highway 1 road trip: a mix of laid-back charm, old-fashioned walkability, quirky novelty and serene beauty. Add in its old ranchero character and world-class golf courses,
and tiny Nipomo becomes a big breath of fresh air, particularly if you’re visiting from L.A.
Explore this map to see some of the
best destinations and pull-overs along
the Highway 1 Discovery Route.