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Central Coast

Connecting LA to San Francisco the Central Coast is not only the transition between Northern and Southern California; it is the heart of California. It is 350 miles packed with marine life, dune exploration, kayaking, horseback riding, snorkeling, diving, surfing, beach combing, and hiking; an outdoor exploration paradise. Even though a road trip along scenic Highway 1 is the star attraction, be sure to wander inland to see the unique forests, wineries, and parks where few tourists go.

Among the adventure you’ll find rich history and a surprising wine culture. Franciscan missionaries were the first to make wine locally in the 1770’s, and the tradition continues through the centuries. The entire Central Coast is a prime area for producing wines with the majority of the vineyards found in the valleys that open up to the Pacific.

The Central Coast offers a rare range of environments from uninhabited coastal cliffs and forests, to Mediterranean like seaside towns and cities. You can even get a glimpse of what California used to be like thousands of years ago when there were no people or development by visiting the spectacular and little known Channel Islands National Park.

Main Image © Kirsten Alana

Adventure Highlights

Get your motor running with a dune buggy adventure at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area at Pismo Beach.

Take on the waves and go sea kayaking along the Gaviota Coast.

Take a Hummer and Wildlife tour at the Santa Margarita Ranch.

Soar above the vineyards on a ziplining and wine tasting tour at Ancient Peaks Winery.

Dive or Snorkel in a live kelp forest in the Channel Islands National Park.

Standup paddleboard in the Ventura Harbor as the sun starts to go down and check out the sleeping sea lions on the docks.

Traverse the coastal mesa and foothills overlooking the Santa Barbara coastline by horseback.

Get an introduction to the marine life at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Go rock climbing in Pinnacles National Park on their variety of climbing routes ranging from easy topropes to multi-pitch climbs along Machete Ridge.

Hike one of the 5 Channel Islands and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.

Photo © Kirsten Alana

Destination Facts

  • Oceano Dunes is the only California State Park where vehicles may be driven on the beach.
  • Santa Margarita Ranch is one of the oldest continuously operated cattle ranches in California.
  • The largest marine sanctuary in the United States, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches for 276 miles along California’s coast.
  • Santa Cruz is the birthplace of mainland surfing and the home of the first surfing museum.
  • San Luis Obispo is one of the happiest towns in America thanks to it’s no drive-thrus, no smoking laws, and multitude of greenways.
  • Painted Cave, the longest sea cave in North America and one of the lengthiest in the world, plunges a quarter-mile into the side of Santa Cruz Island, within Channel Islands National Park.
  • Castroville produces 95 percent of the nation's artichokes.
  • One of the first film studios – Flying A Studios- started in Santa Barbara in 1912 and is considered the original Hollywood. 
  • San Miguel Island, the most westerly of the Channel Islands, is the largest North American rookery for sea lions and elephant and harbor seals with a population of 30,000 at the height of birthing season.
  • San Luis Obispo’s Bubble Gum Alley is filled with more than 1.7 million pieces of bubble gum.
  • Monterey served as California’s first capital when the state’s first constitution was signed in in the coastal city in 1849.
  • Ventura Pier was originally built in 1872; it’s one of the longest wooden piers in California at more than 1,600 feet long.
  • Nearly 5,000 residents commute to work by bicycle in Santa Barbara County.
  • Tools dating back 11,000 years have been found on Santa Cruz Island and are believed to be some of the earliest signs of life.
  • The Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo was the first movie theatre in the United States to be run by solar energy.

Road-Trip Itinerary

Day 1

Start in San Francisco heading south to Santa Cruz and check out the first surfing museum to get a feel for California coastal culture. Continue on to Monterey where you can spend an afternoon engrossed at the Aquarium and become familiar with California sea life. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 2

Head inland for a while to view the unique rock formations at Pinnacles National Park. Drive into the happy town of San Luis Obispo and spend the late afternoon walking around SLO’s historic homes and buildings. Start at the Mission and walk along SLO’s path of history, which showcases 21 historic buildings. And if you happen to be there on a Thursday let’s hope you are hungry because the San Luis Obispo Farmer’s Market is not to be missed. It’s more than a farmer’s market; it’s a community gathering! A medley of colorful farm fresh produce, prepared foods, and music found within 5 blocks of historic downtown SLO; this is what local travel is all about! But before you eat anything – make sure you get rid of that gum you are chewing on the walls of the infamous gum alley. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 3

Spend a day playing in the sand at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area at Pismo Beach. Rent your own dune buggy or ATV and take on the 1,500 acres of dunes at this one of a kind beach playground! Head back to San Luis Obispo to quench that thirst and check out the young craft-brewing scene at Libertine Brewery specializing in wild ales or SLO Brewery and restaurant. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 4

Head inland to Santa Margarita Ranch and get a taste of adventure and a taste of wine – all at the same location! Take a wildlife tour of the ranch, zip line, and do wine tasting all in the same day! Drive down to Santa Barbara and do an afternoon horseback ride through the foothills to spectacular views and catch the sunset over the Pacific. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 5

Leave all the people behind for some peace and quiet on the Channel Islands, California’s international biosphere reserve. Millions of people live 100 miles away but on the islands you are alone. Take a boat out to Channel Islands National Park where you can spend the day hiking, kayaking, snorkeling or diving. If you are a diving enthusiast, this is some of the premier underwater kelp forests, sea caves, and coves in the United States. You are able to camp on the islands or you can catch a boat back to Ventura at the end of the day. After your active day relax at the Ventura Harbor Village with some delicious seafood. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 6

It’s a short drive to the LA Airport or continue your adventures in the Inland Empire’s San Gabriel Mountains, just 75 miles from Los Angeles. Photo © Kirsten Alana