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In search of the ultimate getaway? All directions point to the Central Coast. This beautiful region boasts the splendor of Big Sur, the breathtaking vistas of Santa Barbara, and the epic swells of Santa Cruz. From white, sandy beaches and naturally occurring hot springs to butterfly groves and charming small towns, the Central Coast never fails to deliver. So, pack your bags, fasten your seatbelt, and hit the road to experience the top Central Coast attractions.
Whether you're traveling with kids or getting away from it all with your S.O., the Central Coast's attractions are fit for any interest. Hit the waves, stop by the region's best beaches, go on a scenic hike, or enjoy a romantic morning date. No matter how you spend your time, you're sure to create lifelong memories while visiting the stunning Central Coast.
Found approximately 90 minutes north of Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach is a quintessential California beach town with a gorgeous stretch of sand. Sunbathe by the shore, then walk the wooden Pismo Beach Pier. Fly kites, fish, and watch seagulls as you chill on the pier with your S.O. After soaking in the laid-back vibes, ride the rad waves or swim in the waters—the pier lights up at night, so you can enjoy a quick surf sesh or evening dip.
Looking for more free things to do along the Central Coast? Avila Beach is another can't-miss town found along the Pacific Beach Highway and boasts many hidden gems to add to your Central Coast itinerary. After a day spent relaxing with your toes dipped in the warm sand, head to the Avila Beach Pier to watch the sunset. If you feel like catching your meal, fishing is permitted; otherwise, you can head to Custom House for a scrumptious seafood dinner.
The oceanside village of Cambria is found in San Luis Obispo County, about halfway between S.F. and L.A. Whether you want to explore hilltop castles, observe colonies of elephant seals, stroll the coastline, or shop at local boutiques, this beachfront beauty will leave you dazzled—especially when you throw in local wineries and farm-to-table delicacies. You'll definitely be in seventh heaven here. To extend your adventures, spend the evening at the Fogcatcher Inn and make the most of Cambria.
One of the best things to do on the Central Coast this weekend is to head to Santa Barbara. With the Santa Ynez Mountains on one side and the glimmering waters of the Pacific on the other, this Central Coast gem will have you California dreamin'. Walk down to the historic Stearns Wharf before dining at The Lark Santa Barbara and feasting on freshly caught seafood. Spend the evening experiencing the Funk Zone—Santa Barbara's famed district where artists, winemakers, and surfers unite in an independent-spirited enclave designed for the hip-and-happening. Make it a weekend extravaganza, and spend the night at the gorgeous Hotel Californian.
A famous spot in Cambria, Moonstone Beach boasts sensational coastline views with its one-mile boardwalk, making it a dreamy destination for couples. Pack a picnic, then drive along Moonstone Beach Drive to take in the spectacular vistas before finding the perfect spot on the sand. Paralleling Highway 1, the beach is dotted with brown sandy coves sundered with rocky headlands. The well-known Moonstone Beach Boardwalk is located along the bluffs, which stretch to Santa Rosa Creek. Linger until the sun sinks below the horizon for the ultimate date.
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For another romantic outdoor date, go for a stroll on the California Coastal Trail, which spans across the 1,200-mile California coastline. Whether you spend a weekend in San Luis Obispo, Monterey, or Ventura, you can hike a segment of this gorgeous trail. Walk hand-in-hand and take in the sweeping view with that special someone, then cap off the day with a romantic dinner or ice-cream cone.
Founded in 1907 by oil drillers, Avila Hot Springs now serves as a natural mineral hot springs oasis. Neighboring the beach and the Bob Jones Bike Trail, the springs offer visitors cabin and tent-camping options, too. If you're just swinging by for the day, make use of the heated freshwater pool and relax in the natural mineral pool. Have a professional masseuse work out those knots at the spa after a life-altering dip in the hot mineral soaking pool.
One of only five places in California to hold over 10,000 butterflies, the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is a staple on the list of top Central Coast things to do. Lively Monarch butterflies make their way to Pismo Beach every year to migrate from the north’s freezing winters. The best time to visit is from October to February when the majestic orange-and-black butterflies are likely to flutter gently all around you.
This 2.5-mile trail starts across the parking lot from Ontario Road, right off Highway 101, and weaves its way to downtown Avila Beach. Popular among joggers and cyclists, the route passes through vineyards and a series of low hills. The out-and-back trail also features a river that draws in a wide array of bird species, so keep an eye out during your excursion. Go to Wally’s Bike Rental to rent wheels for the journey and conquer this Central Coast activity. If you're in need of snacks and refreshments along the trail, make a pit stop at Woodstone Marketplace.
The 11-acre Dinosaur Caves Park in Pismo Beach is a family-friendly destination and a popular spot for joggers, photographers, dogs, and anglers. This beachside park got its name in the 1940s when a massive concrete dinosaur was built on the premises. Kids' play areas, grassy knolls, benches, caves, and tide pools await adventurous youngsters. You can also enjoy the sun on your skin as you stroll along the easygoing Shell Beach Bluff Trail; the out-and-back trail boasts magnificent ocean vistas.
One of the best Central Coast activities is experiencing farm life for a day at Avila Valley Barn. Take the little ones to the barn for a pony or tractor ride, and let them run through the hay maze or find the perfect Christmas tree. They can also feed the baby goats, emus, sheep, and chickens. While you're here, fill up on fresh fruits, pastries, and cookies—the makings of a great picnic. Oh, and how could you not indulge in one of the freshly baked pies? From olallieberry to peach pie, Avila Barn has it all. Don’t miss out on the BBQ hours (11 a.m.–6 p.m.) for a finger-licking feast.
Mansions are aplenty in California—from Hollywood starlets' residences to jaw-dropping architectural wonders across the state—but nothing comes close to Hearst Castle. Located in the town of San Simeon, this gem was designed by California's first female architect, Julia Morgan; it was the home of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Completed in 1947, the complex is now the most visited state historical monument. The estate features extravagant decor ranging from terraced gardens and shiny fountains to posh indoor pools and elaborate social rooms (not to mention towering palm trees and panoramic views of the Central Coast).
Cambria's Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is spread across 400 acres, offering miles of hiking and biking trails that bring you closer to the coast. The Bluffs Trail is a unique path that borders the ocean, boasting beautiful views and access to tide pools. The two-mile trail offers two access points—Windsor Boulevard North and South—and is a great way to get your heart pumping. For an optimal experience, trek the trail just before sunset.
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