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20 Things to Do in Central California That You Can't Anywhere Else

20 Things to Do in Central California That You Can't Anywhere Else

Whether you’re exploring Big Sur or meandering through swoon-worthy beach towns, a trip to the Golden State’s heartland is long overdue.


7 min read

March 05, 2024

Longing for the ultimate getaway? Head to Central California, where unspoiled coastlines and towering hills pop up at every corner. Whether you’re exploring Big Sur or meandering through swoon-worthy beach towns, a trip to the Golden State’s heartland is long overdue.

Spend your days swimming in the inviting sparkling blue waters of the Pacific. Drive inland from the water’s edge to discover mountainous peaks and desert-like landscapes. We can go on and on with all the things to do in Central California, so here’s a list of our favorites.

Unique Things to do in Central California

Capitola Village is a Mediterranean-inspired seaside town that oozes with charm. Colorful buildings and picturesque views are guaranteed.

1. Cruise through Capitola Village in Santa Cruz County

Get a slice of pedestrian paradise in seaside Capitola, one of the most charming Central California getaway destinations. The colorful Santa Cruz County neighborhood brims with fabulous boutiques and galleries, making for the perfect opportunity to window-shop. Whether you hop aboard a vintage car shuttle or shop for new home decor, you’ll be cruising the area in style. 

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The Forestiere Underground Gardens consist of 65 rooms and three levels. Stroll through the many passageways that take you to different areas and feast your eyes on the many native and exotic fruit trees on the premises.

2. Visit Cannery Row in Monterey

Literary giant John Steinbeck was so enchanted by Cannery Row, he wrote a whole novel about how great it is. Don’t believe him? Check it out for yourself. Monterey’s legendary sardine-canning street is now filled with restaurants and turn-of-the-century buildings. Check out the boutiques, dine at the restaurants, and soak up the culture of Monterey at Cannery Row—Central Coast getaways don’t get any better than this. 

No visit to Monterey is complete without checking out Old Fisherman's Wharf. From fishing to whale watching, you'll have all the adventures.

3. Have an Offshore Adventure at Old Fisherman’s Wharf 

When thinking of places to visit in Central California, a trip to the area’s fishing hub is a must. Lined with unique stores and restaurants, Old Fisherman’s Wharf is the best place for cruises and whale watching. Scout for the freshest seafood, then sign up for a whale watching tour with Monterey Bay Whale Watch—a typical Tuesday at Old Fisherman’s Wharf. 

4. Watch the Sea Lions at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Opt for a day trip in Central California and visit a beautiful coastal park miles away from tourist attractions. Scuba divers, hikers, and photographers flock to this place that’s been nicknamed the “Crown Jewel” of the State Park System. Walk the poppy-trimmed paths at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve to a limestone overlook. Bring your binoculars and scan the water for sea lions clumsily flopping about in the waves—only locals know about this spot in Monterey.

5. Tour Hearst Castle

Lavishly designed by Julia Morgan—California’s first female architectHearst Castle was the private residence of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst in 1947. Now, it’s an eye-popping extravaganza of opulence, towering palms, and wraparound views of the Central Coast. This 165-room castle is one of the top things to see in Central California—the terraced gardens and sparkling fountains are the cherries on top.

6. Visit the Tiny Town of Harmony

A perennial fixture of California’s Central Coast, the quirky town of Harmony is home to only 18 residents. What it lacks in population, it makes up in charm and rich heritage. Explore the local artisans and buy a scoop of Harmony’s signature ice cream from Harmony Valley Creamery. If you're a fan of glass art, head over to Harmony Glassworks, one of the most unique places in Central California.

Things to do on California’s Central Coast

Think California's Central Coast is beautiful on a walking tour? Imagine experiencing the region from the clouds. You'll be speechless!

7. Take a Helicopter Tour in Ventura

Soar through the skies on a luxurious helicopter ride with Channel Island Helicopter Tours. Fly over Ventura’s beautiful coast and watch the whales frolic from up above—not too shabby, we must say. This is one of the most memorable and fun things to do in Central California but, thanks to its affordable rates, it won’t break the bank.

8. Kayak in San Simeon Cove

San Simeon Cove is located in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the nation’s largest protected marine area. A popular spot for surfers, San Simeon Cove is covered with wildlife and natural beauty. Paddle a kayak and get closer to sea life than anywhere else in the region. For more water-related activities, check out the boogie board rentals and deep-sea fishing charters. 

Exploding with red, orange, and blue, the Pismo Beach sunset is unlike any other. Watch the sun disappear into the horizon for a magical experience.

9. Watch the Sunset at Pismo Beach

While a visit to Pismo Beach is one of the top things to do on California's Central Coast, the 60-acre sun-kissed showstopper never feels too crowded. With plenty of room to spread out and hit the waves, the beach serves as your refuge from the city buzz. Hang around to watch the sunset from the towering pier and observe the last bits of light as they disappear—it’s worth it, we promise.

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10. Have a Picnic at Moonstone Beach

Moonstone Beach is home to a one-mile boardwalk brimming with sensational views—a must-see on your Central California vacation. The Moonstone Beach Boardwalk stretches all the way to Santa Rosa Creek Day Use Area. Pack a picnic and drive to the beach in Cambria, where brown sandy coves glisten under the scorching sun. Linger until the sun goes down and share a kiss with your loved one. 

It's always a good time for a road trip. View all the best scenic points in California on Big Sur Coast Highway.

11. Drive along Big Sur Coast Highway

Driving along Highway 1 through Big Sur is one of those road trips that never gets old. The two-hour drive quickly turns into a Central California day trip thanks to all the lookouts and hiking opportunities along the way. Drive past the scenic Bixby Creek Bridge and make a short detour to see the gorgeous McWay Falls. 

12. Walk along the California Coastal Trail 

Make your date swoon by taking them on an outdoor date on the California Coastal Trail. Spanning across the 1,200-mile California coastline, the trail is an unforgettable Central Coast adventure waiting to happen. Whether you spend a weekend in San Luis Obispo, Monterey, or Ventura, you can still find yourself walking hand-in-hand along a segment of this gorgeous trail.

If you thought the Central Coast couldn't get any better, wait until you visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach.

13. Visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove 

As one of only five places in California that hosts over 10,000 butterflies, Monarch Butterfly Grove ought to be at the top of your list of things to see in Central California. The lively orange-and-black showstoppers make their way to Pismo Beach every year to escape the freezing winters of the north. They seek refuge at the grove from October to February—the best time of year for you to visit as well.

Want to make new friends? Head to Fresno Chaffee Zoo for up-close adventures with animals. Photo courtesy of Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

Things to do in California’s Central Valley 

14. Learn about the Animal Kingdom at Fresno Chaffee Zoo

Spread across 39 acres, Fresno Chaffee Zoo is one of Central California’s best attractions. Traverse the countless winding trails to find yourself in the presence of elephants, cheetahs, and roaring lions. Take your kids back in time at the "Zoorassic Park'' exhibit to see how life was when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

15. Check out the Historic Silver City Ghost Town

Travel back in time to Bodfish and pay a visit to Silver City Ghost Town. This Central California attraction consists of old-mining-era buildings dating back to the 1850s. As you explore the grounds of Silver City, you’ll come across a number of artifacts and spooky mannequins that make your adventures even more memorable. Rumor has it that the town jail is haunted—see for yourself and experience the paranormal at this ghost town. 

Sure, feeding animals, checking out treehouses, and playing mini-golf are fun, but everyone knows the best part about Bravo Farms is the ice cream.

16. Get a Sugar kick at Bravo Farms 

Founded in 1995, Bravo Farms is the family-friendly Central Valley attraction you’re looking for. With three locations across the state—Traver, Tulare, and Kettleman City— entertainment overflows wherever you go. Spend the day climbing treehouses, feeding animals, eating ice cream, and playing miniature golf because there’s no time like family time. 

17. Get a History Lesson at the Tulare County Museum

Tucked away in Mooney Grove Park, the Tulare County Museum is the best way to get to know the region’s farming history. Featuring an abundance of Native American agricultural displays, the museum offers the unique opportunity to travel back in time and learn about Central Valley’s cultivation. Examine artifacts from the pioneer era, marvel at the agriculture equipment, and explore the restored buildings that help you uncover Tulare County's history.

Continuing downhill through gorgeous fields, the Revis Mountain Ridge Trail offers a spectacular view of Yosemite Lakes Park.

18. Hike the Revis Mountain Ridge Trail

A can’t miss among Central Valley's hiking trails, the Revis Mountain Ridge Trail is a nature lover’s paradise. Starting off steep, the trail continues swiftly downhill through fields, offering breathtaking vistas of Yosemite Lakes Park. The Revis Mountain Fire Road Trail signifies the end of your journey, providing a chance to change course for a new adventure.

19. Trek Aimee’s Loop Hiking Trail

A Tehachapi showstopper, Aimee’s Loop invites both beginners and advanced hikers to explore nature’s bounty. The hike is fun and easy—the path connects to the neighboring Mifflin and Jane’s Loops in case you want to extend your trek further. Get everyone to join you on this easy hike and spend quality time with your family and friends.

20. Watch The Trout at San Joaquin Hatchery

Nestled along the San Joaquin River, San Joaquin Hatchery is an excellent addition to your Central California road trip. This prime producer of trout and inland salmon offers you plenty of space to admire the fish. While you're here, enjoy a picnic on the hatchery’s grounds which are filled with California native plants. Don’t forget to take a picture in front of the colorful trout sculpture and practice your fishing skills at the nearby San Joaquin River.

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