California Central Coast Travel Guide - Introduction
Pacific Coast Highway From Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo to Monterey
by Joseph A. Sprince - Photography by Gerald B. Allen
The California Coast Travel Guide - Central Coast is a resource for those planning a road trip along the
magnificent stretch of Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Barbara to Monterey. The main route is via
US-101 between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, then the Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1)
between San Luis Obispo and Monterey. The northern stretch includes the amazing Big Sur section of
Pacific Coast Highway, one of America's most scenic routes. Many side trips are included: to gorgeous
beaches, scenic wine country, historic Spanish missions, and more. Details include descriptions, links
to many references, and suggested visit times.
The California Coast route can offer a trip as short as two days or more than a week. Most people drive much of the Pacific Coast Highway one way as part of a trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco, both outstanding tour destinations in themselves. The fast return either way is via Interstate-5. Many tourists travel the coast route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, then head inland to visit Yosemite National Park and other destinations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
For those uncomfortable with heights, we suggest traveling south to north. This will put you on the inside of the road through the section of cliffs on the Big Sur Coast. The most typical route from Los Angeles: take freeway US-101 to San Luis Obispo, California-1 from San Luis Obispo to Monterey, California-68 from Monterey to Salinas, then US-101 north into San Francisco.
Directory to the California Central Coast
From south to north the route passes through Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County, and Monterey County. Each county and its namesake city gives you a different perspective of the Central Coast.
<California Central Coast Map>
The county's highlight is the urbane and beautiful city of Santa Barbara, one of California's favorite vacation cities. It features scenic beaches, popular Stearns Wharf, a main street with boutique shops, restaurants, and sidewalk cafes; and many cultural and historic sites, including the renowned Mission Santa Barbara. It is also the home of the University of California, Santa Barbara (in adjacent Goleta).
The county's beautiful beaches are generally south-facing, offering shelter from the prevailing winds, and therefore comfortable recreation. The inland county offers scenic rolling hills and valleys, and is outstanding wine country, made famous by the 2004 movie, "Sideways". The town of Solvang is noted for its unique Danish heritage and atmosphere.
The center of the California Central Coast, the county offers a taste of the "old" California: less crowded, slower paced, and beautiful. The small city of San Luis Obispo (population 42,000) is completely different from Santa Barbara: uncrowded and slow paced with antique buildings and a lovely, tree-covered main street. Every Thursday night, the streets shut down for the San Luis Obispo Farmer's Market, far more a party and celebration than simply a market.
The county features small, quiet beach towns and beautiful sandy beaches (which can still get crowded on holiday and summer weekends), some with visitor piers. Check out our favorite stop, beautiful Morro Bay.
The tiny town of Cayucos is sometimes called "the last California beach town". The remote north county features a rocky coastline with coves and small beaches. It is also the site of the world-famous Hearst Castle, the spectacular estate built and occupied by William Randolph Hearst in the early 20th century.
The county also features two completely different wine countries. The cool coastal region south of San Luis Obispo features white wines, Syrah, and Pinot Noir. The warmer, inland north county around Paso Robles features hearty red wines. Both areas include many small family wineries offering tasting. The network of country roads west of Paso Robles offers some of the finest scenery in the state.
The highlight is the Big Sur section of Pacific Coast Highway, California Highway-1, one of America's finest scenic routes. Besides the great scenery, the road is an engineering marvel. In some places, the road has been blasted into sheer cliffs; in others, spectacular bridges span steep canyons. Look for numerous state parks and beaches along the way. At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, an 80-foot waterfall drops off a cliff straight into the ocean. The scenery at Point Lobos State Reserve south of Carmel looks more like an artist's drawing. The reserve is also richly intense with marine mammals and seabirds. At Big Sur, look to hike in the region's famous coastal redwoods.
The city of Monterey is completely different from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, a mixture of affluence, scenic beauty, and great places. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the world's finest. The famous shopping and cultural district, Cannery Row, is right next door. The stark and rugged beauty of Asilomar State Beach contrasts with nearby Pebble Beach, one of America's most famous golf complexes. And almost every visitor will pay the toll for the famous 17-Mile Drive.
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California's Central Coast offers some of the American West's most splendid
scenery and attractions, from the Golden Gate to the Hearst Castle to the
magnificent scenic drive on the Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1).
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Attractions on California's Central Coast from San Luis Obispo to Monterey are accessed by The Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1). About midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
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