The What to do in San Luis Obispo (Part 2) Section of the California Central Coast Travel Guide highlights attractions in the North County. These include the pretty beach towns of Morro Bay, Cayucos, and Cambria (and Moonstone Beach), and the inland city of Paso Robles, heart of wine country. Also, includes the world-famous Hearst Castle; Point Piedras Blancas, home to the huge elephant seals; and Ragged Point at the south end of the Big Sur cliffs.
What to do in Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria, San Simeon, & Paso Robles
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Morro Bay - Most Scenic of Beach Towns
One of the most scenic of beach towns, Morro Bay is dominated by Morro Rock which rises 578 feet at ocean's edge. Beautiful Morro Strand State Beach runs north of Morro Rock while Morro Bay's harbor and estuary is to the south of the rock. The Morro Bay Sandspit runs for miles to the south creating an almost perfect shelter for the harbor and estuary. The scenic sandspit may be hiked from beautiful Montana de Oro State Park, outside of Los Osos. The sheltered harbor permits leisurely activities such as canoeing and kayaking. Harbor cruises and guided deep sea fishing trips (sometimes for salmon and tuna) are also available. [Photo Right, Morro Rock from Morro Bay Sandspit.]
The harbor consists of docks for the commercial fishing fleet, the shopping and restaurant area called the Embarcadero, and a marina for pleasure craft just south of town. The Morro Bay Estuary, adjacent to the marina, is a fragile marshland whose channels fill with water during high tide. It is an excellent place to observe wildlife, particularly larges birds such as the white heron.
The Morro Bay State Park is south of town, adjacent to the marina and estuary. The park offers a large, wooded - and newly remodeled - campground (reservations strongly recommended), a very scenic golf course, and trails on the hillsides. Across the street is the very excellent - and newly remodeled - Museum of Natural History. The museum has a docent program which offers free daily guided tours and hikes of natural places in the area. A schedule is published on their website.
Visit recommendations: You can spend a day or a week or a summer in the area. It's difficult to get enough of this beautiful place. Below are a few restaurant recommendations:
- Bayside Cafe - across from Morro Bay State Park in the marina. Very peaceful setting. Indoor or outdoor dining with views of boats and estuary. Sandwiches for lunch, excellent dinners featuring seafood and great desserts.
- Taco Temple - on the frontage road, Main St., parallel to Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1) in a nondescript shopping center (Spencer's) just north of the Highway 41 junction. Spectacular food is a "fusion" of Mexican and California styles. The fish taco (featuring fresh locally-caught salmon in season) is unforgettable.
Expect to wait for a table, as locals are crazy about this place.
- Giovanni's Fish Market - Spectacular fish market - look for awesome dungeness crab and local salmon in season. They also cook and serve their fish at a take-out window. Eat on a great patio overlooking the water, adjacent to where the fishing boats dock. Read our article on Morro Bay, California - Sea Lions and Dungeness Crab.
Giovanni's Fresh Fish Market and Galley
Giovanni's has been family owned and operated for more than 25 years. Located on the waterfront in beautiful Morro Bay, California, Giovanni's is a local's secret! Know for the biggest and best fish and chips in Morro Bay, as well as sashimi grade fish including wild salmon, and ahi tuna, Giovanni's strives to provide the freshest fish on the Central Coast. Giovanni's also offers take-out food, which can be enjoyed on our outdoor patio, with views of Morro Rock and lots of sea life.
Winner of the prestigious "Best of SLO Awards" for many years. From fish tacos, to fish sandwiches, to clam chowder in a bread bowl, Giovanni's offers something for everyone! Visit us at www.giovannisfishmarket.com.
NEW! STAX Wine Bar and Tasting Room
The hottest new wine bar on the Central Coast is adjacent to Giovanni's! Come choose from over 100 LOCAL and International wines. Daily tastings, and wine by the glass, as well as Panini Sandwiches, Gourmet Meats and Cheese Plates, plus live Entertainment weekly. Your host and proprieter is Giovanni DeGarimore. Visit us at www.staxwine.com.
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Cayucos - "The Last California Beach Town"
The smallest of the Central Coast beach towns, Cayucos bills itself as "the last California beach town", and perhaps rightfully so. With fewer motels and visitor services, the town does not have the same summer hustle and bustle as Pismo Beach or Morro Bay. Many beach homes are available for rent during the summer.
Cayucos Beach offers several miles of wide sand, extending to Morro Strand Beach. There is also a long fishing pier. During low tide, excellent tidal pools become visible among an area of rocks about a half mile south of the pier. (Right, a mural of old Cayucos Landing on the surf shop.)
Visit recommendations: Spend a couple hours walking this wonderful beach. Check out the tidal pools if low tide is at a convenient time.
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The Village of Cambria and Moonstone Beach
The village of Cambria offers fine restaurants, speciality shops, and art galleries in a quiet, rustic setting. This section of the coast is forested in towering Monterey pines, providing a different feel from the south county. Moonstone Beach is so named because of the semi-precious agate and jasper stones found in the sand. Behind the beach, Moonstone Beach Drive is lined with numerous small, quaint motels and bed and breakfasts.
Visit recommendations: The village is worth a stop. A motel along Monnstone Beach would be a good stop if you're planning to tour the Hearst Castle.
Hearst Castle - Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument
Part of the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, the Hearst Castle was once the palatial country estate of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst, one of the most influential business tycoons in American history, inherited the property, a 250,000 acre ranch, from his mother in 1919. His power and vision allowed him to pursue one of the most ambitious architectural endeavors in American history, the result of which can be seen in magnificent grounds and structures of Hearst Castle. By 1947, the estate had grown to 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. Besides the spectacular architecture, the estate's collection of superb European and Mediterranean art is world renowned.
Following Hearst's death in 1951, the estate was ultimately donated to the People of California in 1957. The estate became a state historical monument and a basic tour was offered, beginning in 1958. Access to the estate is by guided tour only. Today, there are four basic day tours covering different aspects of the estate, plus a night tour and special tours. The tours are tremendously popular, and tickets should be purchased well in advance if possible. Tickets may be purchased online through the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument or by calling (800) 444-4445.
Visit recommendations: Perhaps the most "don't miss" attraction on the Central Coast, the estate is one of the world's great man made wonders. Expect to spend half a day here.
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Point Piedras Blancas - The Elephant Seals of Piedras Blancas
The elephant seal is the largest of all pinnipeds. Adult bulls can exceed two tons in weight and ten feet in length. Like many marine mammals, it was hunted to near extinction in the 19th century. Until recently, the huge seals lived in isolated areas far away from humans. Then, in 1990, they started colonizing the unspoiled beaches and coves just south of Point Piedras Blancas. During breeding season, from December through February, thousands of elephant seals may be seen on the beaches, males, females, and pups. Smaller numbers of males will remain until mid-summer.
A viewing area has been set up along the edge of the beach, manned by volunteer docents. Visitors are urged to view this magnificent sight from the viewing area and NOT approach or bother the seals.
Visit recommendations: The unmarked parking area is on Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1), a short distance north of Hearst Castle. You will see many vehicles stopped and perhaps the seals from your car as well. It is well worth the stop.
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Paso Robles - North County Wine Country
The principal city of northern San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is the center of the North County wine country. This northern part of the county is blocked from the ocean by a coastal mountain range resulting in a different climate than the coast, namely, hotter summers and cooler winters. This results in completely different wines from the coastal regions. Paso Robles has numerous events during the year, most notably the California Mid-State Fair in August, and the Paso Robles Wine Festival in May.
The remote and rural countryside west of Paso Robles (known as "Westside Paso Robles") features a network of two-lane country roads through hills and valleys with some of the finest scenery in California. The dense cover of oak trees over the road often feels like a canopy. The most remote wineries of this area, many of them small family wineries, are collectively known as the Far Out Wineries of Paso Robles. Due to the special geology of the area, they produce extraordinary red wines.
The Spanish Mission, San Miguel Arcangel, is about nine miles north of town on US-101.
Visit recommendations: Definitely, a place to stop if you like wine, especially red wines. Can be very hot in the summer.
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Ragged Point - "The Million Dollar View"
Ragged Point is a promontory which is the southern terminus of the section of cliffs which has made the Big Sur Coast Highway famous, and one of America's most scenic routes. The cliffs run north largely unabated until Carmel. The Ragged Point Inn complex has been a popular rest stop for generations. It features motel rooms, a restaurant, a store, snack bar, gardens and walking paths. There is an amazing vista point, called the Million Dollar View, which showcases the cliff line running north. Also, a short but exciting trail running down to the base of the cliff. At the bottom, you will find a beautiful pocket beach with black sand and a waterfall off the cliff. On our last visit, we also found an enormous (and somewhat misplaced) elephant seal sunning itself on the sand.
Visit recommendations: Definitely, a worthwhile stop. The trail down the cliff is quite short but the return might be strenuous to some people. The restaurant has a nice selection of local wines and good soups.
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