California’s Central Coast is occasionally overshadowed by it’s NorCal and SoCal neighbors, especially by tourists from out of state. But the truth is this stretch of coastline has some of the most gorgeous ocean views you’ll find anywhere, not to mention amazing wineries, excellent dining and plenty of places to exercise, relax and rest your head.
If you’ve never explored the Central Coast, this road trip itinerary makes a great place to start.
Day One: Monterey
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Monterey is the perfect place to begin a Central Coast road trip. Not only is there an airport in the area for those who have to fly in and rent a car, but it’s also home to one of the most impressive tourist attractions, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Located on Cannery Row, the aquarium is home to more than 35,000 animals and plants.
Other popular attractions include the charming seaside village Carmel-by-the-Sea, Old Fisherman’s Wharf and the breathtaking Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. And definitely make sure you take the time to enjoy the unforgettable 17-Mile Drive, where you’ll see stunning views of the coastline, the famed Pebble Beach golf course, and have access to gorgeous beaches in Pebble Beach.
We recommend spending a full day exploring Monterey, then getting a good night’s sleep at Portola Hotel & Spa. This four star hotel often has surprisingly affordable rooms for its location. If you are looking for a more affordable hotel, check out the Best Western Plus Victorian Inn.
Day Two: Paso Robles to Pismo
The next morning, drive 115 miles south on Highway 101 until you reach Paso Robles. Located about 30 miles from Morro Bay, this charming city is a wine lover’s paradise. Paso Robles wine tasting maps are located all over town, and you’ll find lots of downtown tasting rooms as well. But if it’s too early for wine, head over to Olivas de Oro and taste their delicious olive oils (open Fri – Mon).
After a nice Paso Robles pit stop, drive 30 minutes south to San Luis Obispo. For a quick, affordable and healthy lunch, check out Pluto’s Fresh Food for a Hungry Universe – the quirky name will draw you in, but the fresh salad and soup will impress you. For a special splurge, have lunch at TASTE on Broad Street, which serves tapas to die for.
While you’re in town, explore the Mission San Luis Obispo, which was founded by Father Junipero Serra in September of 1772. It’s beautiful and fascinating to see, and it also happens to be located in the heart of the downtown shopping area.
End your day at Pismo Beach, a small coastal town with several clean, beautiful beaches perfect for catching a sunset. Walk along the Pismo Pier for great views of the coastline. Also consider checking out the nearby neighborhood of Shell Beach which has some of the best beaches in the area.
Day Three: Solvang and Santa Barbara
After a morning beach walk, you’ll get back on Highway 101 and drive toward Solvang. California’s Danish village is one of the Central Coast’s finest gems. From the tempting Danish bakeries to the dozen wine tasting rooms that line the downtown area, you’ll be smitten with this town before lunch.
But all good things must come to an end, and you don’t want to miss seeing Santa Barbara. Locally known as the American Riviera, there are lots of beautiful beaches to see here, including Arroyo Burro Beach. Walk down the city’s most famous avenue, State Street, which is lined with shops and galleries and cuts through downtown, leading to Stearns Wharf.
End your final day by spending a night at Hotel Milo, which is known for its beautiful property and top notch customer service.