California’s Central Coast holds unparalleled beauty, quirky little towns, and top-notch wineries. In the age of COVID-related shutdowns and limitations, taking a road trip up the California Coast is a vacation that won’t have you wanting for anything. In this travel guide, we break down the best places to explore, dine, and shop from San Luis Obispo to San Simeon. You can also follow, book and save the below itinerary on the free Winetraveler App.

San Luis Obispo

(Click Here for Hotel Recommendations in SLO)

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

751 Palm St, San Luis Obispo
805-781-8220
www.missionsanluisobispo.org
 

California has missions dotting the entire state and each has its own distinct qualities. San Luis Obispo’s mission dives into the history of the area with artifacts from missionaries, Europeans, and indigenous people. It’s a profound experience to consider how these missions changed the fabric of west coast civilization, for better or worse.

San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

3450 Dairy Creek Rd, San Luis Obispo
805-541-1400
www.slobg.org
 

Showcasing indigenous and drought-resistant flora, the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is a lovely experience on its own, but includes grounding events like guided meditations and full moon celebrations. Be sure to check their calendar for upcoming events!

The Madonna Inn

100 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo
805-543-3000
www.madonnainn.com
 

Named after a local politician, The Madonna Inn is … stunning. Imagine kitsch exploding all over a restaurant and inn and no matter what you’re visualizing, you’re not far off. Plan your trip around the holidays and you can hike nearby Cerro San Luis Obispo, which is decorated with lights at the very top and offers sweeping views of the area.

Flour House

690 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo
805-544-5282
www.flourhouseslo.com
 

If you want killer thin-crust pizza with an equally fantastic glass (or two) of wine, Flour is it. A very well-thought-out wine list has the perfect pairing for any pie you can conjure up.

Blackwater

705 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo
805-541-2900
www.shopblackwater.com
 

To say Blackwater is a women’s clothing boutique is a bit misleading. It’s more of an everything boutique. Find the perfect plant to fit into your reading nook and nab a flowy kimono at the same time. You’ve hit boho heaven.


RELATED: A Wine Lover’s Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary (Alternate Route)


Seals at Morro Bay Harbor, California Coastline | California Coast Road Trip Travel Guide

Morro Bay/ Los Osos

(Click Here For Hotel Recommendations Near Morro Boy)

Montaña de Oro State Park

3550 Pecho Valley Rd, Los Osos
805-528-0513
www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=592
 

Montaña de Oro is a gorgeous state park nestled in Los Osos. Spend the day here and explore the many hiking trails, all of which offer varying levels of exertion and vantage points. Be sure to check weather conditions in advance.

The Rock

www.morro-bay.ca.us

Not to be confused with Dwayne The Rock Johnson, this one is almost as impressive. The Morro Bay Rock holds deep significance in indigenous culture and you can almost feel the hum of its presence. Incredibly, it even has its own website! And, better than all of the tchotchke shops is the abundance of nature in Morro Bay, including otters galore. Depending on the weather, you’ll probably be able to see at least a few otters playing, body surfing, or just snoozing in the Bay.

Tognazzini’s Dockside

1245 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
805-772-8100
www.morrobaydockside.com
 

Further down the road from the tourist attraction that is Giovanni’s, Tognazzini’s is worth seeking. Incredibly fresh fish, cold beers, or local wines by the glass are all readily available dockside. If you’re not up to the bustle of this port joint, grab some fresh seafood to go and make your own delicious meal.

Tacos El Viejon

2780 Main St, Morro Bay
805-225-1559
 

We actually hesitated on sharing this. We don’t want the secret getting out, but Tacos El Viejon is that good. We’d be selfish if we didn’t let you know about it. This simple roadside restaurant has super basic service – you order with the cashier to either eat in or to take away. The food, though, is the best you’ll have this side of the border. And the bonus? The owner is a former luchador and has decorated with pictures of the glory days.

Threads

400 Morro Bay Blvd, Morro Bay
805-772-2153
 

Threads is THE place for vintage fashion. You’ll understand the level of fashion sass the moment you see the owner, who is always dressed impeccably. Dig through the racks to find the perfect Hawaiian shirt or sparkly 80s dress.


RELATED: How To Explore Sonoma’s Stunning Bohemian Highway 


California Coast Road Trip Travel Blog - Harmony

Harmony

(Click Here For Hotels Near Harmony)

Harmony Headlands

Entry point along Highway 1
805-772-6101
www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=25735
 

Harmony Headlands is one of the most beautiful hikes in the area and that’s a lofty claim. Get here early because the small parking lot fills up quickly. It’s also beautiful to watch the morning marina layer to move out and open up to pure sunshine. The hike also isn’t overly strenuous at about 4 miles roundtrip so it’s absolutely family-friendly.

Town of Harmony

www.harmonytown.com

Boasting a population of 18, Harmony is just … ok, we admit that we don’t adequately know how to describe it. The stunning little Harmony Chapel will have you wanting to plan an event that requires a stunning little chapel. Just make sure your event isn’t too big because you’ll double or even triple the population.


RELATED: 3 Stunning Stops To Make Driving from Los Angeles to Napa Valley


Cambria

(Click Here For Hotel Recommendations in Cambria)

Moonstone Beach

Probably the number one reason everyone comes to Cambria is Moonstone Beach. Because it’s the Central Coast, it’s never very hot here and usually requires a layer or two of clothing just to be safe. Keep an eye out during your morning stroll for moonstone or better yet, jade. Both litter the beaches.

Nitt Witt Ridge

881 Hillcrest Dr, Cambria

Nitt Witt Ridge is a place that can only exist in Cambria. It’s both a source of fascination and disdain but it certainly does what it claims to: It’s the Anti-Hearst Castle. It somehow ended up on the Historical Landmark list and therefore is in need of restoration but if you’re able to get a tour, do it.

Robin’s Restaurant

4095 Burton Dr, Cambria
805-927-5007
www.robinsrestaurant.com
 

Robin’s is a total standout. The beautiful outside garden space is as delicious as the dishes. Robin’s uses local ingredients for international cuisine and every dish is a home run. Book ahead if you can.

Mozzi’s Saloon

2262 Main St, Cambria
805-927-4767
www.mozzissaloon.com
 

Covid may have done Mozzi’s in but assuming it will re-open, Mozzi’s is legit. Not quite a dive but certainly not glamorous, Mozzi’s is an unashamed throwback to the old west without being cheesy. It’s a favorite among locals and the storytelling can get as colorful as the characters.

Sea + Green

2380 Main St, Cambria
805-935-9046
www.sea-n-green.com
 

A newcomer among the Cambrian shops, Sea + Green is more of a carefully curated collection of goods than a keepsake shop. There’s a heavy emphasis on the power of crystals but you’re also just as likely to nab a stunning antique from Pakistan. It’s hard not to fall in love with the space.

California Coast Road Trip Travel Guide - San Simeon

San Simeon

(See Hotel Recommendations in San Simeon)

Elephant Seals

Entry point along Highway 1 in San Simeon

One of the biggest draws in the area, the elephant seals are fascinating to behold. They’re HUGE and it’s incredible to watch them pull themselves out of the surf for a snooze in the sun. Be sure to keep a respectful distance since the males can be very aggressive and that’s a battle you simply won’t win.            

Hearst Castle

750 Heart Castle Drive, San Simeon
800-444-4445
www.hearstcastle.org
 

After experiencing Nitt Witt Ridge in Cambria, you’ll be ready for opulence and Hearst Castle delivers. A shuttle will bring you to the castle itself and, depending on the tour you opt for, you’ll be able to explore lavish indulgence. William Randolph Hearst did nothing on a small scale, and his architect Julia Morgan was more than happy to indulge his whims. Keep an eye out for zebras on the way up – Hearst brought them in and they’re now indigenous to the area. Because why not.

San Carpoforo Creek

Entry point along Highway 1

Why choose between the ocean and a creek when you can have both? This teeny roadside stop is blinkably missable but it’s worth keeping your eyes open for it. If you’re heading north, you’ll see some cars parked and signs for Carpoforo Creek on the left side of the road. A short walk will bring you to a deliciously cold creek that you can either wade through or walk around to get to the ocean. Since there is no official parking lot, it can be tricky to park on the weekends. Stick to weekdays to best enjoy this little piece of heaven.

This is just a small slice of what San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Harmony, Cambria, and San Simeon offer. It’s decidedly laid-back and it’s hard not to fall in love with the entire area. And while we certainly don’t want it to get overpopulated, we promise you’ll consider moving here after you experience the stellar oceanfront hikes along the coast.


Get Articles Like These Directly in Your Inbox!

Subscribe to Winetraveler and receive notifications when new articles are published. It's free!

Leave a Comment, Ask a Question or Share a Review

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Don’t forget Harmony Cellars in Harmony and the outstanding Hearst Ranch Winery directly across from the Castle on Hwy 1 in San Simeon! Also Stolo Vineyards in Cambria is excellent – I’ve been to each of them multiple times and always love returning… Cheers!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jamie Elizabeth Metzgar began her career in wine by pouring in a tasting room on the East End of Long Island, NY. After moving to New York City, she landed a position at Chambers Street Wines where she was encouraged to pursue wine education at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET). She earned Level III certification there and has since earned California Wine Appellation Specialist and Certified Specialist of Wine certifications as well. After way too many moves, she is now nestled along the Central Coast in California where she is compiling an unofficial roster of dog-friendly tasting rooms.

    Send this to a friend