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© J. McPhail

Mission San Miguel near Paso Robles, one of the California Missions.


Top Destinations  ·  Southern California  ·  Central Coast

Central Coast - Hearst Castle - Cambria - Morro Bay - SLO - Pismo Beach

California’s central coast boasts one of the most popular sights in the state – Hearst Castle, the extravagant home of one of the first media moguls. California’s Coast Ranges form a barrier from the Central Valley, leaving much of the region relatively undeveloped. Visitors may choose to follow the coast, enjoying rolling hills and wide open beaches, or explore inland where a thriving wine industry offers other pleasures.

© Mike Brake

Morro Bay is easy to explore by kayak.

If you wish to visit Hearst Castle, be certain to make reservations in advance for one or more of the tours.  

Many of the tiny villages along the coast have unique inns and small hotels. San Luis Obispo is the "big" town with a full range of visitor services. Pick one or two spots and spend some time in the relaxed, sunny California central coast.

Some of the highlights of this destination include:

Attractions: Hearst Castle, Mission San Luis Obispo, Mission San Miguel Archangel, numerous wineries (see map below), Morro Rock

Towns: San Simeon, Cambira, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, Oceano, San Luis Obispo, Templeton, Atascadero, Paso Robles

Lakes and Rivers: Lake Nacimiento, Salinas River

Beaches: Moonstone Beach, Morro Strand State Beach, Pismo State Beach, Oceano Dunes

National Forests: Santa Lucia Wilderness

State Parks: Morro Bay State Park, Montana de Oro State Park, San Simeon 

Central Coast Scenic Drives

Scenic Drive
San Luis Obispo
Destination Index Print/Zoom

SCENIC DRIVES: California’s Central Coast combines wide beaches, small towns, rolling hills, vineyards and wineries with friendly, low-key attitude towards visitors.  The best known attraction is San Simeon, "Hearst Castle," the crown jewel of the California’s State Park System. Book a tour or two of this monument to unlimited money, energy and ego – it is totally fascinating with excellent exhibits, tours and a view you won’t forget.  

The main route for this drive is Highway 1 along the coast. Travelers coming from the south may be on 101. Starting from the Big Sur coast in the north, just after your pass the lighthouse, watch for cars on the side of the road during the winter months. Visitors come to observe one of the rare beaches where the very boisterous and amorous elephant seals mate and raise pups before returning to the deep ocean.

High on a hill, Hearst Castle is easy to spot – don’t be surprised to see a zebra or two grazing in a roadside pasture. The little artist community of Cambria has many services for visitors – many on the main road through town.

SIDETRIP: Take Highway 46 inland through rolling hills and old ranches to explore the local wineries clustered in this area. Many San Luis Obispo County wineries offer tours and tastings to visitors in an uncrowded, unhurried atmosphere.  Just north, the 16th California mission, from 1797 can be seen in its relatively unrestored state. Nearby, Paso Robles is the main town with visitor services.

Heading south on Highway 1, Morro Bay is unmistakable with huge, volcanic, haystack-shaped Morro Rock dominating the horizon. The fishing village of Morro Bay offers plenty of visitor services and hikers will want to check out trails at Montana de Oro State Park to the south.

Continue inland to San Luis Obispo (S-L-O for short), a lively and charming college town (Cal Poly) centered on a California mission, Mission San Luis de Tolosa. Surrounded by ranches, farmland and wineries, there is enough going on to attract visitors all year long.

Visit the pier at Avila Beach and continue to Pismo Beach, famous for allowing cars and other vehicles to cruise a section of the 23-mile long beach. Hikers can head south to Oceano Dunes.

Continue on Highway 1 (or 101 to visit the Solvang and Santa Ynez) on the way to lovely Santa Barbara.


© Celso Diniz
The pools at Hearst Castle feature real antiquities as well as copies. This outdoor pool at Hearst Castle San Simeon has an outstanding view of the coastal landscape.

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