A California Coast street journey is a ceremony of passage for any outside journey traveler, and the central coast of California is especially iconic. This stretch of the Pacific Coast Freeway offers unimaginable ocean views, stunning sights, quick access to quaint California seashore cities, and naturally, limitless alternatives for outside journey.
A number of years in the past, I joined forces with Go to California in the hunt for the perfect adventures alongside the Central California Coast. I’ve compiled what I found into this itinerary together with suggestions from the remainder of the Bearfoot Concept group who’ve spent a number of time exploring this area.
This itinerary combines outside adventures with top-notch alternatives to expertise the native tradition of the Central California Coast from Ventura to Cambria, with data on visiting extra locations like Huge Sur, Monterey, and Santa Cruz in case you have the time.
From sea-to-spoon and farm-to-fork meals to hikes with sweeping views, boutique inns, and hidden gems which can be simply off the crushed path, this itinerary won’t disappoint.
Remember to try the video of my Central California Coast Street Journey beneath as effectively.
Central California Coast Street Journey Fundamentals
What’s the Central California Coast?
Most individuals are accustomed to Northern California (San Francisco and above) and Southern California (Los Angeles south), however what’s the Central California coast?
Whereas there’s no precise definition of what makes up the Central California Coast, it’s generally accepted that this part stretches between Ventura County within the south to Santa Cruz within the north.
In between Ventura and Santa Cruz, there may be a tremendous array of beautiful seashores, wild mountainsides, small coastal cities, nice eating places, the well-known Huge Sur, and a lot extra.
Listed below are the highest locations on the central coast of California at a look from south to north:
- Santa Barbara
- Avila Seaside
- Pismo Seaside
- San Luis Obispo
- Montaña del Oro State Park
- Morro Bay
- Cambria/San Simeon
- Huge Sur
- Carmel by the Sea
- Santa Cruz
How a lot time do you could street journey the Central California Coast?
This itinerary is for six days, which is an efficient period of time to get a really feel for the area, though in case you have extra time you possibly can actually dive deeper. Should you solely have a weekend, I like to recommend choosing one space to discover – like Ojai, Santa Barbara, or Huge Sur for instance.
My greatest tip – don’t rush it. The Central California Coast operates at a slower tempo and is supposed to be loved at a slower tempo as effectively. Use the data right here to customise your personal journey based mostly in your priorities and the period of time you could have.
Greatest Technique to Discover the Central California Coast
You’ll undoubtedly need a automobile or campervan for any central California coast street journey. Should you plan on staying in inns or lodging, a automobile will probably be positive. A rental automobile could be picked up in Ventura or the Los Angeles space in case you’re going south to north or in San Francisco in case you’re going north to south.
If you wish to expertise a few of California’s finest campgrounds, I extremely suggest renting a campervan. Not solely will this mean you can be extra versatile, however you actually can’t beat tenting on the seashore! Try our listing of campervan rental corporations for concepts.
Greatest Time for a California Central Coast Street Journey
California is thought for its sunny climate and gentle local weather, so you possibly can actually plan a street journey any time of the 12 months. Listed below are just a few concerns based mostly on the season:
Spring is a superb time to plan a California Central Coast street journey, particularly if you wish to see California’s stunning springtime wildflower blooms. Temps can nonetheless be a bit chilly, although, so pack layers and be ready for windy days.
Summer season is often the busiest time of 12 months for California, so that you’ll see a number of crowds and might want to make tenting or lodge reservations upfront. The climate tends to be nice, although, with temperatures within the 70s and little to no rain.
Fall in central California brings fewer crowds and cooler temps, making it a good time to go to. Days are sometimes clear as effectively whereas in summer time you could expertise “June gloom” the place the coast is commonly shrouded in clouds.
Winter on the California coast could be very nice in case you take pleasure in cooler temperatures and a extra laid-back vibe. Some locations do shut for the winter and the times are shorter so that you’ll have much less daylight to discover, in order that’s one thing to bear in mind if you plan your journey.
Central California Coast Street Journey Itinerary
There are infinite methods to discover the central California Coast with so many issues to see and do. Under is my 6-day itinerary with just a few choices for extending or customizing your journey.
- Day 1: Arrive in Ventura
- Day 2: Ventura
- Day 3: Ojai
- Day 4: Santa Barbara
- Day 5: Avila Seaside and Cambria
- Day 6: Morro Bay
In case you have extra time, proceed on to Huge Sur, Monterey Bay, and Santa Cruz which I’ll contact on beneath as effectively.
Day 1: Discover Downtown Ventura & Hit the Seaside
We began our California street journey within the energetic seashore city of Ventura. Ventura is thought for its iconic seashore boardwalk the place you possibly can stroll, pedal, or skate previous bustling retailers, eating places, and wide-open sandy seashores that lead proper down the Pacific Ocean.
There is no such thing as a scarcity of issues to do in Ventura, however right here’s how we spent our days exploring this iconic coastal city:
Seize a fast chew and morning espresso at Palm & Boy Espresso within the heart of downtown Ventura. This cozy indoor and outside café is a superb spot for people-watching as you slowly perk up and start your day.
With espresso in hand, stroll a few blocks in direction of the seashore to the Go to Ventura Guests and Conference Heart. Right here you’ll discover a number of inspiration and concepts to plan out your day. We propose chatting with one of many super-friendly people who work on the Tourism Heart.
The morning and early afternoon in coastal California is usually a bit overcast relying on the time of 12 months, which makes it the perfect time to pop out and in of Ventura’s distinctive and colourful retailers. Try Passport Habits, an eclectic travel-themed store, situated on East Principal Avenue in downtown Ventura, Jockamo Data, Iron & Resin, and the Patagonia Flagship retailer to call just a few.
For lunch, chow down some tacos at Seaside Home Tacos on the historic Ventura Pier. If the climate is sweet, head to the seashore within the afternoon. Alternatively, Grant Park is a superb place to identify wildflower blooms and get a city-wide view in case you aren’t eager on heading all the way down to the water.
Should you’re into beer tasting, stroll again into city and funky off with a spherical of beers on the Ventura Coast Brewing Co., a cool, laid-back brewery with indoor/outside seating and a pleasant native crowd. The beers and tacos will maintain you over till it’s time for a late dinner – after sundown, after all.
Surfer’s Level is a primary beachfront spot to look at the sky shift to shades of pink, orange, purple, and blue over the horizon line. I like to recommend scoring a seat on the rocks close to the estuary. You would possibly even be rewarded with a present from native surfers taking over the world-class waves.
After watching the sundown, head to Rumfish & Vino for dinner. This gastropub serves Central American-inspired meals with a number of vegan choices and a terrific outside patio. If you would like one thing slightly extra informal, try Fluid State Beer Backyard, which serves pizza and artistic bar meals.
Faria Seaside Campground: This campground is located in a quiet and scenic beachfront spot off the Pacific Coast Freeway. Most of the websites have unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands Nationwide Park. You’ll wish to guide upfront to attain websites 6-13 which have essentially the most area and the perfect views (though there aren’t any hookups at these particular web site numbers). This campground is finest for camper vans and truck campers as a result of it’s on pavement and campsites are extra like parking areas.
Waypoint Ventura Classic Trailer Lodge & RV Park: If you would like a singular expertise, guide a classic trailer at Waypoint Ventura Vintage Trailer Hotel & RV Park. These trailers have been impeccably transformed for an opulent classic keep. You too can deliver your personal camper, however they’ve standards for what vans and campers they settle for.
Day 2: Ventura Space Actions
After getting a style of what Ventura has to supply, it’s time to essentially discover!
Should you’re searching for a spot to seize a tasty and nourishing breakfast, head to Harvest Cafe. They serve scrumptious vegetarian and vegan meals in addition to a wide range of espresso drinks.
After you’ve eaten breakfast, fill your backpack with snacks, water, and sunscreen to prepare for a day of biking on the native bike paths. You’ll be able to lease bikes at Bike Depot, which is situated proper on the outskirts of downtown Ventura.
The pleasant employees at Bike Depot may give you ideas on the place to experience. Ventura is an especially bike-friendly metropolis with well-marked paths that lead out and in of city, connecting you to must-see sights round Ventura.
Ventura bike route ideas
Ventura River Path to Ojai: This 17-mile one-way paved path runs all the way in which from downtown Ventura to Ojai. It’s a pleasant approach to get some train and see a distinct facet of Ventura, particularly within the spring when every part is inexperienced.
After all, you don’t should pedal the total 34 miles out and again to take pleasure in it! Should you’re searching for a enjoyable cease alongside the way in which, try Ventura Spirits Firm. The tasting room is open for drop-ins Monday via Friday 12 pm – 5pm and by reservation on the weekends.
Ventura Coastal Bike Path: Throughout the hotter months when the River Path will get too scorching, you’ll be higher off using the Ventura Coastal Bike Path to catch a cooling ocean breeze. Take a motorbike map with you from the Bike Depot, because the coastal path has some sections which can be on the road.
If you return out of your experience, make time to go to the Artwork Metropolis Studios, situated proper across the nook from Bike Depot for a style of Ventura’s native character and tradition.
This world-famous sculpture studio and backyard is owned by sculptor Paul Lindhard whose mission is to help and convey collectively native and international artists in an inspiring outside area.
You’ll be able to stroll across the artist studios, chat with the sculptors about their work, and browse the gallery. Should you get the prospect, go see if Ramon is round to take a look at his unimaginable stonework!
By this time, you’ll be prepared for a chilly drink, so quench your thirst at Topa Topa Brewery for glad hour drinks. Then head to one in every of Ventura’s full of life eating places like Social Faucet or Rice By Mama, two eateries that the locals rave about.
Tip: Should you’re seeking to broaden your trip with one other day of sightseeing I like to recommend heading out to the Channel Islands Nationwide Park. Anacapa & Santa Cruz Islands are the preferred for day journeys to hike, kayak, and/or snorkel. Try the Channel Islands Journey Firm for sea cave kayaking excursions on Santa Cruz Island. Tenting can also be out there on each islands.
Day 3: Discover Ojai
Leaving the coastal vibes of Ventura, head inland for a day to the charming SoCal city of Ojai.
Downtown Ojai is quaint, distinctive, and straightforward to discover with many retailers and eating places in strolling distance. Outdoors the downtown space, you’ll discover stunning open areas for climbing plus olive oil tasting in native olive orchards, wine tasting, and extra.
The 30-minute drive from Ventura to Ojai may be very scenic because it transitions from seashore city to bucolic landscapes stuffed with farms, wineries, and mountains.
Whether or not it’s a sunny day or not, you’ll have enjoyable exploring Ojai. I liked it for the native flavors and handmade tradition that thrives on this city.
Shops like FiG Curated Residing, Bungalow by FiG, and Bart’s Books present a quintessential Ojai vibe that could be a must-see when you’re there.
For lunch, take a break from looking the retailers and refuel over at Hip Vegan for a nourishing meal created from 100% vegan substances. It’s slightly off the primary drag however has an exceptional menu that’ll hit the spot if you’re craving basic California well being meals.
Should you’re simply searching for slightly power kick don’t miss Revel Jun Bar. Jun is like Kombucha however made with inexperienced tea & honey as an alternative of black tea & sugar.
Tip: Should you’re on the town on Sunday don’t miss the bountiful Ojai Farmer’s Market. It’s from 9-1 pm rain or shine at 300 E. Matilija Avenue. Seize picnic provides and head out on a picnic hike, go to a neighborhood vineyard, or go olive oil tasting at Ojai Olive Oil Co.
After lunch, drive to the outskirts of city to spend your afternoon on the stunning Lake Casitas.
There are many climbing trails, bike paths, picnic areas, and view points. You too can lease a ship or deliver your personal kayak or SUP. There’s a $10 entry payment for automobiles, nonetheless, it does range relying on holidays and weekends — check the Lake Casitas website for up to date data.
There’s additionally tenting at Lake Casitas if you wish to spend extra time there.
After visiting the reservoir, drive again into city so you possibly can hit up a few of Ojai’s finest wineries. Our favorites had been the Majestic Oak Vineyard and Tasting Room and The Ojai Winery Tasting Room.
Beer lovers can sip on some pours on the Ojai Beverage Firm, or because the locals name it, OBC, or on the Ojai Valley Brewery.
For dinner, try Ojai Rotie, The Nest, Ojai Pizza, or Nocciola.
Emerald Iguana Inn: This boutique hotel is situated within the coronary heart of Ojai. It has a relaxed but upscale vibe and delightful rooms adorned in a tranquil, Southwestern fashion. I extremely suggest having fun with a soak of their scorching tub or a swim within the pool. Their sister lodge, the Blue Iguana Inn, is equally fantastic and is situated on the bike path so you possibly can bike proper into city on one in every of their rental bikes.
Caravan Outpost: For a singular keep that matches Ojai’s eclectic vibe, guide an Airstream at Caravan Outpost. Every Airstream is superbly adorned and surrounded by lush gardens.
Day 4: Head to Santa Barbara
The subsequent cease in your central California coast street journey is sunny Santa Barbara, California the place there are tons of issues to do relying in your pursuits.
Vital: It’s unlawful to park outsized automobiles – together with vans and RVs – on the streets in Santa Barbara. Be taught extra about where to park your oversized vehicle here.
Within the morning, seize breakfast close to the place you’re staying. The choices are limitless however just a few favorites embody The Every day Grind, Handlebar Espresso Roasters, and Alessia Patisserie & Cafe. Then stroll or bike on the beachfront coastal path from Butterfly Seaside, the place the well-known Biltmore Lodge is, all the way in which to the West Seaside/Marina space.
Subsequent, head downtown to the Santa Barbara Public Market and pattern a number of the Asian fare at Empty Bowl. Get the curry soup, you received’t remorse it! Or for these craving tacos, hit one of many many taquerias close to Milpas Avenue, together with Julia Baby’s favourite taco stand, La Tremendous-Rica Taqueria.
Wash down lunch with a cease at one in every of Santa Barbara’s many city wineries or breweries within the Funk Zone. A number of Bearfoot Concept group favorites for wine tasting embody Carr, Pali, and Municipal Winemakers (domestically often known as Muni). For native beer, try Topa Topa, Figueroa Mountain, and Rincon Brewery.
After sampling Santa Barbara’s eats and treats, be sure to save a while to get to Hendry’s Seaside earlier than sundown. It’s a dog-friendly spot with towering seaside bluffs and loads of area to meander alongside the shoreline along with your furry good friend.
Right here you’ll additionally discover the Boathouse Restaurant which is just about the perfect place in Santa Barbara to seize glad hour.
When you’re over within the Mesa neighborhood, you’ll additionally wish to get a distinct viewpoint of Hendry’s Seaside from above at Douglas Protect. It is a prime spot to look at the sundown over the Pacific.
Should you’re searching for a terrific environment, strive Zaytoon (Lebanese & Center Jap delicacies) for dinner the place you possibly can sit round fireplace pits whereas listening to reside music.
Tip: Should you’re seeking to broaden your keep within the Santa Barbara space I like to recommend testing the city of Los Olivos which is within the Santa Ynez Valley. Santa Barbara Wine Nation Excursions affords biking & van excursions to the valley for a day of wine tasting and exploration.
The place to Keep in Santa Barbara
Lodge Santa Barbara: A historic lodge situated proper downtown, Hotel Santa Barabra is unquestionably a splurge, however value it if you wish to be inside strolling distance of every part.
Tenting: Refugio State Seaside is 25 minutes north of Santa Barbara and has a small campground alongside oceanfront cliffs. Carpinteria State Seaside is 20 minutes south of Santa Barbara and has a pleasant beachside campground alongside the sand. These are your finest bets if you wish to camp.
Day 5: Avila Seaside + Cambria
Situated halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles is San Luis Obispo County, in any other case often known as SLO Cal.
Many individuals love this a part of the Central Coast for its picturesque California seashore cities which can be extra laid again than these nearer to metropolis life.
In your means out of Santa Barbara on Freeway 154, take a fast detour up Painted Cave Street. Observe the winding street as much as a scenic lookout the place you possibly can pull off the street into a dust car parking zone. Take in the breathtaking panoramic views of town and coast from this distinctive vantage level.
From Painted Cave Street, it’s solely a brief drive to Chilly Springs Tavern, a divey native favourite tucked away within the hills. This biker bar is known for its BBQ Tri-Tip Sandwich and reside music on the weekends.
In case you have time, the world surrounding the tavern is filled with nice hikes. I like to recommend utilizing All Trails or one other climbing app to lookup a well-rated hike that fits your expertise and choice.
As you proceed north on Freeway 101, I extremely suggest grabbing a chew at Bob’s Effectively Bread Bakery in Los Alamos, which is thought for its artisan baked items and mouthwatering sandwiches. Cease and eat of their courtyard or take it go.
Proceed your drive for an additional 40 minutes up the 101 to get to the colourful city of Avila Seaside. Take a while to scope out the colourful downtown scene after which head straight over to Avila Seaside Paddle Sports activities, located proper exterior of city.
Get arrange with a kayak or paddleboard for the afternoon, however earlier than you get going, chat with the employees to get some perception on the right way to finest scout out the seals and sea otters that reside within the bay.
I like to recommend paddling all the way in which out to see the Port San Luis Lighthouse. It is a historic space proper above a sandy seashore that has wildflowers, eucalyptus timber, previous maritime buildings, and most significantly, a wood swing!
Should you’re hungry if you get again, head to Fats Cats Cafe. It’s a neighborhood favourite and conveniently situated throughout the car parking zone from the Paddle Sports activities storefront.
Hop again within the automobile and coast up Route 1 to Cambria. Time your arrival to catch the sundown in Cambria at Moonstone Seaside the place you possibly can stroll alongside the seashore boardwalk. You too can proceed just a few miles up the Pacific Coast Freeway to San Simeon for a superb probability to see elephant seals bask within the rookeries.
Cap off your day with dinner at Robin’s, which affords mouthwatering consolation meals in a restored adobe residence. It’s a favourite spot amongst locals and guests.
Tip: In case you have an additional day, Montaña de Oro State Park has wonderful beachfront climbing and a terrific campground or you possibly can head north to San Simeon to see elephant seals and Hearst Fort (be sure you make a reservation). The historic city of San Luis Obispo can also be a stone’s throw away.
Cambria Seaside Lodge: I extremely suggest staying at Cambria Seaside Lodge – a beach-inspired boutique lodge with a low-key vibe and elevated minimalist design that’s situated on the scenic Moonstone Seaside Drive with stunning views of the glowing Pacific Ocean from the lodge. I liked the pure aesthetic, the soothing colours, and the small particulars that made a big effect. Spend as a lot time right here as you possibly can! It’ll depart you feeling relaxed and impressed.
Day 6: Morro Bay + Tin Metropolis
Make the ultimate day of your central California coastal street journey an adventurous one which’s filled with exploration in Morro Bay and Tin Metropolis in close by Paso Robles.
Drive half-hour again down from Cambria to Morro Bay on the Pacific Coast Freeway the place you possibly can soak within the coastal views and get a glimpse of famed Morro Rock as you make your means into the downtown space.
Cease at Frankie & Lola’s for a hearty and basic breakfast. Don’t refill an excessive amount of, although, as a result of whale watching is subsequent. Relying on the time of 12 months, swells can get massive and the boat experience is usually a bit rocky.
Morro Bay Whale Watching affords guided excursions on the open water to provide you a glimpse of SLO Cal’s most well-known guests.
Should you time it proper, you possibly can catch:
- Humpbacks on their northbound migration from late March via April into Could
- Blue Whales from April via the summer time
- Grey whales from March to Could
Or catch all of them going southbound from December via February.
When you’ve made your means again to land, seize a nourishing California-style vegetarian lunch to go at Shine Café and head out for a brief however scenic hike at Black Hill Path in Morro Bay State Park.
It is a reasonable 2.5-mile hike that may be minimize quick if you wish to drive as much as the car parking zone close to the hilltop as an alternative.
It’s an pleasant and reasonable hike with simply over 500 toes of elevation achieve that finally has you topping off with 360-degree views of the coast, metropolis, and hills behind you.
Eat your lunch right here and snap just a few pics. Be sure you deliver sunscreen, bug spray, solar safety, and loads of water as there may be little or no shade.
To wrap up your street journey, cruise out to Tin Metropolis in Paso Robles. Situated in Central California Wine Nation, Tin Metropolis is a cool and eclectic place to stroll round and pattern the native brews, wine, and meals that the area is thought for.
Try Barrelhouse Brewing Co. (the place additionally they have reside music in the summertime!), Tin Metropolis Cidery, and a wide range of meals vans.
If you’re able to eat dinner, seize a chew from one of many meals vans at Tin Metropolis, or go to the historic downtown of Paso Robles to scope out the totally different eating places this vibrant metropolis has to supply.
You’ll be able to dine al fresco and benefit from the evening, as lots of the eating places have outside seating and a view of the sq..
Refill on one thing tasty and take your time as you benefit from the final evening of your central California coast street journey earlier than your return residence.
Extending Your California Central Coast Street Journey
If you wish to prolong your journey, you possibly can simply make your street journey a one-way journey and drive all the way in which to San Francisco. It will mean you can verify off much more of California’s coastal gems like Huge Sur, Monterey, and Santa Cruz.
Right here’s an prolonged itinerary:
- Day 7: Head up Freeway 1 to Huge Sur, stopping to see the well-known McWay Falls and do some climbing (see our full Huge Sur information for extra).
- Day 8: Begin the morning with a hike at Huge Sur River Gorge earlier than driving up the coast to Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey. Remember to cease for pictures!
- Day 9: Discover the numerous climbing and biking trails and sights round Monterey, together with the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you wish to get out on the water, guide a whale-watching tour or go kayaking with sea otters.
- Day 10: Drive north via Santa Cruz, stopping for a stroll and lunch alongside the Santa Cruz Seaside Boardwalk. Proceed on to the comfy city of Half Moon Bay the place you possibly can stretch your legs on one of many many seashores.
- Day 11: End in San Francisco! You can spend one other week exploring San Fran, but when it’s your first time, you’ll undoubtedly wish to take an image on the Golden Gate Bridge and stroll round Golden Gate Park. Discover extra of our favourite outdoorsy issues to do in San Francisco right here.
What to Pack for Your Central California Coast Street Journey
What you pack will actually rely upon what sort of journey you’re planning. To begin, be sure you try our Street Journey Necessities Packing Record.
If you wish to automobile camp or keep in a camper van, listed here are some tenting assets:
Automotive Tenting Necessities Packing Record
Under are just a few of my favourite items of automobile tenting gear and suggestions for the street:
Should you plan on climbing or doing quite a lot of outside actions, try these gear guides for our favourite gear suggestions:
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Take advantage of your go to to California. Use these associated posts to assist plan your epic street journey:
Acquired any questions on doing a California Central Coast street journey? Do you could have any suggestions or favourite stops so as to add? Tell us within the feedback beneath.