From wine country to oceanfront paradise, the Central Coast offers something for every type of traveler! Whether you’re driving in from the north or the south, the 101 Freeway is definitely the way to go. With stunning views and so many fun stops along the way, you won’t regret winding through the seaside roads and enjoying the lush, green mountains. Gorgeous San Luis Obispo County is our favorite destination, but even if you’re just passing through there are a few spots you can’t miss! We’ll be starting from the south, but if you’re heading down from Sacramento or the Bay Area, just switch the list for your own #CentralCoasting adventure.
Grab Some Gas & Pack the Snacks
When you’re embarking on a long road trip, there’s a little preparation to make sure you’re going to have a fun ride. Select your route before you head out, so you know where you’ll be stopping to explore. Also make sure to swing by the gas station to fuel up the car and even yourself! Indulge a little in your favorite childhood road trip snacks like potato chips or a candy bar, so you won’t get hungry during the trip.
Stop #1: Downtown Disney
It may be a little cliche, but everyone needs a little Disney cheer in their life! Downtown Disney is the outdoor shopping and dining mall right outside of the Disneyland Park in Anaheim. This is the perfect way to experience the famous Disneyland without purchasing one of those high-priced park tickets! There are tons of fun shops and restaurants to explore, like the Lego Store with gigantic Lego sculptures and Build-A-Bear, where you can create your own stuffed animal from scratch! This can also be the perfect place to grab breakfast, like the delicious dishes at Catal and the warm, fresh bread at La Brea Bakery. The best part is, Downtown Disney still features the festive decorations and events that you’ll find inside the park!
Stop #2: Venice Beach
Venice Beach in Los Angeles is the perfect spot for a bathroom break or to admire amazing ocean views! This eccentric area is known for its kooky entertainers and unique shops. The beach boardwalk is a great place to stretch your legs and admire all of the activity going on, from skateboarders, to musicians, and even street performers. There’s tons of souvenir options and a long stretch of beach to relax on.
Stop #3: Sufers’ Point Park
After passing through Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks when driving along the 101, you will be taken right next to the coastal cliff of Ventura County. Directly off the freeway is a hugely popular surf spot in Ventura called Surfers’ Point Park. Here you can find tons of local surfers taking on big waves and even wind surfers taking on the sea. A smaller and less touristy destination, this is the place where you’ll find locals picnicking or taking pictures of the amazing surfers in action.
Stop #4: State Street
State Street in Santa Barbara is famous for its amazing shopping and delicious dining. This iconic stretch of road has a combination of large shops and department stores like Nordstrom, yet also a collection of quaint, local boutiques. Stop here to admire the tree-lined sidewalks and adorable coffee shops. If your stomach is grumbling and it feels like lunch time, this is also the place to be. Tons of unique restaurants call State Street home, favorites being Sandbar for amazing Mexican food or Lure Fish House for some fresh seafood.
Stop #5: Pismo Beach Pier
The Pismo Beach Pier and Promenade isn’t just another beach destination. This pier has been around since 1881, originally open as part of shipping wharf. After many years of storms and damage, the pier has been rebuild several times. Each time though, the pier is always rebuilt to its former glory and has now become a Central Coast staple. Today, the pier is home to shops, dining, beach-goers, and even one of the area’s favorite surf spots. Stop by the pier and promenade area for a quick stroll along the board walk or head out to the end of the pier to watch the whales wave hello! If you’re feeling like you need a rest on your long journey up the coast, Pismo is also home to some amazing oceanfront properties. Hotels like Pismo Lighthouse Suites, the Inn at the Cove, and Shore Cliff Hotel each provide beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean right from their guest rooms!
Stop #6: Downtown Paso Robles
Downtown Paso Robles to home to some of the areas best shopping, dining, wine tasting, and special events. There’s no shortage of fun things to do here, boasting the appropriate tagline “Where everyone comes together.” A combination of preserving the area’s rich history and incorporating the new and upcoming, you will have an unforgettable experience in this quaint stop. Wine tasting is a favorite of residents and visitors alike, so stop by one of the famous tasting rooms like Asuncion Ridge or Derby Wine Estates to immerse yourself in 2013’s “Wine Region of the Year.” If you really want the full Paso Robles wine experience, plan to stay at the Paso Robles Inn, a historical hotel complete with wine themed rooms. This allows you to even visit some of the famous wineries and stay in a room decorated by the winery itself, like Tobin James Cellars or JUSTIN Wine.
Stop #7: Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Bridge located in Big Sur is without a doubt a sight for sore eyes. Completed all the way back in 1932, this landmark has become one of the most photographed spots along the California Coast. It may be a little off the 101 Freeway, but this spot is worth the pit stop. It truly embodies the beauty of the California coastline and has been featured in tons of commercials, movies, television shows, and even was commemorated on a stamp! You won’t be disappointed gazing over the beautiful mountains rolling into the picturesque waters.
Stop #8: Pebble Beach Golf Links
Five time host of the U.S. Open Championship and home to the AT&T Pebblie Beach Pro-Am, the Pebble Beach Golf Links is a golf course like no other. Known as “The Greatest Public Golf Course in America,” this is one of the most beautiful golfing destinations in the world. Overlooking the rugged ocean coastline and providing views of the open vistas, even the non-golf enthusiasts can appreciate this amazing view.
Stop #9: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
After you’ve relaxed on the Central Coast, it’s time to amp up the road trip fun! The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the perfect spot for seaside entertainment and was even voted the Best Seaside Park in the World. From arcades, to carnival food, and even roller coasters, you won’t be disappointed by this beach side amusement park. The area even features miniature golf, laser tag, and a bowling alley, so this is definitely the place to relive your childhood dreams.
Stop #10: The Embarcadero
The Embarcadero is a classic stretch of road in San Francisco, known for its proximity to AT&T Park. This is home to the famous Ferry Building at Market Street, Pier 39, and Fisherman’s Wharf, all iconic San Francisco spots. Here you can find some of the best sights and food in San Francisco, the famous seals along Pier 39, and the well-known seafood of Fisherman’s Wharf. There are endless opportunities to have fun here, from the arcades and shops to street performers and even free daytime concerts in the summer. The perfect place to end your long journey, the Embarcadero embodies San Francisco’s fun history and all it has to offer today.
And our favorite thing about road trips…
Just go with the flow! There are so many beautiful stops along the California Coast, so make the trip your own. From food, beaches, views, historical spots, and parks, you won’t be disappointed!