Why You'll Love A Road Trip On California's Beautiful Central Coast (2024)

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Published on April 22nd, 2017
by Christina Nellemann

This post was updated on March 15th, 2024

California State Route 1 (also known as the Pacific Coast Highway) is one of the top summer travel destinations in the U.S. The winding road runs from Dana Point near San Clemente all the way north along the state’s Pacific coastline. While most campers tend to make a beeline to the popular Big Sur and Monterey Bay area, the Central Coast north of L.A. should not be overlooked — primarily because of its relaxed lifestyle, gorgeous beach towns and quiet campgrounds.

With sunshine and cool breezes, California’s Central Coast is an RVer’s dream.

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The Central Coast includes theCalifornia Highway 1 Discovery Route from the Oceano area near Pismo Beach up to Ragged Point, just south of Monterey Bay. The towns in-between include the historic San Luis Obispo with its 1772 mission, friendly Cayucos, darling Cambria, and the tiny village of San Simeon with the famous Hearst Castle perched on the hills above the town.

Even on a sunny day, Morro Bay State Park has pull-through spots available.

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There are plenty of campgrounds along the route: Montaña de Oro State Park near the town of Los Osos, Morro Bay State Park, Dutra Flat campground near Ragged Point, and Hearst San Simeon State Park. Consequently, manyof these campgrounds are close to the area’s small towns, beaches, piers and boardwalks.


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Several towns along Highway 1 are on the official Whale Trail.

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Some of the best activities in the area include just hanging out on the beach. There is plenty of free parking along many of the area’s roads as well as free day use areas. Several locations including Cayucos are on the official Whale Trail. The Whale Trail is a series of sites where the public can view humpbacks, orcas, dolphins and other marine life. The Cayucos pier is also a great place to watch some talented surfers. Stop by the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery to watch hundreds of elephant seals mate, give birth, fight and sleep on the sand.

The Cayucos Pier (with Morro Rock in the distance) is a great place to watch for sea life.

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This balmy area is also home to dozens of wineries and organic farms. Wine tours and tastings are offered every day at wineries along Highway 46 to Paso Robles. On Highway 1, check out the tiny town of Harmony and Harmony Cellars for their selection of local wines. In addition, the town of Cambria has a wide selection of restaurants, like Robin’s, that feature local produce and meat.

William Randolph Hearst’s castle is one of the top destinations in the area.

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One of the biggest draws to the area is the Hearst Castle. Built by billionaire William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan, the castle has 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens and sits on top of the green rolling hills above the Pacific Ocean. You can’t drive directly up to the castle, but there is plenty of parking in the tour parking lot for your RV. You can take a shuttle bus up to the castle for various tours of the rooms, gardens and two amazing swimming pools.

Highway 1 has plenty of day use parking along the ocean.

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Highway 1 has many roadside pullouts and parking areas, and it might be tempting to pull your RV over for a beachside campsite. However, because this area is protected there is no camping allowed along the roadside. All RVs and tents must camp at designated campgrounds.

Note: As of February 15, sections of Highway 1 and state parks near Big Sur are closed because of structural damage. They aren’t expected to open again until at least July 2017, however attractions including Hearst Castle and the Discovery Route are still open. For more up-to-date information, click here.

While you’re driving the Pacific Coast Highway, check out these amazing places.

Why You'll Love A Road Trip On California's Beautiful Central Coast (2024)


Why You'll Love A Road Trip On California's Beautiful Central Coast? ›

The best part? When on a Central California

Central California
Central California is generally thought of as the middle third of the U.S. state of California, north of Southern California (which includes Los Angeles and San Diego) and south of Northern California (which includes San Francisco and San Jose).
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Central_California
road trip, the journey is as important as the destination. There's so much to see and so many incredible views along the Pacific Coast Highway. You'll have an amazing time whether you drive the whole thing or just do a small slice.

What is the central coast of California known for? ›

With irresistible beach communities, an international reputation for award-winning winemaking, numerous farmers markets and the legendary Hearst Castle, the San Luis Obispo region is anything but ordinary. Here, vibrant ocean panoramas complement urban destinations and small-town escapes.

What is the famous road on the coast of California? ›

1. Pacific Coast Highway. This is probably the most famous road trip in California. The Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway 1, stretches 656 miles down the entire coast of California.

Is it worth driving the California coast? ›

It's one of the world's most iconic road trips, and one of my all-time favourites. I could never tire of the views and sensations as you wind your way along the coast, driving the PCH, taking in those epic views, and discovering everything from cute towns to wine regions and international cities along the way.

What is the scenic stretch of the California coast? ›

Big Sur has been called the "longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States", a sublime "national treasure that demands extraordinary procedures to protect it from development", and "one of the most beautiful coastlines anywhere in the world, an isolated stretch of road, mythic ...

What makes the Central Coast special? ›

From the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the rugged drama of the Big Sur coast, the wineries and ranch lands of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara's sandy beaches, the beauty of the Central Coast is unsurpassed in the State.

Which Central California coastal town is the cutest? ›

11 Most Charming Central California Coast Towns
  • Cambria. ...
  • Pacific Grove. ...
  • Morro Bay. ...
  • San Luis Obispo. ...
  • Cayucos. ...
  • San Simeon. ...
  • Pismo Beach. Beach goers and Avila pier on Pismo Beach, California, via PradaBrown / Shutterstock.com. ...
  • Los Osos. Morro Bay State Park, Morro Bay State Marine Reserve, Los Osos, California.
Jun 2, 2023

What time of year is best for a California coast road trip? ›

Best Time to Drive PCH from San Francisco to San Diego

Our advice would be to choose April/May, maybe June, and September/October. Why then? Unless you hit a short rainy spell - and they can happen - you're almost guaranteed warm and sunny weather, give or take some San Francisco mist.

What is the prettiest part of the Pacific Coast Highway? ›

7 Most Scenic Spots on the Pacific Coast Highway
  • The Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Greyhound Rock Beach.
  • Monterey.
  • Carmel by the Sea.
  • Big Sur and Pfeiffer State Beach.
  • Dana Point.
  • Point Loma.
Jan 20, 2023

Why is California the best vacation spot? ›

From the stunning coastline to the towering mountains, the scenery in California is unlike anything else in the world. No matter where you go in the state, you will be surrounded by natural beauty. And with so many different landscapes to explore, you could spend months here and still not see it all.

Why is the Pacific Coast Highway so famous? ›

The Pacific Coast Highway features some of the most breathtaking scenery in the American West with gentle, sandy beaches and sunny days in the south and the contrast of craggy, fog-shrouded cliffs in the north.

What is the nickname of the Pacific Coast Highway? ›

Known by locals as “the One”, the most popular stretch of this highway runs between San Francisco and San Diego, meandering in twists and turns through quaint coastal towns, pristine beaches, breathtaking views, and plenty of historical places, making it one of America's greatest road trips.

What is the best stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway? ›

Big Sur. At Big Sur, the most spectacular portion of the Pacific Coast Highway 1 begins, where huge, rugged cliffs and forested inlets overlook the pounding surf below. Whale-watching is popular here at certain times of year; depending on the season you can see blue, gray or humpback species breeching off the coast.

What is Central California known for? ›

Welcome To California's Central Valley. Food and wine is abundant in this region filled with orchards, vineyards and farms. Home to many of California's finest museums and galleries, the valley offers a wide variety of live entertainment, events and attractions welcoming visitors year-round.

What is the coastal region of California famous for? ›

The California South Coast region extends from Ventura County to the Mexican Border and includes the counties of Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego. It is known for its sandy beaches, surf-able waves, moderate climate, and large and diverse population.

Why the central coast of California has cold ocean water? ›

The winds drive surface water to the right of the wind flow, that is offshore, which draws water up from below to replace it. The upwelling further cools the already cool California Current. This is the mechanism that produces California's characteristic coastal fog and cool ocean waters.

What is grown in the central coast of California? ›

The Oxnard Plain produces most of the celery grown in California, Other crops include dry beans, strawberries, onions, bell and chile peppers and a variety of cool season leafy vegetables.


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