10 Best Things to See and Do on California’s Central Coast
Looking for the best things to do in Central California? We’ve gathered the top things to see and do on the Central Coast — with tips from locals!
Looking back at our road trip last month, there were so many highlights that it’s tough to put them all into one blog post. Last week, we shared our travel guide to San Luis Obispo, but it didn’t include all of the activities we experienced or the charming bed and breakfast we stayed at in Cambria.
Rather than putting together another travel guide for this area, we’ve decided to compose a list of the best things to see and do in the SLO County portion of California’s Central Coast.
10 Best Things To Do On California’s Central Coast
J. Patrick House Bed & Breakfast in Cambria
First off, you will need a place to stay in the area. With so many quaint towns and multiple lodging options in each of them, it can be difficult to decide where to stay.
Our stay at J. Patrick House Bed & Breakfast in Cambria was a bit different than our usual accommodation because it’s the first time we’ve stayed at a bed and breakfast in California. Not only was it quiet and relaxing, but it really did have that “home away from home” feel to it.
Linda, the owner, provides a daily happy hour in the main house with h’orderves and unlimited local wine. She prepares fresh-baked cookies every evening and a huge breakfast each morning. We loved getting to know the other guests and learning about a new (to us) way to travel along the California Coast.
Read more: 15 Best Weekend Getaways in California (And Where to Stay!)
Kayaking in San Simeon
Sea kayaking is a great way to explore the ocean from above the water. We booked a tour of San Simeon Cove with Sea for Yourself Kayak Outfitters. San Simeon Cove is located in Monterey Bay’s National Marine Sanctuary — the nation’s largest protected marine area — so it’s full of wildlife and natural beauty.
We saw a sleeping otter, a baby elephant seal, several harbor seals, bird nests, caves, and a mini blowhole. This is a popular spot for whales to cruise through with their babies, so it’s not uncommon to see them on this kayaking tour.
Read more: Travel Guide to California’s Channel Islands: Everything You Need to Know
If you are looking for a helicopter tour on the Central Coast, you won’t find too many options. Luckily, we found Channel Islands Helicopter Tours who offer flights over Ventura’s coast, whale watching flights, and tours of the Channel Islands. Rates start at $189 for two people, so it won’t break the bank.
Shell Beach is within the city bounds of Pismo, but it feels like its own tiny beach town. It’s one of the prettiest stretches of coastline in this area, in my opinion, because of the amazing rock formations — known as Dinosaur Caves. It’s also an ideal spot to launch sea kayaks and stand up paddleboards. You can rent kayaks nearby or take a guided kayak tour of the sea caves.
Read more: A Guide to Traveling California in a JUCY Campervan
Watch a Sunset at Pismo Beach
This 60-acre stretch of beach never feels too crowded (although, I have yet to visit in the busiest summer months) because there is so much room to spread out. One of our favorite spots to watch the sunset is from either above or below the pier. The surfers often put on an entertaining show and you may even see one shoot the pier.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to California’s Pacific Coast Hwy
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
I am not a huge fan of seals in general (I prefer not to see them in the line up) but elephant seals are so entertaining to watch — from a distance. The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is just 7 miles north of San Simeon on Highway 1. You can visit the rookery year round, but you won’t see as many seals during the months of March, August, September and October.
Big Sur Coast Highway
Driving Hwy 1 through Big Sur has become extremely popular over the last few years. For us, it’s one of those road trips that never get old. GPS will tell you it’s only about a 2-hour drive, but with all of the lookout stops and potential hikes, I recommend giving yourself at least a full day to explore this area.
Read more: The Best Places to Camp in Big Sur
World Famous Jalama Burger
Not too many people know about Jalama Beach. It’s way off the beaten path in Lompoc and that’s one of the reasons we love it. If you do make it here, you have to try a world famous Jalama burger and if it’s not too windy, you can enjoy your burger with an ocean view.
If you have never taken a biplane sightseeing flight, then you are missing out! Banner Airways offers scenic flights from Oceano dunes to Avila Beach departing from Oceano Airport. There’s room for two people plus the pilot, so it’s a great activity for couples. This is one of the few companies who still offer barrel rolls (for an extra charge).
I figured this list wouldn’t be complete without including this historical monument. Whenever we drive through here, I’m always on the lookout for the zebras on the property, but I’ve never actually taken a tour of the castle! I’ve been told the tour is well worth the $25 and you might even see a reindeer.
Plan Your Trip to Central California!
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Flights: Going is the first place we check when searching for cheap flights. If you sign up for their email alerts, you’ll receive flight deals at up to 90% off. I have traveled all over the world using their flight deals.
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Travel Insurance: We never travel without a travel insurance policy because it’s not worth the risk! We use and trust Visitors Coverage, which we’ve used for the past 8 years.
I’ve been driving the Coast Hwy for Years. I never pass up a chance to drive Hwy 1 between Monterey and San Luis Obispo. I have that road literally memorized and it still amazes me every time. One of my best drives allowed me to see a California Condor riding the up-drafts on the Coastal Ranges. I was watching the regular Vultures migrating and all of a sudden a bird the size of a small air plane glided by. It took my breath away. If I ever go homeless, you can find me on the coast hwy,
I’ve never been to America but California looks like a place that I’d like to go! Beautiful Ocean!
Everything you suggested sounds interesting and fun. Unfortunately I only spent 5 days in California, and hit the more “touristy” places like San Diego and LA.
We are headed to the West Coast in October so this is a great resource for us. I love seals and had no idea they have elephant seals there. I cannot wait to check them out. Thanks for the heads up!
I had passed them by so many times without stopping! So glad we finally did.
I love this coast of California (who doesn’t?!), but I haven’t been to the San Luis Obispo area. That helicopter ride looks perfect!
Yeah, it’s not too far from you either! I just wish the Northern Coast of California wasn’t such a far drive for us. I’m craving another road trip up there.
Big Sur is a road trip I have on my travel wish list. I really want to do that in California. The coast is a place I love and it looks like a great destination from your photos. Great post, thanks for sharing
What a great looking destination. The sea kayaking in particular looks amazing. We went canoeing in Phang Nga Bay and it was a great family “soft” adventure activity
I love doing pretty much anything out on the water! I haven’t been canoeing in years though.
Looks like you guys had great fun!
I loved the pictures and all the activities, it is just amazing be surrounded by nature and in front of such a beautiful sea!
All the best,
Hi Christy, thanks for sharing! Visit California is one of my biggest dreams, I would love to have a road-trip along the coast and surely all this information you shared will come handy! also, thank you for showing some off-the-beaten path destinations, the web is full of articles about LA and San Francisco but not so many about California’s natural beauty.
This area is a little tougher to get to (meaning it’s not right off of the 5 freeway, so I think that keeps some travelers away.
Great article. I explored the Big Sur last year and it took my breath away. Such beauty, California has to offer.
I would go straight to the Coast Highway!
Hello Christy! what an amazing destination you bring us here. I would love to go to California, although I’ve been many time to the US – I restricted myself to the East Coast. For sure I would love to explore this region, and without a doubt go on an Helicopter Tours and to the fabulous beach to spot those amazing elephant seals. Probably the best for me would be to rent a car and drive the Driving Hwy 1 through Big Sur. Have a nice weekend, greetings all the way from south Morocco!
Thanks, Joao. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!