Marvel at the Madonna Inn
Start with an over-the-top overnight in one of 110 extravagant theme rooms at San Luis Obispo’s Madonna Inn. Choose a décor to suit your inclinations—perhaps Daisy Mae, Antique Cars, Caveman, or Jungle Rock? In the morning, grab a red leather seat at the Copper Café and fuel up with eggs and coffee, then meander through downtown San Luis Obispo. Browse the red-tile-roofed courtyards of this laid-back college town and get a taste of the “SLO life” at the famous Thursday farmers market.
Explore a sleepy beach town
Heading north, Morro Bay and its wildlife-rich estuary are part of a federally protected nature preserve. Get eye-to-eye with coastal birds, seals, sea lions, and even whales on a paddle trip with Kayak Horizons. Gaze at the marvel of Morro Rock, an extinct volcanic peak that rises 576 feet above the bay. Watch pelicans dive headfirst into the bay while you eat local oysters at Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant.
Stroll around artsy Cambria en route to Hearst
Nearby Cambria offers dozens of galleries and come-hither shops tucked in among coastal pines. Stroll along Main Street and stop in at Linn’s Restaurant for homemade olallieberry pie. Just north of Cambria lies Hearst Castle, where media magnate William Randolph Hearst built a castle and filled it to overflowing with treasures from around the globe, including fine European tapestries, Norman fireplaces, Spanish choir stalls, and ornately carved ceilings. Several different guided tours are offered. Start with the Grand Room Tour that visits the movie theater, billiards room, Neptune pool, and gardens of the 115-room main house.
Visit the gateway to Big Sur
North of Hearst Castle, the coastal terrain becomes steeper and more rugged. Unplug from the world in the tiny hamlet of Harmony, population 18. Sample the Chardonnay at Harmony Cellars and nearby wineries. Take a short hike to Salmon Creek Falls. Spend the night at the Ragged Point Inn, where rooms overlook the dramatic cliffs and rocky outcroppings of the southern Big Sur coast.