From the epic grandeur of Big Sur to the scenic Santa Barbara coastline nicknamed “the American Riviera,” this region of picturesque hamlets, jagged sea cliffs, and rolling wine country has long mesmerized visitors with dreamlike beauty. A drive along Highway 1 is an absolute must—be sure to leave time for stops at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Hearst Castle, and a San Luis Obispo County beach town or two. Cowboy culture still permeates Paso Robles and environs, and so does the low-key wine scene. Discover hidden gems in the Santa Ynez Valley, Ventura County, and pretty much everywhere else.
Absorb the relaxed vibe of this classic California destination on the coast
The fertile stretch of San Luis Obispo County on the California coast, roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, has undeniable appeal, with buzzy farm-to-table restaurants, celebrated wine country, historic sites, and welcoming, low-key communities, each with distinctive charms—not to mention drop-dead gorgeous scenery.
Here, coastal mountains roll into a frothy sea, with whales spouting offshore. Get ready for a spectacular selection of exploratory outdoor experiences. Enjoy views of soaring peaks and cavernous tidepools during an invigorating hike at Montaña de Oro State Park, a coastal preserve 30 miles/48 kilometers west of the city of San Luis Obispo (a.k.a. SLO). Want to try beach camping? Reserve a spot at North Beach State Campground, about 14 miles/23 kilometers south of SLO in Pismo Beach; romp on more than 20 miles/32 kilometers of unspoiled sandy beaches, and find your perfect spot for digging legendary Pismo clams (permit required). Morro Bay, about 13 miles/21 kilometers northwest of SLO, has even more diversions for outdoor lovers. Local concessionaires offer fishing trips, as well as kayaking and sailing excursions (look for resident otters!).
Bicycling has been widely embraced here, and local bike shops and the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club can recommend a ride to match your ability and interests. Pedal through nook-and-cranny valleys that cradle farms and ranches; stop to sample local wines at one of the many relaxed tasting rooms.
Other don’t-miss activities in the region: Shopping for treasures in art galleries in funky-fun Cambria, touring legendary Hearst Castle, and soaking in mineral springs in Avila Beach.