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 Inn 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.