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California's Central Coast is a picturesque transition from Northern California's quiet coves to Southern California's busy beaches. Stretching more than 300 miles, the Central Coast is filled with friendly, fun and historic small cities. You'll find a variety of houses, cottages and condos here with conveniences like non-smoking spaces, parking access and high-speed Internet. With all that there is to do on the Central Coast, choosing comfortable lodging is smart.
Historic El Camino Real runs through the Central Coast, and trailing the missions gives you a captivating view of local history and towns. You'll see missions like Carmel-by-the-Sea's jewel, known for incredible bell towers and colorful gardens. In San Luis Obispo, the mission plaza is the heart of a vibrant downtown. Santa Barbara boasts the “queen of the missions,” filled with notable art. In all, 11 missions dot the Central Coast.
Area beaches offer plenty of entertainment and recreation options. In Pacific Grove, vivid sunsets enliven Asilomar Beach, and its connecting trail leads you alongside lively tide pools to historic Cannery Row. Farther south, Pismo Beach offers quirky art, a fun beach and nearby dunes. Keep going south, and you'll find stellar surfing at Refugio Beach, beach volleyball in Santa Barbara and frolicking families at Oxnard's Silver Strand.
Infamous newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst built his Enchanted Hill retreat in San Simeon 40 miles north of San Luis Obispo. Today, Hearst Castle's grand rooms and lavish grounds and pools host daily tours displaying Hearst's opulent art and furnishings collections.
With beautiful cliffs and rolling hills, local golfing is fabulous. The most legendary courses are in the Monterey area. Even getting to courses like Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay is a pleasure since many are accessible from famously beautiful 17-Mile Drive. Of course, there are scenic and challenging golf courses throughout the coast, from quiet Morro Bay to the exclusive Montecito Country Club.
Families and singles enjoy roaming the expansive Monterey Bay Aquarium's amazing exhibits. California coastal sea life is found in the 333,000-gallon Ocean's Edge exhibit, and sharks and sardines thrive in the 1.2 million-gallon Open Sea exhibit. You'll see a Giant Pacific Octopus, pet bat rays, experience kelp forests and get close-up views of playful sea otters.
The Central Coast has one of the most prolific wine industries in the U.S. Follow the Monterey Wine Trail, sample red varietals at Paso Robles' 180 wineries, or savor the pinot noirs at Santa Barbara's 175 wineries. You can also follow the “Sideways” movie wine trail through Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez and Solvang.
Central Coast weather closely resembles the Mediterranean climate. Seaside communities like Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey hover in the 60s and 70s year-round. Fall and spring are the best times to visit, offering sunny days and fewer crowds. Inland cities like Paso Robles, Salinas, Soledad and Ojai stay slightly cooler in the winter and significantly hotter in the summer.
California's Central Coast is easily accessible by private car via Highway 1 and State Route 101. If you're flying into Northern California, grab a rental car and head south on 101. If you're flying into Southern California, head north on Highway 1 or the 101. You can also fly directly to convenient airports in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and Monterey. Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner train hugs the coastline, creating one of your most scenic travel options.