This sun-splashed section of California's legendary Highway 1, centrally located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is a playground for outdoor adventure, and these 10 adventures add up to one great time.
Sip the SLO Wine Country
Edna Valley's corner of Central California's coast has a climate conducive to outdoor living. Luckily, it's also ideal for the cool-climate grapes that produce tasty Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs to help relax muscles and minds.
More than two dozen wineries call San Luis Obispo's SLO Wine Country home and most of them lie within a 20-minute drive in any direction. Explore them with a variety of wine tours, some designed to explore scenic back roads by bike and others to simply wander on foot from one vineyard to the next.
Escape at Lopez Lake
Ten miles up Arroyo Grande Creek from the Pacific lies man-made freshwater Lopez Lake. Created in 1969, the lake is a recreational gem with 22 miles of shoreline hosting more than 350 campsites. Ranger-led boat tours explore the lake's natural and cultural history, and the surrounding hillsides are covered with forests of ancient oaks.
During October's annual Ancient Oaks Preservation Walk, volunteers maintain the forest for future generations by planting seedlings, caging young trees for protection, and collecting acorns for planting.
Help Save the Sand Dunes
The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Complex is one of the largest intact coastal dune ecosystems on Earth. Where to begin exploring 18 miles of coastline, 22,000 acres, and some 1,400 different coastal and wetland species? Follow the experts.
Stop at the Dunes Center in downtown Guadalupe for an overview of the dune system's fascinating ecology and sign up for a docent-led walk or events. Or participate in an award-winning Stewardship Travel activity and volunteer to help preserve the dunes. Visitors can work in a native plant garden, help with ice-plant removal, and assist with native seed collections.
Go Off-Road at Oceano Dunes SVRA
Adventurous drivers know that sometimes the adventure doesn't begin until the road ends. Oceano Dunes SVRA (state vehicular recreation area) is an off-roader's haven where 5.5 miles of beach and dunes are available to explore in a high-horsepower manner unique among California's state parks.
One day here may not be enough, but camping (by reservation) in designated areas of the beach and open dunes is a very popular option. No four-wheel drive? No problem—Hummer tours are available. Oceano Dunes is also home to a surprising array of wildlife, including threatened and endangered shorebirds protected by fencing during nesting and breeding seasons.
Bike From City to Sea
The Bob Jones Bike Trail takes advantage of an old Pacific Coast Railroad right-of-way to provide a scenic paved route along San Luis Obispo Creek to the Pacific Ocean. Begin your ride (walkers and runners also frequent the trail) off U.S. 101 near Avila Hot Springs, enjoy a leisurely trip replete with wide views of the creek, and finish in bustling Avila Beach. The trail's end only marks the beginning of new adventures. It's just steps from the beach, Avila Beach Pier, and the Central Coast Aquarium.
Hit the Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park
Lace up your boots and tackle the many trails of Montaña de Oro State Park, about two miles south of Los Osos. The natural treasures found here include rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, streams, canyons, and 1,347-foot Valencia Peak with its dramatic ridgeline and coastal views.
Spring is an extra special time in Montaña de Oro due to the appearance of the golden wildflowers that lend the park its name. If you prefer your scenery from the saddle you'll feel at home here—both mountain bikers and equestrians are welcome.
Take a Kayak Tour
California's Central Coast is dotted with many hidden beaches and coves that can only be explored from the water. Find them with guided kayak tours based in Cayucos. Guides are accustomed to expert and rookie paddlers alike and will tailor a trip to special interests like natural sciences, fishing, or human history. Paddleboards are also available.
No matter which trip you choose, expect some memorable encounters with wildlife like sea lions, otters, dolphins, and whales cruising these waters.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Volunteer at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
Bisected by Route 1 in Cambria, Fiscalini Ranch Preserve protects a rare and diverse coastal ecosystem that boasts everything from mile-long ocean bluffs to wetlands and rare stands of Monterey pine forest. Volunteer work days offer plenty of stewardship opportunities that enable visitors to learn about the ranch firsthand while dirtying hands planting trees, clearing invasive plants, cleaning up beaches, and much more.
See the Elephant Seals
A two-ton elephant seal is an impressive sight. Seeing hundreds or even thousands of them up close and personal? That's unforgettable—but not uncommon at Piedras Blancas. The rookery stretches along some six miles of beach north of San Simeon on Highway 1, with perhaps the best viewing area five miles north of Hearst Castle in San Simeon and 1.5 miles south of Point Piedras Blancas.
The best times to spot these magnificent migrators gathering en masse are in January, April, and October. No matter when you go, informative docents are on site and, usually, so are some seals.
Enjoy a Million-Dollar View
Ragged Point is a lofty perch atop 400-foot cliffs. The gateway to Big Sur, it offers staggering vistas where the Pacific Ocean and the rocky California coast collide in a symphony of water, stone, and sunlight.
Experienced hikers can use the rugged cliff-side trail at the Ragged Point Inn to access a black-sand beach and gawk at 300-foot-high Black Swift Falls, the area's most impressive cataract. Others may be content with grabbing a glass of wine and one of the sandwiches on offer to enjoy at the clifftop picnic tables.