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California Central Coast Road Trip Itinerary


by Mattie Kiley



The California Central Coast is a breathtaking region that offers stunning landscapes, charming towns, and a wealth of outdoor activities. Embarking on a road trip along this picturesque coastline allows you to explore hidden gems, indulge in delicious cuisine, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the area.


With its diverse attractions and scenic beauty, a road trip along the California Central Coast is an adventure you won’t soon forget. From the vibrant city of Santa Cruz to the iconic Big Sur coastline, this itinerary will take you on a journey through some of the most captivating destinations in the region.


Over the course of seven days, you will have the opportunity to visit bustling cities, relax on pristine beaches, marvel at towering redwoods, and taste exquisite wines. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a food lover, or a history buff, this road trip has something for everyone.


As you embark on this adventure, you can expect to encounter breathtaking coastal views, charming coastal towns, and a rich history that dates back centuries. From the iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to the historic Hearst Castle, the Central Coast offers a wide range of attractions that will leave you in awe.


Ready to hit the road? Let’s dive into the details of this exciting California Central Coast road trip itinerary!


Day 1: Arrival in California Central Coast

Welcome to the beautiful California Central Coast! After arriving at your destination, take some time to settle in and get acclimated to the area. If you’re arriving in Los Angeles, you can kick off your road trip by driving north along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).


Once you reach your first stop, Santa Cruz, explore the vibrant seaside city which is famous for its iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Take a stroll along the boardwalk, enjoy the thrilling rides, and indulge in some delicious local treats. Don’t forget to dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean and breathe in the fresh sea breeze.


If you have time, visit the Santa Cruz Wharf, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the coastline, grab a seafood lunch, or try your hand at fishing. You can also explore the boutique shops and art galleries downtown, showcasing the unique charm of Santa Cruz.


In the evening, head to a local restaurant or brewery to savor the flavors of the Central Coast. Santa Cruz boasts a vibrant culinary scene, with a wide range of options to suit every palate. From farm-to-table cuisine to fresh seafood, there is something for everyone to enjoy.


After a day of exploring Santa Cruz, settle into your accommodation for a restful night’s sleep, as you prepare for the adventures that lie ahead on your California Central Coast road trip.


Day 2: Exploring Santa Cruz

Wake up refreshed and ready for a day of exploring the wonders of Santa Cruz. Start your morning with a visit to Natural Bridges State Beach, famous for its natural rock formations and tide pools. Take a leisurely walk along the beach, and if you visit during the winter months, you might even spot migrating Monarch butterflies that call this beach their temporary home.


After enjoying the beach, head to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, located at the iconic Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse. Learn about the rich history of surfing in Santa Cruz and marvel at the panoramic views of the coastline from the lighthouse. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a surfboard and catch some waves at one of the local surf spots.


In the afternoon, take a trip to the University of California, Santa Cruz campus. Known for its stunning hillside location and unique architecture, the campus offers beautiful walking trails, scenic viewpoints, and the opportunity to spot wildlife, including deer and banana slugs. Take a leisurely walk and soak in the campus’s natural beauty.


For an adrenaline rush, visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an iconic amusement park with thrilling rides, classic games, and plenty of delicious carnival food. Don’t miss the chance to ride the historic Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster that dates back to the 1920s.


To end the day on a relaxing note, head to West Cliff Drive, a scenic roadway that hugs the coastline. Take a leisurely stroll or rent a bike to enjoy the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Don’t forget to catch the sunset, as the colors paint the sky and create a magical atmosphere along the coast.


After a day filled with adventure and exploration, wind down by sampling the local cuisine. Choose from eclectic seafood restaurants, farm-to-table eateries, or international cuisine, all showcasing the vibrant food scene that Santa Cruz has to offer.


As the day comes to a close, reflect on the memories made in Santa Cruz and prepare for the next leg of your California Central Coast road trip.


Day 3: Exploring Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

Today, get ready to explore the coastal treasures of Monterey and the picturesque town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Start your day by driving south along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to Monterey, known for its rich history and stunning coastline.


Begin your Monterey adventure with a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the world’s most renowned aquariums. Explore the fascinating marine life exhibits, including sea otters, penguins, sharks, and colorful fish. Don’t miss the mesmerizing jellyfish display and the chance to learn about ocean conservation efforts.


After immersing yourself in the wonders of the ocean, take a stroll along Cannery Row, a historic street lined with charming shops, art galleries, and waterfront restaurants. Learn about the area’s history as a sardine fishing and canning center, and take in the beautiful views of the Monterey Bay.


Next, drive a short distance to the picturesque town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, known for its enchanting atmosphere and stunning coastal scenery. Take a leisurely walk through the downtown area, filled with quaint shops, art galleries, and cozy cafes. Visit the Carmel Mission, a historic Spanish mission that dates back to the late 18th century, and learn about the region’s Spanish colonial heritage.


Continue your exploration by heading to Carmel Beach, a pristine stretch of sand that offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Take off your shoes, feel the soft sand between your toes, and soak up the California sun. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try your hand at surfing or paddleboarding.


In the evening, treat yourself to a memorable dining experience in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The town is known for its world-class cuisine, with a variety of upscale restaurants, cozy bistros, and charming wine bars to choose from. Indulge in fresh seafood, gourmet dishes, and fine wines, savoring the flavors of the Central Coast.


As the day comes to an end, reflect on the beauty and charm of Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea, and prepare for the next leg of your California Central Coast road trip.


Day 4: Scenic Drive along Big Sur

Get ready for one of the most breathtaking drives in the world as you embark on a scenic journey along the iconic Big Sur coastline. Known for its rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and panoramic vistas, Big Sur is a must-visit destination on your California Central Coast road trip.


Start your day by leaving Monterey and driving south on Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. As you wind your way along the coastal cliffs, prepare to be blown away by the mesmerizing views of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the cliffs below.


Make a stop at Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the most photographed spots along the Big Sur coast. This iconic bridge offers incredible panoramic views of the coastline and presents the perfect photo opportunity.


Continue your drive, and make sure to take advantage of the numerous turnouts and vista points along the route. Pull over, step out of your car, and take in the natural beauty surrounding you. Keep an eye out for sea otters, whales, and dolphins that are often spotted in the waters below.


If you’re up for a short hike, visit Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Explore the trails that wind through ancient redwood groves, offering a serene and awe-inspiring experience. The McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is another must-see attraction, with a stunning waterfall cascading onto the sandy beach below.


As you continue south, you’ll encounter picturesque beaches like Pfeiffer Beach and Garrapata State Park. Take a moment to relax, breathe in the salty ocean air, and enjoy the tranquility of these beautiful coastal gems.


For lunch, stop by one of the charming cafes or restaurants nestled along the Big Sur coast. Savor fresh seafood dishes or indulge in locally sourced ingredients while enjoying the breathtaking views.


As the day comes to a close, find a cozy spot to watch the vibrant hues of the sunset paint the sky over the Pacific Ocean. The dramatic cliffs and crashing waves create a stunning backdrop for this magical experience.


After a day of immersing yourself in the natural wonders of Big Sur, rest and rejuvenate, ready to continue your California Central Coast road trip.


Day 5: Discovering Hearst Castle

Prepare for a day of grandeur and history as you explore the magnificent Hearst Castle. Located in San Simeon, this iconic landmark is a testament to the opulence and vision of media mogul William Randolph Hearst.


Start your day by driving along the scenic Highway 1 until you reach Hearst Castle. Upon arrival, embark on a guided tour of the castle, marveling at the lavish architecture, intricate artwork, and impressive collection of antiques and artifacts. Learn about Hearst’s extravagant lifestyle and the famous guests who frequented the estate during the golden age of Hollywood.


The castle boasts a variety of themed rooms, including the impressive Assembly Room, the luxurious bedrooms, and the Roman Pool, an indoor pool adorned with marble and gold-plated tiles. Take your time to explore the castle’s vast grounds, complete with stunning gardens, sculptures, and breathtaking views of the surrounding hills and coastline.


After the tour, spend some time at the Visitor Center, where you can delve deeper into the history and legacy of William Randolph Hearst. Browse through the gift shop for unique souvenirs or grab a bite to eat at the on-site cafe.


In the afternoon, take a short drive to the nearby Elephant Seal Rookery, where you can observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Watch as they bask in the sun or engage in playful interactions, creating a memorable wildlife encounter.


As the day comes to an end, head back to your accommodations and reflect on the fascinating history and grandeur of Hearst Castle. This iconic landmark provides a glimpse into a bygone era of wealth and influence, leaving a lasting impression on all who visit.


Prepare for the next leg of your California Central Coast road trip, as you continue your exploration of this beautiful region.


Day 6: Wine Tasting in Paso Robles

Get ready to indulge in the flavors of the California Central Coast as you spend a day wine tasting in Paso Robles. Known for its world-class wineries and vineyards, Paso Robles offers a unique wine tasting experience that is sure to delight your taste buds.


Start your day by driving to Paso Robles, a charming town nestled in the heart of wine country. There are over 200 wineries in the region, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. Begin by visiting some of the well-established and renowned wineries, where you can learn about the winemaking process, sample a variety of wines, and even take a behind-the-scenes tour.


Paso Robles is known for its diverse wine varietals, with a focus on Rhône-style blends, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Whether you prefer red, white, or rosé, you’re sure to find a wine that suits your palate.


As you explore the different wineries, take in the scenic beauty of the vineyards and the rolling hills that surround them. Many wineries offer outdoor seating areas where you can relax, sip your wine, and enjoy the picturesque views.


For lunch, stop by one of the winery restaurants or head into downtown Paso Robles, where you’ll find a selection of charming eateries. Pair your meal with a glass of local wine to complement the flavors of the region.


In the afternoon, continue your wine tasting adventure by venturing off the beaten path and discovering smaller, boutique wineries. These hidden gems often offer a more intimate tasting experience, allowing you to interact with the winemakers themselves and learn about their craft.


Don’t forget to purchase a few bottles of your favorite wines to take home as souvenirs and to enjoy later. Paso Robles wines make delightful gifts for friends and family or a cherished memento of your Central Coast road trip.


As the sun begins to set, relish in a beautiful sunset while enjoying a glass of wine at one of the winery’s scenic overlooks. The warm glow of the setting sun casting its golden hues over the vineyards is the perfect way to end your day of wine tasting in Paso Robles.


Reflect on the flavors and experiences of the day and savor the memories you’ve created as you prepare for the final day of your California Central Coast road trip.


Day 7: Back to Los Angeles

As your California Central Coast road trip nears its end, it’s time to make your way back to Los Angeles. While it may be bittersweet, there are still some sights and experiences to enjoy on your final day.


Start your day early to make the most of your time. Before leaving Paso Robles, stop by one of the local eateries for a delicious breakfast paired with a cup of artisanal coffee. Fuel up for the journey ahead!


As you drive back towards Los Angeles, consider taking a scenic route to soak in more of the beauty of the Central Coast. You can take Highway 101, which offers stunning views of vineyards, rolling hills, and charming small towns. Alternatively, you can return via the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), taking in the breathtaking coastal vistas one final time.


If you have time, make a pit stop in one of the picturesque coastal towns, such as Pismo Beach or Morro Bay. Take a leisurely walk along the beach, enjoy some fresh seafood, or browse through the local shops and boutiques for souvenirs.


If you’re a nature enthusiast, consider visiting the famous Morro Rock in Morro Bay. This massive volcanic rock formation stands tall in the ocean and is a protected sanctuary for seabirds. Take a short hike or simply admire the views from a distance.


As you continue your journey towards Los Angeles, reflect on the incredible memories you’ve made during your road trip. From the vibrant city of Santa Cruz to the scenic beauty of Big Sur and the indulgence of wine tasting in Paso Robles, it has been a truly remarkable adventure.


As you approach Los Angeles, the bustling cityscape will come into view. Take this opportunity to drive through iconic neighborhoods like Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica. If time allows, visit a landmark or two, such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame or the Santa Monica Pier.


Finally, as you reach the end of your road trip, take a moment to appreciate the journey and the experiences you’ve had along the way. The California Central Coast has offered you a taste of its natural beauty, history, and vibrant culture, leaving you with memories that will last a lifetime.


With your road trip completed, you can now reminisce about the breathtaking landscapes, picturesque towns, and the joy of the open road as you return home or embark on your next adventure.