Northbound to California’s Central Coast: Beaches, Charming Communities, A Laid Back Vibe Beckon

Almost 400 miles of picturesque coastline awaits in the Central California region.
(Chris Gouge -

Comprised of four regions – Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey - the Central Coast stretches 350 miles from the south to the north between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Each region is dotted with quaint beach towns that are connected by Highway 101, so naturally, a fun-filled road trip is called for! Within a few hours’ drive, you can be enjoying luxurious accommodations, indulging in fine foods and wines, pampering yourself, and trying your luck at casino games - or perhaps doing nothing at all.

About 90 minutes from the ubiquitous hurly-burly of Los Angeles and a quick two hours from most of Orange County is the tranquil town of Santa Barbara, also known as “The American Riviera.” With its relaxed yet upscale sensibility, it’s a wonderful place for a weekend getaway. There are no less than seven beaches within the city limits where you can catch the perfect wave, dip your toes in the sand or gaze at a beautiful sunset.

When visiting East Beach, be sure to carve out a few hours to stop by Stearns Wharf, an iconic Santa Barbara landmark and California’s oldest working wharf. Take a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk, enjoy unique shopping and dine on freshly caught seafood. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center is also located at Stearns Wharf, offering interactive experiences with regional marine animals. At Summerland Beach, dogs aren’t the only four-legged animals permitted on the sand. You can book a horseback riding tour right at sunset for an unforgettable end to an epic day at the beach.

Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, there’s no shortage of dining options. Choose from culinary creations inspired by the sea with the freshest, locally sourced ingredients and pair it with one of the region’s many critically acclaimed wines. For foodies, there are food tours and cooking classes as well as wine tastings at local vineyards.

For a rush, nothing compares to the world-class gaming that can be found at Chumash Casino Resort, nestled in the rolling hills of nearby Santa Ynez. There’s nonstop gaming with over 2,300 slot machines, more than 45 Vegas-style table games, and a poker room. Chumash also offers luxurious, Four Diamond accommodations along with an award-winning spa, casual to gourmet dining, and live entertainment featuring musicians, comedians, championship boxing and more.

Venturing farther north on the 101 with the beautiful blue of the Pacific filling up the driver side windows, you’ll find yourself in Pismo Beach. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Pismo Beach is your classic beach town. The wide, flat sandy stretches make Pismo Beach one of the most walkable beaches in all of California, perfect for soaking up the rays and breathing in the fresh, salty air.

The beachside environment is also ideal for connecting with nature. Family-friendly Dinosaur Caves Park sits atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific and features trails and a playground. For the adventurous, a kayaking tour of the craggy sea caves down below promises to be an exhilarating excursion. At Monarch Grove, from October to February, thousands of black and orange butterflies flock to and cluster at this sanctuary, a must-see for any lepidopterist. The Pismo Preserve, at over 900 acres, has miles of meandering trails along with grand ocean vistas for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

With its proximity to the sea and wine country, Pismo Beach offers top-notch options for dining. Book a wine tour at one of San Luis Obispo County’s 250 wineries. The fishing boats from nearby harbor towns ensure that the catch of the day is as fresh as can be, while seasonal produce from local farms really delivers on the concept of farm to table.

Time slows down in relaxed locales like Santa Barbara and Pismo Beach. But when you’re having fun, there isn’t enough time to do it all. Fortunately, these seaside towns and many others are only a few hours away by car, awaiting your next Central Coast getaway.