102 Best Sights in The Central Coast, California

Arroyo Burro Beach

Fodor's choice

The beach's usually gentle surf makes it ideal for families with young children. It's a local favorite because you can walk for miles in both directions when tides are low. Leashed dogs are allowed on the main stretch of beach and westward; they are allowed to romp off-leash east of the slough at the beach entrance. The parking lots fill early on weekends and throughout the summer, but the park is relatively quiet at other times. Walk along the beach just a few hundreds yards away from the main steps at the entrance to escape crowds on warm-weather days. Surfers, swimmers, stand-up paddlers, and boogie boarders regularly ply the waves, and photographers come often to catch the vivid sunsets. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguard (in summer); parking; showers; toilets. Best for: sunset; surfing; swimming; walking.

Calcareous Vineyard

Fodor's choice

Elegant wines, a stylish tasting room, and knockout hilltop views make for a winning experience at this winery along winding Peachy Canyon Road. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel grapes thrive in the summer heat and limestone soils of the two vineyards near the tasting room. A third vineyard on cooler York Mountain produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a Cabernet with a completely different character from the Peachy Canyon edition. Food is available for purchase daily.

3430 Peachy Canyon Rd., Paso Robles, CA, 93446, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Tastings $30; tour and tasting (reservations required) from $90

East Beach

Fodor's choice

The wide swath of sand at the east end of Cabrillo Boulevard is a great spot for people-watching. East Beach has sand volleyball courts, summertime lifeguard and sports competitions, and arts-and-crafts shows on Sunday and holidays, plus Saturday on holiday weekends. You can use showers, a weight room, and lockers (bring your own towel) and rent umbrellas and boogie boards at the Cabrillo Bathhouse. Next door, there's an elaborate jungle-gym play area for kids. Hotels line the boulevard across from the beach. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (in summer); parking (fee); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: surfing; swimming; walking.

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Hearst Castle

Fodor's choice
Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
Aimee M Lee / Shutterstock

Officially known as Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, Hearst Castle sits in solitary splendor atop La Cuesta Encantada (the Enchanted Hill). Its buildings and gardens spread over 127 acres that were the heart of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst's 250,000-acre ranch. Hearst commissioned renowned California architect Julia Morgan to design the estate, but he was very much involved with the final product, a blend of Italian, Spanish, and Moorish styles. The 115-room main structure and three huge "cottages" are connected by terraces and staircases and surrounded by pools, gardens, and statuary. In its heyday the castle, whose buildings hold about 22,000 works of fine and decorative art, was a playground for Hearst and his guests—Hollywood celebrities, political leaders, scientists, and other well-known figures. Construction began in 1919 and was never officially completed. Work was halted in 1947 when Hearst had to leave San Simeon because of failing health. The Hearst Corporation donated the property to the State of California in 1958, and it is now part of the state park system.

Access to the castle is through the visitor center at the foot of the hill, where you can view educational exhibits and a 40-minute film about Hearst's life and the castle's construction. Buses from the center zigzag up to the hilltop estate, where guides conduct several daytime tours, each with a different focus: Grand Rooms, Upstairs Suites, Designing the Dream, Cottages and Kitchen, Julia Morgan, Art of San Simeon, Hearst and Hollywood. These tours take about three hours and include a movie screening and time at the end to explore the castle's exterior and gardens. In spring and fall, docents in period costume portray Hearst's guests and staff for the Evening Tour, which begins around sunset. Reservations are recommended for all tours, which include a ½-mile walk and between 150 and 400 stairs.  Be sure to check the website in advance of your visit for any updates.

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Highway 1

Fodor's choice
Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California
topseller / Shutterstock

One of California's most spectacular drives snakes up the coast north of San Simeon. Numerous pullouts offer tremendous views and photo ops. On some beaches, huge elephant seals lounge nonchalantly, seemingly oblivious to the attention of rubberneckers. Heavy rain can cause mudslides that block the highway north and south of Big Sur, so sections of the route are sometimes closed for repairs or general maintenance. Before traveling, visit bigsurcalifornia.org and click on the Highway 1 Conditions and Information link.


Fodor's choice

The 37-acre estate—with gardens that are often ranked among the world's 10 best—once belonged to the Polish opera singer Ganna Walska, who purchased it in 1941 and lived here until her death in 1984. Many of the exotic trees and other subtropical flora were planted in 1882 by horticulturist R. Kinton Stevens. On the docent-led or self-guided tour—the only options for visiting unless you're a member (reserve well ahead as spots fill fast)—you'll see an outdoor theater, a topiary garden, a lotus pond, and a huge collection of rare cycads, an unusual plant genus that has been around since the time of the dinosaurs.

695 Ashley Rd., Montecito, CA, 93108, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $50, Closed mid-Nov.–mid-Feb. No tours Sun.–Tues., except every 3rd Sun. of month

MOXI–The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation

Fodor's choice

It took more than two decades of unrelenting community advocacy to develop this exceptional science hub, which opened in early 2017 in a three-story, Spanish-Mediterranean building next to the train station and a block from Stearns Wharf and the beach. The 70-plus interactive exhibits—devoted to science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM)—are integrated so curious visitors of all ages can explore seven themed areas (called tracks).

In the Speed Track, build a model car and race it against two others on a test track—then use the collected data to reconfigure your car for improved performance. In the Fantastic Forces space, construct a contraption to send on a test flight in a wind column. Other sections include the Light, Tech, and Sound Tracks, plus the Innovation Workshop maker space and the Interactive Media Track, which hosts temporary exhibits. On the rooftop Sky Garden, which has terrific downtown panoramas, make music with wind- and solar-powered instruments, splash around in the interactive Whitewater feature, and peer down through glass floor windows to view the happy faces of explorers below.

Niner Wine Estate

Fodor's choice

A family-owned winery in the Willow Creek district, Niner is known equally for its range of estate wines (especially powerful reds) and its farm-fresh lunches designed to complement tasting flights. For a special treat, sign up for a private tour of the solar-powered, gravity-fed winery, followed by a tasting flight of current releases. The option to order lunch is available with tasting reservations, which are required.

Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area

Fodor's choice

Part of the spectacular Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, this 3,600-acre coastal playground is one of the few places in California where you can drive or ride off-highway vehicles on the beach and sand dunes. Hike, ride horses, kiteboard, join a Hummer tour, or rent an ATV or a dune buggy and cruise up the white-sand peaks for spectacular views. At Oso Flaco Lake Nature Area—3 miles west of Highway 1 on Oso Flaco Road—a 1½-mile boardwalk over the lake leads to a platform with views up and down the coast. Leashed dogs are allowed in much of the park except Oso Flaco and Pismo Dunes Natural Reserve. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (seasonal); parking (fee); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: sunset; surfing; swimming; walking.

Old Mission Santa Barbara

Fodor's choice

Dating from 1786 and widely referred to as the "Queen of Missions," this is one of the most beautiful and frequently photographed buildings in coastal California. The architecture evolved from adobe-brick buildings with thatch roofs to more permanent edifices as the mission's population burgeoned. An 1812 earthquake destroyed the third church built on the site. Its replacement, the present structure, is still a functioning Catholic church. Old Mission Santa Barbara has a splendid Spanish/Mexican colonial art collection, as well as Chumash sculptures and the only Native American–made altar and tabernacle left in the California missions.


Fodor's choice

While touring the idyllic west side of Paso Robles, take a break from wine tasting by stopping at Pasolivo. Find out how the artisans here make their Tuscan-style olive oils on a high-tech Italian press, and test the acclaimed results. If you're in downtown Paso Robles, stop by Pasolivo's urban tasting room at 1229 Park Street.

Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge

Fodor's choice

In 2017, heavy winter rains caused an old concrete bridge built in 1968 to crack and slip downhill at Pfeiffer Canyon, in the heart of Big Sur. Engineers deemed the old bridge irreparable, and auto and pedestrian access to Highway 1 south of the bridge was cut off indefinitely. CalTrans quickly made plans to construct a new, $24-million bridge to span the deep canyon. Normally, such a massive project would take at least seven years, but CalTrans accelerated the project and completed it in less than a year. The new bridge—a 21st-century engineering marvel—stretches 310 feet across the ravine without the need for column support. It's made of 15 steel girders, each weighing 62 tons and connected by steel plates holding 14,000 bolts.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Fodor's choice

Hand-painted tiles and a spiral staircase infuse the courthouse, a national historic landmark, with the grandeur of a Moorish palace. This magnificent building was completed in 1929. An elevator rises to an arched observation area in the tower that provides a panoramic view of the city. Before or after you take in the view, you can (if it's open) visit an engaging gallery devoted to the workings of the tower's original, still operational Seth Thomas clock. The murals in the second-floor ceremonial chambers were painted by an artist who did backdrops for some of Cecil B. DeMille's films. Take a self-guided tour, or join a free one-hour docent-led tour, daily at 2 pm and weekdays at 10:30 am.

Santa Ynez Chumash Museum and Cultural Center

Fodor's choice

This stunning 14,000-square-foot facility and 3½-acre cultural park, completed in 2023, has a welcome center; heritage exhibits; an amphitheater; and spaces devoted to the indigenous Samala language, storytelling, basket weaving, and other cultural activities. Landscaping includes 11,000 California native plants, including 140 species used by the Chumash in their daily lives.


Fodor's choice

This multi-acre outdoor adventure honors the natural topography and engages the senses with amusing, mystical, and kinetic experiences. Here you can walk through internationally renowned artist Bruce Munro's installation, Field of Light, a huge array of stemmed spheres with solar-powered fiber-optic lights that morph into different hues. More than 17,000 wine bottles were used to create the 69 colorful structures of Light Towers, an installation whose fiber-optic illumination ripples to a musical score. Nearby the towers are two new-in-2023 attractions: the magical Fireflies display with more than 10,000 flickering points of light and the reflective Gone Fishing exhibit, which offers a playful interpretation of a contemplative pastime.

A visit begins in the predusk hours to capture the changing light of the landscape and the installations as darkness descends. A hospitality area offers live entertainment by local musicians, as well as wine, beer, and meals or snacks in the casual, indoor–outdoor Mercado Sensorio dining space. Sign up for the Terrace Experience to gain exclusive access to an Airstream bar, private tables, and firepits on a terrace overlooking Field of Light. Reserve tickets well in advance: Sensorio is phenomenally popular.

4380 E. Hwy. 46, Paso Robles, CA, 93446, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: General admission $43, Terrace Experience $87, Hrs vary; check website

Sixmilebridge Vineyards

Fodor's choice
In a cutting-edge facility on a 95-acre Westside estate, Sixmilebridge (named for the owner's ancestral home in Ireland), produces limited-production Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends crafted mostly from organically grown estate fruit. A spacious terrace surrounding a 150-year-old coastal oak tree is reserved for those who purchase a glass or bottle of wine (picnics welcome).

Stolo Family Vineyards

Fodor's choice

Just 3 miles from the ocean and a short drive from Cambria's East Village, the 52-acre Stolo estate produces about 4,000 cases of premium wine each year. Its Syrahs consistently win top awards; sample these and other wines, including Pinot Noir, dry Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnays, in the hilltop tasting room on the site of a former dairy farm. If the weather's nice, sit out on the sprawling lawn near a 1920s barn and 1895 farmhouse.

Tin City

Fodor's choice

This industrial park on the southern border of Paso Robles houses a collection of wineries, craft breweries, distilleries, and specialty shops where you can pick up sheep's milk ice cream, fresh pasta, and other local wares. Good places to start your explorations include Giornata Winery, Levo Winery, and TinCity Cider Co. Dine upscale (dinner only) at Michelin-starred Six Test Kitchen.

Ventura Oceanfront

Fodor's choice

Four miles of gorgeous coastline stretch from the county fairgrounds at the northern border of the city of San Buenaventura, through San Buenaventura State Beach, down to Ventura Harbor Village in the south. The main attraction here is the San Buenaventura City Pier, a landmark built in 1872 and restored in 1993. Surfers rip the waves just north of the pier, and sunbathers relax on white-sand beaches on either side. The mile-long promenade and the Omer Rains Bike Trail north of the pier attract scores of joggers, surrey cyclers, and bikers throughout the year.

Albinger Archaeological Museum

More than three millennia of human history in the Ventura region is charted in the archaeological exhibits at this small museum. Some of the relics on display date back to 1600 BC.

Alma Rosa Winery

Pioneering winemaker Richard Sanford helped put Santa Barbara County on the international wine map with a 1989 Pinot Noir, and founded Alma Rosa Winery in 2005. Today, Alma Rosa winemaker Sara Morris crafts wines from grapes grown on 100-plus acres of sustainable farmed vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are exceptional. Vineyard tours and tastings are available by appointment.

623 Mission Dr., Solvang, CA, 93463, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Tastings from $25, vineyard tour $95

Andrée Clark Bird Refuge

This peaceful lagoon and its gardens sit north of East Beach. Bike trails and footpaths, punctuated by signs identifying native and migratory birds, skirt the lagoon.

1400 E. Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara, CA, 93108, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free

Avila City Beach

At the edge of a sunny cove next to downtown shops and restaurants, Avila's ½-mile stretch of white sand is especially family-friendly, with a playground, barbecue and picnic tables, volleyball and basketball courts, and lifeguards on watch in summer and on many holiday weekends. The free beachfront parking fills up fast, but there's a nearby pay lot ($8 for the day, $3 after 4 pm). Dogs aren't allowed on the beach from 10 to 5. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (seasonal); parking; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: sunset; surfing; swimming; walking.

Avila Valley Barn

An old-fashioned country store jam-packed with local fruits and vegetables, prepared foods, and gifts, Avila Valley Barn also offers the chance to experience rural American traditions. You can pet farm animals and savor homemade ice cream and pies daily, and on weekends ride ponies or a hay wagon out to the fields to pick your own produce.


In 1923, copper king and Montana senator William Andrews Clark bought the 24-acre Bellosguardo (Beautiful Lookout) estate on a bluff between East Beach and Butterfly Beach. After his death, his widow, Anna, built her own summer residence there, designed by famed architect Reginald Johnson and completed in 1937. When she died in 1963, the property passed on to daughter Huguette. (The Clarks’ other daughter, Andrée, died as a teenager, and the family donated funds to create the adjacent Andrée Clark Bird Refuge in her honor.)

Although Huguette, a recluse in New York who died in 2011 at age 104, hadn’t visited Bellosguardo in more than 50 years, she kept it maintained as if she and her family would walk through the door at any moment. Huguette willed the estate to a foundation so that it could become an arts and culture center, and today, Bellosguardo is slowly opening to the public.

For now, access is only via 90-minute, docent-led tours, conducted several times a day, of the garden and the ground floor of the main house. Of particular note are the carved wood panels in several of the rooms and the European art and antiques that once adorned the Clark luxury town house in New York. To book tours, which sell out quickly, click on the "Become a Supporter" option of the website, and subscribe to the mailing list for the latest information on ticket releases.

Biddle Ranch Vineyard

Glass doors and walls in a converted dairy barn fill the Biddle Ranch Vineyard tasting room with light and sweeping valley, mountain, and vineyard views. The small-production winery focuses on estate Chardonnay (the adjacent 17-acre vineyard is planted exclusively to the grape), plus Pinot Noir and various red blends.
2050 Biddle Ranch Rd., San Luis Obispo, CA, 93401, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Tastings $30 (reservations recommended), Closed Tues. and Wed.

Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby Bridge, California Route One, Big Sur, California
saraporn / Shutterstock

The graceful arc of Bixby Creek Bridge is a photographer's dream. Built in 1932, the bridge spans a deep canyon, more than 100 feet wide at the bottom. From the north-side parking area you can admire the view or walk the 550-foot structure. The parking area is very small.  Follow all signs regarding how (e.g., single-file, parallel to the bluff) and where to park. If there are no spots, cross the bridge to one of the pullouts to the south.

Blair Fox Cellars

Blair Fox, a Santa Barbara native, crafts small-lot Rhône-style wines made from organic grapes. The bar in his rustic Los Olivos tasting room, where you can sample exceptional vineyard-designated Syrahs and other wines, was hewn from Australian white oak reclaimed from an old Tasmanian schoolhouse.

2477 Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos, CA, 93441, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Tastings $25, Closed Tues. and Wed.

Brecon Estate

Small-batch superpremium wines sold exclusively in the tasting room are the focus of this much-lauded, 40-acre, Westside estate winery. Specialties include Albariño, Cabernet Franc, and Rhone blends. Brecon also crafts Bordeaux varietals, including the reserve Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, with estate grapes from one of the oldest vines in Paso Robles. Taste wines within the urban-chic cedar barn, which combines Scandinavian and Australian design elements, or at tables on the shady patio.

Carriage and Western Art Museum

The country's largest collection of old horse-drawn vehicles—painstakingly restored—is exhibited here, with everything from polished hearses to police buggies to old stagecoaches and circus vehicles. In August, the Old Spanish Days Fiesta borrows many of the vehicles for a jaunt around town. Docents lead free tours from 1 to 4 pm the third Sunday of the month.