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Wherever you roam along Highway 1, the ocean never lies far away. In the 57 miles of coastline between Ragged Point and Nipomo, the Pacific Ocean defines the landscape. Half of these miles benefit from state and federal protection — more than any other stretch of coast in California. White bluffs and cliffs reach like fingers into the ocean along the north coast, while dunes tower over the beaches to the south. Among the rocks of our rugged shoreline, tidepools stand as tiny underwater worlds, begging to be explored. Here, anemones, urchins, crabs, and sea stars make their homes among mussels moss and barnacles. On plush, sandy beaches, look for hundreds of species of seabirds, from plovers and egrets to tattlers and turnstones. Many have a permanent home here, but others are among the billion birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway. 

But birds aren’t the only tourists to visit our friendly, scenic haven; several marine mammals pass through, too. The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is one of just a handful in North America, seeing up to 25,000 elephant seals annually. Further out, migrating whales pass through, feeding, birthing, and mating in waters alongside Highway 1. Dolphins, harbor seals, sea lions, and porpoises navigate these waters, too, and can easily be seen in and around harbors and coves. California sea otters often play wherever kelp beds sway, weaving in and out of these seaweed forests for food. The best part about all this wildlife activity is its accessibility for viewing by the public; here, anyone can witness sea life, any time of year.

Respect for the natural world is important for enjoying and sustaining the riches of California’s Central Coast. Many of these habitats are fragile and can become unstable under too much human impact. To minimize your stamp on these precious creatures and their homes, read and practice our Wildlife Viewing Tips. And for information about tides — especially important for tide pooling — check our link to local tide tables along Highway 1.

When you fall in love with our sea life here, you’ll want to do and see even more. That’s where the Coastal Discovery Trail comes in. Track our itinerary of the best coastal locations, experiences and attractions across the Central Coast. Along the way, you’ll visit beaches, preserves, parks, and historic locales that bring you closer to the heart of Highway 1. For more information, see the Coastal Discovery Trail Map on our Stewardship Travel for Good page.

Explore Sea Life along Highway 1

Seals Viewing

Depending on what time of year you visit the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, you may find adult males, females or pups. Each of these lives at the rookery at some point during the year, but the population varies greatly from season to season. Generally speaking, early winter is a great time to see adult males and females arriving, followed by birthing at its peak in late January. Mating and bull fighting continue through Valentine’s Day, after which most adults leave. Pups remain to explore and begin to swim. Adults return to molt April through August, and September and October mark the “fall haul-out,” when all elephant seals leave the beach. The viewing area at the rookery is just steps away from the beach where the elephant seals lay. Watch the drama of nature’s life cycle unfold before your eyes; this beats a good soap opera any day!

While elephant seals cruise in and out of the Central Coast, harbor seals and sea lions live here year-round — in particular, around the Morro Bay National Estuary. Sea lions like to rest on docks and boats, which can be dangerous if boaters and other people need to get past them. With that in mind, the City of Morro Bay set aside a floating dock in the forebay just for sea lions. In so doing, they’ve helped keep both the sea lions and people safe. To see these happy sea lions on their floating dock, visit the wildlife viewing station at the Estuary Nature Center. Sea lions and harbor seals also hang out beneath the Harford Pier in Avila Beach, where spectators watch them bark, eat and lounge. Find them on the lower level of the pier, closest to the water’s surface. TIP: Can you tell the difference between a sea lion and a harbor seal? The key to look for is an ear flap. If you can see the creature’s ear flap, it’s a sea lion. Otherwise, if you can’t see it, you’re looking at a seal.

Elephant seal San Simeon
The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Otter Spotting

While all sea life inspires wonder along our stretch of Highway 1, no creature has more fans than the Southern Sea Otter. Playful, furry, and intelligent, sea otters have become symbolic of the sea life along California’s Central Coast. Their whiskery muzzles and white faces endear visitors and locals alike to them. In person, it’s easy to find and watch sea otters as they hold their young, dive below the surface and crack shellfish on their belly. You just have to know where to look.

Find sea otters mostly in protected bays and coves, among the kelp seaweed that sways just offshore. The Morro Bay inlet is one such habitat, especially visible along the Embarcadero and in the Estuary. Also try otter spotting from piers in Baywood, Avila Beach (Harford Pier), and W.R. Hearst Beach in San Simeon. Or hike along the Bluff Trail in Montana de Oro State Park, the Boucher Trail in San Simeon, or Estero Bluffs in Cayucos. Each of these trails winds past prime sea otter viewing spots, as does the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk in Cambria, as well.

Sea Otter and pup San Simeon
Sea Otter and pup playing in the bay

Whale Watching

This section of Highway 1 is particularly fortunate to see so many whales pass by offshore. From migrating grey and blue whales to humpbacks, minkes, and even the occasional orca, this stretch of coastline makes for great whale watching. In fact, the Whale Trail organization identified more prime whale viewing sites in San Luis Obispo County than any other in California. Ten of those lie along Highway 1: in Oceano, Avila Beach, Cayucos, Cambria, and two in San Simeon.

To enjoy these perfect spots for spying whales, make sure to look for the Whale Trail interpretive sign. This will point out identifying characteristics of whales moving out to sea, as well as facts about which species travel through and when. Whale Trail signs also highlight other marine life, including seals, sea lions, dolphins and otters, as well as interesting tidbits about each species. The goal is to inspire appreciation and stewardship of whales and the marine environment for generations to come. Additionally, check out any number of whale watching tours being offered from guides up and down the coast, as well.

Whale Watching Whale Trail
Breaching whale off the coast

Bird Watching

The Central Coast offers some of the world’s best birding thanks to a mild climate and proximity to the Pacific Flyway. 467 species have been sighted here, including the peregrine falcon, barn owl, and bald eagle, plus smaller birds like wrens, swallows and plovers. Access to see these species, as well as many, many more, depends on your location, time of year and time of day. Much of our stretch of Highway 1 lies just beneath the Pacific Flyway. This is the north-south migratory path for birds between seasons. Here on California’s Central Coast, the best time to witness the largest volume of birds is in winter. This is when birds large and small stop over to take advantage of our hospitable climate. The Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival makes the most of this opportunity each January with 140 tours, workshops, field trips, presentations and more.

But if you can’t visit in winter, no problem; bringing your binoculars to the Central Coast is always worthwhile. Head to Baywood, which is considered a Globally Important Bird Area, or the Oceano Dunes by Oso Flaco Lake. Both of these spots promise great finds you’ll remember long after your vacation ends.

Bird Watching
Bird watching along Highway 1

Tide Pools

A Travel for Good reminder:  

Many of these habitats are fragile and can become unstable under too much human impact.  To minimize your stamp on these precious creatures and their homes while visiting, walk on bare rock to avoid crushing fragile tide pool animals, and keep away from seaweed – it’s slippery! Please do not pick up animals - just observe, leave tide pool critters in their natural home.

Tide Pools of San Simeon

Ask any local child about their favorite excursion near the coast, and they’ll likely say tide pooling! Tip-toe-ing among the tidepools of the Pacific coastline is one of the best ways to get up close and personal with sea life. Everywhere you crouch, treasures come alive. Witness hermit crabs scuttling, anemones opening and closing, seaweed swaying and sea stars quietly creeping. 

In San Simeon, the beaches north of the Piedras Blancas Light Station are home to plenty of interesting tide pools. Inhabitants can include hermit crabs, several types of anemones, and urchin. (Look for luxurious kelp beds offshore here as well, as sea otters can often be found in their leaves.) Another ideal tide-pooling spot is on the north end of W. R. Hearst Memorial State Beach. At low tide, look for sea stars, limpets, barnacles, chitons, and turban snails.

Tidepool

Tide Pools of Cambria

Cambria boasts a couple of ideal places for exploring tide pools. Make sure to check the tides to ensure that the tide is low, as shallow waters offer the best viewing experience. At Leffingwell Landing, find mussels and barnacles clinging to the large rocks in the most exposed sections. (Check the sides of the surge channels to see up to six different kinds of limpets, potentially.) Otherwise, less-exposed areas may offer sea anemones, limpets, snails and crabs, as well as larger barnacles and algae.

Tide pooling is also popular in and around Moonstone Beach in Cambria, particularly at its northern end. In addition to limpets, periwinkle snails, anemones, mussels and gooseneck barnacles, you’ll also find excellent beachcombing here. Take your time hunting for moonstones, interesting driftwood, and sea glass as you walk up the beach to the tidepools. This is also a beautiful spot for a picnic or a walk along the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk.

Tide Pools of Cayucos

Cayucos State Beach is a locals’ favorite beach that showcases amazing tide pool locations for visitors to explore. These tide pools are located at the base of a long stretch of bluffs and headlands just to the north of the town of Cayucos. There, find large exposed rocks with high wave action along with lots of calmer water. Plenty of barnacles, mussels and limpets live in the more wave exposed areas. The calmer waters are home to algae, sea anemones, hermit crabs and snails. 

Further north, a series of tidepools stand beneath the Estero Bluffs network of trails. Take these trails west to the shoreline, and search for all manner of small sea life, from ochre sea stars to rough limpets. Crab dens tuck away between large rock sheers, housing purple shore crabs and black turbans. Beautiful networks of kelp, kombu, rockweed, and sea lettuce also make this a popular spot for seaweed foraging.

Tide Pools of Montana de Oro 

With 7 miles of coastline, this state park is a tide pooler’s dream. While the park boasts several wonderful places to tide pool, the easiest and most accessible is Spooner’s Cove. Here, rocks and channels house snails, limpets and barnacles, especially visible at low tide. In the shallowest and most protected tide pools, look for anemones, crabs and other smaller creatures.

Another reliable tide pooling spot is at the end of the Hazard Reef Trail, which ends at the rocky shore. Crabs are especially plentiful here, as are anemones, mollusks, sea stars, and other treasures. Likewise, Corallina Cove hides orange, yellow and purple sea stars, turban snails and green sea lettuce among its crevices. These are some of the most fruitful tide pools along Highway 1, teeming with life and accessible just beyond the roadway. Tiptoe along the ridges of rocks, developed there over thousands of years, and discover the many creatures that call them home.

#Hwy1SeaLife

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Drive our special stretch of Highway 1 between Ragged Point and Nipomo, and you can’t help but be awed by its natural beauty and scenic riches. These 81 miles are what make a Highway 1 road trip one of the top bucket-list excursions in the world. But finding all the secret treasures of this famous byway would take several days — and a local’s know-how. If you want the inside scoop on the best places to stop while driving the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll need inspiration from a knowledgeable guide.

Here, we’ve shared a thorough list of must-drive routes along Highway 1 that will open your eyes to its many charms. Stand beneath a waterfall and listen to its roar. Taste wines influenced by the proximity of the Pacific Ocean. Travel through patchwork farmland and past towering sand dunes. Be dazzled by the kaleidoscope of thousands of Monarch butterflies. Explore the grounds of a historic lighthouse. Hunt for sea glass, pick apples, and summit coastal mountains. All of this and so much more can be found just off Highway 1, if you know where to look.

Have a look at our list of the best places to stop along Highway 1, and use the links to Google maps to help you navigate each destination and attraction. If, however, you want to explore more in any given area, check out the destination-specific maps at the end of each section. And if you want a single map detailing all of the best things to see on your drive, look at our “Discovery Route” map.

Now turn the ignition, roll down the windows, and put it in gear — it’s time to take that iconic Highway 1 road trip.

Highway 1 Road Trip

Pacific Coast Highway Motorcycle Trip

The jaw-dropping stretch of Highway 1 between Big Sur and Santa Barbara County is often considered one of the best roads for motorcycling in the nation. Here, the climate is mild most of the year, perfect for freewheeling under the sun. Each of the destinations and drives below work just as well on two wheels as they do on four or more. The diversity of terrain will excite even the most veteran rider, while giving novices and easy riders plenty of choice.

Before embarking on a Highway 1 motorcycle trip, be sure to plan your itinerary to travel both north and south on Highway 1. For instance, if you’re traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles, be sure to take Highway 1 both directions. This will give you right-side views of the ocean driving southbound, and easier and safer access to turnouts, since turning lanes are rare on Highway 1.

Also, you can of course ride in on a motorcycle, but you can also drive in and rent a motorcycle while here. This is a good option for those who want the comfort of indoor travel over long distances, and the thrill of motorcycling to explore the Central Coast. That way, you can tour Highway 1 at your leisure.

Motorcycle Highway 1 @never_enough_motorcycles
Cruising Highway 1 courtesy of @never_enough_motorcycles

Ocean-View Cliffs of Ragged Point 

Home of the “Million-Dollar View,” Ragged Point offers some of the best scenery from the road. Park at the Ragged Point Inn, where you can grab a glass of wine or beer and enjoy panoramic views from the patio. This is an especially bewitching sight during sunset, perched high over the ocean. And don’t miss the Ragged Point Inn Restaurant for fresh-caught seafood, or the coffee bar and gift shop, too.

Thrill-seekers will want to take the steep walk along the Cliffside Trail down to a secluded purple-sand beach. Here, the Black Swift waterfall tumbles down to the beach and rolls to the ocean — a great view that’s hidden from the road. (Just be sure to wear grippy shoes and save some stamina for the steep walk back up!)

No matter where you turn in Ragged Point, ocean views are never far. And as the gateway to Big Sur, it offers some of the first cliffside driving heading north (or some of the last heading south).

For motorcyclists, this section of Highway 1 is one of the most popular rides on the globe. If you love tight turns, narrow roads and expansive ocean views, this is the area for you.

Where’s the best place to stop for this adventure? Pull over here for easy access to Ragged Point scenic views. Or use our Ragged Point Activity Map for more points of interest nearby, including the famous Bixby Bridge on Highway 1. Other experiences might include dipping your toes in San Carpoforo Creek or snapping photos of the vintage Piedras Blancas Motel.

Ragged Point
Outstanding ocean views and a drive along Ragged Point

Elephant Seals & the Piedras Blancas Light Station

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s easy to see the Piedras Blancas Light Station from the road, but it’s not a close view. Some people park at the light station’s gated entrance to get a peek at it, but there’s actually a better way. 

As an alternative, park at the Elephant Seal Rookery viewing area, where thousands of Elephant Seals can be seen mere steps away. Enjoy viewing the wildlife, then walk the adjacent Boucher Trail, which travels to the Piedras Blancas Light Station, built in 1875. This easy 1.9-mile walk parallels the coastline and provides more chances for wildlife viewing. You can even schedule a tour of the Light Station on your way, making this one of the Central Coast’s best two-for-one itineraries.

For this adventure, the best place to stop along Highway 1 is at the Elephant Seal Vista Point. In addition to elephant seals and lighthouses, San Simeon offers many more things to see on Highway 1. Travel back in time with a tour of opulent Hearst Castle, the home of historic newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. Or pull over to glimpse the famous zebras of Hearst Ranch, descendants of those in Hearst’s private zoo, still roaming beside Highway 1. These ideas and many more are available on our San Simeon Activity Map.

Vista Point at Hearst Memorial State Beach

Located just south of the entrance to San Simeon State Park, this vista point offers an ideal place for taking in effortless views. You can even park in the Hearst State Beach lot, off Highway 1, and see it all from the comfort of your vehicle. This is also a great place for whale watching, with its expansive ocean views. Bring binoculars to look for gray whales, minke whales, harbor seals, and sea otters, as well as dolphins and porpoises. These marine mammals are regular visitors to this stretch of shoreline. Do this from the bluffs above the beach, or with your toes wiggling in the warm sand below.

For the best place to stop on Highway 1, follow our map to the Vista Point at Hearst Memorial State Beach. Find plenty of other pullover activities on our San Simeon Road Trip Map. Sip award-winning wines at the Hearst Ranch tasting room then fish off the San Simeon Pier and take in the scenery. Or watch the kites of windsurfers and kiteboarders at Arroyo Laguna Beach, where winds can get up to 40 mph in the afternoons.

Highway 1 drive
The beautiful beach scenery along Highway 1

Moonstone Beach Drive

From Highway 1, it takes just a moment to pull onto this 2-mile oceanfront roadway that parallels the shoreline. Moonstone Beach lies below, a favorite hidden beach where locals come for excellent beachcombing that includes sea glass, colorful worn stones, and driftwood. Taking advantage of the classic coastal California views across Moonstone Beach Drive, several restaurants offer indoor and outdoor seating here, overlooking the ocean.

Start at the north end of Moonstone Beach Drive; the best place to stop is at the Leffingwell Landing State Park parking lot. A trail leading toward Hearst State Beach stands here, for those wanting to take a stroll north. Otherwise, to walk toward Moonstone Beach Park, pick up the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk about 0.5 miles south of Leffingwell Landing. Walk the boardwalk, which spans the majority of the shoreline, for a romantic stroll or to watch seals from the viewing deck. If you’re driving rather than walking, the best place to stop for this spot is at the Santa Rosa Creek Parking Lot. The Moonstone Beach Park offers an ideal setting for a picnic or a sunset view. 

Many more attractions lie nearby in Cambria’s East and West Villages, including the Covell Clydesdale Ranch where horses roam over 2,000 acres. Or peak into the tiny Old Santa Rosa Chapel, Gardens & Cemetery, where Bing Crosby attended services when he stayed at Hearst Castle. For these and other Highway 1 road trip ideas in Cambria, see our Cambria Road Trip Map.

Old Creek Loop from Cambria to Cayucos

Looking for a scenic backcountry adventure while driving the Pacific coast? Follow this itinerary through the roads behind Cambria and Cayucos, forming  a loop with Highway 1. You can begin in Cambria at Santa Rosa Creek Road, or in Cayucos with Old Creek Road. Along the way, check out the views of Whale Rock Reservoir, a deep blue basin above Cayucos and the coastline. You can also buy slices of pie at the quaint Linn’s Fruit Bin Farmstand, tucked into the hillsides surrounding Santa Rosa Creek Road. And don’t miss wine tasting at Stolo Family Vineyard & Winery; you can even sit on their lush lawn to indulge in a picnic. For details on the itinerary, check out the Old Creek Loop route map.

Riders on a Pacific Coast Highway motorcycle trip will love this back-road loop, too. Here, motorcyclists can twist and wind through scenic farmland and over rolling hills. The intersection of Highway 46 offers opportunities to travel even deeper into the mountains west of Highway 1. Get lost on wine country backroads like Vineyard Drive, Peach Canyon and Chimney Rock Road. These can take you to Paso Robles winery tasting rooms, or out toward Lake Nacimiento, if you feel like making a day of it.

And if you’d like more things to do and see near Cambria, have a look at the Cambria Road Trip Map. You may consider tacking on a hike along the Fern Canyon Henry Kluck Memorial Trail or Strawberry Canyon.

Park and Stroll the Estero Bluffs State Park

One of the best bang-for-your-buck walks off Highway 1, the Estero Bluffs trails can be explored a little or a lot. In other words, you don’t need hours to enjoy this dramatic state park. The trick is knowing where to find the 7 pull-outs that lead to the trails, midway between the towns of Harmony and Cayucos. These are nondescript dirt turnouts just off Highway 1 that can easily be missed without local know-how. If you find them, they’ll grant access to a magical coastal walk to view the state park and its namesake, the Estero Bluffs. Alternatively, you can just park and enjoy the ocean views from the comfort of your car.

For more activities to tackle en route to Cayucos, check out our Cayucos Discovery Loop Map. Here you’ll find ideas for your trip, like tasting cookies at Brown Butter Cookie Company and surfing and swimming at Cayucos State Beach.

Estero Bluffs
Breathtaking views of the Estero Bluffs

Ocean View from Cayucos State Beach

On your road trip, pull over for a cruise down North Ocean Avenue in Cayucos, just a stone’s throw away from Highway 1. This is Cayucos’s main thoroughfare, running directly parallel to downtown, Cayucos State Beach, and the historic Cayucos Pier. North Ocean Avenue offers plenty of dining options, from clam chowder and fish and chips, tacos to farm-to-table fare. Pull over to grab a bite, then head to the Cayucos Pier, which is within walking distance of all downtown restaurants. Here you can walk the planks of Captain Cass’s pier, originally built in 1872, and watch surfers hang ten below. Kids will love the play structure, directly on the beach, and they may just spy dolphins or a whale spouting offshore.

Of course, the view from just about anywhere in Cayucos is picture-perfect, but some of the best spots are really tucked away. Make like a local and travel to the southern end of Cayucos State Beach. Here, you’ll nearly be “on” the beach, with a wide open view of the waves. Enjoy the ocean view from your car, or step out and take a stroll north to Cayucos Pier or south to Morro Rock. The best places to stop are in the parking lots for Morro Strand State Beach Day Use Area or Sand Dollars Beach.

Want to hang a bit longer in the Cayucos area? Try ideas from our Cayucos Road Trip Map, including wine tasting the Pacific Coast Wine Trail and hiking Harmony Headlands.

View of Spooner’s Cove and Montana de Oro

At 8,000 acres, with 7 miles of shoreline, Montana de Oro State Park makes for a lovely scenic drive. This special state park offers panoramas of Estero Bay as well as paths that wind beneath towering eucalyptus forests. The road that travels through it all is Pecho Valley Road, which extends directly from Los Osos to Montana de Oro State Park. 

One of the best places to stop is Spooner’s Cove, a secluded, magical beach cove with swimming, beachcombing and picnic facilities. Park in the parking lot, step out of your car, and you’re immediately right at the center of a locals’ favorite beach. Another best place to stop is further into the park, featuring grand ocean views you can take in from your car. To find this cliffside pull-over spot, drive slightly further past Spooner’s Cove to park between the Bluff Trail and the Spooner Ranch House.

Of course there’s a lot more to do nearby, like hiking the Black Hills Trail and bird-watching at the Elfin Forest. For more activities near Montana de Oro, check the Los Osos / Baywood Road Trip Map.

The spectacular sights within Spooner's Cove

Scenic Views of the Avila Bay

Anyone who cruises Avila Beach Drive through Avila Beach can tell you what a stunning ocean-side drive it offers. But the hidden vistas and lesser-known views from historic Point San Luis Lighthouse are absolutely worth the hunt.

Pick up Lighthouse Drive near the end of Avila Beach Drive, before it terminates on the Harford / Port San Luis Pier. This will eventually lead you out to Point San Luis Lighthouse. The best place to stop is at the Point San Luis Lighthouse parking lot. Along the way, enjoy the remote coastal scenery, from both sides of the vehicle. At the parking lot, you’ll have access by stairs to a secluded beach cove, as well as the trailhead for the Pecho Coast Trail.

Pro tip: This Lighthouse Drive excursion is a much less-trafficked scenic drive than the more well-known cruise out to Pirate’s Cove off Cave Landing Road. Pirate’s Cove definitely delivers on amazing views, along with a bluff trail and a clothing-optional beach — but it can be very crowded. The best place to stop for this alternative adventure is in the parking lot at the end of Cave Landing Road.

For other activities nearby, like hayrides at the Avila Valley Barn or kayaking, paddleboarding and sport fishing, check our Avila Beach Road Trip Map.

Butterfly Groves and the Oceano Dunes

Thousands of Monarch Butterflies migrate to the eucalyptus trees within the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove each year. Directly on Highway 1, this incredible sight is one of the easiest wildlife viewing opportunities available on the Central Coast. The best place to stop on your Highway 1 road trip is the Monarch Butterfly Grove parking lot, just south of Pismo Beach.

After marveling at the Monarchs, drive 2 miles south to discover California’s only drive-able beach! The best place to stop for this is at the entrance to the Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve. The ideal time for most vehicles to drive the beach is during low tide. Stick to driving over the hard-packed sand closer to the water to avoid getting stuck in the soft sand further from the shoreline. (Find a tide table for this area at Central Coast Weather.) Parking is also available at the park’s entrance for those who can’t or don’t want to drive onto the beach. 

Pro tip: South of the Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve lies Oso Flaco Lake, which drains into the ocean via Oso Flaco Creek. While this area is well worth a visit, crossing the creek without a four-wheel drive vehicle is not recommended.

Can you ride motorcycles on the beach? Yes, you can; in fact, it’s welcomed. Keep in mind that it’s recommended to stay on the hard pack sand unless you’re riding a full enduro or dirt bike. That said, if you have the right kind of bike, you can easily venture deep into the dunes — a bucket-list adventure, if ever there was one. Dirt bikes are available for rent, along with ATVs, dune buggies and just about any other kind of vehicle you can think of.

For more activities nearby, including stellar golfing and side-splitting comedy at the Great American Melodrama, download the Oceano / Nipomo Road Trip Map.

Off-roading the sandy dunes of Oceano

Backcountry Wine Trail

One of the best parts about wine country in the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys is how hidden and uncrowded it is. But you don’t have to travel far off the beaten path to discover the area’s crisp chardonnay and earthy pinot noir wines. But there’s much more here than wine: these valleys offer some of the most heavenly countryside views. Peer out at rolling vineyards and golden hills punctuated by farmhouses and rustic barns. So enjoy the scenery! And remember to keep yourself, your passengers, and your fellow drivers safe; don’t drink and drive.


The best place to start for a backroads wine country loop is the Old Edna Townsite, where you can grab lunch and a bottle or two at Sextant Winery. (Or if you’d rather drink in an aerial view of wine country, hike Islay Hill, which looks over the entire Edna Valley.) The loop then travels north to Biddle Ranch, to Orcutt Road, to Tiffany Ranch Road, Corbett Canyon Road and back again. But don’t let our suggestions keep you from veering off the path; a wide array of wineries can be found across the region. Use our Wine Country Map to see all the different tasting rooms in the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys.

Vineyards, Edna Valley
Lush green vineyards line the backroads of Edna Valley Wine Country

Village of AG to farmlands of Old Huasna

The backlands of Arroyo Grande and Old Huasna (pronounced WAH-znuh) might be the best-kept secret of any Highway 1 drive. First, land in the Village of Arroyo Grande, where the best place to stop is the parking lot behind Olahan Alley. Enjoy a delicious breakfast or lunch at any of the Village’s many eateries, then hit the road for a meandering countryside drive. Cut through patchwork farmland, past farm stands and quiet oak glens that feel like a world away. The route along Highway 227 (which becomes Huasna Road) travels to the old Huasna Townsite, a little-known locale that even locals often miss. This is an area often featured in car commercials for good reason: the backcountry scenery is picture-perfect the entire route.

Pro tip: It’s easy to extend your adventure to include Lopez Lake State Recreation Area. At the intersection of Huasna Road and Lopez Drive, turn left on Lopez Drive to head toward Lopez Lake. Alternatively, you can re-route to wine country in the Edna or Arroyo Grande Valleys. To do that, turn left onto Lopez Drive as though you’re going to Lopez Lake, then turn left onto Orcutt Road. There, you’ll find many family-owned, award-winning wineries and their tasting rooms.

This is another terrific region for motorcyclists to explore. The back roads of Huasna offer a picturesque ride that can extend into the canyons and countryside as far as you want to ride. Those looking for truly rural farmland will be very happy to tour here on two wheels.

Looking for more attractions near Huasna and backroads Arroyo Grande? Have a look at our Edna Valley & Arroyo Grande Road Trip Map. This includes access to everything from the historic Swinging Bridge in the Village of Arroyo Grande to horseback riding lessons and golf courses.

#ScenicDrive

[post_title] => Scenic Drive: Your Highway 1 Road Trip [post_excerpt] => These 81 miles are what make a Highway 1 road trip one of the top bucket-list excursions in the world. If you want the inside scoop on the best places to stop while driving the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll need inspiration from a knowledgeable guide. Take your road trip on Highway 1 now. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => highway-1-scenic-drives-where-to-stop [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-09-17 18:03:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-09-18 02:03:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=125739 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 124216 [post_author] => 8 [post_date] => 2020-05-20 17:26:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-05-21 01:26:15 [post_content] =>

An all-time favorite cycling route, Highway 1 offers spectacular views and challenging climbs with great restaurants, wineries and attractions along the way. At its heart lies the San Luis Obispo County section of Highway 1, a stretch representing the very best of the West Coast. The 57 miles between Ragged Point and Nipomo pass over coastal bluffs, beside mountain ranges, through beach towns, nature preserves, and vineyards. No wonder it’s become a favorite section on the Pacific Coast Route.

Through San Luis Obispo County, Highway 1 generally follows the Pacific coastline, with just a couple of brief (and totally worthwhile) exceptions. These also happen to lie along perfect backroads for making a long-distance ride through San Luis Obispo County, top to bottom. The ride could also be broken into a multi-day trip that covers views, wildlife, food, wine, dunes and beaches en route. Advanced cyclists may want to clip in for one or more of the intense routes on Cycle Central Coast. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even want to compete in one of our many cycling events.

But you don’t have to be a pro or a die-hard cyclist to enjoy pedaling on our stretch of Highway 1. Bring your bike and ride it to the neighboring town, or to the nearest mountain bike trail — or just to the ice cream shop. Each of the destinations along our slice of Highway 1 has its own cycling routes and bike trails, from family-friendly to advanced.

A great way to get even more out of cycling the Pacific Coast Highway is to engage with our Stewardship Travel Program for Good. Whenever you explore our wildlife, history, heritage, or coastline, you can’t help but fall in love with this place we call home. Stop off Highway 1 to witness the Monarch Butterfly Grove and its thousands of jewel-toned butterflies. Take a tour of the historic Piedras Blancas Light Station midway through your ride. Check out a Whale Trail sign to learn how to spot whales offshore. Wherever you ride, consider adding one of our Stewardship Travel for Good activities to your itinerary for an even richer, deeper experience.

Explore Cycling along Highway 1

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Cycle Central Coast

This online resource details locals’ favorite routes and secret byways to cycle, along with mileage, terrain, elevation, maps, and points of interest. CCC also highlights local cycling events, businesses, groups and resources for visitors looking to get in on the action. Search for routes based on destination, distance or terrain, and find several options to choose from. Suggested stops along the way might include wildlife viewing areas, hiking trails, wineries, beaches, scenic vistas and farms. The blog covers news, trends, and ideas for cyclists coming to the Central Coast. Want to try your first century — or your first race? Cycle Central Coast’s calendar of events makes it easy to plan a heart-pumping getaway. Made by cyclists for cyclists, Cycle Central Coast is a one-stop-shop for info on where to bike on Highway 1.

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Cycling Events on the Highway 1 Discovery Route

Few experiences compare to experiencing the beauty and diversity of the Central Coast from the saddle of a bicycle. Cycling events along the Pacific Coast Highway can introduce new routes, new views, and new friends along the way. Some Highway 1 cycling events are for serious and advanced riders, including professional cyclists known the world over. Others travel just a few miles to the nearest fruit stand as a way to connect with casual cyclists. And several other events invite a mix of well-seasoned cyclists and casual weekend riders looking for a challenge in a spectacularly scenic setting. Thanks to year-round mild weather, these events take place every season, each with its own special tone, requirements and conditions. Before any event, be sure to check the registration details, as some require qualifications. Also check the condition of your gear before venturing out to ride, including patch kits, spare parts and pieces, and your helmet. Some local bike shops offer gear rentals, so check into those if you’re not keen on bringing your own bike. (Resources can be found on Cycle Central Coast.) Then clip in and get ready to spin your wheels, whether you’re looking for a fun cruise or the ride of your life.

Eroica vintage bike race

New Years Day Ride

This fun and challenging event kicks the new year off right. Start at Cambria’s picturesque Shamel Park and then proceed on one of two different rides. The first takes cyclists on a 44-mile ride from Cambria to Ragged Point and back. The other travels 30 miles to Cappucino Cove, just north of the Piedras Blancas Light Station, then back again after a stop for coffee at Cap Cove. This event doesn’t require registration, but riders must be members of the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club. Membership includes a small annual fee.

Linn’s Pie & Ice Cream Ride

Got a sweet tooth? The Linn’s Pie and Ice Cream Ride takes advantage of Cambria treasure Linn’s Farm Store, famous for its pies. Ride out five miles along a leafy backcountry road to Linn’s Original Berry Farm, where olallieberry pie is the specialty. Enjoy a slice of pie and ice cream under the sycamore trees before heading back, or out on a longer ride with other members. This ride requires registration, and riders must be members of the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club for a small annual fee.

Lighthouse Century Ride

Held each fall, the Lighthouse Century Ride offers three different route options. Two follow routes on flat road along Highway 1 (45 miles and 75 miles) and the other is a traditional 100-mile century that also climbs Highway 46. All routes are out-and-back, taking in the panoramic section of Highway 1 between Morro Bay and the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Registration for the ride is limited to 1200 riders, making for a relatively comfortable, uncrowded event. A registration fee is required, but membership is not.

Country Coast Classic

A longtime favorite ride, the Gene Cerise Country Coast Classic Bike Ride covers Highway 1 out-and-back from Cambria. The three available routes include a 1/4-century, 1/2-century and 3/4-century ride. All routes include the section of Highway 1 between Cambria and the Elephant Seal Rookery in San Simeon. Hosted by the Lions Club since 2001, the ride ends with a BBQ meal and no-host pub with local wine and beer. All proceeds go to local charitable causes; registration is required.

Best Buddies Challenge

This charity ride allows participants to pedal with pro cyclists along one of three routes between Carmel and San Simeon. With three distances — 100 miles, 62 miles, or 30 miles — the ride offers something for every cyclist, as well as a 5K run/walk. Registration fees support the services of Best Buddies International, which works to end social isolation for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The ride ends with a gourmet barbecue, open bar, and headliner concert featuring artists like The Beach Boys, Black Eyed Peas, and Blues Traveler.

Eroica

This unique and beloved bike race is one of ten Eroica rides around the world. The event started in 1997 in Tuscany, where Giancarlo Brocci wanted to celebrate the history of cycling with a vintage bike race. Today, California’s Central Coast replicates Tuscany for rides measuring 36, 72, 80 and 107 miles. All bikes must predate 1987, and vintage cycling attire is encouraged; all rides begin and end in Cambria along Highway 1.

Arthritis Bike Classic

This California Coast Classic Bike Tour takes place over 525 miles and 8 days from San Francisco to Los Angeles. With much of the route following Highway 1, the tour passes through Ragged Point, San Simeon, Cambria, Cayucos, and Oceano. The national signature fundraising event of the Arthritis Foundation, the tour was named the 2019 Best Charity Bike Tour by Gran Fondo Guide. Join a team or ride alone and experience the breathtaking climbs and scenery of this special tour.

Amgen Tour of California

The best-known tour in California and perhaps the nation, the Tour of California passes through our length of Highway 1 each year. Held over 8 days and 700 miles, it is the only event in the U.S. on the top-level WorldTour. The tour is open to professional cyclists only, but watching the cyclists pass through on Highway 1 is a favorite local spectator sport. Union Cycliste Internationale oversees the event, which is one of up to 37 WorldTour events in the world.

Traverse the terrain of the mountains
Explore the incredible coastal views

Biking Ragged Point

Saddling up in Ragged Point means panoramic views, rugged coastline, and plenty of pull-off points worth stopping for. Ragged Point to San Simeon along Highway 1 starts by traveling south 15 miles, mostly downhill parallel to the shoreline. Catch a cup of coffee, breakfast or a snack at the Ragged Point Inn, and enjoy the “Million Dollar View” from the cliffs. Then ride south along Highway 1, taking in views of the Piedras Blancas Light Station or even stopping for a tour of the historic landmark. (Tours occur at specific times throughout the week and must be reserved ahead of time.) Nearby, check out the majestic creatures at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, where their lives are on full display. See William Randolph Hearst’s incredible estate set up in the Santa Lucia Mountains, just east of Highway 1 in Old San Simeon. (You may even spot descendents from Hearst’s herd of zebras on the ranch.) This is another great spot to pull over for a meal at The Truck or a glass of wine at Hearst Ranch Winery. Walk out along the San Simeon Point Trail or lounge on Hearst Memorial State Beach, looking for whales at the Whale Trail sign. Or learn about the intersection of sand and sea at the Coastal Discovery Center, part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. But save plenty of energy for the return trip, which gains the elevation you lost on the way down. Then settle in once again at Ragged Point Inn for a glass of wine, lunch or dinner at the restaurant overlooking the sea.

Biking from San Simeon

Any ride starting in San Simeon will feature sparkling ocean water, the Santa Lucia Mountains, and sycamore, eucalyptus and Monterey Pine trees. The nearest destination to the north is Ragged Point (see above), and to the south, the seaside hamlet of Cambria. It’s 10 miles from San Simeon to Cambria, with several points of interest along the way, including multiple beaches. Sink your toes into the sand at San Simeon State Beach, or head to Leffingwell Landing to explore the tidepools. Once in Cambria, Moonstone Beach fascinates visitors with its smooth stones, sweeping terrain, and excellent beachcombing. For seafood lovers, pedal over to the Sea Chest for award-winning lobster, oysters, and other delicacies. For delicious globally-inspired cuisine, Robin’s Restaurant delivers, or for wine tasting, a ride to Stolo Winery is worth the ride. If your legs will allow it, enjoy a walk over the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk or the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. ( For mountain bikers, the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria boasts three miles of mountain bike trails that weave throughout the 430-acre preserve.)  You can even trade your bike for a bucket-list horse ride at the Covell Clydesdale Ranch. Don’t leave until you’ve grabbed a slice of famous olallieberry pie at Linn’s Restaurant. But be careful not to overdo it: you still have to ride back.

Biking from Cambria

Find a number of terrific cycling routes that travel out from Cambria, including to the north and San Simeon, or to the south toward Cayucos. The 14.5-mile ride from Cambria to Cayucos along Highway 1 includes a good mix of flats, downhills and climbs. Wind through Cambria and emerge in a marshy inland plain where Highway 46 intersects Highway 1. (This is another epically beautiful yet challenging ride. Head east on Highway 46 and find oak-lined byways, wineries, and serious climbs that result in equally serious views.) As the road continues, it climbs near Harmony Headlands State Park, where a peaceful hike is a nice addition to any ride. Moving further south, views of the ocean, Morro Rock, and even Montana de Oro and Point Buchon come into view. Walk one of several trails in Estero Bluffs State Park just north of Cayucos, or stroll down the historic Cayucos Pier to watch the surfers. If you fancy a day in the sun, lounge on Cayucos State Beach and investigate the abundant tidepools on its southern end. Cayucos has several dining options, including casual California cuisine at The Cass House Grill or clam chowder at Duckies Chowder House. And take the opportunity to grub down at the original Brown Butter Cookie Company, right downtown on Ocean Avenue, before pedalling back northward.

Biking in Cambria, CA
Traveling down Highway 1 enjoying the ocean views

Biking from Cayucos

From Cayucos, the nearest cycling destinations are Cambria to the north and Morro Bay to the south. The ride from Cayucos to Morro Bay is just 6 miles long, but the beach and ocean vistas seem to go on forever. Highway 1 hugs the shoreline along the Estero Bay, providing south-facing views of Morro Rock, Montana de Oro and Point Buchon. Homes cascade from the hills at the east down across Highway 1 to the beach. One of the best spots to enjoy this view is Morro Strand State Beach, the long strip of sand that connects to Cayucos State Beach to the north. Morro Strand Beach is famous for its windsurfing and kite flying, both of which you’ll likely find people enjoying on a trip to the beach there. Bring a kite or just watch the kite and windsurfing enthusiasts play in perfect conditions. Pack a picnic into your pannier and enjoy it at the beach where the picnic facilities come with a world-class view of the Pacific. This is also a great beach for surfing, surf fishing, or lounging up against the soft white sand dunes.

Biking from Los Osos

The closest destinations for a ride from Los Osos are Morro Bay to the north (6 miles) and San Luis Obispo to the south (12 miles). Before any journey, get coffee and a breakfast burrito at the Back Bay Cafe in Los Osos. Then, travel south along Los Osos Valley Road toward SLO, watching the landscape shift from sand dunes and waves to serene farmland. A patchwork of flowers, row crops, and vines awaits any cyclist in this picturesque corner of San Luis Obispo County. Along the way, stop to take in views of the Nine Sisters, a mountain range of nine peaks that began as volcanic plugs. Morro Rock lies the furthest west, with Islay Hill to the east, all the way into the Edna Valley. In between, Black Hill, Cerro Cabrillo, Hollister Peak, Cerro Romauldo, Bishop Peak, and Cerro San Luis stand watch over Los Osos Valley. It is a majestic sight.

If mountain biking better suits your style, Montana de Oro State Park offers nearly 20 miles of beginner, intermediate and advanced trails. (Here, you’ll gain far and wide coastal views you can't get anywhere else.) And at the valley’s southern end, look to the Irish Hills for 13 miles of easy and intermediate mountain biking trails.

Biking from Avila Beach

A ride to or from Avila Beach will always include a forest of sycamore trees and fun in the sun. The closest destinations to Avila Beach are Edna Valley 12 miles east and Pismo Beach, 7.5 miles due south. 

To Edna Valley, take back roads across Highway 101 to Buckley Road. Along the way, pass Woodstone Market, near the Bob Jones Trail, and grab a sandwich or a drink for the road. Then weave through a sycamore forest, between vineyards, and eventually into the pretty patchwork farms of the Edna Valley. You’ll find more gourmet provisions for a picnic at Farmhouse Corner Market on Highway 227 (the main thoroughfare of the Edna Valley). Plus, of course, wine! Stop in at any number of small, family-owned winery tasting rooms for crisp, cool-condition Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Be warned that this route is rather hilly, though, so be sure to keep your energy in check for the ride back.

To reach Pismo Beach, take Avila Beach Drive to Highway 101 but turn right onto Shell Beach Road just before the freeway entrance. (Here is the only elevation gain on the ride; the rest is flat.) Stop along the way at the Avila Valley Barn, an old-timey fruit stand with a petting zoo, pies, and hay rides. Or pick up picnic provisions at De Palo & Sons, an old world Italian delicatessen with a terrific selection of local wines. Continue past the Dinosaur Caves Park, with its sprawling lawn and view of the ocean. At this point, Shell Beach Road becomes Price Road, which leads directly to the heart of Pismo Beach. Walk the Pismo Pier and hit up The Scoop ice cream parlor before making the ride back to Avila Beach.

Looking for a simple family bike ride? Avila Beach is also home to the Bob Jones Trail, a paved path from Ontario Road all the way to downtown Avila Beach. Ride the 1.5-mile path down to the beach, passing beneath sycamore trees and beside an abundant tidal estuary.

Biking from Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys

To enjoy Edna Valley and the Arroyo Grande Valley by bike, the closest destination is south to Oceano and Nipomo. This ride is all about the back roads, patchwork fields, vineyards and wine country. Rolling hills that are velvety green in spring and gold the rest of the year stand watch over the valleys, the road winding through it. Start off in Edna Valley with a visit to Sextant Winery’s Gourmet Deli. Pick up a sandwich or salad, plus a glass of wine, and enjoy it on the patio, then saddle up for a ride through Price Canyon. This long, winding road has hills but nothing very steep, all the way into downtown Pismo Beach. Here, you can stop off for an ice cream, a walk on the Pismo Pier, and a visit to the Monarch Butterfly Grove. Marvel at their orange and black wings, clustered by the hundreds on the eucalyptus leaves and branches, then ride south on Highway 1. Walk the Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve or see vintage railway cars and artifacts from the mysterious Dunites at the Oceano Train Depot Museum. You’ve already traveled 10 miles, but the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes and Oso Flaco Lake Preserve lie just another 12.5 miles to the south. And for mountain bikers, explore the 15 miles of intermediate and difficult trails that weave through Arroyo Grande’s Lopez Lake Recreation Area.

Riding through the rolling green hills

Biking from Nipomo and Oceano

The natural preserves, dunes, and unspoiled coastline surrounding Nipomo and Oceano make it a great promising destination for cyclists of all abilities. Fuel up with breakfast or lunch from legendary Jocko’s Steakhouse. Then ride west over Highway 101 toward the Nipomo Bluffs and the scenic Oso Flaco Lake Natural Preserve. After a walk on the dunes, ride uphill on Highway 1 toward Oceano to find excellent Mexican food, agriculture, and the historic Oceano Train Depot. Explore the dunes where the mystic Dunites set up their bohemian camp in the 1920s and ‘30s. At Grand Avenue, turn right and pass beloved restaurants like The Spoon Trade in Grover Beach and Ember in Arroyo Grande. Follow this road three miles to the heart of the Arroyo Grande Village. Here, find boutique shopping and excellent dining options in this beautifully preserved historic town. Take a wobbly walk over the historic Swinging Bridge, visit the Hoosegow Jail House, and savor a pastry from Eclair Bakery. Before long, you’ll be ready to head back for the 30-mile ride back to Nipomo.

#CycleCentralCoast

[post_title] => Biking Pacific Coast Highway 1 [post_excerpt] => An all-time favorite cycling route, Highway 1 offers spectacular views and challenging climbs with great restaurants, wineries and attractions along the way. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => biking-pacific-coast-highway-1 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-07-02 12:38:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-07-02 20:38:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=124216 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 123989 [post_author] => 8 [post_date] => 2020-05-13 14:34:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-05-13 22:34:28 [post_content] =>

With the need for social distancing, there’s never been a better time to dream about your next party-of-one trip. And on our unique stretch of Highway 1, traveling solo connects you deeply with the ocean, wildlife, history — and yourself. Wander over the white sands of a near-empty beach, and maybe spy a pod of whales migrating offshore. Kayak out to a remote, historic lighthouse and see the shoreline from the perspective of a long-ago lighthouse keeper. Hike open trails that take you over mountaintops and dunes, through lush valleys, along coastal bluffs, and into eucalyptus and Monterey pine forests. Our part of the world begs for exploration, but not crowds. If you’re looking for solo travel ideas in California, this might be the quiet, wide-open journey you’ve needed all along. Even better, many of these activities are part of the Stewardship Travel for Good program, which takes travelers even closer to the heart of the Central Coast. 

Remember: traveling alone on Highway 1 can only be self care if you take good care of yourself while you’re here. Pack a jacket for changeable weather (or s’mores by the fire pit!), hiking shoes, a water bottle, and a phone. Always tell someone where you’re going when you leave, as well as the route you intend to take. And then?

Get out there and go your own way

https://youtu.be/2DvyI4oHQ64

Whale Watching on the Whale Trail

Encountering the majesty of whales traveling the Pacific shoreline should be on every solo traveler’s bucket list. Here on Highway 1, it’s possible to spy a puff from a blowhole, a fin or a tail out at sea, or even close-up. You just need to know the right seasons and spots to look, as well as what to look for. Fortunately, the Whale Trail organization makes it easy with a trail of the best whale-watching viewpoints along the West Coast. Of the Whale Trail’s 100 recommended viewing spots, San Luis Obispo County boasts ten; seven of those stand along Highway 1. They are in San Simeon (two sites), Cambria, Cayucos, Los Osos-Baywood Park, Avila Beach, and Oceano. Each of these Whale Trail spots includes interpretive signs with information about which whales can be visible, when to watch, and what to look for. These are all easy places to reach right off Highway 1, but you can also see whales easily from nearly any turnoff. Wherever you choose to pull over and enjoy the view, it will be uncrowded, scenic, and spellbinding.

Hiking Off the Beaten Path

Low-traffic trails can be found in nearly every destination along our stretch of Highway 1, making for perfect solo hiking conditions. Meander through sycamore forests, watching a mother quail followed by a line of her babies.Scramble down a steep cliff to a black sand beach and gaze up at a 96-foot waterfall. Summit a 1,373-foot sand dune and enjoy the view of 25 miles of coastline and Morro Rock. Walk beside streams, lakes, estuaries and beaches — all with ample room to roam freely. Some walks are short and easy, like the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk in Cambria, or the Guiton Trail Oceano Lagoon in Oceano. Others are challenging and long, like the Trout Creek Trail outside Arroyo Grande, or the Point Buchon Trail between Los Osos and Avila Beach. Whether you’re looking for a casual, easygoing walk or a serious heart-pumping climb, the trails here offer plenty of views and space.

Hiking the open paths along Highway 1

Historic Piers & Lighthouses

The Central Coast boasts a wealth of history and heritage, particularly among the piers and lighthouses along Highway 1. The Piedras Blancas Light Station in San Simeon and the Point San Luis Lighthouse in Avila Beach served as beacons along the shoreline. Both were built in the late 19th century to protect offshore vessels from the rocky cliffs, ensuring the health of Central Coast ports. Today, both of these lighthouses remain in operation, and both offer tours of very small groups of people. In fact, you can even take a kayak tour that leads to a secret beach below the entrance to Point San Luis Lighthouse.

The six piers along Highway 1 are also a result of sea trade, with wharves dating back to 1868. These include piers in San Simeon, Cayucos, Pismo Beach and Avila Beach, which has three. Each of these is a treasure of California history, hidden in plain sight. Walk the piers and enjoy watching surfers and swimmers below, while fishers drop their lines from above, hoping for a catch.

Enjoying a peaceful walk along the pier

Cambria’s History Tour

The town of Cambria once bustled with the spoils of the whaling trade, Mexican land grant ranchos, and dairies. Today, the sweet seaside hamlet is much sleepier, yet beautifully preserved. The Cambria Historical Society offers a self-guided walking tour of Cambria’s historic streets, with glimpses into the lives and businesses of times gone by. Each of the 28 sites on the walking tour sits within one square mile; some are open to the public while others are private. Look for Camozzi's Bar and Hotel (now called Mozzi's Saloon), built in 1922 as a hotel, card parlor, barber shop and pool hall. Or take in the sweet blue and white farmhouse-style Olallieberry Inn, built in 1875 for the Manderscheid Family. And don’t miss the tiny Santa Rosa Chapel, built in 1850 and often visited by celebrities staying at Hearst Castle, up the road. Grab a cup of coffee or tea, and spend a morning or afternoon walking through Cambria’s rich history.

Otter Spotting & Elephant Seal Viewing

Humans aren’t the only ones who like the peace and space of our special stretch of Highway 1! Wildlife of many species live and migrate here under ideal conditions, including the California Sea Otter and the Northern Elephant Seal. Adorable otters can be seen diving, playing, and breaking open shellfish with rocks on their bellies. They can also be found nursing and caring for their young among the kelp forests here, which anchor them and support their hunting. Look for these adorable, furry creatures in peaceful coastal waters or anywhere you see kelp offshore.

Sea lions, on the other hand, can best be seen on the sand of several San Simeon beaches just off Highway 1. These massive, fascinating animals spend much of their lives mating, birthing, nursing and molting on these beaches, all within full public view. In particular, the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery allows close-up views of beached elephant seals by the hundreds during high season. (Visit in late fall or late spring for the least crowded times in the viewing area.) The rookery also offers interpretive signs and docents who share their extensive knowledge of the species — from a safe distance, of course.

Catching an up close glimpse of the elephant seals

Visit Oso Flaco Lake

The picturesque, preserved beauty of Oso Flaco Lake makes for a peaceful solo outing. This remote, diverse natural area lies at the southern end of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, the second-largest dune complex in California. (That means plenty of space to explore without the hassle of crowded trails.) Find abundant wildlife here in a wide array of environments, from a creek to the lake, dunes to the seashore. The boardwalk across the 75-acre Oso Flaco Lake offers benches for sitting and daydreaming, journaling, birdwatching or meditating. Meander through the base of the dunes and spy the threatened Western Snowy Plover, California Least Tern or California Red-Legged Frog. If you’d prefer to walk with a guide, the preserve offers naturalist-led two-hour walks to the end of the Oso Flaco Lake boardwalk. These can include specialized information about the flora, fauna, wildlife, and cultural history of the area in a safe small group setting.

Seaweed Foraging Tours

Named one of the best foraging destinations in the United States, our stretch of Highway 1 offers small group seaweed foraging outings. Marley Family Seaweeds specializes in foraging for wild Pacific seaweeds including Big Sur wakame, kombu and nori. The Marley Family harvests these seaweeds by traditional Japanese methods, and shares these methods with visitors. Participants in the foraging adventure follow the Marleys through the intertidal zone, and finish with a bowl of seaweed ramen at the end. The Marleys share their favorite tips and recipes for putting the seaweeds to good use in the kitchen and beyond. Founder Spencer Marley is of Irish/British descent and has seaweed harvesting, drying and cooking in his blood. He also has a long career of working in aquaculture, from farming oysters to working on a commercial salmon fishing boat. Share his passion for sustainable culinary seaweed on a foraging visit along the Pacific coastline, all from a safe social distance.

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Nature Walks

This 434-acre preserve in Cambria was once a Mexican land grant rancho, and later a working dairy and cattle ranch. Today, this spectacular outdoor space offers something for everyone to enjoy, from hiking to wildlife viewing. Wander one of 17 hiking trails, from short and flat paths to longer, more challenging ones. (Two trails are ADA-accessible: the Bluff Trail and the Marine Terrace Trail.) These paths can be mixed and matched, with routes through one of the world’s last remaining Monterey Pine forests, or along coastal bluffs. The preserve also offers benches in places perfect for taking in the scenic shoreline views. For a naturalist’s perspective, join a small-group walk led by one of Fiscalini Ranch Preserve’s knowledgeable docents. These guides ensure safe social distancing while teaching about the preserve’s sizable coastal ecosystem. This includes freshwater marshes and wetlands among the rich riparian habitat — an ideal birding destination. (Bring your binoculars!)

Taking a serene stroll along the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Nature Walk

El Moro Elfin Forest

Don’t miss the unique chance to experience a true natural oddity in this miniature oak forest. The coastal oaks at the El Moro Elfin Forest have been stunted by sandy soils and spring winds, dwarfing most of them to just four feet tall. A one-mile boardwalk winds among the trees, and is ADA-accessible. Vast views of the Morro Bay National Estuary highlight the significance of this local treasure. Some of the Central Coast’s best birding opportunities are here at the “Siena’s View” landing, which faces the estuary and the Morro Bay State Park Marina. Find up to 110 bird species here, including the red-tailed hawk, black phoebe, black-headed grosbeak, and ruby-crowned kinglet. Walking the 90-acre preserve, look out for the 200 species of native plants growing among the dwarf oaks. But if exploring the El Moro Elfin Forest on your own doesn’t interest you, docents offer small-group one-hour weekly nature walks.

Pet-Friendly Activities

Want to bring your four-legged friend on a not-so-solo trip to the Central Coast? Pet parents have many options for pet-friendly travel here on our special stretch of Highway 1. Due to our mild, comfortable weather, many restaurants have patios that allow pooches to sit tableside. Many wineries also have outdoor tasting rooms and picnic facilities, and several welcome Rover and Fido to join in the experience. Dog beaches and parks like Morro Strand State Beach and Avila’s Olde Port Beach allow pups to roam off-leash. (Most, but not all, other beaches invite dogs on-leash.) Nothing beats watching Rover stretch his legs over a white sand beach! Most hiking trails across San Luis Obispo County’s length of Highway 1 are open to on-leash dogs, as well. (Be sure to check your trail, however, as some have strict no-dog policies.) So pack your bags, bring a leash and a dog bowl, and enjoy a wide-open adventure, just the two of you.

Savoring the surf and the canine companionship at the dog beach

#SoloTravelHighway1

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The natural landscape of our stretch of Highway 1 has inspired paintings, poems, literature and song. As such, we take its conservation very seriously so it can inspire generations to come. Here, you’ll find thousands of acres of protected open space, both on land and at sea. These estuaries, fields, mountains, bluffs and beaches are home to sea otters, elephant seals, snowy plovers, Monarch butterflies and many other creatures. Our set-apart spaces also house precious native plants like Los Osos’s ancient oaks and Cambria’s Monterey Pine trees, which are endangered and rare.

But these places aren’t for the flora and fauna only; they’re meant for everyone to enjoy. Visitors and locals alike love to hike across the many miles of coastal trail along Highway 1. We treasure our panoramic mountain views, intimate oak forests, and ocean vistas, and we love to share them. As you explore our quiet, splendor-filled corner of the world, please remember to leave it the way you found it. Observe regulations about dogs, noise, open hours, staying on paths, wildlife, and litter.

Find Your Sanctuary Along Highway 1

https://youtu.be/GwtIAe3eLYc

Pismo Preserve

One of the newest parks to open on the Central Coast, the Pismo Preserve spans 880 acres of premium coastal wildlands overlooking Pismo Beach. This ranch might have once been developed, but the Land Conservancy of SLO County raised $12 million to purchase it in 2014. After thousands of volunteer hours building trails for public use, the Pismo Preserve opened in 2020. In keeping with Land Conservancy best practices, two-thirds of the property are off-limits to visitors. The remaining third boasts a wide variety of trails totaling 11 miles, from high ocean vistas to sheltered grassy glens. (In fact, some trails nab amazing views of Edna Valley and Price Canyon, on the eastern side of the hills.) Some trails are very family-friendly, with minimal mileage and easy terrain, while others are longer and more challenging to tackle. The Pismo Preserve is also open to mountain biking and equestrian riding on all trails except the Vamanos Trail. Dogs are welcome on the trails, as well, provided they are on leash.

The Pismo Preserve trailhead includes an ADA-compliant picnic table and restrooms. (The Land Conservancy is at work on a new wheelchair-accessible trail to be opened at a later date.) Equestrian trailer parking is also available, as are water troughs throughout the preserve. Find the Pismo Preserve just uphill from the northbound side of Highway 101 in Pismo Beach. Take exit 191B, then Mattie Road to the trailhead. Reserve horse trailer parking through The Land Conservancy.

Los Osos Oaks State Preserve

The coast live oak trees in this remarkable state preserve have grown over sand dunes here for over 800 years. Walk one or a combination of three trails here beneath their majestic limbs. Some of these branches have grown in unusual ways and create interesting shapes adjacent to the path. Five plant communities grow within 90 acres of woodland: coastal sage scrub, dune oak scrub, coast live oak forest, and streamside riparian plants. In the oak scrub, the oak trees grow only six or eight feet tall, maximum. These are considered dwarf oaks, a result of their unique growing conditions here on the coast. The coast live oak forest oaks, however, can be giants that grow up to 25 feet tall. Rabbits, foxes and bobcats have been known to make their homes under the trees, and can sometimes be seen along the path. Bird species here include great horned owls, barn owls, hummingbirds and western flycatchers. You can also see an ancient Chumash refuse site here, with heaps of clam and abalone shells, called “middens.”

The trail system at the Los Osos Oaks State Preserve comprises about 1.5 miles in length. The easy, flat, unpaved path makes for an easy solo walk or walk with friends or family. Please leave Fido at home, though, as pets are not permitted on the trail. Also be aware that the park doesn’t offer restrooms or facilities of any kind. To reach the preserve, drive south from Los Osos on Los Osos Valley Road. Just past the outskirts of the city, look west for the wooden sign identifying the Los Osos Oaks State Nature Preserve. The trailhead can be found west of the small parking lot.

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve

Managed and owned by the Morro Coast Audubon Society, this Los Osos preserve protects precious open space, plants and animal species. In fact, over 350 species of birds have been sighted on Sweet Springs’ 32 acres since the 1990s. Though the preserve features wide-spanning views of Baywood, Morro Bay and Morro Rock, often the best views here are those of the wildlife. Walk the half-mile trail that loops along the river, watching for Great-horned owls, California quail, black-bellied plovers, long-billed curlews and many others. Follow the path of the Chumash and Salinan people who lived here as far back as 500 A.D., before European explorers arrived. At one time, a hunting and fishing lodge called “The Duck Inn” occupied this space. Moreover, the property has several times gone up for development, but never was. Today, it is protected from hunting, fishing, or building of any kind. The preserve also protects the Morro Shoulderband snail, a federally endangered endemic species whose population has decreased rapidly due to development. The snail’s natural environment is coastal dune scrub, so the Sweet Springs Preserve works hard to remove invasive plant species and reinstate natives. 

As a protected bird habitat, Sweet Springs does not allow dogs nor beach access. To reach Sweet Springs, drive 7 miles northwest from San Luis Obispo on Los Osos Valley Road. Turn right onto 9th Street for five blocks, then turn left onto Ramona Avenue. The small parking area for Sweet Springs Nature Preserve is on the corner of Ramona Avenue and 4th Street.

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

With 437 acres of protected coastal land, Cambria’s Fiscalini Ranch Preserve offers a rare glimpse of untouched California. Here, it’s easy to see the forests, bluffs, and rugged coastline through the eyes of its earliest inhabitants, the Salinan and Chumash people. The land later became a Mexican land grant, and one of the parcels became the Fiscalini Town Ranch, owned by the Fiscalini family. After nearly a century of ranching, the property was sold and slated for development. But in 2000, it was purchased through public and private funds to be accessible by all. The preserve thrives with native coastal sage scrub, Monarch butterflies, and Monterey pine forest. Benches stand along the nearly 8 miles of hiking trails for visitors to rest and enjoy the scenery. Some of these trails travel across broad bluffs while others meander through pine and oak forest, freshwater marshes and wetlands. Spy a red-legged frog, western pond turtle, great blue heron or Cooper’s hawk while walking the trail. You may also encounter the compact cobweb thistle or Cambria morning glory.

The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is located in Cambria, just off Highway 1 about 34 miles from San Luis Obispo. Turn west at the traffic light onto Windsor Boulevard and take it to its end, about 1.1 miles. Park and find the marked entrance to Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

Exploring Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
Exploring the sights of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

Kenneth Norris Rancho Marino Reserve

Named after a founder of the Natural Reserve System, this 500-acre reserve protects some of the most spectacular coastline in all of California. While the Cambria property is privately owned, it is managed by UC Santa Barbara and available for use by UC schools exclusively. The reserve protects 185 plant species, 24 species of mammals and 111 of birds between the coastline and up a 700-foot-elevation ridge. These species populate the shoreline, grasses, ponds, coastal scrub and Monterey Pine forest here, including a remarkably diverse marine ecosystem. The reserve lies adjacent to the White Rock Marine Protected Area, south of Cambria, home to one of California’s largest kelp beds. This makes an ideal habitat for sea otters, but sea lions and gray whales have also been spotted here.

Like so much of coastal California, this land was once home to the Salinan and Chumash people. Their middens can be found here dating back 5,000 years, containing red abalone shells and mammal bones. Following the mission era, ranchers grazed cattle to the wide coastal prairies, and still do today.

Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve

A place both thrilling and peaceful, the Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve is the most extensive dune complex in California. Members of the Northern Chumash tribe made their homes in settlement camps along the coast here, thousands of years ago. Later, Don Gaspar de Portola’s expedition of 1769 would land here and hunt a skinny bear - un oso flaco. It has since become Oso Flaco Lake and sits at the southern end of the dune system. In the 1930s and 40s, the Oceano Dunes also attracted a band of bohemian artists, musicians, writers, nudists and mystics called the Dunites. They believed the dunes endowed their inhabitants with creative energy, encamping in lean-tos in the sand for many years.

Today, the Oceano Dunes boast the only beach-vehicle recreation in California, the Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area (SVRA). Here, freewheelers bring their offroading vehicles to climb the dunes and play on the beach. (Street-legal vehicles are welcome on the beach, too.) But the Oceano Dunes offer plenty of quiet spots too, where the flora and fauna of the natural landscape beg to be explored. On a dune walk, look for birds like the ruby-crowned kinglet and American kestrel, as well as an abundance of wildflowers and native grasses. Especially watch for the snowy plover, a threatened bird species, as well as the California least tern, which is endangered. Both species nest within the Oceano Dunes. And who could forget Pismo clams? This area has been famous for its bivalves for decades, and clamming is still permitted here. Be sure to carry a current fishing license and rigid measuring device. Only 10 clams can be taken from the beach, and all must measure at least 4 1/2” each.

Find the Oceano Dunes State Nature Preserve off Highway 1, just south of Pismo Beach.

Coastal plants give life to the serene sandy dunes of Oceano

Oso Flaco Lake

This natural playground lies at the south end of the Oceano Dunes, named after the “skinny bear” hunted by Portola’s expedition of 1769. (Apparently the bear was skinny because it was sick, and later made all of the sailors sick as well.) The centerpiece of the Oso Flaco state-preserved natural area is the freshwater Oso Flaco Lake. Here, a wide diversity of life welcomes visitors around the lake, into the dunes and, further on, at the Pacific shoreline. At the start, arroyo willows and wax myrtles canopy over the path, branches think with lacy Spanish moss. Along this riparian corridor of Oso Flaco Creek, find deer, the coast garter snake, and the red-legged frog among the grasses and shrubs. As the path continues, a plank boardwalk travels over Oso Flaco Lake, providing a different perspective of the 75-acre lake. This area provides a refuge for local and migrating birds; in all, the Oso Flaco Preserve is home to 200 bird species. The trail then leads through majestic sand dunes to the wide open beach, where species like the western snowy plover and California least tern nest among the coastal scrub. Roll and jump over the dunes, wade in the Pacific, or comb the beach for shells. A day at the Oso Flaco Lake State Natural Area makes for peaceful and scenic family fun.

Come for the full 2-mile round-trip walk, or to rest on a bench and spy birds and other wildlife through binoculars by the lake. To reach the Oso Flaco Lake State Natural Area, travel south on Highway 1 past Oceano to the southernmost end of San Luis Obispo County. Turn right on Oso Flaco Lake Road and follow to its end, at the Oso Flaco Lake parking area and trailhead. Leave Rover at home, though: dogs are not permitted in the park. Be prepared to pay a small entry fee to enter the preserve.

Bird watching along the trail of Oso Flaco Lake

Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve

Thousands of Monarch butterflies migrate to the northern edge of the Oceano Dunes each year. The small eucalyptus grove, just off Highway 1, serves as a protected overwintering site for the butterflies. Like birds, Monarchs migrate twice per year up and down the West Coast. When cold weather sends them to warmer climates, they stop in Oceano to bask in the winter sunlight that hits the eucalyptus leaves. The butterflies arrive sometime around October each year, mate in February, and are soon gone just after. But while they’re here, their beautiful orange and black wings cluster on the leaves, like something out of a fairy tale. Indeed, at high season, the Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve is one of the largest populations of Western Monarch Butterflies in the world.

A group of devoted volunteers oversees the Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve between October and February. Docents give free daily educational talks, and are on-hand throughout the preserve to answer questions. They also provide high-powered telescopes for viewing the Monarchs closely on the leaves, as well as a small gift shop. The Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve lies just south of Pismo Beach on Highway 1, just past the North Beach Campground on the right.

Beautiful butterflies decorate the eucalyptus groves of the Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve

Irish Hills Natural Reserve 

At over 1,000 acres, this natural area extends from the western edge of San Luis Obispo up north toward Los Osos. Find chaparral and oak woodlands along 8 miles of trail that feature towering views of San Luis Obispo and the Los Osos Valley. Also within these 1,000 acres lives a plant species unknown to any other part of the world. In 2019, scientists discovered chorizanthe aphanantha, also known as the Irish Hills spineflower. The green and pink spiked flower has been submitted to the California Botanical Society to be considered one of California’s rarest plants.

The Irish Hills connect to the Los Osos Oaks Reserve to the northwest, and recently extended west with the inclusion of the Waddell Ranch. At 154 acres, this is a sizable addition to a publicly-owned piece of old California. Much of the Irish Hills property was once used by miners; many of the trails follow the path of old mining cars. Today, hikers and mountain bikers take to the trails to enjoy this beautiful, protected open space, perfect for exploring.

Avila Beach Bird Sanctuary

Did you know that Avila Beach lies directly in the path of the Pacific Flyway? This 4,000-mile route between the Arctic and Mexico’s west coast sees at least 1 billion migrating birds each year. But, due to habitat loss and other factors of modern life, this number continues to dwindle. As a hotspot of migratory bird traffic, Avila Beach was designated a bird sanctuary in 2015. The San Luis Obispo Creek corridor connects to a tidal estuary — an ideal spot for birds to feed, nest, and raise their young. Here, volunteers promote the conservation and restoration of ecosystems to improve and maintain bird diversity in Avila Beach. 

There are many ways to see the huge diversity of birds in and around Avila Beach. One of the simplest ways is to sit on the beach and look for seabirds like the surf scoter or the penguin-like common murre. Or walk the serene Bob Jones Trail to see great blue herons, northern shovelers, grebes, and snowy and common egrets. Other species include Anna’s Hummingbird, the black phoebe, cormorants, thrashers, and many types of geese and ducks.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS)

Established in 1992 as a federally-protected marine sanctuary, this world treasure spans from Marin County to Cambria: about 276 miles altogether. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oversees the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, covering 6,094 square miles and plunging 12,743 feet. As such, it is the largest US national marine sanctuary — larger than Yellowstone National Park. The sanctuary offers some of the best wildlife viewing in the world, including 36 species of marine mammals alone. Some of these are specially protected, including the Sea Otter Sanctuary and the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery near San Simeon. The MBNMS also covers state-protected waters near San Simeon and Cambria, including the Piedras Blancas State Marine Reserve and Cambria State Marine Conservation Area.

To explore more of the MBNMS, make a visit to the Coastal Discovery Center near Hearst Castle in San Simeon. The center is a collaborative project between the MBNMS and California State Parks, located just steps from San Simeon Bay. Here, find educational programs and exhibits focused on the marine area’s cultural and natural history. Admission is free; find the entrance to the center at Hearst Memorial State Beach, just opposite the entrance to Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

Elephant seals, Piedras Blancas rookery
View the scenic coastline and these majestic mammals at the Elephant Seal Rookery

Morro Bay National Estuary and Nature Preserve

The area south of Morro Bay boasts two different state-protected areas and a federally-protected estuary. The Morro Bay National Estuary covers 2,300 acres spanning from Los Osos to Morro Bay, first designated a state estuary in 1994. In 1995, it was named an Estuary of National Significance, thanks to the work of volunteers, agencies, local government, nonprofit organizations, and landowners. To protect this precious local resource, the Morro Bay National Estuary Program is one of just 28 National Estuary Programs in the country.

The Morro Bay State Marine Reserve protects the shallow mud flats on the eastern end of Morro Bay State Park. These flats are mostly drained at low tide, but when the tide is high, this can be an excellent area for kayaking and birding. To the west, the Morro Bay State Marine Recreation Management Area keeps most of Morro Bay protected, including the estuary and back bay. Locals love to kayak between the Morro Bay State Park Marina and Los Osos, crossing the estuary and looking for seabirds. Kayak outfitters also offer tours to the sandspit that extends to Morro Rock — some even offer picnic lunches and dinners on the sand. But a tour operator isn’t required to access this beautiful strip of beach; just paddle out and enjoy.

Morro Bay Egret
The Great Egret takes flight in Morro Bay
Stewardship Travel for Good Logo

Stewardship Travel for Good

Don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about these precious, protected places. With Stewardship Travel for Good activities, you can dive deeper into the culture, heritage, and landscape of this special stretch of Highway 1. Tour the Piedras Blancas Light Station, built in 1875, with views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Or volunteer at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Natural History Center in the native plant garden, native seed collection or on a beach clean-up. For more ideas and information, check the Stewardship Travel For Good Activities page. And check our Wildlife Viewing Tips for ways to ensure the safety of all creatures in their natural habitats here.

#Highway1PRESERVES

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With nearly 17 miles of Pacific coastline, Pismo State Beach has been a destination for sun and sand for generations. Here you can find something for everyone, from clam-digging and fishing to surfing, hiking and wildlife viewing. Just south of Pismo State Beach, the Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area (SVRA) welcomes vehicles to the only drivable beach in California. The SVRA is also the only driveable dune complex in the country. Here, thrill-seekers bring their off-roading vehicles (or take dune-driving tours) to experience the freewheeling fun of tires in the sand. Between them, Pismo State Beach and the Oceano Dunes SVRA stretch from north of the Pismo Pier to Guadalupe on the southern end. This is an extremely diverse area with attractions, natural wonders, thrills, and much memory-making to be enjoyed.

Pismo State Beach

History

After acquiring the Oceano Campground in 1934, California State Parks gathered more land along the coast to form the Oceano Dunes District. Currently, that district now includes Pismo State Beach and the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

The word pismo comes from the Chumash and Salinan people who inhabited this area thousands of years ago. Pismo translates as “tar,” referring to the tar springs in nearby Price Canyon, east toward Edna Valley. The Chumash people left evidence of their lives throughout the dunes, including “middens,” which are ancient heaps of discarded clam shells. Today, California and the federal government protect these middens.

The natural process that formed the dunes from Pismo State Beach to Guadalupe and Nipomo occurred over millions of years. Sand and sediment traveled from far and wide, over mountains and valleys, to the streams and, finally, the ocean. As it collected at the ocean’s edge, the tide pushed it back until mounds formed. These became the Oceano and Nipomo Dunes, one of the largest dune complexes in California.

The dunes have attracted people of all types, across generations. When Portola’s Spanish expedition traveled here in 1769, sailors found Chumash people thriving up and down the California coast. They also encountered plenty native black bears and grizzly bears. In fact, Portola’s sailors named the southern end of the Guadalupe Dunes “Oso Flaco” after hunting a skinny bear there.

In the 1930s, the dunes later attracted a bohemian settlement of mystics, artists and philosophers called The Dunites. This unusual band of free thinkers occupied areas of the dunes they believed to be cosmically significant. One predominant spot, called Moy Mel, means “pastures of honey” in Gaelic. Duneite homes weren’t much more than lean-to’s and shacks, but hosted visitors including Upton Sinclair, Ansel Adams, John Cage and John Steinbeck. The last of the Dunites died in 1974; though the space is now vacant, the area occupied by the Dunite encampment is still referred to as Moy Mel. (To see more about the Dunites, check out the Oceano Train Depot and Museum for a rebuilt shack in the museum.)

The scenic coastline of Pismo State Beach and The Oceano Dunes

Surfing Pismo State Beach

Today, this state beach is known widely for its great waves and consistent surf. Many pro surf competitions and invitationals happen here, like those for Surf For Hope and the World Surf League. But it isn’t just pros who ride here. Surfers of all ages from across the world come to Pismo State Beach hoping to ride the perfect wave. (And many of them find it.) Ideal kite-boarding and paragliding conditions attract enthusiasts to Pismo State Beach, too.

Enjoying the surf at Pismo State Beach

Oceano Dunes District Visitor Center

Towering sand dunes, a lake and wetland, and 1,400 species of plants and animals make this a place of rare beauty and significance. A visit to the Oceano Dunes District Visitor Center is a great way to learn about it all. There, a newly remodeled Dunes Center introduces visitors to the state park, local area, flora and fauna. Grab an interpretive activity book for kids who want to experience the park hands-on. Young people ages 7-12 will also enjoy the State Park Junior Rangers program. Interpretive Park Rangers present a fun set of activities in the great outdoors during the summer months, and all are welcome. These Park Rangers also offer community campfire nights for families to learn about local wildlife and culture, offered in the summer.

The Oceano Dunes District Visitor Center

Whale Watching

Another ideal way to see Pismo State Beach is by walking the 1-mile boardwalk from the SVRA to the Pismo State Beach Campground. This easy walk along a raised wood plank path gives a new perspective to the beach, winding beside views of the dunes and waves. Looking out toward the ocean, it’s very possible you’ll see whales as they migrate offshore. Gray whales and Humpback whales come here annually to feed, bringing whale watchers from all over to catch sight of them. The Whale Trail organization has named Pismo State Beach one of the best sites for viewing whales on the West Coast. Other sea life to be seen here includes harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters — even orcas, on occasion. For more information on these species and how to identify them from shore, look for the Whale Trail sign on the Pismo Pier.

Whale Watching along the Whale Trail

Clamming Pismo Beach

For at least 25,000 years, people have been digging for clams in this area of California’s Central Coast. In fact, Pismo Beach named itself the “Clam Capital of the World” in 1947. Clam varieties caught here are “Pismo Clams” and “Pismo Razor Clams.” These are bivalves that use their digging foot to bury themselves a few inches under the wet sand. The largest recorded Pismo Clam was 7.37 inches across and estimated to be 26 years old.

Sadly, clammers and sea otters (which feed on clams) have all but depleted the Pismo Clam population. Though people can still clam on Pismo State Beach, they must follow regulations with this delicate resource. Clammers must carry a current fishing license and a rigid measuring device. Only 10 Pismo Clams can be harvested per person, or 20 Pismo Razor Clams per person. And Pismo Clams must measure at least 4.5 inches long to be harvested. So get out your clamming bucket and get ready to spend a few hours on the beach, digging for your dinner!

Fishing at Pismo State Beach

Visitors of all abilities can also enjoy fishing at Pismo State Beach, whether in surf or freshwater. Surf fishing is especially popular here, but a fishing license is required. (Also take care as rip currents can be strong here.) For freshwater fishing, take your rig to the Oceano Lagoon, behind the Oceano Dunes Visitor Center. The lagoon features an ADA-accessible fishing platform. A fishing license is required here, as well.

Sunset Surf fishing at Pismo State Beach

Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area (SVRA)

As of July 8, 2020 the Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission prohibits public camping, public vehicle use, and public Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) use south of MP 3 until October 1, 2020. This order does not prevent public pedestrian access.

As the only drivable beach in the nation, the Oceano Dunes SVRA has attracted adrenaline-seekers and off-roading enthusiasts for decades. In fact, photos from the 1900s show Model T’s lining the beach, as well as motorcycles — even a horse and buggy. But it wasn’t until 1982 that California State Parks dedicated a 3,500-acre section of the beach and dunes to vehicle recreation. It was the first state beach in the nation to officially designate part of its acreage to off-roading. Visitors from across the country and the world come for the freedom to off-road across the packed wet sand and soft, rolling dunes.

Even if you don’t have your own ATV, Hummer or dune buggy, these can be rented from nearby outfitters. These businesses can also teach you about dune-driving safety and how to navigate the dunes. But for those who’d rather be passengers, sign up for a Hummer ride with a professional at the wheel. Several companies provide adventure tours that provide you all of the rush without lifting a finger. Visitors can also walk miles of beach and dunes here, and campfires and bonfires are permitted. Plus, for those who want to hit the water, the conditions at the SVRA are ideal for kitesurfing and windsurfing.  

The same great fishing and clamming at Pismo State Beach can be had at the Oceano Dunes SVRA, too. Bring your bucket, a ruler, and something to dig with (hands work well!) for clams. Or haul out your tackle for a day of fishing at the water’s edge. Wildlife can be found throughout the state park and state beach, especially around the Oceano Lagoon, just east of the Visitor Center. Take the Guiton Oceano Lagoon trail for a 1.5-mile easy hike around the lagoon, perfect for bird watching. Or travel the 2-mile trail through the Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve. Thanks to dunes that screen off sound, this is a serene walk that feels a world away from the SVRA. Look for sea birds like the Western Snowy Plover, a threatened species, which makes its home here. You’ll also find another Whale Trail sign near the Grand Ave entrance to the dunes (west of Finns Restaurant) for whale watching information.

Off-roading in the Oceano Dunes

Other activities nearby

Monarch Butterfly Grove (directly adjacent to Pismo Beach campground)

If you’ve never seen thousands of butterflies competing for space on eucalyptus branches, you’ve missed one of nature’s most vivid images. A short walk from Pismo State Beach, Monarch Butterflies gather at this natural migratory habitat — one of the largest in the nation. The Monarch Butterfly Preserve has been known to see 30,000 butterflies per year, covering tree branches with their orange and black wings. These iconic creatures winter over in Pismo Beach on their way to Mexico from British Columbia between October and February each year. Come to experience the awe of seeing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, warming their wings in the sun. Docents and trained volunteers are available for daily tours and educational talks. There is also a gift shop and interpretive signs describing the path of the Western Monarch and its life cycle. Bring your binoculars or enjoy peeking through the high-powered telescopes provided by the state park.

Biplane rides

One of the best ways to experience this stretch of coastline is from the air. Board one of Banner Airways’ biplanes for the flight of your life out of Oceano Airport. The company operates two biplanes - a 1947 Piper Cub PA-11 and a 1942 WW2 Boeing Stearman - with seats for two passengers. Banner Airways provides guests with all the gear:  leather jackets, caps, and goggles. Have your pilot fly you out for a 20-minute tour of the Pismo Pier, plus surfers in the waves just below. Or add another 20 minutes to that trip to take in the spectacular dunes and the four-wheelers riding over them. And if you’re really up for an adventure, ask about the Thrill Ride. Banner Airways also does custom sky work for marriage proposals, baby gender reveals and the like.

Horseback riding on the dunes

Sure, you can drive over the dunes, but don’t miss the chance to ride over them, too. Pismo State Beach welcomes horseback riders to saddle up for an experience to remember. Riders have several options to choose from for their adventure. Bring your own horse and enjoy trotting over hard-packed sand near the seashore for a day trip. Alternatively, you can bring your horse for an overnight stay at Pacific Dunes Ranch Riding stables and boarding facilities. Or, if you don’t have a horse, take a horseback riding tour with one of Pacific Dunes’ or the Pismo Sands Beach Club’s horses and guides. Tours take 1 hour and meander on a trail through the dunes to the ocean. Don’t miss the opportunity to hoof it at the water’s edge, against the picturesque backdrop of the dunes. Both the guides and the horses are calm and experienced with riders of all ages and abilities.

Pacific Dunes Horseback Riding Stables

Oso Flaco Lake

The dunes of Pismo Beach and Oceano extend several miles south to become the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. Within this remote and beautiful dunes system lies Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area. Here, a range of habitats and environments host diverse species of flora and fauna, viewable at every turn. Follow a path through riparian woodlands, across a boardwalk over a glassy lake, over soft dunes, all the way to the ocean. Along the way, see foliage like arroyo willows, wax myrtles, dune lupine, coyote bush and dune paintbrush. You’ll also likely encounter jackrabbits, lizards, sandpipers, frogs, western snowy plovers, and many other mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Don’t miss the nearby Dunes Center for information about dune access and other points of interest. The center offers educational programs, group hikes, exhibits, and research, as well as a gift shop. The center also offers cultural and historical insight into the filming of Cecille B. DeMille’s 1923 film The Ten Commandments, which was filmed in the dunes.

#OCEANODUNES

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With natural splendor to spare, Los Osos boasts two state parks and beaches: Montaña de Oro State Park and the Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve. Each brings natural and cultural history up close and personal, with Chumash archeology sites, golden wildflowers and a secret “smuggler’s cove.” Los Osos is tucked off the beaten path, so these parks and beaches are uncrowded and wide open for wonder. Here, find over 70 miles of trail and hundreds of plant species (including dwarf oaks that are centuries old), plus peaks to hike and tidepools to explore — all for free. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly beach, a walk through the woods, or a challenging mountain biking trail, these parks have you covered.

Montana de Oro State Park

Montaña de Oro opened in 1965 and is one of the largest state parks, with 8,000 acres and nearly 7 miles of coastline. Here, there is something for everyone to enjoy, including cycling, horseback riding, fishing, surfing, hiking, and trail running. Kids love to watch for wildlife like birds and whales offshore, or in abundant tidepools. And then there’s always sunbathing and picnics on clean, white sand beaches.

For hikers, MDO boasts a variety of trails - over 65 miles in all. (Take note, however: dogs are not allowed on any trails in MDO.) A 1-mile hike on the Dune Trail ends at Hazard Canyon Reef, where anemones, sea stars, crabs, and sand dollars dwell in tidepools. Other trails, like Oats Peak and Valencia Peak, take hikers and mountain bikers up thousands of feet in elevation gain. For horseback riding, the Hazard Peak Trail and Heidra Trail offer a picturesque ride.

The Spooner Ranch House, a restored home from the late 19th century, acts as headquarters for the park. It also offers tours and information about MDO’s history, from the days of the Chumash people to its dairy days and beyond. Rangers also lead programs during the summer, while docent-led walks happen year-round. The Spooner Ranch House also acts as a general store with essentials for camping and equestrian camping, which also happen here.

Spooner’s Cove, just opposite the Spooner Ranch House, is a small, picturesque beach with white sand, a freshwater creek, and tidepools. This beach is very popular for picnics, sunbathing, and family exploring. It also provided a protected place to smuggle moonshine during the Prohibition, which is why some still refer to it as “Smuggler’s Cove.”

Bluff hike at Montana De Oro State Park in Los Osos, CA
Hiking the trails of Montaña de Oro

Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve

This magical state park encompasses 90 square acres of protected oak woodland. Groves like these were once common on the California coast, but many disappeared for use as firewood, building and development. The state took over Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve in 1972 to protect it from development and deforestation. Today, it provides a peaceful place for a walk in the woods.

The reserve includes a series of short trails (under 1.5 miles each) for exploring the five different types of vegetation. The include coast live oak woodland, dune oak scrub, coastal sage scrub, riparian woodland and Central Coast scrub. One of the trails, the Chumash Trail, passes through the site of a Chumash midden, an ancient heap of abalone and clamshells.

The real stars of the Los Osos Oaks Natural Reserve are the trees themselves; these are not your typical oaks. They are dwarf trees, between 6 and 8 feet tall, having been stunted by mineral and moisture depletion, growing in sandy soil. What’s more, they are 800 years old, established on an ancient dune habitat. Enjoy a walk through this unique landscape of fully-grown small oaks, draped in Spanish moss. (Just remember to leave your bikes, horses, and dogs at home.)

Los Osos Oak Preserve
The Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve
Los Osos Oak Reserve
The mighty oak photo courtesy of @exploring805 Instagram
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Stewardship Travel For Good - Near the Los Osos State Parks

The Stewardship Travel For Good program highlights activities that bring travelers close to what makes the Central Coast unique. Because when you fall in love with this special place, you want to ensure that it lasts for generations. Near Los Osos’s state parks, find two Monarch Butterfly groves, where you can see these bejeweled beauties up close. Agencies like the Audubon Society are working with volunteers and biologists to preserve these groves for the future. Other Stewardship Travel for Good activities in Los Osos include bird watching throughout the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, and kayaking the Morro Bay Estuary.

The Stewardship Travel For Good program works to preserve these treasured Monarch Butterfly Groves

#VisitLosOsosBaywood

[post_title] => Los Osos State Parks and Beaches [post_excerpt] => With natural splendor to spare, Los Osos boasts two state parks and beaches: Montaña de Oro State Park and the Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => los-osos-state-parks [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-19 19:15:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-20 03:15:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=122690 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122624 [post_author] => 8 [post_date] => 2020-03-26 12:09:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-03-26 20:09:28 [post_content] => Sunshine, shoreline, surf and even starfish — these are just a few treasures to be found in Cayucos State Beaches and State Parks. Spanning 11 miles of diverse coastline, these places feature sandy beaches, rugged bluffs, tidepools and seasonal creeks that flow into the sea. All of it is minutes away (or, sometimes just steps away!) from the quaint, walkable beach town of Cayucos. From Harmony Headlands State Park to Morro Strand State Beach, these open spaces highlight the very best of Highway 1.

Estero Bluffs State Park

Secluded beaches and coastal bluff walks define this dramatic California State Park. Estero Bluffs boasts a wealth of natural riches, from whales and tide pools to native grasses and geologic formations from the Jurassic Period. It’s no wonder that the ancestors of today’s Chumash and Salinan people settled around this cove for 10,000 years before European explorers came. (In fact, the park’s property includes several Native American occupancy sites.) Estero Bluffs State Park stretches along a strip of coastline just north of downtown Cayucos, and west of Highway 1. The 4-mile easy trail that runs parallel to the shore is accessible by short lateral trails amidst grasses, coastal scrub and seasonal wildflowers. This popular walk welcomes dogs on leash from the park’s southern boundary to San Geronimo Creek. (Dogs are not permitted between San Geronimo Creek and the park’s northern boundary. Also note that bikes and horses are prohibited at Estero Bluffs State Park.) Find tidepools beneath the bluffs near San Geronimo Creek, where exposed rocks host barnacles, limpets, sea anemones, crabs, snails, and mussels. As for sea mammals, visitors can see migrating whales December through March, and California sea otters, dolphins, and harbor seals year-round.
Estero Bluffs in Cayucos
Panoramic views of the Estero Bluffs

Harmony Headlands State Park

At 784 acres, Harmony Headlands State Park occupies some of the richest, most diverse and scenic coastal land on California’s coast. It is also the northernmost of Cayucos’s state properties. This state park was opened in 2008 after the American Land Conservancy and its supporters saved it from development. The property’s earliest inhabitants were ancestors of today’s Chumash and Salinan people, followed by recipients of the Rancho San Geronimo land grant. Later, the land passed hands to the Swiss-Italian Righetti and Storni families, both of which operated dairies here. An easy 4.5-mile hike along the Harmony Headlands Trail offers the best way to see this priceless section of unspoiled California. Begin by parking just off Highway 1, then walk the inland section of trail among San Luis Obispo morning glories, bluebells and oatgrass. Along the way you’ll see a bunkhouse from the park’s old cattle ranching days which has since become a primitive restroom. A man-made pond also lies beside the trail, another remnant of the dairy ranch. About a mile from that, the path opens to ocean bluffs and runs north, alongside the rocky shore. Enjoy a quiet seaside moment on one of the benches provided, or bring your watercolors or pencils to capture the landscape on paper. Dogs are not permitted at Estero Bluffs State Park, so please prepare to leave Fido at home. Visitors can fish along the shore, but only with a license.
Hiking Harmony Headlands State Park
Hiking Harmony Headlands State Park photo courtesy of @alexmdepue Instagram
https://youtu.be/HipNzqNrHPI

Cayucos State Beach

If you’re on the hunt for a family-friendly spot with something for everybody, check out this laid-back state beach. At its heart is the historic Cayucos Pier, established as a busy wharf by Captain James Cass in 1872. Though most trade has since moved to other parts of the Central Coast, the pier remains an important hub for locals and visitors alike. Grab your rig and set up for fishing the Cayucos Pier, where rockfish, halibut and other fish can be caught without a license. Or simply stand at the pier’s edge and watch surfers catch the perfect wave. Better yet, suit up to get in the water yourself! Cayucos State Beach lies right beside Cayucos’s downtown corridor, where surf outfitters and surf schools offer gear and lessons for all ages and abilities. Whether you rent from them or bring your own, you’re sure to hang ten on the Cayucos waves. Other fun things to do in downtown Cayucos include antique-hunting, dining, and cookie-sampling at the original Brown Butter Cookie Factory. A big, safe play structure, popular with little and big kids alike, stands right on the soft sand where the pier and the beach meet. Let the littles swing from the rings, drum on the play congas, and speed down the epic slide. Or for budding naturalists, take a walk south to the Cayucos State Beach tidepools, where anemone, mussels, and other small sea creatures live. (Just be careful to step on exposed rock to avoid treading on them.) Of course there’s also wading, sand play, sunbathing and swimming to be had here. In fact, the Carly Soule Memorial Polar Bear Dip happens here every New Year’s Day, with thousands of swimmers braving the cold January waters. And don’t forget the Cayucos 4th of July Parade and celebration, which includes a serious sandcastle competition on Cayucos State Beach each year.
cayucos pier
Fun for all ages along Cayucos Beach and the historic Cayucos Pier
https://youtu.be/NfGUa21jIh0

Morro Strand State Beach

This long state beach with a view of Morro Rock actually comprises two strips of coastline. The northern end of Morro Strand State Beach lies between 24th Street and Chaney Avenue; the southern section spans Yerba Buena Street to Atascadero Road. In 1916, a land developer named Edward Lewis purchased this southern section of coastline, planning to build a beach community and inn. He did build the Cloisters Inn and Cottages in 1925, and many historic photographs show how grand it was, built right beside the shoreline in a neo-Spanish style. The inn was a popular place for entertainment, as well as a restaurant that served breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the Great Depression prohibited Lewis from keeping the property open. In 1948, the inn and southern beach were deeded to the State Park System; the northern beach has been part of California Parks since 1932. Combined, they became Morro Strand State Beach. The beach remains popular for the same reasons it was with Cloisters Inn guests. It still boasts views of Morro Rock, dramatic coastal dunes, and long stretches of beach for walking, running, and playing. In fact, Morro Strand State Beach remains popular for camping. And excellent picnic facilities (and plenty of soft, white sand) make for a beautiful meal with a view. Surf-fishing here can bring in rockfish and halibut, but anglers must be 16 years old and carry a valid California fishing license. The waves at Morro Strand State Park also attract surfers, stand-up paddle boarders and boogie boarders of all ages and stages. The beach is set against a long series of dunes, and these make for terrific bird-watching, especially during the winter migration. Other wildlife can be seen among the tidepools on the north end of Morro Strand Campground. Look for sea slugs, urchin, crabs, snails and anemone in the crevices at low tide.
Morro Rock
The iconic Morro Rock photo courtesy of @adam.ssmithh Instagram
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Stewardship Travel For Good

When you visit the state parks and state beaches in and around Cayucos, you can’t help but fall in love with this tremendous place we call home. But for even more meaningful moments, try our Stewardship Travel for Good program, a series of experiences designed for deeper connection. Follow the trail of migrating whales offshore with The Whale Trail, or tour the incredible Elephant Seal Rookery with an expert guide. When you see this stretch of Highway 1 through the eyes of locals, you understand the importance of preserving it for future generations.

#VisitCayucos

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This unique stretch of Highway 1 includes 12 state parks, five state beaches and one marine protected area. Of those state-designated places, the quaint seaside town of Cambria has two: Leffingwell State Park and the White Rock State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA). Both protect and preserve Cambria’s natural areas for future generations.

Leffingwell Landing State Park

On Cambria’s northern edge, Leffingwell Landing begs visitors to sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The park offers BBQ pits, short hiking trails, a scenic lookout, boat ramp and restrooms. Visitors can also access the rocky shore with great tide pools, and maybe even spot a whale or two, depending on the season. Pick up the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk here due south, or head north to San Simeon State Park.

Leffingwell Landing photo courtesy of @compassrosestudio Instagram

Cambria Marine Protected Areas

The White Rock (Cambria) State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) extends south along the Cambria coast. The Cambria State Marine Park (SMP) is a narrow strip of coastal waters between Pico Creek bridge in San Simeon and Cambria, south of Moonstone Beach. Here, researchers constantly seek insight into how to protect our oceans. Specifically, scientists look at the value of preserving the Pacific’s kelp beds and vibrant tidal areas. Several roads south of Moonstone Beach lead down to this rugged and scenic stretch of coast. Once there, find coastal trails along the bluffs and terraces, all of them deserving to be photographed.

Passed by the California State Legislature in 1999, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) required the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to redesign its system of marine protected areas (MPAs) to increase its coherence and effectiveness at protecting the state’s marine life, habitats, and ecosystems. For the purposes of MPA planning, a public-private partnership commonly referred to as the MLPA Initiative was established, and the state was split into five distinct regions (four coastal and the San Francisco Bay), each of which had its own MPA planning process. All four coastal regions have completed these individual planning processes. As a result, the coastal portion of California’s MPA network is now in effect statewide.

Nearby activities

Otter Spotting

Prepare to ooh and ahh as you discover California Sea Otters along our Highway 1 coastline! These funny, furry sea mammals play around Moonstone Beach and along the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk, a 3-mile round-trip walk accessible from Leffingwell Landing.

A sea otter on his back Whale Tail on the Whale Trail along Highway 1

Whale Watching

Cambria is designated as one of the top places for whale watching by The Whale Trail, a national organization. Find The Whale Trail’s informative interpretive sign at Shamel Park, adjacent to Moonstone Beach — and don’t forget your binoculars.

Elephant Seals

A treasure of the Central Coast lies just north of Cambria and San Simeon on the beach at the Elephant Seal Rookery. Witness the lives of hundreds of Northern Elephant Seals as they migrate, mate, pup and molt, just steps from the viewing area.

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Fiscalini Ranch Preserve & Stewardship Travel For Good

Stewardship Travel For Good is a program of unique experiences that bring visitors closer to the heart of the Central Coast. Want to dive deeper into Cambria? Try a cleanup day at the beautiful Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, a space protected through the passion and patronage of Cambria locals. Hike one of the preserve’s 17 trails, then chip in to keep those trails up for the next visitors — and the next generation.

#LeffingwellLanding

[post_title] => Cambria State Park And Marine Protected Area [post_excerpt] => On Cambria’s northern edge, Leffingwell Landing begs visitors to sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The park offers BBQ pits, short hiking trails, a scenic lookout, boat ramp and restrooms. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => leffingwell-landing-cambria-state-park [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-08-04 21:00:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-08-05 05:00:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=122207 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122200 [post_author] => 8 [post_date] => 2020-03-16 12:56:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-03-16 20:56:40 [post_content] =>

Newspaper mogul and businessman William Randolph Hearst was really on to something when he set down roots in San Simeon. With lush green hills, rugged coastline and views for miles, this part of Highway 1 feels just like paradise. No wonder San Simeon boasts more state parks, beaches and monuments than any other on this stretch of Highway 1. So while you may have needed an invitation to see Hearst’s home in the 1920s and ‘30s, today, it’s open to everyone. Visit Hearst Castle along with its neighboring San Simeon state parks and beaches, and experience the very best of the Central Coast.

San Simeon State Park

This spacious state park edges the Pacific with wide views of the ocean and rugged shoreline. A 3-mile trail weaves through it, running alongside the San Simeon Natural Preserve, one of three preserves within the park. (Another, the Pa-nu Cultural Preserve, features an archeological site dating back to 3,833 BCU.) Bird watching and whale watching are excellent here, as is the view at the Elephant Seal Rookery on the north end of the park. Here, visitors can witness the lives of Northern Elephant Seals, which migrate here by the hundreds. The seals mate, pup, and molt here, just feet away from the roped-off viewing area, where docents stand to educate and inform.

Elephant seals, Piedras Blancas rookery
Elephant seals along the beautiful San Simeon coastline

WR Hearst Memorial State Beach

This stunning area once belonged to multi-millionaire William Randolph Hearst, a private beach below his “enchanted hill,” Hearst Castle. Today, the beach welcomes visitors to enjoy its protected cove, wade or swim in its waters, and fish off the pier. This beach is also terrific for launching into San Simeon Bay for watersports, including kayaking and SUP (standup paddle boarding). Bring a picnic, hike the peaceful San Simeon Cove Trail, or watch for whales with binoculars from the Coastal Discovery Center.

W.R. Hearst State Beach
Aerial views of San Simeon pier
Hiking San Simeon State Beach
Hike San Simeon Cove trail to find this private beach.

Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument

The only State Park that’s also a museum, Hearst Castle offers a fascinating look into the life of 19th-century tycoon William Randolph Hearst. In his day, Hearst ruled the media nationwide with his newspapers, making millions and hobnobbing with celebrities, presidents, and luminaries. To entertain them, he built his magnificent home staring in 1919, above San Simeon, with unparalleled views of the Pacific. The estate, designed by architect Julia Morgan, comprises a 115-room main house, 2 pools, formal gardens, and several guest cottages. Hearst was a devoted collector of art and antiquities from around the globe, which are displayed throughout the home and property. 

Since 1958, Hearst Castle has been a California State Park, open to the public. Knowledgeable guides lead visitors on tours that include the main house, guest cottages, gardens, and the famous Neptune Pool and Roman Pool. It is also just up the hill from San Simeon State Park and WR Hearst Memorial State Beach. Don’t miss a chance to see zebras wandering the grassland surrounding Hearst Castle — remnants from Hearst’s private zoo.

Hearst Castle photo courtesy of @rotrc_gail Instagram
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Stewardship Travel For Good

Want to fall even more deeply in love with San Simeon? Stewardship Travel For Good is a list of experiences along this stretch of Highway 1 that bring visitors closer to what makes this place special. For instance, at Hearst Memorial State Beach, the Coastal Discovery Center (CDC) welcomes all who seek to learn more about San Simeon Bay.  A natural history center from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and California State Parks, the CDC features interactive exhibits and educational programs to support the bay’s preservation. 

Other nearby activities include a tour of the Piedras Blancas Light Station, a guided visit to the Elephant Seal Rookery, or whale watching. To discover more deep-dive experiences here on our unique stretch of Highway 1, see the complete list of Stewardship Travel For Good activities.

Watch San Simeon Activities

#VisitSanSimeon

[post_title] => State Parks and Beaches of San Simeon [post_excerpt] => San Simeon boasts more state parks, beaches and monuments than any other city on this stretch of Highway 1. Visit Hearst Castle along with its neighboring San Simeon state parks and beaches, and experience the very best of the Central Coast. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => state-parks-in-san-simeon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-19 19:10:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-20 03:10:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=122200 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [10] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122148 [post_author] => 8 [post_date] => 2020-03-10 17:25:42 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-03-11 01:25:42 [post_content] =>

At the heart of the California coast, this special stretch of Highway 1 includes over a dozen state parks, beaches, and historical monuments. These places are under protection from the state for the specific purpose of preserving natural areas and promoting the public’s enjoyment. As such, they are precious to locals, Californians, and visitors from all over the world.

From Ragged Point to Nipomo, you’ll find scenic beaches, quiet woodlands, marine protected areas, art, antiquities, and driveable dunes. It’s all within reach here, plus a whole lot more. So get ready to check items off your bucket list — you won’t want to miss a single one of these state treasures, listed below from north to south.

San Simeon State Park

One of California’s first state parks, San Simeon State Park stretches beside the Pacific Ocean with coastal bluffs and scenic views of the rocky shoreline. In the 1880s, the 500 acres that comprise the park served as a ranch and dairy operation owned by Ira Whittaker. He planted the many eucalyptus trees standing there today for a windbreak and for firewood to heat the dairy’s boiler for cheese-making. 

Visitors to this unique place can enjoy plenty of scenic walks through untouched natural surroundings. Take the 3.5-mile Washburn Trail through wetlands and past beaches, with places to sit and interpretive signs detailing flora and fauna. For about 1/4 mile, the path is also accessible by wheelchair. Sections of this trail offer glimpses of long-ago California, with cows grazing, windmills, and the majestic Santa Lucia Mountain Range.

In addition to eucalyptus, the park is populated with Monterey Pines, part of a native stand of only four groves across the globe. During their winter migration, Monarch butterflies have been known to cluster in San Simeon State Park’s pine trees. Other plants here include willow, cottonwood, wild blackberry bushes and wax myrtle.

Plenty of wildlife can be found throughout the park’s Santa Rosa Creek Natural Preserve, San Simeon Natural Preserve and Pa-Nu Cultural Preserve. Some species include the endangered red-legged from, Western pond turtle, and migratory birds like the cinnamon teal, mallards, herons and egrets. And for an up-close-and-personal wildlife viewing experience, nothing beats a visit to the Elephant Seal Rookery on the park’s northern end. Here, witness the life cycle of hundreds of Northern Elephant Seals in their natural habitat, with docents on hand to answer questions.

san simeon pier
The San Simeon pier at WR Hearst State Beach.

Hearst Castle State Historical Monument

A visit to this uniquely beautiful state park should be on every traveler’s bucket list. Hearst Castle State Historical Monument is the only museum that’s also a state park — and it’s a museum like no other. Newspaper magnate and heir to George Hearst’s mining fortune, William Randolph Hearst was a passionate collector of art and antiquities from across the globe. The magnificent home he built to house his collection and entertain A-list guests sits atop a hill in the Santa Lucia Mountains, overlooking the San Simeon coastline. He broke ground with his architect, Julia Morgan, in 1919, and construction continued until 1947. The home covers nearly 69,000 square feet, 38 bedrooms, 40 bathrooms, 2 jaw-dropping swimming pools, a theater, and a beauty salon. 

Fortunately for visitors today, Hearst Castle became a California State Park in 1958, opening its doors to the public to see Mr. Hearst’s incredible home and collection. The estate offers a number of tours, from general tours of the main rooms and pools to specialized tours highlighting Mr. Hearst’s Christmas traditions. Witness the opulence of this unique place, as well as the natural splendor of the surrounding mountains and coastline below. And don’t miss the chance to catch a peak at the famous zebras of Hearst Ranch, descendants of Mr. Hearst’s private zoo.

Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA
The historic Hearst Castle Estate

WR HEARST MEMORIAL STATE BEACH

Popular with locals, this San Simeon beach once belonged to William Randolph Hearst, the publishing mogul whose towering estate stands just up the hill. No wonder Hearst wanted it all for himself: the protected waters and leafy cove are pretty enough to be a movie set.

Before Hearst’s time, this beach saw much activity with whalers, whose catch provided oil for gas lamps across the world. But with the advent of fossil fuels, whaling declined and sent San Simeon into a recession. During that time, savvy businessman George Hearst purchased 45,000 acres of San Simeon property on the cheap. He built the San Simeon wharf to make local import and export easy. Though his son William Randolph Hearst was only 15 when he built it, he would go on to import his collection of art and antiques to Hearst Castle from here in the early 20th century.

Today, the pier still stands at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, and offers a great place to launch a kayak, SUP, boogie board, or fish - no license necessary! Enjoy a picnic, hike San Simeon Cove, sunbathe on the sand or swim in the surf. Visitors can also take a walk through the Coastal Discovery Center next to the beach to learn about local wildlife and history.

Leffingwell Landing State Park

This cove, once rumored to be a hot spot of import during the Prohibition, now serves as a picturesque state park in Cambria. The park includes a flat lawn area that extends dramatically out to the ocean, dotted with native trees and very popular for weddings. The beach below has soft sand and tidepools teeming with anemone, urchins, crabs and other sea life. It provides a primitive boat ramp for kayaks and small vessels, as well as many scenic spots for picnics and sunset-watching

Leffingwell Landing State Park is named after William Leffingwell, who settled here from Connecticut in 1859. He owned and operated a sawmill, a large part of which helped build Cambria as we know it today. He, his wife and their eight children lived at Leffingwell Cove in the early days of Cambria’s establishment.

Leffingwell Landing lies at the northern end of the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk, a mile-long wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that ends at Moonstone Beach in Cambria. A walk from Leffingwell Landing to Moonstone Beach and back provides excellent opportunities for whale watching. Look for the California Gray Whale migration during the winter (heading south) and spring (moving north). Other common species to see here include dolphins, sea lions, sea otters — sometimes even Humpback Whales or Minke Whales.

Leffingwell Landing in Cambria
Leffingwell Landing State Park

Harmony Headlands State Park

This quiet coastal park feels like a world away. Find a marked turnout along Highway 1 between Cayucos and Cambria, then walk the Harmony Headlands Trail, a scenic hike through coastal plains to the sea.

Harmony Headlands occupies 748 acres once part of Rancho San Geronimo, a Mexican land grant from 1842. It later became a dairy farm owned and operated by the Storni family until the mid-1960s. After changing hands several times, the ranch became property of the state in 2003. 

The hike through marine terraces to the ocean spans 1.5 miles or 3 miles, there-and-back. The trail opens to wide views of the Pacific Ocean where whales, dolphins, and other sea life can be spotted. Enjoy vistas that include steep, rocky bluffs, crashing waves, and seabirds. Benches stand along the coastline to provide rest and perfect places for wildlife viewing.

Hiking in Cayucos
Enjoying beautiful ocean views from the Harmony Headlands trail
https://youtu.be/HipNzqNrHPI

Estero Bluffs State Park

At Estero Bluffs State Park, visitors can explore the coastline north of Cayucos. The park offers a 4-mile hike that’s popular with locals, as well as whale watching, bird watching and tidepools. 

Like Harmony Headlands, Estero Bluffs State Park was once part of the 8,893-acre San Geronimo Mexican land grant of 1842. And like so many Central Coast state parks, the Estero Bluffs also served as a dairy and ranch for Swiss-Italian immigrant farmers. In this case, the dairyman was Abram Muscio; in fact, his Aermotor windmill by San Geronimo Creek still stands in the Estero Bluffs State Park. Heirs to Muscio’s estate sold the land to developers in the 1960s, but by the 1980s the Cayucos community advocated to preserve the area. In 2002, the trust for Public Lands purchased the property and handed it over to the State.

Across its 353 acres, Estero Bluffs State Park offers numerous trails to hike. The main trail, from beginning to end, is about 4 miles long, though lateral trails can easily add mileage. The trail takes in views of the rocky shoreline, the bay, and Morro Rock in the distance. A small beach can also be found here near San Geronimo Creek, where tidepools beg to be (carefully, responsibly) explored! Sea life in the tidepools can include limpets, barnacles, sea anemones, hermit crabs, mussels, and snails. Migrating whales, otters, harbor seals, gulls, pelicans and snowy plover can also be found on- or off-shore at this beloved state park.

Estero Bluffs in Cayucos
The picturesque coastline along the Estero Bluffs

Cayucos State Beach

Fun is the name of the game at this family-friendly state beach. Here, visitors can enjoy sand, sun, and surf, all mere steps from the quaint and historic town of Cayucos. The name “Cayucos” refers to a time when this area’s earliest inhabitants used kayak-like boats, observed by Spanish explorers. Cayucos’s appeal remains the same as when the native Chumash lived here: a mild climate, bountiful ocean, and protected bay.

Later, Captain Cass would take advantage of Cayucos’ many charms by setting up a wharf here. His pier still stands, and represents the spine of the state beach, and of the whole town. Locals and visitors alike enjoy walking the pier, casting off for surfperch, rockfish, walleye, and halibut. Look for the Whale Trail sign at the base of the pier for tips on how to spot a migrating whale offshore. The pier also offers great views of the many surfers who take on the waves here. But, for those who’d rather be in on the action, a number of surf outfitters and schools make sure that they’re surf-ready. Swimming, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) and kayaking are also popular activities at Cayucos State Beach.

For young visitors, a large play structure stands right on the sand, begging to be explored — tidepools, too. And for extra fun, this beach hosts the Carly Soule Memorial Polar Dip each year on New Year’s Day, as well as a sandcastle contest on the 4th of July.

Cayucos Beach surfer
Cayucos State Beach is a surfer's paradise.

Morro Strand State Beach

With six miles of soft sand between Morro Bay and the Cayucos Pier, Morro Strand State Beach provides an ideal setting for a walk, a run, or a picnic. This long beach sits up against a series of white dunes, just west of Highway 1. The beach offers picnic facilities for a picturesque meal with a view, including wide-angle shots of Morro Rock. 

For watersports, people from all over the world come to Morro Strand State Beach to windsurf its waves. Surfing and swimming attract locals and visitors, too. Take advantage of perfect conditions for flying a kite. (This beach lies adjacent to Morro Rock Beach, home of the Morro Bay Kite Festival.) Or break out your surf-fishing getup and spend a morning or afternoon casting off. And parents of babies and small children: bring your jogging stroller and wheel it across the hard-packed sand for some precious self-care time.

To finish a day at Morro Strand State Beach? The best way is with a sunset walk, toes in the sand.

Morro Bay State Park

Set above a peaceful lagoon overlooking the Morro Bay National Estuary and Los Osos, this state park offers a multitude of natural wonders. Enjoy hiking a network of picturesque trails, including the Black Hill Trail and Quarry Trail, with views of seasonally green hills. Or launch a kayak from the State Park Marina to see sea otters, seals, pelicans and more sea life in the calm waters of the bay. 

Find the Morro Bay Natural History Museum on the point above the estuary, where interactive exhibits cover cultural history, preservation, the tides, sand dunes, and wildlife. In the nearby State Park Marina, the Bayside Cafe serves American favorites and seafood fare with a view of Morro Rock in the distance. 

For golfers, the Morro Bay State Park offers a favorite 18-hole public golf course. (Don’t miss the natural Monarch Butterfly habitat at the course’s entrance, where the jewel-toned butterflies migrate each year.) The park is also a destination for birdwatchers, whose saltwater marshes on the bay’s northeast edge support a diverse population of birds.

Morro Rock at sunset
Morro Rock sits majestically along the shoreline

Montana de Oro State Park

This sprawling state park clocks in at 8,000 acres — one of the largest in California. This includes seven miles of shoreline, each of which offers an abundance of natural and cultural riches to explore. 

One of Montaña de Oro’s greatest draws is its complex network of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Visitors the world over come to summit Valencia Peak, Oats Peak and Hazard Peak, whether on foot, wheels or hoofs! Take advantage of the panoramic vistas available at the top of these trails, all the way to Morro Rock and far beyond.

Several favorite beaches welcome visitors to Montaña de Oro, including the family-friendly Spooner’s Cove. Named after a rancher who made his home here in the late 19th century, this beach is extremely well protected. The setting includes a freshwater stream for younger kids to wade in, as well as a rocky point that older kids and grownups love to climb. Find the Spooner Ranch House just opposite the beach, where history comes to life with tours and exhibits. 

Of course, in spring you can witness the golden wildflowers for which this park is named.  But however you experience magical Montana de Oro, you will always come away moved by its untouched beauty.

Montana de Oro
Montana de Oro's ocean bluffs

Los Osos Oaks State Preserve

This protected natural area boasts a small network of hiking trails that lie beneath centuries-old oak trees. Enjoy the peace of unspoiled terrain and unique opportunities for wildlife and bird-watching.

The Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve is comprised of 90 acres of ancient oaks. Some of these oaks are 800 years old or more, their knotted roots and long branches attesting to their age. Three hiking trails wind in and amongst these trees. One, the Chumash Trail, walks the center of the grove, with large branches straddling the path. This trail also passes through the remains of a Chumash midden, or trash site. Heaps of shells from abalone and clams can be found, remnants of the many meals the Chumash people ate here. Another trail, the Los Osos Creek Trail, makes its way east, named for the seasonal stream it follows. The last, the Oak View Trail, loops southward, underneath a canopy of oak branches and amidst native chaparral. 

Throughout the park, listen for birds singing, wind moving, and streams flowing. Quail, brush rabbits, and plain titmouses scurry among the underbrush; and unique species of lichen and moss make their home on branches throughout the park.

Los Osos Oak Preserve
The lush greenery of the Los Osos Oaks State Preserve

Pismo State Beach

Famous for its surf, this state beach boasts what many consider to be perfect waves. Pismo State Beach hosts multiple surf competitions, including those for the World Surf League and Surf For Hope. But you don’t have to be a pro to experience Pismo’s waves for yourself; people of all abilities jump in the water to get stoked here.

Surf isn’t the only draw at Pismo State Beach, though. Spin your wheels on the Oceano State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA — see below for more), the only driveable dune complex in the United States. This state beach is also one that welcomes horseback riding. Bring your own horse to board at the Pacific Dunes Riding Ranch, or take one of theirs out for a beach ride.

To see wildlife, the adjacent Monarch Butterfly Grove brings visitors close to these beautiful creatures in their migratory home. See thousands of Monarchs cover the coastal eucalyptus trees, warming their wings in the sun, with docents nearby to answer questions. Bring your binoculars to see them, and to see the diverse bird population that lives in the nearby lagoon.

Other activities at Pismo State Beach include swimming, sunbathing, kite-flying, walking the beach boardwalk, and digging for the famous Pismo clam. Bring a blanket, a picnic, your sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat, and get ready for your Pismo State Beach adventure.

Oceano Dunes SVRA

This state recreation area is extremely unique: it’s the only one of its kind to allow driving directly on the dunes and beach. Freewheeling enthusiasts gather here to enjoy riding the dunes and beach, whether in their own vehicles, or on specialized tours. 

This complex of dunes isn’t unique only for its driveability; it’s also very different geographically. Recognized by ecologists, government agencies and scientists as the largest coastal dune complex in the state, the Oceano Dunes have attracted interest for generations. The dunes are formed from material that’s flown down to the ocean via rivers, creeks and run-off. That material remains at the water’s edge here, and is shaped by coastal winds to appear the way they do today.

The Northern Chumash tribes were this area’s first settlers, building encampments by the water’s edge and taking advantage of natural resources. Hundreds of years later, in the 1930s and ‘40s, another group settled here at the water’s edge seeking solitude. The Dunites, as they were called, comprised a group of artists, writers, and mystics who believed the dunes supplied creative energy. They lived in lean-tos and shacks, and welcomed guests including some of the most notable writers, journalists, and artists of the day. (Artifacts and one of the Duneite shacks can be seen at the nearby Oceano Train Depot Museum.)

Other attractions at the Oceano Dunes SVRA include the Oceano Dunes Visitor Center for exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the area. And don’t miss the short walk along the freshwater lagoon for a picturesque view of Oceano wildlife.

oceano dunes
The sand dunes of Oceano

#CENTRALCOASTSTATEPARKS

[post_title] => State Parks and Beaches of the Central Coast [post_excerpt] => At the heart of the California coast, this special stretch of Highway 1 includes over a dozen state parks, beaches, and historical monuments. From Ragged Point to Nipomo, you’ll find unspoiled beaches, quiet woodlands, marine protected areas, art, antiquities, and driveable dunes. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => central-coast-state-parks-and-beaches [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-19 19:08:48 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-20 03:08:48 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=122148 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [11] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 121693 [post_author] => 3 [post_date] => 2020-02-01 16:43:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-02-02 00:43:56 [post_content] => At Marley Family Seaweeds, Spencer and the bunch do offer private foraging tours along the Central Coast. We were lucky enough to be profiled in the recent SLO New Times article “Harvesting the Sea” and Lonely Planet's "Top 6 Places to Go Foraging in the US". This is an intimate and educational experience that is always family friendly. Often, my children will join your children in showing them the wonders of central California tide pools. We love the thoughtful, curious and forward thinking people that we take sea harvesting. Fun, educational, and low impact private foraging tours collect many species of delicious edible seaweed. Perfect for couples or the whole family, you’ll discover kelp is some of the tastiest and most nutritious of wild superfoods. Discover secret spots and learn sustainable harvesting techniques.. Seaweed Ramen is a treat served at the end of the tour.  We like to keep our footprints low key to prevent over-harvesting and keep this amazing resource sustainable here in San Luis Obispo county. You can book seaweed tours HERE. We fill up quite fast during the summer, so book now. [post_title] => Seaweed Foraging Tours [post_excerpt] => This is an intimate and educational experience that is always family friendly. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => seaweed-foraging-tours [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-06-06 15:14:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-06-06 23:14:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=121693 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [12] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 121540 [post_author] => 8 [post_date] => 2020-01-27 21:39:48 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-01-28 05:39:48 [post_content] =>

For generations, the natural hot springs of Avila Beach have provided relief and relaxation to visitors from far and wide. Known for their supposedly curative benefits, these hot springs were discovered by those seeking oil in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, they continue to restore and revive travelers to Avila Beach. Want to soak your stress away? Find pure bliss in two legendary Avila Beach Hot Springs.

Avila Hot Springs

A family favorite for over a century, Avila Hot Springs was established by the Budan family after drillers found hot springs instead of oil in 1907. This natural artesian mineral spring continues to bubble up at Avila Hot Springs today. Along with a thermal soaking pool, Avila Hot Springs offers a heated swimming pool with waterslides, poolside service, a restaurant and an arcade. No matter how you spend your time at Avila Hot Springs, it’s guaranteed to be relaxing, rejuvenating, and fun. Find the entrance just west of the Highway 101 offramp, on Avila Beach Drive.

Pool and waterslides

The 5,000-square-foot swimming pool at Avila Hot Springs is heated year round to 85 degrees F. With plenty of chairs and tables for poolside meal service, the pool also features two squiggly water slides for wet and wild fun. Lifeguards keep the fun safe, too.

Hot spring mineral pool

The same hot spring that oil drillers found over a century ago continues to soothe travelers today. Come soak in an two-foot-deep “hot pool” where the water stays around 104 degrees constantly, thanks to a natural artesian well beneath.

Bike Rentals

The Bob Jones Bike Trailhead sits just steps away from Avila Hot Springs. Bring your bike or rent a beach cruiser from Avila Hot Springs to ride the 1.5 miles to seaside Avila Beach.

Massage

Avila Hot Springs offers massages for individuals and couples by appointment. Each treatment includes a thermal mineral pool soak before and after your massage.

Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa

Sycamore Mineral Springs

Tucked away under a canopy of sycamore trees, this treasured spot provides a retreat from daily stress and obligations. Find Sycamore Mineral Springs famous hot tubs, staggered amid the trees, as well as the Oasis Lagoon swimming pool. In keeping with a longstanding history of healing weary travelers, Sycamore Mineral Springs also offers luxurious spa treatments and yoga classes. However you choose to soak it in, you’ll find relief and restoration at Sycamore Mineral Springs.

Brief History

In 1886, when drillers sought oil in Avila Beach, they discovered something a little different: hot mineral water, bubbling up from a natural well. Believed to heal ailments of all types, the waters became the focus of a spa and resort that would later become Sycamore Mineral Springs. With the success of the Pacific Coast Railway, the resort thrived, located just opposite a PCR stop midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. By the 1930s, celebrities and “who’s who” were visiting on their way to Hearst Castle in San Simeon. That attraction remains today, as Sycamore Mineral Springs continues to soothe and renew the body, mind and spirit on California’s Central Coast.

Avila’s Hillside Hot Tubs

The open-air mineral spring hot tubs at Sycamore Mineral Springs are supplied by over 100 acres of natural, underground thermal waters.  Set amidst the quiet of a sycamore forest, these 23 tubs provide luxury and privacy in an unparalleled environment.

Tubs can be reserved by the hour, and are open to the public. Choose between tubs that accommodate up to eight people. Reservations are highly recommended, and hourly rates apply.

Oasis Lagoon

A private jade mineral pool with a waterfall, the Oasis Waterfall Lagoon is a treat for larger groups, private retreats, and special events. The Oasis Waterfall Lagoon accommodates up to 20 people, and reservations are required. Hourly rates per person apply.

Spa

The spa at Sycamore Mineral Springs has won awards from Spa Magazine and Spa Finder Magazine for its luxurious services and treatments. Offerings include a signature massage, as well as hot stone, Swedish, deep-tissue, and prenatal massage, available for individuals or couples. A menu of skin-brightening facial treatments is also available, as well as detoxifying body scrubs. Bring your worries and woes and watch them disappear under the care of a skilled spa professional in a peaceful setting.

Healing Arts Dome

The Healing Arts Dome is Sycamore Mineral Springs’ harmonious structure set among 100 acres of coastal forest. As an extension of the resort’s commitment to whole-body wellness, this space offers a selection of movement and meditation classes. Instructors bring a wealth of practice and experience to a variety of methods. Find balance with, hatha, restorative and centering yoga, pilates and tai chi, taught with empathy and kind attention to your body and spirit. Classes are priced per session and are available to the public, but resort guests can enjoy unlimited classes, as available. Private instruction is also available.

Sycamore Mineral Springs also invites visitors to host their own private wellness retreats in the Healing Arts Dome. Take advantage of the resort’s amenities like the full-service day spa, thermal water tubs, restaurant, gardens, and hiking trails.

Relax in the peaceful mineral springs hot tubs

Nearby Activities

Hiking (Sycamore Crest Trail, Caves Landing, Bob Jones, etc)

Avila Beach is home to many hiking trails that afford spectacular ocean views. Touch the sky with the challenging Ontario Ridge Trail, or trek among the trees on the Sycamore Crest Trail behind Sycamore Mineral Springs. The resort also connects via a bridge to the beloved Bob Jones Bike Trail, which takes travelers all the way to downtown Avila Beach and the ocean.

Avila Valley Barn

Come for family fun at this old-fashioned farmstand, complete with a petting zoo, gift shop, and tractor rides. Feed the goats, pick pumpkins or peaches, or purchase baked goods and fresh flowers. A Central Coast favorite for visitors and locals alike, the Avila Valley Barn provides the setting for making sweet family memories, year-round.

Avila Golf Course

A championship course designed by Olin Dutra and Desmond Muirhead in 1969, the Avila Beach Golf Resort welcomes golfers of all skills and abilities. The par-71, 6,500-yard course skirts a tidal estuary and offers ocean views. Test your game along oak-studded valleys and scenic terrain on this popular and challenging course.

Stewardship Travel for Good Activities in Avila Beach

Want to experience Avila Beach on a deeper level? Engage in Stewardship Travel for Good opportunities to feel good inside and out. To learn how, check out these Stewardship Travel for Good activities in Avila Beach.

Bob Jones trail, Avila Beach
Enjoy a bike ride or walk along the Bob JonesTrail, located just steps away from Sycamore Mineral Springs

#NaturalMineralSprings

[post_title] => Hot Springs in Avila Beach [post_excerpt] => For generations, the natural hot springs of Avila Beach have provided relief and relaxation to visitors from far and wide. Want to soak your stress away? Find pure bliss in two legendary Avila Beach Hot Springs. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => hot-springs-in-avila-beach [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-19 18:39:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-20 02:39:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=121540 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [13] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 121516 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2020-01-21 16:13:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-01-22 00:13:00 [post_content] =>

Few places in the West can boast as much charm, flavor and family fun as the town of Avila Beach. But it’s the town’s scenic beaches that really set it apart. With its long stretches of white sand, boardwalks, pet-friendly spots, wildlife and bustling harbor, Avila Beach has attracted visitors for centuries. Here, sun, surf and sand come together to make any stay memorable.

Avila Beach

A spacious and serene white sand beach, Avila Beach shines like a jewel in the crown that is California’s Central Coast. This stretch of seaside is popular with all ages for its calm waves, shallow wading options, and arm’s-length proximity to town. Walk the beach, combing for shells, sand dollars, and driftwood. Bring a surfboard or bodyboard for the waves, or a SUP board or kayak to cruise further out. Of course there’s always sunbathing and taking in the sights and sounds of a picture-perfect day at the beach, too.

Facing the seaside along Front Street, the Avila Beach Promenade is the heart of downtown and the center of most activities and events. The promenade is a pedestrian-only section of Front street filled with businesses, patios, benches, and art. In the summertime it is home to events like the Avila Beach Farmers Market, Art on the Beach, etc. The entrance to the Avila Beach Pier also lies at the center of the promenade.

Avila Beach is located west of the 101 Freeway, along Avila Beach Road. Free street parking is available near Avila Beach, but can be hard to come by. Try to find a spot, or pay for parking at the lot off 1st Street. Beach amenities include restrooms, outdoor showers, a playground, picnic and barbecue facilities.

Avila Beach promenade
Avila Beach is one of the most popular family-beach destinations on the Central Coast.

Dog Beach (Olde Port Beach)

The smallest beach in Avila, this beach is popular for its openness to four-legged friends. Dogs of all shapes, ages and sizes love to run free on this leash-optional beach. This is a privilege afforded by the Port San Luis Harbor District, which allows well-behaved dogs to frolic in the surf and sun. Remember to keep Fido under your control and pick up after him at all times, throwing all trash in a proper receptacle.

This beach also features a ramp from Avila Beach Drive down to the sand for vehicles to drop off kayaks, SUP boards, etc. To find Dog Beach, travel Avila Beach Drive past downtown toward Port San Luis. Traveling west, the beach lies on the left; park on the street free of charge. Restroom facilities are available, as are bonfire rings. These can be used on a first-come, first-served basis, the second Sunday of March through the first Sunday of November.

Fisherman’s Beach

Further west from the Dog Beach, Fisherman’s Beach has a peaceful, secluded vibe despite its position just off Avila Beach Drive. Enjoy the calm waters and harbor views from this quiet cove. Dogs are not allowed on Fisherman’s Beach, neither on- or off-leash, making this a less crowded spot. Swim or bodyboard in the ocean, sunbathe, fish, or launch kayaks and SUP boards from this beach. Or just bring a picnic lunch, lay down a blanket and enjoy the coastal scenery.

Fisherman’s Beach is the closest beach to Port San Luis and the Harford Pier. Park for free, but plan ahead as the beach offers no restrooms.

Pirates Cove (Mallagh Landing)

This clothes-optional beach lies off the beaten path a bit, but is one of the Central Coast’s most picturesque spots. (Note: if you’re traveling with children, pick any of the other beautiful beaches along this stretch of Highway 1!) The secluded hideaway is rumored to hold a $5 million treasure, buried by Sir Frances Drake in 1579 — hence the name. But this special beach is sometimes referred to as Mallagh’s Landing, named after David Mallagh, a sea captain who built a sharf and adobe home here in 1849. Later, during the Roaring ‘20s, the cove served as a secret spot for Prohibition-era booze smuggling.

Even those who lack an interest in smuggling, treasure, or clothing options, will be able to appreciate this beach’s many natural charms. Find unusual rock formations like an arch, cliffs, and the “beach cave.” Plenty of wildlife can be seen as well, from seabirds and seals to creatures in shallow tide pools. Just remember that clothing is optional here, and plan accordingly.

To reach Pirate’s Cove, travel west along Avila Beach drive, passing the intersection of San Luis Bay Drive. Just across the street from the golf course, find the entrance to Cave Landing Road and turn south onto it. Drive for half a mile, then park in the large dirt lot. The trail to Pirate’s Cove proceeds south from here; though it is short, be aware that the trail is rather steep.

The Cal Poly Pier was donated to Cal Poly for marine research by Unocal.

Historic Avila Beach Piers

Avila Beach Pier

During Avila Beach’s heyday as a bustling import and export hub, this 1,685-foot pier welcomed passenger ships and fishing vessels. At the time, the pier boasted many hoists and a large warehouse, as well. Today, the pier still remains at the center of Avila Beach, though not in the same capacity as it once did. Walk this classic pier to fish, enjoy views of the bay and surfers, or to watch migrating whales and other wildlife.

The Avila Beach Pier can be found perpendicular to Front Street and the Avila Beach Promenade. Find free street parking or pay at the lot on 1st Street.

Harford Pier

Also called the Port San Luis Pier, this historic landmark remains one of the last driveable piers in the United States. Built in 1868, the 1,320-foot structure served the exporting of San Luis Obispo County products across the world. Its builder, John Harford, also constructed “The People’s Wharf,” near where the Avila Beach Pier is today. Harford connected both of these piers to the light gauge railroad that transported passengers and cargo to and from San Luis Obispo.

Though the railroad and People’s Wharf are no longer standing, Harford Pier remains as a working harbor. Walk and drive the pier to find restaurants and a fish market. Visitors can also fish off the pier without a license, or watch for seabirds, sea lions, and whales.

The Harford Pier lies at the termination of Avila Beach Road, west of Highway 101. Facilities include restrooms, free parking on the pier, tackle shops, and fish cleaning stations.

Cal Poly Pier

This educational pier was built in 1914, and owned by the Pacific Coast Railway Company for commercial shipping. Later, Union Oil Co (Unocal) would lease the pier to ship crude oil, exclusively. (In fact, this pier and the Harford Pier constituted the largest crude oil shipping port in the world at the time.) With the rise of standard Gauge railroads, the need for narrow gauge railroad transport declined. Still, Port San Luis and the Pacific Railway Pier remained critically important for fuelling the U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet during World War II.

Unocal eventually purchased the pier, which continued to export oil until a massive storm damaged it irreparably in 1983. Unocal replaced the wooden pier with a concrete and steel version, and gave it as a gift to nearby Cal Poly State University for marine research.

Family at Avila Beach
Avila Beach has three piers with two open to the public.

Activities on Avila Beach

Farmers Market

This family-friendly (and date-friendly!) event takes place on the Avila Beach Promenade every Friday afternoon from 4-8pm, April through September. Mere steps from the sand, visitors can enjoy live entertainment from local performers, plus farm-fresh produce and artisanal products from local vendors. Restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and boutique shopping can all be found within steps of the farmers market, making the Promenade a one-stop fun spot for all ages. Cool tip: ride the Avila Beach Trolley for free from Pismo Beach or Shell Beach to avoid the hassle of parking.

Kayaking Avila

The calm, sparkling waters of Avila Bay make for magical kayaking (or stand up paddleboarding), any time of year. Bring your own kayak or rent one from outfitters like Avila Beach Paddlesports or Central Coast Kayaks. These operators also offer tours of the area, from adventurous outings to family-friendly excursions. Enjoy the tour or head out on your own to view seabirds, seals, sea lions, otters and whales, all plentiful on this stretch of coastline. Cool tip: You can also kayak to a secret cove to reach the Point San Luis Lighthouse!

Point San Luis Lighthouse

During the heyday of ship travel up and down California’s Central Coast, the shoreline saw many a shipwreck along its length. In the late 19th century, Congressman Romaldo Pacheco proposed the construction of a new lighthouse off the coast of Avila Beach. And in 1890, the Point San Luis Lighthouse opened to protect passing ships.

The lighthouse continues to light the way today with a French Fresnel lens whose light is visible 17 miles offshore. All tours of the property require a reservation, and include a docent-led hike or trolley ride out to the lighthouse.

Bob Jones Bike Trail

Beneath a canopy of sycamore leaves, this beloved biking, walking and jogging trail begins at the Ontario Road parking lot to the town of Avila Beach. At just over three miles roundtrip, the trail passes by Woodstone Market, where casual breakfast and lunch fare delight passersby of all ages. The trail also passes beside the San Luis Obispo Creek, with interpretive signs describing wildlife activity there. Named after environmental pioneer Bob Jones, this special path will fully connect San Luis Obispo to Avila Beach, effectively making it a “city-to-the-sea” trail. Until that time, the Bob Jones Trail makes for a pleasant and scenic morning or afternoon walk, ride, or run.

Central Coast Aquarium

A boutique aquarium with charm to spare, the Central Coast Aquarium brings conservation, exploration, and a love of the ocean to Avila Beach visitors. Enjoy in-house exhibits like the jellyfish and octopus tank, the shark swell encounter, and scheduled feedings, with 75 species in all. The aquarium also works with locals and visitors alike to advocate for a clean, diverse, and healthy ocean.

Stewardship Travel for Good activities

Feeding the sharks at the aquarium or touring the lighthouse can draw you closer to the heart of our stretch of Highway 1. We call these Stewardship Travel for Good activities. The more you learn, the more you love it here, and the more you love it, the more you want to make sure it lasts. For more close encounters in Avila Beach, check our list of Stewardship Travel for Good activities.

#AVILABEACHPIER

[post_title] => Avila Beaches and Piers [post_excerpt] => With its long stretches of white sand, boardwalks, pet-friendly spots, wildlife and bustling harbor, Avila Beach has attracted visitors for centuries. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => avila-beaches-and-piers [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-19 18:38:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-20 02:38:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=121516 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [14] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 121431 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2020-01-15 22:31:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-01-16 06:31:56 [post_content] =>

Ideal climate, terrain, and proximity to the Pacific Flyway makes the SLO CAL stretch of Highway 1 one of the finest birding regions in the world. In fact, of the 1,107 bird species identified in the United States, 467 of those have been seen in San Luis Obispo County. (By way of context, the entire state of Wisconsin has only ever recorded 400 bird species.) Some of those include the peregrine falcon, red-tailed hawk, snowy plover, bird of paradise, barn owl, cooper’s hawk, cormorant and bald eagle. But there are many more obscure and rare species to add to your field journal as well.

Given this abundance, the Central Coast is a hot spot for bird watching enthusiasts, festivals, organizations and preserves. So pack up your binoculars, dust off your field guide, and read our Wildlife Viewing Tips before embarking on the birding trip of a lifetime.

What to bring birding on the Central Coast

Bird-watching can be thrilling here on Highway 1, but as with any adventure, preparation is key. To make the most of your visit, bring your best binoculars for close viewing, and/or a spotting scope for longer distances. A field guide like National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America or Sibley Birds West can help with bird identification. Alternatively, a number of birding guide apps make identification easier than ever. Try the Audubon Bird Guide: North America, eBird, or Merlin Guide ID apps for comprehensive and reliable birding support. Several of these applications can ID birdsong, as well.

Prepare to record the numerous species you find here on a life list or field journal. (Many birding apps include journaling/listing options as well.) As for basics, pack bottled water and snacks in your backpack or birding pack. Wear layered clothing for weather that can vary widely from morning to evening. And don’t forget grippy shoes for hiking, as well as a wide-brimmed hat to protect your skin and to block the sun for a clear birding view.

Extra credit: If you’re traveling with a birding group, bring walkie talkies to make communication a breeze.

Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival

Held in January, the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival offers world-class birding opportunities and education to 600 visitors each year. The four-day Winter Bird Festival includes 140 events and takes place in various locales in and around Morro Bay. Notable happenings include tours of various habitats, workshops, field trips, presentations and more, many of which are wheelchair-accessible. The festival appeals to new and veteran birders of all ages, and records around 200 species throughout the event. Some include: gulls, grebes, peregrine falcons, snowy plovers, blue herons, egrets, owls, raptors and even bats.

Additionally, several vendors offer artwork, books, field equipment and attire, and local merchant wares throughout the duration of the event. The Morro Coast Audubon Society sponsors the Winter Bird Festival in partnership with the City of Morro Bay and California State Parks.

Birding in Morro Bay and Baywood

The area surrounding Morro Bay and Baywood is a designated State and National Estuary, and a Globally Important Bird Area. Up to 20,000 shorebirds spend the winter on the exposed mudflats around Morro Bay, making it one of the most significant migration stopovers in the state, south of San Francisco. It is home to around one-third of the Western Snowy Plover population, as well as several other species. Some include the Long-billed Curlew, Black Rail, Short-Eared Owl and Northern Harrier, and Bell’s Sage Sparrow. Perhaps most famously, the Morro Rock hosts a nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons.

In Los Osos, Pecho Road and the Elfin Forest at Baywood Park provide critical stopover points for several species of migrating birds. Another way to add more birds to your life list is by birding on the Morro Bay Estuary that fronts Baywood Park. There’s no better or more immediate way to explore this area’s population of sea birds.

Morro Bay Audubon Society Sign
The Sweet Springs Nature Preserve is a great place to see Belted Kingfishers.

Perregrine Falcon Video

There are a pair of nesting perrigrine falcons living on Morro Rock. The perrigrine falcon is the fastest animal on earth clocked at 240 miles per hour.

https://youtu.be/uapP1yldldk

Bird Watching Cambria

While good birding can be found throughout the quiet town of Cambria, two spots are particularly good. Both are in and around Santa Rosa Creek. To reach this area, drive north on Highway 1 into Cambria. At Windsor Blvd, turn west (left) and continue on Windsor Blvd.

To reach the mouth of the creek, turn right onto Moonstone Beach Drive and park on the left after 0.4 miles. Look and listen for ducks and gulls near the creek mouth, in the rocks offshore, or on the beach.

To reach the Santa Rosa Creek bed, after turning at Windsor Blvd, cross the bridge and park near the small water treatment facility on the left. A trail follows the edge of the creek upstream before climbing a hill. Here, among the willows, watch and listen for wintering warblers.

Bird Watching Montana de Oro

The hiking, cycling and equestrian trails at Montana de Oro State Park travel through some of SLO CAL’s best birding zones. Reach Montana de Oro by traveling west on Los Osos Valley Road, through the Los Osos business district. This becomes Pecho Valley Road and turns south to the park’s entrance. The following birding spots are in their marked order from the park entrance.

Sand Spit comprises coastal scrub in which Wrentits, California Thrashers and Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers. Beyond the scrub to the beach, watch for shorebirds and Surf Scoters past the wave-line.

At Hazard Canyon, find Warblers in the willows in winter, or perhaps a Winter Wren. Past here, the rocky shoreline hosts Wandering Tattlers, Black Oystercatchers and surfbirds. In the ocean, look for Shearwaters and Alcids here for winter migration.

At the Islay Creek Mouth, look for plenty of gulls in the winter. In fall, when the morning sun first shines on the willows, look for Chipping and Clay-colored Sparrows, or Warblers.

At Spooner’s Cove Campground, look for cypress, pine and willow trees to identify wintering Warblers. Other species here include Purple Finches, Golden-Crowned Kinglets and Woodpeckers. Fox Sparrow, White-Throated Sparrows, Wrentits, and California Thrashers are known to winter here, too.

The Bluff Trail sees Cormorants on the rock below, as well as Pigeon Guillemots nesting in the cliffs. Look to the sea for Alcids and Shearwaters. The shoreline is a good place to look for Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Wandering Tattler and Black Oystercatcher.

Take the Coon Creek Trail to see Grosbeaks and Thrushes in the coffee berry bushes when ripe. In the willows along the trail, find Winter Wrens in the spring, as well as Canyon Wrens above the trail to the right. Other species along this trail are Warblers, Pacific-Slope Flycatchers, Fox Sparrows, Wrentits, Hermit Thrushes and Swainson’s Thrushes.

#CentralCoastBirding

Bird Watching Estero Bluffs

This beautiful state park north of Cayucos comprises a trail that parallels the coastline. This can be accessed by several connecting trails from parking areas along Highway 1.

From the “Windmill” or San Geronimo Road pullout, find Sparrows and Warblers in the scrub near the parking area. Closer to the water, check for Cormorants, Black Oystercatchers, Elegant and Royal Terns, Surfbirds, Tattlers and Black Turnstones. In particular, winter sees Ruddy Turnstones, Scoters, Grebes, Harlequin Ducks, Alcids, Marbled Murrelets and Cassin’s Kingbirds in the eucalyptus by the windmill. These species can also be found at the next parking area to the north, where an enormous fig tree stands at the trailhead.

A less robust selection of these same species can also be witnessed at the Villa Creek parking area, north of the Fig Tree trailhead. Here, however, is a Snowy Plover nesting area, walking north along the Estero Bluffs Trail.

Bird Watching Ragged Point

For good birding near Ragged Point, take the steep Cliffside Trail just north of Ragged Point Inn. The Black Swift Falls waterfall to the side of this trail is the only place in San Luis Obispo County to host nesting Black Swifts. The best time to see these birds is early morning or evening, while they’re feeding in the hills or flying in the sky. You can also find Purple Finches and Olive-Sided Flycatchers in the cypress trees there in summer.

Along the challenging Fire Road Trail, just across Highway 1 from Ragged Point Inn, Pygmy Owls have been found on the higher slopes there.

Bird Watching San Simeon

A number of excellent birding areas can be found in and around San Simeon. At the William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach, spy Grebes and Scoters from the end of the pier. Also keep an eye out for Marbled Murrelets, as well as Pigeon Guillemots nesting under the pier. From the parking lot, head north on SLO San Simeon Road. At the bridge, look for migrants, and north of the bridge, Hummingbirds and Orioles in the red-flowered eucalyptus trees.

At Arroyo Laguna Creek, 2 miles north of Hearst Castle, look for Ducks and Shorebirds on the creek from the bridge.

Driving north on Highway 1 from here, look for the mile marker 61.2 and park on the western side of Highway 1. Look for the small stand of Monterey cypresses to the south. Here, you may see shorebirds near the coastal rocks, as well as sea ducks and Harlequin Ducks.

Continuing north to the Elephant Seal Rookery, find gulls here in winter, or Glaucous-Winged, Mew, and Herring.

Just under a half-mile north of the Rookery, in a parking lot on the west side of Highway 1, find the whitewashed rock of Piedras Blancas through the gate and 0.2 miles along the trail. Look for Brown Booby on the rock on winter mornings.

Arroyo de la Cruz is an area just over 4 miles from the Piedras Blancas turnout. Park off the road, slightly north of the tall bridge. Take the steep trail at the northwest end of the bridge to a willow-framed trail. These willows can house migrant Passerines. Good birding can also be had as the trail opens up to pools, beach and more willows.

San Carpoforo Creek is another 4.5 miles north of Arroyo de la Cruz. Park off the road and find the trail that winds to a lagoon and the beach. In fall, find Black-and-White Warblers, Reddish Egrets, and Summer Tanagers.

Bird on bluff Crane flying over ocean Crane in the ocean

Bird Watching Avila Beach 

Avila Beach boasts a number of bird-watching lookouts, and walking the Bob Jones Trail is a relaxing and scenic way to find some of them. Along the trail, look for Black-Headed Grosbeaks and Bullock’s Orioles, and find migrants in the willows. Check pools along the stream for Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Cormorants, Herons and Egrets in winter.

At the Cal Poly Pier, look to the rocks for shorebirds, Rock Sandpiper, Seaducks, Loons and Grebes.

On the Harford Pier, check for Seaducks, Loons and Grebes. The harbour can also host Red-Necked Grebes, White-Winged and Black Scoters, Long-Tailed Ducks and Shorebirds.

California Condors in San Simeon, CA
The California Condor is the largest flying bird in North America. They have recently been released above San Simeon.

Bird Watching Oceano & Oso Flaco Lake

The area comprising Pismo Beach State Park and the Oceano Lagoon and Campground are considered some of the best birding in SLO CAL and, indeed, in California. Park just off Highway 1 on Pier Avenue and walk north along the trail. In particular, Oceano is known for its Passerines and Warblers during the winter migration. Just a handful of species to be seen here include Yellow-Throated Vireos, Blackburnian Warblers, Ovenbird, Baltimore Oriole, and Summer Tanagers. Walkie-talkies are a good idea here as birders tune in to 11.22 to communicate with each other on species they find.

Another top birding area in the state is Oso Flaco Lake, south on Highway 1 toward Nipomo. Take Highway 1 off the Nipomo mesa turning west on Oso Flaco Road. Drive all the way west until the road dead ends into a day-use parking lot. (There is a fee for parking and using the park.) Along the trail, find Warblers, Passerines, and Waterfowl in winter, as well as Soras, Virginia Rails and American Bitterns. Swallows can be seen in late summer and early fall. From May to August, you’ll see Least Terns nesting on the beach, especially by the boardwalk rails. In the coastal scrub, see California Thrashers, Blue-Gray Gnatsnatchers, and Wrentits. Then on the beach, find Scoters, Loons, Grebes and Sooty Shearwaters in fall and winter, as well as gulls and shorebirds.

Bird Watching Lopez Lake

In and around the Lopez Lake Recreation Area, a number of hard-to-find species make the birding extremely good. Heading toward the lake, it’s easy to spot wild turkeys, Hutton’s Vireos, Acorn Woodpeckers and Oak Titmice. Past the fee station and through the campground, the edge of the lake provides most of the birding action. This section of the lake can see a wide variety of ducks, grebes, and shorebirds. It’s also not uncommon to see Ospreys and Bald Eagles, which breed here.

[post_title] => Bird Watching on the Central Coast [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => central-coast-bird-watching [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-01-30 20:20:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-01-31 04:20:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=121431 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [15] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 121137 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2019-12-26 14:21:38 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-26 22:21:38 [post_content] => Big Sur represents the best of the West, and the SLO CAL stretch of Highway 1 provides a gateway to its many wonders. As one of the nation’s top attractions, Big Sur sparkles with vast views of the Pacific, towering mountains, and a beloved scenic byway. Many commercials and movies have been filmed along Highway 1’s twists and hairpin turns, with the rugged coastline as their background. The view of a waterfall cascading onto a secluded beach at McWay Falls is one of the most photographed and scenic in the world. See what makes this place an American treasure by entering at SLO CAL’s northern border, Ragged Point, the gateway to Big Sur. During the time of the native Ohlone, Salinan and Essellen people who inhabited it, Big Sur proved nearly impossible to access. Even after the construction of Highway 1, the area remained mostly undeveloped and sparsely populated. Thanks to the Big Sur Local Coastal Plan of 1986, this peaceful remoteness contributes significantly to Big Sur’s charm. Emerald canopies of trees, pristine coastline, and waterfalls abound, protected and untouched. As for the name Big Sur? That originated with early Spanish settlers in Monterey, who called Big Sur el país grande del sur, or “the big country of the south.” Over time, the name morphed into “Big Sur,” and, with the naming of the Big Sur post office in 1915, became official.
Ragged Point Bixby Bridge
The gateway to Big Sur is considered one of America's most scenic drives.

What is Big Sur?

Big Sur, California, is an area that spans over 70 miles along the Pacific Ocean, Highway 1 clinging to the coastline. With some of the world’s most dramatic ocean views, a National Marine Sanctuary and a National Scenic Byway, Big Sur draws millions of visitors each year. Big Sur encompasses roughly the area between San Simeon and the Carmel Highlands along Highway 1. Though the boundaries are not fixed, many people consider Malpaso Creek the northernmost point of Big Sur, and Ragged Point the southernmost entrance. As the gateway to Big Sur, Ragged Point offers amenities and the “million dollar view” that welcomes visitors to this majestic natural playground.
Ragged Point Inn
One of the best hotel's, Ragged Point, located on the south side of the gateway to Big Sur.

Big Sur’s Best Hotel

Conveniently located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Ragged Point is considered the southernmost entrance to Big Sur. The Ragged Point Inn started as an outpost of Hearst Ranch, purchased by Mildred and Wiley Ramey in the late 1950s. Today, the Inn offers a gourmet restaurant with picture-perfect ocean views, as well as an ice cream shop, espresso bar and sandwich stand. Check out the Inn’s shops that sell the work of local artisans, or hike the Cliffside Trail to a waterfall and a magical secluded beach. And don’t miss that “Million Dollar View” when you’re pumping gas at one of the area’s only fueling stations. The Ragged Point Inn is a scenic spot to stop and rejuvenate as you push forward into Big Sur Country.

Places to Eat on the North Coast

Ragged Point

Options for dining are limited in Big Sur, which makes the Ragged Point Inn a perfect spot to stop and have a bite before venturing forth along the coast. Famous for its views and fine service, the Ragged Point Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the year. Seating is available inside, in a glass-walled dining room, or outdoors on a heated deck beside flourishing gardens, a natural koi pond, and fire pits. If you’re looking for a quick bites, the Ragged Point Inn Sandwich Stand serves burgers, hotdogs, sandwiches, fries and milkshakes to order. Other menu items include fried chicken, fish and chips, fresh salads, soups and chili. Or perhaps you need a little pick-me-up? Try the Ragged point Inn Espresso Bar for espresso drinks, baked goods, beer and wine. For frosty treats, hit the Ice Cream Stand, serving scoops of locally made ice cream. And don’t miss the Ragged Point Inn Mini Market for snack foods and drinks. The Ragged Point Inn also invites those who have packed their own picnic to enjoy their wide lawn and picnic tables.

San Simeon

In Old San Simeon, just down the hill from Hearst Castle, enjoy casual al fresco dining with a view at The Truck. This full-service restaurant on wheels stays parked at the Hearst Ranch Winery’s tasting room from 11am to 5pm daily. Try tacos, burgers, and other casual picnic dishes; better yet, pair them with a bottle of Hearst Ranch Wine, available for purchase. New San Simeon offers options like Mexican cuisine at El Chorlito Mexican Restaurant, and seafood from the San Simeon Beach Bar & Grill. For classic cocktails, head to the Cavalier Restaurant, and for burgers, hit the Big Sur California Cafe.

Cambria

This seaside hamlet plays host to a wide variety of dining options. For terrific Thai food, the pint-sized restaurant Wild Ginger can’t be beat. The Cafe on Bridge Street serves delectable sandwiches from its historic storefront, as does Sandy’s Deli & Bakery. Try the beloved Robin’s Restaurant for fresh global cuisine, or the Sea Chest for locally-caught seafood. And for French bistro dining, an impressive wine list, and a cozy candlelight ambiance, head to the Black Cat Bistro.

NORTH COAST DINING VIDEOS

Big Sur Hiking

One of the best places on earth to hike, Big Sur offers a wealth of trails in a variety of settings. For a quick, rewarding hike, take the Salmon Creek Falls trail, located 3 miles north of Ragged Point. This trail is short and easy: park near the ranger station and walk less than 100 steps to the 120-foot waterfall. Another quick hike can be had from Ragged Point Inn to Ragged Point Beach on the Cliffside Trail. This half-mile, extremely steep trail leads to a secluded beach with black sand. While the ocean views are majestic, views from the beach up to the 300-foot Black Swift Falls are equally impressive. The 1.6-mile loop of the Pacific Valley Bluff Trail takes hikers on an easy, breezy coastal stroll. Walk through grassy fields to a cliff with panoramic ocean views. Wildflowers and scrub grow along the fields, as well as in the rocks and cliffs.
Hiking in San Simeon and Ragged Point
Big Sur has some of the best hiking in California.

En Route to the Big Sur Gateway

Big Sur opens a treasure trove of opportunities to slow down, ditch your agenda, enjoy the scenery and glimpse abundant wildlife. Traveling the most iconic road in the nation through northern San Luis Obispo County provides the best way to take it all in. A stop in Cambria offers boutique shopping along the classic Main Street that connects the East and West Villages. A variety of dining options, historic points of interest, and a rambling boardwalk along the beach make this a must-see spot along Highway 1. For whale watching, San Simeon hosts two points along the Whale Trail, a collection of the best viewing spots along the West Coast. Seven miles north of Cambria, find an interpretive display and telescope for whale watching at the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort. Another prime whale watching point stands at the end of the San Simeon Pier at W.R. Hearst California State Beach. The most glamorous stop en route to Big Sur, Hearst Castle brings the opulence of the early 20th century vibrantly to life. Heir and tycoon William Randolph Hearst built his majestic hilltop estate to host the who’s who of Hollywood, Washington, D.C. and beyond. Today, the 95,000-square-foot home, gardens, and famous Neptune Pool are open for public viewing and tours throughout the year. North of Hearst Castle, pull over to witness wildlife up close and personal at the Elephant Seal Rookery on Highway 1. This 6-mile stretch of shoreline plays host to thousands of Northern Elephant Seals for mating, pupping, and molting throughout the year. Their life cycle plays out like high drama, open to the public, with docents available to explain and educate. About 10 miles south of Ragged Point, the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse stands much as it has since its opening in 1875. The historic light station protected seafaring vessels from running aground on the craggy coastline when trade and travel flourished here. Today, its Fresnel lens and housing reside in nearby Cambria, but the light station remains a fascinating window into the past. Tours are open to the public by reservation.
Ragged Point
The gateway to Big Sur is filled with picturesque views of the pacific ocean.

#BigSur

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Cute, furry, and playful, Southern Sea Otters make their homes just offshore along the SLO CAL stretch of Highway 1. Sea otters are native to the north Pacific Ocean, with Monterey Bay, Big Sur, and the Central Coast as hubs of activity. They are friendly, and often stay close to shore to raise their young. This makes otter spotting particularly easy on the Central Coast.

Sea otters haven’t always been so easy to find. Their extremely dense fur attracted fur traders of the 18th and 19th centuries, resulting in a severely decreased population along the West Coast. Today, the Southern Sea Otter is considered a threatened species, listed on the Endangered Species Act since 1977. They are also recognized as a depleted species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, having only reinhabited 13 percent of their historic range.

Southern sea otters don’t rely on blubber or fat to keep them warm, as other sea mammals do. Instead, they rely on their rich, dense fur and a high level of activity to stay warm. And that high level of activity makes Southern sea otters ravenous eaters! They can be on the move and foraging up to 50 percent of their day. In other words, to glimpse a sea otter cracking open a sea urchin for lunch is not uncommon. Mothers of baby otters are especially active, feeding their young and floating their young on their belly.

Otters can be spotted year-round, but the best seasons on the SLO CAL stretch of Highway 1 are often winter and spring. Sea otters avoid inclement weather, so look for them toward shore, near coves, kelp forests and estuaries during these seasons. Here, sea otters can be found during oceanfront walks and hikes, from piers, beaches, boardwalks, and most certainly from kayaks along the shore.

To make the most of your otter spotting experience, bring binoculars and wear layered clothing, as weather can run cool to warm. You may also want to bring a camera as Southern sea otters are extremely photogenic! Make sure to read our Wildlife Viewing Tips, too, for ways to see these sweet, funny creatures up close without threatening their safety.

Sea Otter Fun Facts

  1. A group of sea otters is called a “raft.”
  2. Sea otters have a pouch where they keep a favorite rock for life. This rock is used to crack open their food.
  3. If not anchored by a kelp forest, sea otters hold hands with each other while they sleep to avoid drifting.
A sea otter raft
A group of sea otters are called a raft.

Where to find Sea Otters

The SLO CAL stretch of Highway 1 offers many other ideal spots for spying Southern sea otters. Bring along your camera, a pair of sturdy shoes, and your sense of adventure.

Morro Bay Sea Otters

The protected inlet of Morro Bay serves as habitat for about 40 sea otters, primarily females caring for pups. This number is growing as the sea otter population continues to stabilize in the wake of fur trading. Both the Morro Bay Embarcadero and Estuary provide safety for otters to find food, raise their young, and avoid predators like sharks.

Near the Morro Bay State Park marina, at the south end of Morro Bay, otters can be found near the shoreline. Walk the marina to see otters at work (and play), and be sure to bring binoculars. Perhaps the best way to see otters in the Estuary is from a kayak. Work with a kayak outfitter and/or guide to find the hot spots of sea otter activity. Often, otters will pop up right beside your paddle, just inches away.

Morro Rock provides another way to see otters in the wild. Look for kelp beds in the water to the left of the rock (just by the parking area). If you come around 8am, you’re bound to see at least a few otters bobbing on the water’s surface. The Morro Bay Embarcadero offers yet another viewing opportunity. Walk the town’s waterfront street and find plenty of places to “pull over” for a sea otter spotting. Just be sure to look for kelp beds, as those are common feeding grounds for sea otters.

Baywood Sea Otter Spotting

A walk along the Baywood Pier (also called the 2nd Street Pier) can result in a sea otter sighting, especially in the early morning. Grab a coffee at the Back Bay Cafe and walk the Baywood Pier to see the back bay come to life. Watch for kelp beds, where Southern sea otters prefer to float, feed, and groom their young.

Los Osos Sea Otter Spotting

Head out to Montaña de Oro State Park to find the Bluff Trail, a 3.4-mile out-and-back hike with ocean views. Corallina Cove provides protection for sea otters that can often be seen from the trail. Follow the Bluff Trail out even further for a primitive hike to Quarry Cove, where sea otters also congregate.

Avila Beach Otter Spotting

Rafts of sea otters are a common sight on either side of the Harford Pier. For an even closer experience, hire a kayak and paddle out past the pier.

San Simeon Sea Otter Spotting

A large population of sea otters lives along the coast near San Simeon, particularly near the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Hike the 2-mile Boucher Trail, heading north from the Elephant Seal Rookery parking lot to the lighthouse for the best views. Sea otters can also pop up in and around San Simeon Cove at the W.R. Hearst Memorial State Beach.

Cayucos Sea Otter Spotting

For an easy otter-spotting hike, try the 3-mile trail at Estero Bluffs State Park. This comfortable path leads parallel to the coastline, where sea otters nest and hunt among the kelp forests.

Cambria Sea Otter Spotting

The otherworldly setting of Moonstone Beach serves as a viewing point for sea otters in Cambria. Better yet, hike the Moonstone Beach Trail, an out-and-back 3-mile walk that provides a high vantage point and tide pool exploring. Find the trail at the start of Moonstone Beach Drive and wind northwest through a pine forest to Santa Rosa Creek.

Sea Otter Videos in Morro Bay Estuary

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hG8Pk83fYGshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otAo6VTcBNo

Sea Otter Educational Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=De8vZW8ws6o

#SeaOtter

Other wildlife viewing along Highway 1

Sea otters are just the beginning of the wildlife on display along the SLO CAL length of Highway 1. Try your luck at sighting a few other species on your visit; you’re sure to be awed by our abundance.

Whale Watching

San Luis Obispo County boasts a whopping 10 sites along the Whale Trail ― the highest number of any county in California. Each Whale Trail station displays interpretive signs for identifying species and discussing seasonal migration patterns. Gray whales, humpback whales, Minke whales, blue whales and even orcas make frequent appearances along this length of the California coast.

Elephant Seals

The northern hemisphere’s largest Northern Elephant Seal rookery stands lies along the San Simeon coast near Piedras Blancas Point. Open to the public, the rookery hosts up to 24,000 elephant seals annually, from newborn pups to 2-ton males. From the safety and proximity of the viewing area, visitors can witness the life cycle of these majestic animals, free of charge.

Monarch Butterflies

Between October and February each year, the eucalyptus trees at the Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove crowd with thousands of Monarch butterflies. One of the largest Monarch colonies in North America, the preserve provides powerful telescopes to see the butterflies up close. Docents offer talks, answer questions, and describe the behavior and life cycle of these beautiful and fascinating creatures.

Harbor Seals

In Avila Beach, harbor seals gather on the rocks beneath the Harford Pier. Here, they sun themselves and bark between slipping into the ocean to catch fish or cool off. Enjoy a walk on the pier and a free “show” from these whisker-faced marine mammals.

[post_title] => Sea Otter Spotting [post_excerpt] => Cute, furry, and playful, Southern Sea Otters make their homes just offshore along the SLO CAL stretch of Highway 1. Sea otters are native to the north Pacific Ocean, with Monterey Bay, Big Sur, and the Central Coast as hubs of activity. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => sea-otter-spotting [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-08-04 20:59:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-08-05 04:59:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=121130 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [17] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120371 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2019-11-12 20:21:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-11-13 04:21:03 [post_content] =>

Guide to Historic Piers and Lighthouses of Highway 1

Historically, the towns along San Luis Obispo County’s unique stretch of Highway 1 long served as harbors and destinations for trade. From the Chumash people and Portola expedition, to whaling in San Simeon and sneaking moonshine at Spooner’s Cove, this region boasts a rich seafaring history.

Fortunately, many structures remain from the heyday of these ports, before railroads and highways displaced the work of cargo and passenger ships. Better yet, they are all open to the public, some for a small fee but many for free. Take in all the piers and lighthouses of coastal San Luis Obispo County, or choose just one or two to explore. Either way, you’ll witness the impact of how this region’s coastal position shaped its history.

San Simeon: A Bay With A View

This picturesque bay once served as a satellite for Mission San Miguel, as well as a whaling station for Portuguese sailors. Later, it would become the connection point between the world’s antiquities and the spectacular hilltop estate of William Randolph Hearst.

Piedras Blancas Light Station
Piedras Blancas Light Station was built in 1875.

Piedras Blancas Light Station

Built in 1875, the Piedras Blancas Light Station sought to protect ships passing by San Simeon from wrecking on the rocky shoreline. The lighthouse once stood 100 feet tall thanks to the glass cupola over the Fresnel lens. Today, that lens is displayed next to the Veterans Memorial hall in Cambria, reducing the light station’s height to 70 feet. Still, the historic building remains an important and fascinating site for both the connoisseur and the curious. Book a tour of the property, taking in the sights and sounds of the ocean, crashing below.

san simeon pier
San Simeon Pier was constructed in 1957.

San Simeon Bay Pier

In 1878, California State Senator George Hearst built a wharf to transport goods to and from his 40,000-acre rancho. That wharf would later receive antiquities from all over the world to fill the spectacular home of his son, newspaperman William Randolph Hearst. That wharf no longer remains, but a new pier was built in 1957 at Hearst Memorial State Beach as a recreational fishing pier. Today, the structure stands against the picturesque backdrop of San Simeon Bay, and continues to invite recreational fishing.

Cass House
Captain Cass’ house was built approximately between the time of his arrival in San Luis Obispo in 1867 and 1875.

Cayucos: The Port That Cass Built

Before Captain James Cass landed in Cayucos in 1867, the town already had a sea-centric history with the Chumash people. In fact, the name “cayucos” translates roughly as kayaks or canoes. But with Cass’s arrival from the East Coast, the Cayucos coastline became a player in international trade. Don’t miss Captain Cass’s home, which still stands today and houses a cozy restaurant with a view.

Cayucos beach and pier
Cayucos pier is known for being an excellent surf break in the winter.

Cayucos Pier

Stretching over Cayucos State Beach, the Cayucos Pier was built for trade in 1872 by Captain Cass and his partner, Captain Ingals. After a $3.5-million restoration in 2015, the pier stands today with plenty of room for fishing, walking, and watching surfers catch waves.

#Highway1Piers

Los Osos-Baywood Park: Safe Harbor

Beautiful Los Osos - Baywood Park enjoys a protected position on an inlet of the Morro Bay National Estuary, where the waters are calm and quiet.

Baywood Park Pier

This peaceful little pier stands watch over the bay beside Baywood’s 2nd Street. The pier was built in 1955, and has been rebuilt several times due to natural causes. Today, it welcomes the young and young at heart to sit and enjoy the sound of lapping waves and birdsong.

Drone view of Avila Beach
Avila Beach is home to three piers and the Port San Luis Lighthouse.

Avila Beach and Pismo Beach: Connection to the Coast

Avila Beach’s San Luis Bay has seen the sails of Sir Francis Drake and Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet” of Navy battleships. But it’s a wharf and small rail line, built in the late 19th century, that really connected Avila Beach to the rest of the world.

Point San Luis Lighthouse

As ship travel increased in the mid-19th century, so, unfortunately, did shipwrecks. In 1877, Congressman Romaldo Pacheco brought a bill before Congress to build a lighthouse that would protect passing ships. The Port San Luis Lighthouse opened in 1890 with a French Fresnel lens that could be seen 20 miles away. Today, the lighthouse still stands, and docents lead historic tours there for casual visitors and lighthouse fanatics alike.

Port San Luis Lighthouse
The Port San Luis Lighthouse in Avila Beach.

Harford Pier / Port San Luis Pier

In the late 19th century, Harford’s Pier (now called Port San Luis Pier) managed import and export from across the globe. Harford also built “The People’s Wharf” near where the Avila Beach Pier stands today, which received cargo and passenger ships. Both of these piers connected with Harford’s light gauge railroad, which took passengers and goods between Avila Beach and San Luis Obispo. Today, the Bob Jones Bike Trail follows the shape of Harford’s railroad.

Avila Beach Pier

In 1908, the County of San Luis Obispo built the 1,685-foot Avila Beach Pier, about the same time the Avila Beach Breakwater was built to protect Harford Pier. (Fun fact: Engineers blasted parts of Morro Rock to build the Avila Beach Breakwater.) The pier served as an important wharf for fishing and passengers, with several hoists and a large warehouse. Today, the pier welcomes visitors who enjoy watching surfers, waders, whales and other sea life.

Cal Poly Pier

In 1914, between the Harford and Avila Beach Piers, the Pacific Coast Railway Co. built a pier for commercial shipping, later leased by Union Oil Co (Unocal). Both Harford and the Pacific Railway Pier shipped enough oil to make Port San Luis the largest crude oil shipping port on the globe. But not for long: as standard gauge railroads took over, the need for the piers and narrow gauge railroad disappeared. In 1941, Unocal bought the Pacific Railway Pier, which became critical to supplying the U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet throughout World War II. The pier stayed important for oil transportation until it’s destroyed in a storm in March, 1983. Unocal replaced the wooden pier with a concrete and steel pier, in the same footprint, and gifted the pier to Cal Poly University in 2001. Today, it’s called the Cal Poly Pier, dedicated as an educational marine research facility for the University.

https://youtu.be/Iyt_fDyRwAs

Pismo Beach Pier

Between Avila Beach and Oceano, the Pismo Beach Pier also has a long history in commerce. Built in 1881, the wooden Pismo Pier imported goods and exported crops, building materials and asphaltum. The Pier has recently been renovated, and makes for a pleasant walk or fishing excursion.

[post_title] => Historic Piers and Lighthouses on Highway 1 [post_excerpt] => Take in all the piers and lighthouses of coastal San Luis Obispo County, or choose just one or two to explore. Either way, you’ll witness the impact of how this region’s coastal position shaped its history. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => historic-piers-and-lighthouses-on-highway-1 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-07-08 13:54:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-07-08 21:54:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://highway1discoveryroute.com/?post_type=activities&p=120371 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => activities [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 18 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 126136 [post_author] => 8 [post_date] => 2020-07-28 15:45:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-07-28 23:45:47 [post_content] =>

Wherever you roam along Highway 1, the ocean never lies far away. In the 57 miles of coastline between Ragged Point and Nipomo, the Pacific Ocean defines the landscape. Half of these miles benefit from state and federal protection — more than any other stretch of coast in California. White bluffs and cliffs reach like fingers into the ocean along the north coast, while dunes tower over the beaches to the south. Among the rocks of our rugged shoreline, tidepools stand as tiny underwater worlds, begging to be explored. Here, anemones, urchins, crabs, and sea stars make their homes among mussels moss and barnacles. On plush, sandy beaches, look for hundreds of species of seabirds, from plovers and egrets to tattlers and turnstones. Many have a permanent home here, but others are among the billion birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway. 

But birds aren’t the only tourists to visit our friendly, scenic haven; several marine mammals pass through, too. The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is one of just a handful in North America, seeing up to 25,000 elephant seals annually. Further out, migrating whales pass through, feeding, birthing, and mating in waters alongside Highway 1. Dolphins, harbor seals, sea lions, and porpoises navigate these waters, too, and can easily be seen in and around harbors and coves. California sea otters often play wherever kelp beds sway, weaving in and out of these seaweed forests for food. The best part about all this wildlife activity is its accessibility for viewing by the public; here, anyone can witness sea life, any time of year.

Respect for the natural world is important for enjoying and sustaining the riches of California’s Central Coast. Many of these habitats are fragile and can become unstable under too much human impact. To minimize your stamp on these precious creatures and their homes, read and practice our Wildlife Viewing Tips. And for information about tides — especially important for tide pooling — check our link to local tide tables along Highway 1.

When you fall in love with our sea life here, you’ll want to do and see even more. That’s where the Coastal Discovery Trail comes in. Track our itinerary of the best coastal locations, experiences and attractions across the Central Coast. Along the way, you’ll visit beaches, preserves, parks, and historic locales that bring you closer to the heart of Highway 1. For more information, see the Coastal Discovery Trail Map on our Stewardship Travel for Good page.

Explore Sea Life along Highway 1

Seals Viewing

Depending on what time of year you visit the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, you may find adult males, females or pups. Each of these lives at the rookery at some point during the year, but the population varies greatly from season to season. Generally speaking, early winter is a great time to see adult males and females arriving, followed by birthing at its peak in late January. Mating and bull fighting continue through Valentine’s Day, after which most adults leave. Pups remain to explore and begin to swim. Adults return to molt April through August, and September and October mark the “fall haul-out,” when all elephant seals leave the beach. The viewing area at the rookery is just steps away from the beach where the elephant seals lay. Watch the drama of nature’s life cycle unfold before your eyes; this beats a good soap opera any day!

While elephant seals cruise in and out of the Central Coast, harbor seals and sea lions live here year-round — in particular, around the Morro Bay National Estuary. Sea lions like to rest on docks and boats, which can be dangerous if boaters and other people need to get past them. With that in mind, the City of Morro Bay set aside a floating dock in the forebay just for sea lions. In so doing, they’ve helped keep both the sea lions and people safe. To see these happy sea lions on their floating dock, visit the wildlife viewing station at the Estuary Nature Center. Sea lions and harbor seals also hang out beneath the Harford Pier in Avila Beach, where spectators watch them bark, eat and lounge. Find them on the lower level of the pier, closest to the water’s surface. TIP: Can you tell the difference between a sea lion and a harbor seal? The key to look for is an ear flap. If you can see the creature’s ear flap, it’s a sea lion. Otherwise, if you can’t see it, you’re looking at a seal.

Elephant seal San Simeon
The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Otter Spotting

While all sea life inspires wonder along our stretch of Highway 1, no creature has more fans than the Southern Sea Otter. Playful, furry, and intelligent, sea otters have become symbolic of the sea life along California’s Central Coast. Their whiskery muzzles and white faces endear visitors and locals alike to them. In person, it’s easy to find and watch sea otters as they hold their young, dive below the surface and crack shellfish on their belly. You just have to know where to look.

Find sea otters mostly in protected bays and coves, among the kelp seaweed that sways just offshore. The Morro Bay inlet is one such habitat, especially visible along the Embarcadero and in the Estuary. Also try otter spotting from piers in Baywood, Avila Beach (Harford Pier), and W.R. Hearst Beach in San Simeon. Or hike along the Bluff Trail in Montana de Oro State Park, the Boucher Trail in San Simeon, or Estero Bluffs in Cayucos. Each of these trails winds past prime sea otter viewing spots, as does the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk in Cambria, as well.

Sea Otter and pup San Simeon
Sea Otter and pup playing in the bay

Whale Watching

This section of Highway 1 is particularly fortunate to see so many whales pass by offshore. From migrating grey and blue whales to humpbacks, minkes, and even the occasional orca, this stretch of coastline makes for great whale watching. In fact, the Whale Trail organization identified more prime whale viewing sites in San Luis Obispo County than any other in California. Ten of those lie along Highway 1: in Oceano, Avila Beach, Cayucos, Cambria, and two in San Simeon.

To enjoy these perfect spots for spying whales, make sure to look for the Whale Trail interpretive sign. This will point out identifying characteristics of whales moving out to sea, as well as facts about which species travel through and when. Whale Trail signs also highlight other marine life, including seals, sea lions, dolphins and otters, as well as interesting tidbits about each species. The goal is to inspire appreciation and stewardship of whales and the marine environment for generations to come. Additionally, check out any number of whale watching tours being offered from guides up and down the coast, as well.

Whale Watching Whale Trail
Breaching whale off the coast

Bird Watching

The Central Coast offers some of the world’s best birding thanks to a mild climate and proximity to the Pacific Flyway. 467 species have been sighted here, including the peregrine falcon, barn owl, and bald eagle, plus smaller birds like wrens, swallows and plovers. Access to see these species, as well as many, many more, depends on your location, time of year and time of day. Much of our stretch of Highway 1 lies just beneath the Pacific Flyway. This is the north-south migratory path for birds between seasons. Here on California’s Central Coast, the best time to witness the largest volume of birds is in winter. This is when birds large and small stop over to take advantage of our hospitable climate. The Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival makes the most of this opportunity each January with 140 tours, workshops, field trips, presentations and more.

But if you can’t visit in winter, no problem; bringing your binoculars to the Central Coast is always worthwhile. Head to Baywood, which is considered a Globally Important Bird Area, or the Oceano Dunes by Oso Flaco Lake. Both of these spots promise great finds you’ll remember long after your vacation ends.

Bird Watching
Bird watching along Highway 1

Tide Pools

A Travel for Good reminder:  

Many of these habitats are fragile and can become unstable under too much human impact.  To minimize your stamp on these precious creatures and their homes while visiting, walk on bare rock to avoid crushing fragile tide pool animals, and keep away from seaweed – it’s slippery! Please do not pick up animals - just observe, leave tide pool critters in their natural home.

Tide Pools of San Simeon

Ask any local child about their favorite excursion near the coast, and they’ll likely say tide pooling! Tip-toe-ing among the tidepools of the Pacific coastline is one of the best ways to get up close and personal with sea life. Everywhere you crouch, treasures come alive. Witness hermit crabs scuttling, anemones opening and closing, seaweed swaying and sea stars quietly creeping. 

In San Simeon, the beaches north of the Piedras Blancas Light Station are home to plenty of interesting tide pools. Inhabitants can include hermit crabs, several types of anemones, and urchin. (Look for luxurious kelp beds offshore here as well, as sea otters can often be found in their leaves.) Another ideal tide-pooling spot is on the north end of W. R. Hearst Memorial State Beach. At low tide, look for sea stars, limpets, barnacles, chitons, and turban snails.

Tidepool

Tide Pools of Cambria

Cambria boasts a couple of ideal places for exploring tide pools. Make sure to check the tides to ensure that the tide is low, as shallow waters offer the best viewing experience. At Leffingwell Landing, find mussels and barnacles clinging to the large rocks in the most exposed sections. (Check the sides of the surge channels to see up to six different kinds of limpets, potentially.) Otherwise, less-exposed areas may offer sea anemones, limpets, snails and crabs, as well as larger barnacles and algae.

Tide pooling is also popular in and around Moonstone Beach in Cambria, particularly at its northern end. In addition to limpets, periwinkle snails, anemones, mussels and gooseneck barnacles, you’ll also find excellent beachcombing here. Take your time hunting for moonstones, interesting driftwood, and sea glass as you walk up the beach to the tidepools. This is also a beautiful spot for a picnic or a walk along the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk.

Tide Pools of Cayucos

Cayucos State Beach is a locals’ favorite beach that showcases amazing tide pool locations for visitors to explore. These tide pools are located at the base of a long stretch of bluffs and headlands just to the north of the town of Cayucos. There, find large exposed rocks with high wave action along with lots of calmer water. Plenty of barnacles, mussels and limpets live in the more wave exposed areas. The calmer waters are home to algae, sea anemones, hermit crabs and snails. 

Further north, a series of tidepools stand beneath the Estero Bluffs network of trails. Take these trails west to the shoreline, and search for all manner of small sea life, from ochre sea stars to rough limpets. Crab dens tuck away between large rock sheers, housing purple shore crabs and black turbans. Beautiful networks of kelp, kombu, rockweed, and sea lettuce also make this a popular spot for seaweed foraging.

Tide Pools of Montana de Oro 

With 7 miles of coastline, this state park is a tide pooler’s dream. While the park boasts several wonderful places to tide pool, the easiest and most accessible is Spooner’s Cove. Here, rocks and channels house snails, limpets and barnacles, especially visible at low tide. In the shallowest and most protected tide pools, look for anemones, crabs and other smaller creatures.

Another reliable tide pooling spot is at the end of the Hazard Reef Trail, which ends at the rocky shore. Crabs are especially plentiful here, as are anemones, mollusks, sea stars, and other treasures. Likewise, Corallina Cove hides orange, yellow and purple sea stars, turban snails and green sea lettuce among its crevices. These are some of the most fruitful tide pools along Highway 1, teeming with life and accessible just beyond the roadway. Tiptoe along the ridges of rocks, developed there over thousands of years, and discover the many creatures that call them home.

#Hwy1SeaLife

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