Central Coast Favorite Places to Visit

Central Coast Favorite Places to Visit – Planning a wedding to the Central Coast, here are favorites from our couples and from us.

Central Coast Favorites

We’ve put together this awesome little guide with things to do on the Central Coast. It’s divided into areas, with our favorite things.  Get ready for your wedding and adventure to the Central Coast!

We define the Central Coast as San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County. The area is located half way between LA and San Francisco.

 

For local airports there are:

Santa Maria – weekly flights to and from Las Vegas

Santa Barbara – daily flights to and from Phoenix, Los Angeles, Denver, and Seattle. 

San Luis Obispo – daily flights to and from Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Seattle. 

If you wanted to fly into a larger airport and rent a car, try these airports:

Los Angeles (around 3 hours)

San Francisco (around 3.5 hours)

San Jose (around 3 hours)

 

Here are some ideas for a Road Trip

Road trip from LA to the Central Coast

Here are some places to stop along the way:

  • Hollywood
  • Malibu
  • The Getty Museum
  • Ventura
  • Santa Barbara
  • Los Olivos
  • Los Alamos

Road trip for San Francisco to the Central Coast

  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Monterey
  • Carmel
  • Big Sur (check to make sure the road is open)
  • Cambria
  • Morro Bay
  • San Luis Obispo

If you want to see Big Sur

  • From Pismo it’s a 3.25 hour drive

If you want to see Yosemite

  • You can cut across Highway 46 towards Fresno and it’s —- hour drive

If you want to go to Las Vegas

  • Take the 166 towards Bakersfield and it’s about a 6 hour drive
  • Or hop on a plane in Santa Maria (20 minutes from Pismo) to Las Vegas

 

Central Coast Cities – Our Favorites in the Central Coast

Santa Barbara

Known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is a large city with miles of beaches.  The weather is normally warm and there is plenty of shopping, and sight seeing. Santa Barbara is located 90 miles from LA. 

Things to do:

  • The Santa Barbara Zoo – great for all ages
  • Sterns Wharf – eating, museums, and site seeing on the pier
  • Santa Barbara Mission and rose garden – historical site
  • Lotus Land – gardens
  • Botanical gardens 
  • State Street – shopping
  • Funk Zone – wine tasting and beer tasting area
  • County Courthouse – pretty Spanish style architecture, clock tour for overlooking the city
  • Beach – there’s a lot of great beaches in the area
  • Beach Walk – there a great walking trail that runs along the beach for walking and riding bikes

Places to stay:

Near the Beach or State St. (different price ranges)

  • Double Tree
  • La Quinta
  • Hotel Indigo
  • Inn at East Beach

Places to eat:

Casual

  • Lure – great fish
  • Los Agaves – Mexican food
  • Brophy Brothers – fish and chips
  • Pascucci’s – Italian, on State St.  
  • Rusty’s Pizza – good old pizza, nothing fancy
  • McConnell’s ice cream – homemade, local ice cream

Fancy

  • Bouchon
  • Wine Cask

Buellton

Foodie Stop

Industrial Eats

– One of our favorite local places to eat

Brewery

Firestone Brewery

  • Great place to taste some local beer
  • Also has sour beer

Camping and Glamping

Flying Flags Resort

– RV park with glamping

Solvang – Quaint Danish Village

  • Full of yummy bakeries
  • Solvang Brew – brewery and good pub food

Los Olivos – the mecca of Santa Barbara wine country

  • Famous wines from the movie Sideways
  • Wine tasting shops within the town
  • Vineyards outside of the town
  • Sides Hardware – eats with thick slabs of bacon
  • Global Gardens – wine tasting with a sweet Greek lady
  • Enjoy Cupcakes – delicious mini cupcakes located inside Sarloos and Son’s winery in town

Los Alamos – foodies paradise

Check to make sure the spots below are open, hours are limited

  • Bob’s Well Bread – fresh baked bread, sweet treats, and breakfast and lunch
  • Plenty – yummy breakfast spot
  • Full of Life Flatbread – delicious flat bread pizza and dessert
  • 1880 Salon – Old western saloon

Pismo Beach

Nice places to stay for the wedding

  • Inn at the Cove 
  • Spyglass Inn 
  • The Cliffs 
  • Shore Cliff
  • SeaCrest
  • Lighthouse Suites, Pismo Beach
  • Inn at the Pier
  • Sand Castle Inn

A little more budget friendly

  • Shell Beach Inn – only books out rooms a few months in advance so it’s best to call them
  • The Tides
  • Edgewater – right on the water
  • Oxford Suites – most are 2 rooms, right near Outlet Mall

Hotels that may offer room blocks

  • Oxford Suites
  • Best Western, Casa Grande Inn
  • Edgewater Hotel

*Hotels will probably not give room blocks or discounts during summer months or holidays

Places to eat after the wedding if you wanted a nice dinner and weren’t having a private reception

  • Oyster Loft – right on the pier
  • SeaVenture Restaurant – ocean view, American food
  • McLintocks – a little more casual, but famous for their BBQ
  • Guiseppes – Italian food
  • Ventana Grill – pretty ocean view, sometimes the service is not the best 

*There is always San Luis Obispo for more nicer places to eat. 

Looking for a casual place in Pismo

  • Flagship 
  • Brewhouse 
  • Zorro’s 
  • Wolly’s 

Famous Clam Chowder

Almost as popular as the BBQ, clam chowder is pretty famous!  

Here’s a list of the favorites:

  • Splash
  • Hoagies
  • Flagship
  • Zorros
  • Marisol

The beach towns around Pismo

Arroyo Grande  

  • The Village – Cute downtown with shops and places to eat
  • Rooster Creek for happy hour
  • Villa Creek for Mexican food
  • Klondikes – good for pizza
  • And don’t forget ice cream at Doc Burnsteins

The other side of Grand

  • Ember – for wood fired pizzas
  • Figueroa Mountain Brewery – for craft beer and food

Grover Beach

Here you can access the area where you can drive on the beach

  • Stop in for a pulled pork sandwich at The Rib Line
  • Or fish and chips at Fin’s 

 Shell Beach

A small little beach town right next to Pismo. You can stroll the streets and pick out your dream house.

  • Brewhouse offers a nice selection of craft beer
  • DePalo and Sons has great sandwiches if you are wanting a picnic or quick bite
  • Zorro’s has the best clam chowder 
  • If you have kiddos, Dinosaur Park is a nice place to stop

Avila Beach

A little calmer waters and more kid friendly beaches. 

  • There is also a beach called dog beach where your nice 4 legged friends can play off the leash.
  • Take the road out to the end of the last pier and stop off at MerSeas for fish tacos
  • If you want to do a little walking, the Bob Jones trail is an easy on – start at Woodstone Market for coffee, breakfast or lunch and take the path out to the beach, it’s also bike and dog friendly
  • Tour the Port San Luis Obispo Light House located on the end of the point in Avila
  • If you want to go fishing, there are charter boats in Avila
  • On the way to or from Avila, stop by the Avila Valley Barn.  They have fresh produce, an ice cream shop, pies, sandwiches, and a petting zoo where you can feed the animals.
  • For wine tasting, there is Kelsey Winery. They have live music on Saturday and Sunday.
  • For a soak in the mineral springs, stop by Sycamore Mineral Springs. You can also stay here.

San Luis Obispo

My favorite little town!  It has a mix of old charm, mixed in with some newness. When driving, there are one way streets so sometimes best to park in the larger parking structures and walk around.  Most of the time I venture into San Luis Obispo for a special occasion meal or for a shopping day.

  • For a little downtown shopping, there is the area located off Higuera Street. The heart of downtown is at  Chorro St. and Higuera St. Take a stroll around the area, grab lunch and enjoy.
  • If you want a little history, stop off at the Mission located in the middle of down town.
  • There is also a creek on the other side of the Mission and a path you can walk along.
  • For little ones, San Luis Obispo has a nice Children’s Museum
  • If you are looking for a unique breakfast spot stop by Big Sky
  • For delicious tri tip sandwiches go to Firestone Grill
  • If you want fun craft cocktails try Sidecar

Here’s a few more favorites

  • Bueno Tavola – romantic patio with Italian food 
  • Korbel by Blue – American food, romantic 
  • Novo – outdoor patio on the creek
  • Luna Red – more casual dinning, great happy hour
  • Pepe Delgados – authentic Mexican food
  • For something with a little more quirky, stop by the pink Madonna Inn. You can stay in their themed room like the Antique room, Buffalo room, and Jungle Rock room. Also,  enjoy a nice steak dinner at their restaurant.
  • If you want to do a hike, try Bishop’s Peak.

Marriage License – if you need to get your married license locally, it would be from San Luis Obispo or Atascadero.

Morro Bay

If you are looking for a little slower paced beach town, head over to Morro Bay. Grab some fish and chips or bowl of clam chowder in Morro Bay.  You will also have a view of Morro Rock when you enter town.  When the tide is low, stop by any of the beaches to collect sand dollars.  This would also be the place for kayaking or taking a boat tour around the bay.

Cambria

Located North of Pismo Beach, this town has more of a Northern California beach feel.  They have tide pool beaches and pine trees.  They have 2 Main Street locations with shops and places to eat.  Venture a mile away from Main St. and head to Moonstone Beach drive for an ocean view and walk along the beach on their boardwalk path. 

Located 15 minutes from Cambria is San Simeon. It’s a pretty drive up Highway 1. You can stop at Hearst Castle and drive farther to see the elephant seals.  Past San Simeon in Ragged Point, which is the start of the Big Sur area.  Check the roads to make sure Big Sur is open if you want to drive through.  

Paso Robles

If you are looking for over 200 wineries, Paso Robles is the place to visit!  Most wineries are located right on the vineyards. You can explore the grapes on the vine and taste the many varieties of grapes. This region is know for it’s Zinfandel.

In the downtown area of Paso Robles, there is plenty of shopping and places to eat. Here’s some favorites:

Sandwiches – Red Scooter 

A mix of mexican and fresh fish – Fish Gaucho (casual and fun)

Italian – il Cortile (nice dinner place)

American food – Paso Robles Inn (great steaks)

Central Coast Favorite Places to Visit – Things to do by Category

Hikes

Beach hikes

  • Montano de Oro – tons of different trails, Bluff Trail is a nice one and takes you to a hidden beach
  • Avila Beach lighthouse trail (need a reservation)
  • Avila Beach – Cave Landing is a nice easy trail
  • Morro Bay to Cayucous – beach to beach if the tide is right, park at The Strand camp site
  • Cambria – Moonstone beach boardwalk 

Mountains to hike/ climb

  • Bishop Peaks – San Luis Obispo
  • The Cal Poly “P”

Wind Caves Hike, outside Goleta (Santa Barbara)

  • A quick and pretty easy hike takes you to the naturally forming wind caves
  • Right off Highway 101

Historical Stops

Cold Springs Tavern – An Old Stage Coach stop

  • Locate off Highway 154 – many times directions will tell you to go this way, just caution that it is a windy road, you might be better staying on Highway 101 if you aren’t up for an adventure! Serves food and drink

San Luis Obispo Mission

  • Old California mission and church, open for tours

Hearst Castle

  • Famous Castle on the hill built by William Randolph Hearst. Open for tours, should schedule in advance

Kid Friendly Activities

  • Children’s Museum – There are 3 fun children’s museums – One in Santa Maira, one in San Luis Obispo, and one in Paso Robles
  • The Avila Valley Barn is great for kids!  They can feed the animals, go on a hay ride or ride the ponies on the weekend, and enjoy ice cream or a famous pie.
  • The beaches of Avila are a little calmer waters, so a little more kid friendly
  • San Luis Obispo – Thursday night Farmer’s Market
  • Santa Barbara Zoo – nice, large zoo, great for a picnic
  • Elephant seal watching in San Simeon
  • Rockin Jump in Santa Maria – indoor trampoline place
  • Visit Cal Poly Preforming Arts Center to see if they have any kid friendly plays or shows

Breweries

Slo Brew – downtown San Luis Obispo, serves food, on the creek

Tap It – outdoor venue in San Luis Obispo

Figuero Mountain – Arroyo Grande and Buellton (has outdoor space and kid friendly)

Firestone Walker – Buellton and Paso Robles

Check out the brewery website for other places visit CentralCoastBrewersGuide.com .

Wineries

The Central Coast is surrounded by wineries in all directions!  

For the closest vineyards right outside of Pismo, visit Talley Vineyards or Letetica in Arroyo Grande.

For a few more wineries, head to San Luis Obispo – Claiborne and Churchill specialized in German type sweeter wines, Baileyana and Tangent has a nice grass area for a picnic and nice drinking wines, or Edna Valley for their famous views of the valley.

If you are wanting to visit towns with more wine, head over to Paso Robles or Los Olivos.  

Here’s the websites for each of the wine country towns www.DiscoverCaliforniaWines.com . 

Santa Maria Style BBQ

If you haven’t heard about it, Santa Maria BBQ is tri tip cooked over oak.  There’s a few different restaurants that specialize in Santa Maira BBQ.

Here’s the favorites:

  • Hitching Post 2 – Buellton
  • Hitching Post – Casmalia 
  • Far Western – Orcutt (great for lunch)
  • Shaws – Santa Maria
  • Jackos – Nipomo

Pet Friendly

If you wanted an off the leash beach, try Dog Beach in Avila Beach. 

Most of our locations are dog friendly, as long as they are on a leash. 

 

Hope you enjoy our guide packed with Central Coast Favorite Places to Visit .