Where in California can you find a historic ranching-town-turned-wine-country? Edna Valley’s Old Edna Townsite, founded in the 1840s, has been recently restored and rebranded as a focal point for family reunions and weddings. With its nearby cycling and hiking trails, wildlife preserves, proximity to local beaches, and 27 tasting rooms, this world-class wine-growing region has something for every generation in the family. At the end of the day, retreat to any of Edna Valley’s gorgeous nearby vacation rentals, which can house anywhere from 6-12 people.
Rolling hills dotted with lush vineyards mark the landscape of Arroyo Grande, but it’s also home to a variety of parks for every level of adventure. Lopez Lake Recreation Area is the place for fishing, sailing, hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, canoeing, bird watching, horseback riding, camping, and much more. Best of all: the warm climate makes Lopez Lake a year-round recreational destination. For even bigger thrills, Vista Lago Zip Line Adventure Park boasts half a mile of zip lines, including four distinct courses that vary in difficulty and speed. Not quite into hanging on for dear life? Arroyo Grande Valley is also home to California’s only swinging bridge—originally built without sides!
If you’re looking for the perfect place for that perfect Instagram shot, look no further than Nipomo—a quaint, picture-perfect town. Harkening back to its agricultural roots, Nipomo hosts dozens of greenhouses replete with flowers, citrus, and avocado orchards, as well as stretches of strawberry fields. From late October to February, watch as tens of thousands of Monarch butterflies migrate more than 1,000 miles to the protected grove of Trilogy Monarch Dunes, as they escape the harsh winter. Finally, the historic Dana Adobe home, built in 1840, is a 13-room adobe residence built by Captain William Goodwin Dana. Restoration efforts have brought this home back to its original splendor for visitors to enjoy.
A genuine California beach town, Oceano also has one of the largest sand dune complexes in the state. In addition to classic beach experiences like surfing, fishing, and playing in the sand, Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is the only place in California where visitors can drive on the beach. Whether it’s from your own vehicle, on horseback, or an ATV, explore this geologically unique sand dune complex at your preferred speed. After a day in the sun, check out the Oceano Train Depot train museum in near-original condition. Entirely maintained by volunteers, the Oceano Train Depot contains historical artifacts from the railroad as well as from the surrounding community, dating back to the early 1900s.
A rainy day will never spoil your vacation at Avila Beach, where its uniquely consistent microclimate allows for smooth sailing and total relaxation. With its natural mineral spas, historic 1890s lighthouse, white sand beaches, and ocean front golf, Avila Beach is truly heaven on Earth. Here you’ll find paddle boarding, sailing, bonfires, day hikes and beautiful cycling and walking trails. On Fridays, check out the weekly oceanfront farmer’s market as you stroll along the beach. After you’ve explored the traditional side of Avila Beach, head out to the more secluded Pirate’s Cove. The infamous Pirate’s Cove, which used to smuggle liquor during the Prohibition Era, is now another kind of risqué hotspot—it’s one of the few remaining beaches in California where bathing suits are optional.
Named for the now-extinct California grizzly bear, Los Osos is a quiet bayside neighborhood. Home to over 250 species of birds, this unspoiled wonderland hides a secret “back bay” surrounded by eucalyptus. Right next to Sweet Springs Nature Preserve—a two-part natural pond system in the back bay—lies the Montaña de Oro State Park (literally “Mountain of Gold” in Spanish). Here you’ll find mountains, valleys, tide pools, and spectacular views of the ocean. While nightlife is on the slow side in Los Osos, families are sure to find plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy together, including hiking, biking, kayaking, horseback riding, and golfing.
One of the last true California beach towns, Cayucos is the perfect small-town blend of the Old West and the Pacific Ocean. With its beautifully restored 950-foot historic pier and pet-friendly beaches, it’s the ideal place to spend a weekend of low-key activity. Catch the perfect wave or get into a canoe—the Spanish origin namesake of Cayucos. Visit one of the nine local murals (or all of them!) and learn about the history and culture of Cayucos through art. When your day is done, wind down at one of Cayucos’ many bars or restaurants. Despite its small population, Cayucos has enough culinary variety to feed a much bigger town.
For what’s arguably the most impressive view of the Santa Lucia Mountains and Pacific Ocean, look no further than this 150-year-old seaside town. Cambria’s beachfront preserves are home to elephant seals, sea otters, whales, dolphins, and birds, making this a true natural haven for creatures of all kinds. But not only are animals drawn here—Cambria’s sheer beauty attracts artists of every kind, culminating in a cultural stronghold of the central coast, with art galleries and workshops, boutique shops and a lively music and theatre scene. One can’t-miss unusual piece of folk art is Nitt Witt Ridge: a house purchased in 1928 by garbage collector Art Harold Beal, entirely accented with beach debris and natural minerals.
In San Simeon, you’ll find a little taste of Europe in Hearst Castle on the Enchanted Hill. Sitting atop the Santa Lucia Mountains, Hearst Castle has 165 rooms and over 125 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways. Named for William Randolph Hearst, Hearst Castle once hosted the political and Hollywood elite, such as Charlie Chaplin, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, and others. When you’re done with the tour, be sure to scan the water for whales. San Simeon is the NOAA’s southernmost end of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and one of several Pacific Whale Trail sites—where grey whales migrate from Alaska to Baja for feeding—off of Highway 1.
On your way down to Hearst Castle or up to Big Sur up north, check out Ragged Point’s 400 foot high ”Million Dollar View” of the Pacific. Upon entering Big Sur, take the trail down the cliff to encounter the largest waterfall in the area. Home to all kinds of exotic animals including sea otters, birds, and the elephant seals of Piedras Blancas Rookery, Ragged Point truly presents the natural world in a most majestic view. With deep blue ocean vistas, seasonal whale watching, sparkling coves, and rock formations carved by the sea, it’s no wonder that Ragged Point is the most filmed scenic roadway in the world.