By Merle Rosenstein

With four glorious regions and 563 kilometres of jaw-dropping coastline, California’s Central Coast appeals to families, foodies, lovers of fine wine, outdoor adventurers and history buffs.

Get a real feel for California’s Central Coast on a road trip down California Highway 1, through small cities, bountiful beach towns, kilometres of farmers’ fields and fertile forests. Travelling by car is the best way to reach the wild isolated Channel Islands or to sample some Santa Maria-style barbecue. So crank up the Beach Boys tunes and head for the highway for your California Central Coast road trip – first stop – Monterey Bay Region.

Monterey Bay Region

MontereyIan Schneider, Unsplash

Monterey Bay reaches from the surfing haven of Big Sur to the San Francisco Bay area. Santa Cruz County boasts 14 parks with towering redwoods perched on mountain tops and trails leading to windswept Pacific Coast beaches. Along the coast of the city of Santa Cruz surfers shred waves, tots check out tide pools and families ride the Giant Dipper, a vintage wooden roller coaster on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Cultural venues in the downtown area include the Museum of Art and History, the Santa Cruz Symphony and the Actors’ Theatre. Around town wine can be sampled in tasting rooms; fine restaurants; in Soquel Village; or at four vineyards on the Corralitos Wine Trail, featuring family-owned wineries.

The County is also the gateway to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the second largest in the United States. New for 2012 is a Sanctuary Exploration Centre that will allow visitors to experience the biodiversity of Monterey Bay. The Monterey Bay Aquarium houses more than 35,000 different animals and 623 unique species. More than 100 different tanks and display cases, including those for sharks, penguins, flamingoes and seahorses, rely on water pumped from Monterey Bay. Carmel-by-the-Sea’s pristine white-sand beach, ample shopping opportunities, gourmet restaurants and wineries and historic sites are a true delight.

Santa Barbara Region

Many celebrities call Santa Barbara home and the Santa Barbara Film Festival has become a key industry event. On Santa Barbara’s South Coast, Carpinteria City Beach and Carpinteria State Beach have been called ‘the safest in the world’ due to a shallow offshore shelf preventing rip currents. A fertile farming region produces avocados, lemons and specialty fruits; and four federally-designated American Viticultural Areas host 175 wineries with 65 varieties of grapes from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot. Historic buildings such as the Santa Barbara Courthouse lend a Mediterranean air to the downtown area.

Solvang brings the tradition of Denmark to the California Coast. Scandinavian-style buildings, bakeries, restaurants and museums ensure Danish culture is preserved. In Solvang you’ll also find wine tasting rooms and the Santa Inés Mission. In Santa Barbara’s North Country, the spirit of the west lives on and wine plays an even more prominent role. Nature lovers won’t want to miss the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, the highest on the West Coast, and a favourite setting for legendary photographer Ansel Adams.

San Luis Obispo Region

Pismo Beach with its 366-metre pier and almost five kilometres of boardwalk makes an excellent spot for a morning stroll.

The three wine country cities, San Luis Obispo, Atascadero and Paso Robles each have something different to offer visitors. San Luis Obispo’s downtown displays a wide range of historic buildings such as the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, built in the 1790s. At the Thursday night market, shoppers selected produce from more than 120 vendors as they listen to live music. Atascadero or ‘A-Town’ is surrounded by wineries, orchards and farms. Historically a ranching and farming community, Paso Robles is in close proximity to more than 200 wineries. Along the Northern Coast, Morro Bay draws birders and outdoor enthusiasts to explore the rich natural environment. 

Built in 1945, the 165-room Hearst Castle, perched on ‘The Enchanted Hill’ overlooking San Simeon, is a State Historical Monument, offering a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of one of the richest men in the United States.

Channel Islands Region

Ventura’s 121-year-old San Buenaventura Pier stretches 518 metres. In Ventura Harbor Village many recreational activities await visitors such as sailing, diving and kayaking. Ventura’s Surfer’s Point attracts surfers from all along the California coast.

East of Ventura, perched atop a hill with sweeping views of the southland, the Reagan Library is one of California’s most beautiful and unique destinations. Tour the actual Air Force One that flew seven US presidents, and view a full-scale replica of the Oval Office.

With easy access from Ventura, the five Channel Islands, known as ‘the Galapagos of North America’, support 2,000 plant and animal species and offer sights such as sea caves, large seabird populations, Torrey pines and elephant seals.

For more information on California’s Central Coast, go to