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Central California Beaches - By City
- Avila Beach
- Big Sur
- Carmel By the Sea
- Grover Beach
- Half Moon Bay
- Los Osos
- Morro Bay
- Moss Landing
- Pacific Grove
- Pebble Beach
- Pismo Beach
- San Simeon
- Santa Cruz
- Shell Beach
Overview of the Area
On a map, this area looks more like the southern part of California, but it’s what California natives call “Central Coast”. When Los Angelenos say they’re driving “up the coast” and San Franciscans say they’re driving “down the coast”, this is the coast they’re talking about. There are other, faster routes for driving between the two cities, but Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway 1, is the road to choose when you’re on vacation. Each turn more breathtaking taking than the next, you’ll never know if you’ll overlook a sandy bay or steep, rocky drop into the Pacific ocean.
Beginning in the north, just below San Francisco, is San Mateo county, known as the South Bay Area, it is the home of Silicon Valley and Stanford University inland from the stunning coasts of Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.
As you cruise into Santa Cruz county, you’ll begin seeing the giant redwood trees to the east and come upon the bay in Aptos. Traveling into Monterey county you’ll notice the trees are changing (just for a few miles) to Monterey Pine—wind-blown, craggy pine trees. Take the long way on the 17-Mile-Drive. Soon enough you’re in Big Sur with the quintessential Point Sur Lighthouse and back to the redwoods.
Just north of San Simeon (home of Hearst Castle) in San Luis Obispo County, stop and observe the giant elephant seals at their best.
For old school dining (we’re talking since 1927) go to Nick’s in Pacifica for a prawn cocktail at the horseshoe-shaped bar.
For sunset, try the Rocky Point Restaurant with a view from their spectacular ocean terrace, just 10 miles south of Carmel by the Sea.
After dark, check out the Olde Port Inn on the end of the pier in Avila Beach. Ask for a glass top table to see starfish on the pilings of underneath the restaurant while you dine.
Interested in upscale and boutique shopping? Carmel by the Sea is the place to go. Still upscale, but less expensive, visit the Outlet Mall Pismo Beach.
Local art, including sculptures, painting and ceramics, is located throughout the area in small artisan shops and galleries along the coast.
For vacation family fun, there’s the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Although the region boasts many incredible golf courses, none are surpassed by the world-class Pebble Beach links.
Monterey Bay has a great wharf with fresh fish, seafood restaurants and gift shops. Here you can also book sportfishing, scuba diving and whale watching boats.
If you like giant geological wonders, take a look at Morro Bay State Park in Morro Beach. There’s hiking (but no climbing on THE rock—sorry!) and kayaking, and if you’re lucky, a look at a sea otter.
Clam-digging in Pismo Beach is questionable (are they there or not?), but in nearby Oceano you can drive your car on the beach at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
Sculpture by the Sea in Cambria
Festival of the Winds in Monterey
Art Festival in Carmel by the Sea
California Festival of Beers in Avila Beach
Longboard Invitational in Santa Cruz
Country Coast Classic Bike Ride - Cambria
Jazz Festival in Monterey
Art and Pumpkin Festival in Half Moon Bay
- October through March
Monarch Butterflies in Pacific Grove