9 Stops on the California Highway 1 Discovery Route

By Staff ,

Follow the magnificent Hwy. 1 through San Luis Obispo County to go on fantastic strolls along 101 miles. Experience these nine dazzling spots including a luxurious castle and a tree-lined hike to the beach. 

1. Sip Wine

Edna Valley Vineyards

Courtesy California Highway 1 Discovery Route

Why go: Located in the coolest wine-growing region and producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and aromatic white wines, Arroyo Grande is two miles from the beach and Edna Valley is about five miles.

Tip: Stop at the tasting room of Edna Valley's Baileyana. It’s housed in Independence Schoolhouse built in 1909. Created 30-plus years ago by Catharine Niven, Baileyana is run by the family’s second and third generations.

2. Stroll in Montana de Oro State Park

Sunset at the arch on Montana de Oro State Park's main beach

Matthew Dillon via Flickr

Why go: An absolutely gorgeous 8,000-acre state park tucked along the Pacific Coast in Los Osos, you’ll find secluded beaches like Spooner’s Cove and gorgeous hiking and mountain biking trails.

Tip: Park in the beach parking lot below Spooner Ranch House, a visitor center and park headquarters. The Bluff Trail begins across from the visitor center. It's a relatively flat dirt/gravel trail that runs along the park’s rugged cliffs.

3. Experience Sand Dunes

Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area

Courtesy California Highway 1 Discovery Route

Why go: If you have a four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle, visit Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. It’s the only beach in the state parks system where vehicles are permitted.

Tip: For more solitude, head to Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, one of the largest intact coastal dune ecosystems on Earth.

4. Relax at Avila Beach

Point San Luis Lighthouse

Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr

Why go: This is the warmest, most protected beach in San Luis Obispo County.

Tip: Hike the easy 5-mile round-trip Bob Jones Trail from Hwy.1 to Avila Beach, walking through a golf course and down a tree-lined path as you follow San Luis Obispo Creek. Relax at the beach and enjoy lunch in this cool beach town. Then walk back to your car.

Or board a trolley to Point San Luis Lighthouse. Fares include the cost of docent-led tours in the Lighthouse & Head Keepers Quarters.

5. Stroll the Cayucos Pier

Oceanfront dining in Cayucos

Courtesy California Highway 1 Discovery Route

Why go: In Cayucos, take a leisurely stroll down the Cayucos pier, which offers excellent views of Morro Rock and opportunities to see pelicans fishing. Bulit in 1872 by Captain James Cass, the founder of Cayucos, it was lengthened in 1876 to 982 feet. It transformed Cayucos into a commerical port for ships from Los Angeles and San Francisco carrying passengers and goods like butter and lumber.

Tip: In Cayucos, enjoy a farm-to-table dinner at The Grill at the Cass House or spend the night in this five-room boutique hotel. You’ll be greeted with a glass of wine when you check in. Taste fresh-baked cookies at Brown Butter Cookie Co., a local favorite.

6. Visit the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and Get Artsy in Cambria

Beauty of a bench in Cambria

Tori Peglar

Why go: This adorable town is packed with art galleries and restaurants and a gorgeous 400-acre park in the middle of town. Take the 2-mile round-trip Bluff Trail for an easy coastal walk. The ocean views and wild flowers are spectacular.

Access the trail at the Windsor South or Windsor North entrances. Afterwards, spend the night before touring Hearst Castle. It’s just a 10-minute drive to or from the castle. Cambria Beach Lodge offers a hip take on the classic roadside motel. 

Tip: Spend the night before touring Hearst Castle. It’s just a 10-minute drive to or from the castle. Cambria Beach Lodge offers a hip take on the classic roadside motel.

7. Explore Hearst Castle

The fountain at Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is a registered trademark of Hearst Castle®/California State Parks - All Rights Reserved

Why go: In 1919 media mogul William Randolph Hearst hired architect Julia Morgan to build a grandiose 165-room home on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The European castle-like complex includes a twin-towered main building, three guesthouses and 100-plus acres of elaborate gardens.

Tip: Once part of the world’s largest private zoo, zebras graze the property close to Hwy. 1.

8. See Seals

Elephant seals lounge in mass on the San Simeon beach

Photo by Friends of the Elephant Seals courtesy of California Highway 1 Discovery Route

Why go: Observe elephant seals on the beach five miles north of Hearst Castle in San Simeon. After observing San Simeon's 5,000-pound elephant seals, start up the dirt trail north to Piedras Blancas Light Station.The original lighthouse keepers cottage, that once stood at Piedras Blancas Light Station, is available as a vacation rental in Cambria.

Tip: Order a burger made with beef from the Hearst Ranch at Sebastian’s General Store built in 1852 at the height of the area’s whaling industry. Sample wine from the Hearst Ranch Winery in the tasting room.

9. Get Million Dollar Views

Ragged Point on the San Simeon Coastline

Courtesy California Highway 1 Discovery Route

Why go: Stand 400 feet above the Pacific Ocean at Ragged Point and look for whales.

Tip: The Ragged Point Nature Trail is an easy stroll. Experienced hikers should consider the Ragged Point Cliffside Trail, which changes 400 feet in elevation and brings you to a black sand beach and waterfall views before ascending back up the cliffs.

For more information:
California Highway Discovery Route