Highway 1 Calls: Explore the Best of SLO Cal and the Central Coast

Heavy rains earlier this month forced the shutdown of sections of scenic Highway 1 in Big Sur, as a portion of the roadway fell into the ocean. But that doesn’t mean you have to cancel upcoming road trip plans on this iconic California freeway just yet.

Though parts of Highway 1 are not drivable near Big Sur, a 100-mile stretch in San Luis Obispo County from San Luis Obispo and the surrounding area to Ragged Point still welcomes travelers.

The 100-mile stretch of Highway 1 along the Central Coast is known for its outdoor adventures, abundant wildlife, wide open spaces, and uncrowded beaches.

Locals call it “SLO Cal” for a reason — not just the acronym for San Luis Obispo (SLO) County. The artisan communities tucked along the scenic coast have a laid-back vibe full of small beach town charm. In 2022, 7.47 million people visited SLO Cal, and travelers booked 2.5 million rooms, a testament to its popularity as a vacation destination.

The Most Famous Road in California

Remembering a recent road trip, traveler Pablo Fechino shares, “My wife and I spent five days driving Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point. We loved walking the coastal trails, eating at the local restaurants, seeing the Elephant Seals, and breathing in the fresh ocean air. No wonder it’s such an iconic road trip route in America. We were blown away and can’t wait to drive more sections.”

road trip along Highway 1’s Central Coast allows visitors to indulge in various unique experiences — seaweed foraging, kayak paddling to sea otters in Morro Bay, beachwalking, and exploring bluff trails overlooking the Pacific. Travelers can walk across gold-plated tiles on a tour of the historic Hearst Castle, immortalized in Citizen Kane, perched on top of the hills above San Simeon.

San Luis Obispo

Drive through San Luis Obispo to access Highway 1. Rolling green hills dotted with vineyards and views of the coast engulf visitors. The area’s mild Mediterranean climate makes it a wonderful place to visit year-round.

Plan an afternoon tasting wine or catch the weekly farmers’ market downtown to appreciate the local agricultural scene the area is well known for.

Mersea's Restaurant

Avila Beach

Tucked next to San Luis Obispo Bay, Avila Beach is a short 10-15-minute drive from the San Luis Obispo airport. It’s a charming, walkable beach village and a nice place to stop, explore, and relax.

Head to Mersea’s on the pier for tasty fish tacos and views of stunning blue water, the captivating rocky coastline, and basking seals. After, relax at the local hot springs or visit the Point San Luis Lighthouse.

Morro Bay

Hailed as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific,” Morro Rock is a volcanic plug that majestically rises out of the ocean. Sea otters are one of the bay’s beloved creatures, hailed as the local “sea-celebrities.” Plan a kayak trip to see them firsthand.

While touring in a kayak, keep wildlife safe and stay eight kayak lengths away from the otters.

Bali Gillen, the Manager at A Kayak Shack, located at the state park marina in Morro Bay, says, “If the otters get scared, they expend too much extra energy. This can cause them not to have enough energy to get food for themselves or care for their young.”

Keep watch for the bay’s Harbor seals, whales, and other wildlife.

After a paddle excursion, enjoy a tasty seafood lunch at Grassy Bar Oysters or Bayside Cafe, or peruse the marina’s many boutiques.

Montana De Oro Tide Pools

Baywood | Los Osos

Hike at Montana de Oro State Park, one of California’s largest state parks. Enjoy a beach day or hike miles of trails along the ridge. Bluff Trail’s panoramic Pacific views might give onlookers a glimpse of a frolicking sea otter. Seasoned hikers can trek to Valencia Peak’s summit — 1,347 feet above sea level — for a birds-eye view of SLO Cal. Outdoorsy visitors will appreciate El Moro Elfin Forest’s boardwalk trails, boasting views of the Morro Bay Estuary and local wildlife.

While in Baywood-Los Osos, base an adventure from the Baywood Inn. After a long day of exploring, Noi & Doi’s 2nd Street Cafe is an easy walk from the inn for delicious Thai-inspired food. Or grab Mexican cuisine at La Palapa.

Celia’s Garden Cafe is a community favorite for brunch. It is known for serving huge portions of breakfast classics. Don’t skip on a bacon omelet or a generous plate of corn beef hash.

For a quick pastry or latte on the go, Ascendo Coffee is right across the street from Celia’s. Its friendly atmosphere and customer service are perfect to start the day.

Pacific Motel Cayucos


With its laid-back and surfer beach town vibe, Cayucos attracts out-of-state travelers and local Californians alike. Hip and trendy boutique accommodations and restaurants line the main strip across from the beach.

Stay at The Pacific Motel for an authentic California beach town experience. Borrow beach cruisers, enjoy the fire pits, walk around town, catch some waves, and relax. There is even a station where Teslas can charge at The Pacific Motel.

The Hidden Kitchen serves mouthwatering gluten-free waffles or tacos, and Bijou Bakery offers homemade pastries for those looking for the best breakfast or brunch spots. For steak lovers, Lunada Garden Bistro is the place to go.

For a unique ecotourism activity, take a seaweed foraging tour with Kelpful. Nori isn’t the only type of seaweed edible for humans. Learn more about harvesting edible kelp from the ocean while searching for small tidepool wildlife, like crabs and octopus.

Jules Marsh, Co-Founder of Kelpful, shares, “You can harvest 10 pounds per person per day without a fishing license. Giant Kelp is so nutrient-dense.”

Robin's Dining Cambria


Visit the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk at sunset for a beautiful walk along the coast. Afterward, head into the quaint town of Cambria for a cozy outdoor dinner in the garden at Robin’s Restaurant. At Robin’s, they pride themselves on locally sourced produce and sustainably sourced proteins. Guests love to sit under the beautiful Trumpet Vine in the Atrium seating area, and pets are welcome.

For an outing earlier in the day near Cambria, walk the Bluff Trail at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and then grab lunch at Linn’s Restaurant. Try the famous olallieberry pie at Linn’s, a treat only made possible by a novel blackberry and raspberry hybrid. The spot offers a gluten-free version of the famous pie. Road cyclists will appreciate the owner’s curated collection displayed within the restaurant.

Hearst Castle Neptune Pool

San Simeon

Overlooking the Pacific, high up on the mountaintop, Hearst Castle sees upward of 850,000 visitors annually. Now operated by California State Parks, the elaborate estate was initially the brainchild of mogul William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan. Visitors can take a guided tour through the incredible gardens and see the expertly curated private art collection.

After a castle tour, pop into the Cavalier Coastal Kitchen for a laid-back lunch next to the coast. Then, head to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.

Wildlife viewers to the rookery can see the seals from a close but safe viewing distance. Over 25,000 Elephant Seals migrate back to where they were born every year for pupping and breeding along the eight-mile stretch of beach. It is a sight to see while enjoying the fresh, salty air.