Art and Culture of Highway 1

Our abundant stretch of Highway 1 combines incredible scenery with rich art and culture offerings. Here, artists, performers, historians and storytellers come together to create a vibrant community. From Hearst Castle’s world class art collection to historic buildings and colorful murals, there’s much to take in. Explore native flora and fauna, attend a riotous theater production or catch any number of live music performances unfolding across the region. Art, natural wonder and history come together to create a truly enriching experience along Highway 1.

Table of Contents

Explore Art & Culture Along Highway 1

Art & Culture in San Simeon & Cambria

Hearst Castle

World famous Hearst Castle stands as San Simeon’s most opulent cultural gem. In 1912, William Randolph Hearst broke ground on the famed estate designed by architect Julia Morgan. The late great publishing mogul spared no expense in design or style, collecting coveted art and antiquities to fill his new home. Perched atop a hill in the Santa Lucia Mountains, the “enchanted castle” eventually spanned 90,000 square-feet with staggering views of the Highway 1 coastline and the surrounding Hearst Ranch below. From impressive pools and manicured gardens to Hearst’s treasure trove of art and antiques, there’s much to marvel at. Take a tour of the estate and see for yourself. Be sure to keep an eye out for the 3,000 year-old statue of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, 15th-century Spanish ceilings and ancient Chinese vases, among other incredible artifacts. Now included in the California State Parks system, you’ll find a robust visitor’s center, gift shop and bookstore to explore. Want to learn even more about the castle? An onsite IMAX theater screens a documentary centered on Hearst’s intriguing life and history.

Hearst Castle Interior
Take a tour of the artwork inside Hearst Castle

Cambria Center for the Arts

The Cambria Center for the Arts combines exciting art education with vibrant gallery space. Plays, film screenings, art shows, classes and lectures are all accessible thanks to this invaluable nonprofit resource. Located inside the old Cambria Grammar School, the destination serves as an important central hub between Cambria’s East and West Villages. Here, artists showcase their work in a continuously running gallery. Starting in the mid-1940s, the gallery grew to include local and nationally known visual and performing artists. Today, the Cambria Center for the Arts remains a home base for locals and visitors to discover new works. Catch theater and musical groups performing throughout the year, the annual four-day Cambria Film Festival or various art shows. Want to make your own art? Come for classes, workshops and lectures discussing diverse topics like sculpture, storytelling, filmmaking and more.

Cambria Historical Museum

A historic stop all around, the Cambria Historic Museum is your go-to for local insight and lore. Located in Cambria’s iconic 1870 Guthrie-Bianchini House, this charming museum represents just one of many historic buildings of note. Once known as “Slabtown,” Cambria thrived thanks to milling, ranching, whaling and mining industries—with many related homes still standing today. Enjoy a walking tour of the area courtesy of the museum (a map and guide can be obtained online or at the museum). Focusing on the historic homes of Cambria’s East Village, the walking tour showcases 28 buildings of interest, including the pint-sized Santa Rosa Chapel, Camozzi’s Saloon, and many private homes. Want to know why 4111 Bridge Street is called “The Bucket of Blood?” You’ll have to take the tour to find out. Don’t miss the Guthrie-Bianchini House’s well-tended heritage gardens, a great photo-opp after returning from your stroll.

Cambria Historical Museum
The Cambria Historical Museum

One of the foremost art galleries in California, The Vault Gallery has delighted art lovers since 1991. Located inside Cambria’s historic Bank of Cambria building, owner Laylon Whittaker opened the gallery with the aim of featuring California plein air painters, contemporary artists and photographers. Over the years, many art careers have launched from this iconic gallery space—a tradition that continues to this day. View contemporary works of Steve Johnston and famous graffiti artist Banksy, whose work is shown in the U.S. exclusively at The Vault. Also on display? The work of Helene Wilder, a celebrated portrait artist from Santa Fe, as are the crisp architectural paintings of Mark Beck. Don’t miss the opportunity to appreciate true masterworks in this quaint and unique downtown Cambria setting.

View the works of art at the Vault Gallery

Community Murals

Community color is everywhere in Cambria if you know where to look. Go for a sunny stroll through town and check out the vibrant mural on public display outside the Cutruzzola Vineyards tasting room, then stop in for delicious wine offerings. You’ll also find eye-catching public artwork showcased at Slabtown Mercantile, a great place to shop for creative souvenirs. Both of these mural works of art were facilitated by Cambria’s Community Mural Project, a community effort aimed at bringing a dose of fresh creativity into the downtown area.

Cutruzzola Vineyards Cambria
A colorful mural at the Cutruzzola Vineyards tasting room

More in San Simeon & Cambria

Want to learn more about arts and culture in San Simeon and Cambria? From the Old Schoolhouse to the popular Discovery Center mural, you’ll find countless venues sure to enliven your visit. Check out these great San Simeon and Cambria art galleries, creative hubs, work spaces and more.

Coastal Discovery Center Outside
The mural at the Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon

Art & Culture in Cayucos

Cayucos boasts a handful of worthy murals, so keep your eyes peeled while making your way around town. The Way Station Building Mural, housed in what was once known as the “Old Pedraita Building,” is one such masterpiece. Built in 1876, this historic locale was once a hotel favored by famous guests, including The Hearst family. Today, look for the building’s impressive mural, officially dubbed “Delivery at the Cottage Hotel,” repainted and restored by distinguished artist Manuel Cruz III. Located on Ocean Ave and overlooking Little Cayucos Creek, this is a wonderful spot to take a breather or photo opp. You’ll also find Lunada Garden Bistro/Venue at the Way Station, with Luna Coffee Bar nestled just behind on the beautiful garden patio.

The Way Station Building Mural

Cayucos Collective

At the heart of downtown Cayucos, you’ll find Cayucos Collective art gallery and custom printing studio. Established in 2014 by longtime surfers, skaters and artists, the business started as a blog and online art gallery celebrating Central Coast beach culture. Today, this brick-and-mortar gallery features an eclectic mix of handmade pieces you won’t find elsewhere. Take a spin around the collective and enjoy the ride: Paintings, jewelry, sculptures and more are all crafted by local artists. In fact, house artists are on hand to create your very own wearable souvenir. Simply provide your own images and artwork to be emblazoned onto a shirt, trucker hat or hoodie. Made with top tier garments on Cayucos Collective’s DTG printing equipment, your item is then bundled into a trademarked take-out container, ready for the road.

Cayucos Collective
The Cayucos Collective art gallery

More in Cayucos

Experience more art and culture in downtown Cayucos. From murals and galleries to workspaces and more, check out these dynamic creative hubs showcasing diverse disciplines and mediums.

Cayucos Mural
A colorful mural in downtown Cayucos

Art & Culture in Los Osos

The Gallery at Marina Square showcases the work of distinctive professional artists. Located in nearby Morro Bay, the gallery focuses on artists garnering awards, grants and fellowships through juried art shows—the same community that established the gallery itself. Here, you’ll find an array of artforms, from paintings and photographs to jewelry, sculpture and more. Located on the Morro Bay Embarcadero, the Gallery at Marina Square is expansive and diverse, featuring creative opportunities to take home a piece of Highway 1. Works of art, silk scarves, holiday ornaments, prints, greeting cards, blown glass and more celebrate the handiwork of local creatives and beyond. Feeling inspired? The Gallery at Marina Square also sells sketchbooks, pastels, paints and pencils for the aspiring artist visitor. Bring your tools and materials outside and start with a portrait of iconic Morro Rock, just a few hundred feet in front of you.

Museum of Natural History

With 180-degree views of the Morro Bay National Estuary and Morro Rock, the Museum of Natural History is a sight to behold, both inside and out. Located within Morro Bay State Park, this popular Highway 1 destination represents the only natural history museum within the California State Park system. Explore the history of the estuary and Chumash people, plus local habitats and more. Understand how the tide affects the lives of local wildlife, including anemones, sandpipers, California sea otters and California sea lions. Hands-on exhibits and interpretive displays will delight the kids. Plus, the young and young at heart will enjoy completing a scavenger hunt, complete with prize. Everyone can partake in nature walks, special exhibits, films and tours, too. A well-stocked gift shop and knowledgeable docents round out this unforgettable educational experience.

Morro Rock Morro Bay
Learn all about Morro Bay at the Museum of Natural History

Community Murals

Art pops of the woodwork in Los Osos, home to a handful of exciting public murals. Find one such specimen downtown, on the back wall of the Los Osos Liquors and Market building at 2004 10th Street. There, “Portola’s Sacred Expedition” depicts what life might have looked like hundreds of years ago. Native animals and inhabitants take center stage, backdropped by rolling coastal hills. In 1992, the celebrated mural was painted by the Los Osos Community Organization (LOCO). The work was recently restored by a dozen Celebrate Los Osos volunteer painters under the supervision of Barbara and artist Ken Christensen.

More in Los Osos

Looking for more arts and culture viewing opportunities in Los Osos? You’ve come to the right place. Check out our array of creative offerings sure to delight all ages.

Los Osos Art
Explore the arts in Los Osos

Art & Culture in Avila Beach

Lifeguard Tower Murals

With its white sand and colorfully painted lifeguard towers, Avila Beach is what California dreams are made of. Longtime resident and painter Colleen Gnos is responsible for creating the unique public artscape, the first of its kind in California. Inspired by summers on the beach, Gnos covered two 12-foot-tall towers with expressive scenes depicting the coastal area’s past, present and future. Located on either side of the Avila Pier, the towers provide a look back at Avila Beach’s historical coastline, featuring images of lifeguards, deep-sea divers, surfers and fishermen. The artist even included Buster Blue, a macaw known to beg visitors for french fries. Look also for depictions of whales breaching in Avila Bay, kayakers on the water and the longstanding Avila Beach Junior Guards program for kids. Visiting Avila Beach, all you need to do is look out at the pier for a glimpse at this ongoing public art show.

Avila Beach Lifeguard Tower Mural
The painted towers sit alongside the Avila Pier

The Avila Gallery in Avila Beach features a curated selection of ceramics, paintings, jewelry, pottery and more. Stroll to the bottom of the Landing Passage and you’ll find a collection of works created by four resident featured artists, among others. Discover bold gemstone jewelry by Linda Lewis, playful watercolors by local favorite Tracy Taylor and a collection of paintings, enamel jewelry, felted hats, beaded and silver jewelry, acrylic paintings and more. All is available for purchase, allowing visitors to take a little piece of Avila Beach home. Even better, learn a new skill: Avila Gallery offers studio classes for a wide array of crafts, including jewelry-making, copper enameling, wire wrap, jewelry fabrication, painting, bracelet-making and more.

More in Avila Beach

Known for its stunning natural beauty, Avila Beach is home to enticing arts and culture opportunities you won’t want to miss. Amid the galleries and showrooms, you’ll find a unique coastal collection unlike any other.

Avila Beach Art
Viewing the art displayed along the promenade

Art & Culture in Edna Valley & Arroyo Grande

Heritage House Garden & Museum

With old fashioned charm to spare, the Village of Arroyo Grande proudly showcases its history. Explore the Heritage House Garden and Museum, honoring Arroyo Grande’s historic inhabitants. The house and museum are maintained by the South County Historical Society and are accessible via South Mason Street, across from the historic Swinging Bridge. Once the property of Charles A. Pitkin, the house-turned-museum has stood the test of time (it was built in the late 1800s). After a series of various tenants—including a day care and the City Recreation Department—the Heritage House underwent major restoration in1997. Today, it houses period clothing, kitchenware, photos, artwork and more. As part of the restoration, the city of Arroyo Grande also installed a gazebo, lawn and lush gardens. Naturally, this venue is a popular choice for weddings and other events. Visit this beloved local site to enjoy a scenic peek at yesteryear.

Swinging Bridge, Arroyo Grande
The Heritage House Garden and Museum located across from the historic Swinging Bridge

Barn Museum

Located behind the Heritage House and Gardens in Arroyo Grande, “the Barn” serves as the South County Historical Society’s museum annex. In this antique barn, you’ll find historical society artifacts from Arroyo Grande’s long agricultural history, including plows, wagons, vintage ranching equipment and mercantile artifacts. Other items include antique carriages, a horse-drawn hook and ladder fire carriage and a 1923 LaFrance fire truck. Discover signage from the old Greyhound Bus depot, vintage printing presses, tools and more—all gleaming before your very eyes. Bonus: Just steps away, find the one-room Santa Manuela Schoolhouse, built in 1901. The schoolhouse is one of a very few remaining historic schoolhouses in San Luis Obispo County. Young students will especially enjoy walking into the classroom remembered by bygone generations.

Clark Center

The Clark Center in Arroyo Grande offers up exciting national and local acts, including notable theater and live music performances. The state-of-the-art venue includes the 617-seat Forbes Hall as well as the 120-seat Studio Theater. It’s no wonder why the Clark Center has become a hub for the performing arts on Highway 1, hosting acts like The Drifters, Roy Orbison, John Craigie and comedy festivals. The center also hosts local performances from groups as varied as the San Luis Obispo Symphony, Orchestra Novo, and the Stone Soup Music Festival. Located on the northwest corner of the Arroyo Grande High School campus, the venue doubles as a home for the high school’s drama department, hosting year round fun. Be sure to check out the gallery that wraps around the lobby of the hall, a prime location for local artists to display their work.

The Clark Center
The Clark Center for the Performing Arts

More in Edna & Arroyo Grande

From historic works to modern masterpieces, Arroyo Grande is home to a bevy of awesome art and culture viewing opportunities. Get going and check out all the treasures on display in this charming community.

Downtown Arroyo Grande Village
A day of discovery out in Arroyo Grande and Edna Valley

Art & Culture in Nipomo & Oceano

Train Depot Museum

The Oceano Train Museum houses artifacts, photos and stories from San Luis Obispo County’s railway heyday. At the turn of the 20th century, this building represented the center of commerce and development for the region, offering railway transportation as well as telegraph service. Today, the space features displays on railroad tools, Southern Pacific collectibles and WW2 memorabilia. Constructed in 1869 by The Southern Pacific Railroad and refurbished by the Oceano Improvement Association, the formerly run-down building stands as a shining reminder of human ingenuity. Learn how the train depot and its technologies contributed to the growth of San Luis Obispo County. You can even explore a pair of vintage train cars!

Oceano train station
The historic Oceano Train Museum

The Great American Melodrama

One of Highway 1’s most beloved hidden treasures, the Great American Melodrama in Oceano offers uproarious live theater entertainment for the whole family. Since 1975, the Melodrama has performed authentic melodramas, a style of theater that features outrageous plot turns, plus outsized heroes and villains. The theater encourages booing and cheering, bringing audience members into the story with lively acting and zany gags. Shows run throughout the year and include a vaudeville revue at the end of each performance sure to get you chuckling. Of particular note are the Holiday Extravaganza and Halloween shows—annual performances so popular, tickets are known to sell out. Plan to come hungry, as the Melodrama offers a snack bar where simple meals, desserts, beer and wine are sold. Now, sit back and enjoy the very best live professional theater on Highway 1. Be sure to stay after the show to take photos with your favorite members of the cast.

Come and enjoy the show at the Great American Melodrama

More in Nipomo & Oceano

Get ready for more arts and culture viewing opportunities in Oceano and Nipomo. From belly laughs to a historic adobe and beyond, the whole family will come away awed.

the Place on PCH painter
The Place on PCH art studio and gallery in Oceano

Art & Culture in San Luis Obispo

SLO Museum of Art

Located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, The SLO Museum of Art stands as one of Highway 1’s most exciting creative hubs. Wander west through Mission Plaza to the museum, tucked into a corner of the park overlooking the creek. SLO Museum of Art features several gallery spaces, one of which is dedicated to the museum’s permanent collection featuring Central Coast artists. The main hall contains rotating shows from artists of national and international prominence. Previous exhibitions have included modern rug maker Faig Ahmed, London-based painter William Brickel and portrait photos from Dese’Rae L. Stage. In the lobby, the museum hosts small, interactive shows for hands-on art. Check out the rotating public art installation outside the museum’s east entrance, as well as the murals on the museum’s exterior walls. Public art can be found throughout downtown San Luis Obispo—including interactive displays in Mission Plaza. These are all thanks to the vast reach of the SLO Museum of Art.

Performing Arts Center of San Luis Obispo

The Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo is a world-class venue, hosting national and international touring acts with household name status. Known locally as “The PAC,” the Performing Arts Center is located on the Cal Poly University campus and consists of several venues. The best-known of these venues is the Harold Miossi Hall, which seats 1,286 guests and is home to the Fisk Opus 129 pipe organ. Built on a grand scale, this organ imitates (and rivals) organs in cathedrals and concert halls in the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. Headliners have included Jerry Seinfeld, Pink Martini, Neko Case, David Sedaris and Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. National touring productions like Hairspray, RENT, and Jersey Boys routinely take the stage here. The Performing Arts Center also hosts resident local artists like the San Luis Obispo Opera, Civic Ballet, San Luis Obispo Master Chorale and more.

Discover art and culture in downtown San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is ground zero for plants, flowers and pollinators. Highlighting greenery from the five mediterranean climate regions of the world, the operation spans 150 acres with ten acres of planted gardens. Started in 1989 as a senior project for a Cal Poly ornamental horticulture student, the gardens feature the flora and fauna of climates with characteristically mild winters and warm, dry summers. These regions include California, central Chile, the cape region of South Africa, the Mediterranean Basin and south Australia. Wander the gardens and explore the incredible collection of plants and enticing interpretive displays. Ready to stretch those legs? Take the 1.5-mile Discovery Trail that loops through the Chile and California zones with moderate elevation gain. Plus, self-guided and docent-led tours are on hand to enhance your experience. Young botanists are encouraged to check out the Children’s Garden of Exploration, a place where all ages can touch, smell, taste, learn and play.