The holidays shine brightest on Highway 1, where you can find ways to celebrate in every season of the year. From the beaches to the vineyards, the farmland to the coastland, this section of Highway 1 offers a unique blend of events and festivals for locals and visitors alike. Every one of our ten small communities offers big opportunities for fun. In the fall, pick from a vast array of heirloom pumpkin varieties in Avila Beach, or delight in scarecrows dressed up across Cambria. Check out the famous 4th of July parade in Cayucos, or glimpse the fireworks over Pismo Beach. In December, Highway 1 dazzles with old-fashioned Christmas markets, seasonal theater productions, and even a historic “castle,” lit from within with holiday lights. And who could forget New Year’s Day, when intrepid souls of all ages brave the icy winter waters to take the Polar Bear Plunge? No matter the holiday, Highway 1 is a place that keeps traditions, old and new, and celebrates with spirit and togetherness.
Table of Contents
Explore Holiday Activities on Highway 1
At the Melodrama
Fall is a spine-tingling time to visit the Great American Melodrama, where the shows are spooky, uproarious, and full of family-friendly fun! Expect lively melodrama theater and a casual atmosphere in which the audience is encouraged to boo the villain and cheer the hero. Previous shows have included offbeat sendups like “Mummy Dearest,” “Scary Poppins,” and “The Bride of Frankenstein.” For the 2023 season, the Halloween show is “Trudy and the Beast,” a retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast story, only this time it’s set in none other than the nearby Highway 1 town of Nipomo. Follow Trudy as she falls in love with the creature from the “Blacklake Lagoon” at Blacklake Golf Course—and hilarity ensues. Each show includes a knee-slapping vaudeville revue, plus two intermissions for grabbing snacks and drinks in between. “Trudy and the Beast runs September 15 through November 1—get your tickets early, because the fall show at the Great American Melodrama is always quick to sell out!
The charming Cambria Scarecrow Festival takes place each year during the month of October—and whimsy is the name of the game. The festival transforms Moonstone Beach Drive and the East and West Villages of Cambria into a scarecrow-inhabited wonderland, complete with funny, touching, and sometimes spooky scenes. Local residents, businesses and community groups spend all year preparing for the event, creating scarecrows of all shapes and sizes to display throughout town. Visitors are treated to a wide range of scarecrow types, from the hay-stuffed and traditional to eccentric and unexpected. These fun characters line the streets, storefronts, and parks, and can be found with the help of a Scarecrow Festival map. Walk, bicycle, or drive between scarecrows to see them all. In addition, the festival offers a variety of family-friendly activities and events throughout the month, including pumpkin patches, hayrides, live music, and tasty fall treats. Don’t miss a minute of this beloved Highway 1 tradition!
Avila Valley Barn
Everyone loves a trip to the Avila Valley Barn, anytime of year, but in the crisp, sunny months of September and October, it’s downright irresistible. For locals, it isn’t really fall until you’ve made a pilgrimage to the barn for the scent of pies baking, buying just-picked apples, or taking a hayride to the pumpkin patch. And for visitors, it’s a cherished tradition to head to the picturesque Avila Valley, where sycamore trees canopy winding country roads, all the way out to the beach. Expect a wide array of pumpkins for sale, from Cinderella shapes and Turk’s Turbans to classic jack o’lantern style varieties. You can choose your pumpkin from wide wooden crates at the front of the barn, or you can head to the patch, where families meander among the vines. Come ready to spend time on the property, perusing the thoughtfully-curated gift shop, feeding the farm animals, and munching on an ear of fresh-roasted corn. Visiting the Avila Valley Barn isn’t just an activity—it’s a treasured annual experience that embodies the magic of fall.
The Pumpkin Patch, Edna Valley
This sprawling countryside pumpkin patch is the result of five generations’ hard work to bring the best of fall to Highway 1. Located on Biddle Road amidst rolling vineyards and pretty Edna Valley wineries, this pumpkin patch grows over 40 varieties of pumpkins to choose from. The patch is open for picking starting September 1 each year, and the family is on site every day of the week to help you choose just the right variety. Whether you’re planning to bake a pie, decorate your porch, or carve your next Halloween masterpiece, The Pumpkin Patch has what you need. They even sell “scarred” pumpkins, artfully etched with beautiful sentiments that are perfect as an elegant centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table. And don’t miss the free corn maze! The Pumpkin Patch prides itself on creating a challenging and fun corn maze each year, spread over four acres of the property. Bring the family, bring your fall spirit, and bring your sense of adventure!
The Bavarian tradition of Oktoberfest comes to Highway 1 each fall, bringing with it excellent food, drink and fun. You’ll find several ways to celebrate here, with events spanning the communities of Cambria, Los Osos-Baywood Park, and Avila Beach. Set against a backdrop of unparalleled scenic beauty, Oktoberfest is a spirited and flavorful way to experience the bounty of San Luis Obispo County. Expect a wide selection of craft beers, including traditional German brews and inspired local offerings. Alongside your stein, you can savor classic Bavarian dishes like schnitzel, sauerkraut, pretzels and bratwurst—often crafted with local ingredients. But these events aren’t only about eating and drinking. They offer plenty of activities for the whole family—even pets can get in on the fun! Depending on which Oktoberfest celebration you attend, you might find arts and crafts, a fun run, a car show, pet costume contests, games, and stein-holding competitions. Get in on the action, and enjoy the laid-back friendly charm of Highway 1 in the process. Prost!
Harvest on the Coast
Harvest in SLO Coast wine country is a labor of love, with farmers, vineyard workers, cellar hands and winemakers giving it their all to produce a memorable vintage. Each bottle is a testament to their dedication and craftsmanship. To mark the occasion, the SLO Coast Wine Collective holds “Harvest on the Coast,” a celebration of the most recent harvest, previous vintages, and the exceptional wines emerging from the newly-established San Luis Obispo Coast wine appellation. For the 2023 harvest, the event will be held from 2 to 5pm at Chamisal Winery in the Edna Valley. There, visitors can expect tastings from SLO Coast wineries paired with Santa Maria style BBQ from Gold Land BBQ, plus live music from The Honey Boys. For wine enthusiasts seeking a deeper experience with the region’s history, a “Rare and Reserve” tasting will take place before the event. Don’t miss this annual celebration of all things SLO Coast wine.
Visit the all the Farm Stands
Thanks to warm, sunny days and cool, crisp nights, our section of Highway 1 produces a staggering array of fruits and vegetables all year long. Want to savor the best of each farm’s bounty? Try hitting up farm stands across the region, from tiny roadside huts to sprawling ranches and well-stocked groceries. Often, these operations will offer tours, tastings, or other educational activities to give visitors a fuller picture of where their food comes from. Taste cheeses at Stepladder Farms outside San Simeon, then hang out with the goats who provided their milk to do so. Or at the Luffa Farm in Nipomo, take a tour and learn from the owners about the remarkable life cycle and practical uses of the luffa. Olive groves, cattle ranches, apple orchards and even seaweed farms invite guests to savor and learn about their products as well as their story. Seasonally speaking, fall is a wonderful time to see these businesses in action—and fun for the whole family.
William Randolph Hearst loved Christmas, loved entertaining guests throughout the holidays, and loved seeing his opulent hilltop home dressed in all its seasonal finery. To celebrate Mr. Hearst’s favorite time of year, Hearst Castle continues the tradition of decorating the home for the holidays. Visitors can see the estate festooned exactly the way it would have been during Hearst’s lifetime, with lights, wreaths—and even packages under the trees! The castle holds special Holiday Twilight Tours throughout the season where all the bobbles and bows can really sparkle. Volunteers wander through the house dressed in period clothing while the music of the age rings out over the speakers for an immersive experience. For a truly enrapturing evening, The Friends of Hearst Castle hosts a black-tie Holiday Feast for its members in Mr. Hearst’s opulent dining room. There, guests can sip Champagne and dine on caviar, lobster, and oysters—plus decadent chocolate lava cake to finish—in an atmosphere of pure luxury.
Cambria Christmas Market
Looking for a magical holiday event? Each year, the Cambria Christmas Market transforms this seaside village into a European-inspired winter wonderland. The event attracts visitors from near and far, making it one of Highway 1’s most treasured ways to capture the spirit of the season. The stars of the show are the more than two million lights that decorate the market, twinkling and shimmering across the market’s six-acre footprint. Kids love wandering through the spellbinding lights display, meeting up with Santa, and taking rides on the Christmas Market Train and vintage carousel. Grownups like to check out the artisan vendor stalls, tapping toes to live music, cuddling up by the fire pits and sipping mulled wine. Come once and you’ll be hooked: The Cambria Christmas Market is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking the enchantment of the season on Highway 1.
Melodrama Holiday Extravaganza
The Great American Melodrama in Oceano has produced its Holiday Extravaganza for decades, making it one of the most beloved theatrical traditions on Highway 1. This annual spectacle is a blend of melodramatic theater, vaudeville-style comedy, and heartwarming holiday spirit that even the stodgiest Scrooge can enjoy! The show always includes a retelling of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Story” followed by a hilarious operetta, and finishes with a vaudeville revue. The Melodrama’s incredible cast of professional actors put on a show that’s fun for the whole family, with dancing, singing, and lots of heart. And don’t forget: visitors are encouraged to cheer the hero and boo the villain! (It wouldn’t be a Melodrama show without a healthy dose of audience participation.) Between acts, enjoy classic American snack bar fare, served by the actors themselves. For the 2023 season, the Great American Melodrama Holiday Extravaganza takes place November 17 through December 31. Don’t wait to buy your tickets: these shows sell out fast.
Cayucos Christmas Open House
Feel all the heartwarming spirit of the holidays at the Cayucos Christmas Open House, held on Ocean Avenue each year. During this one night in the charming seaside town, businesses open their doors to residents and visitors alike, welcoming them with twinkling lights, decorations, and lots of warm smiles. This very merry Cayucos tradition supports the shopping and dining establishments that make downtown so special. To sweeten the deal, the Cayucos Lioness Club provides refreshments along the downtown corridor. They also offer a craft workshop and visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus in their home for the kids. Best of all, you can find free horse-drawn carriage and wagon rides that take in views of the moonlit beach and pier. It’s a special evening that celebrates the season in true Cayucos style. Come for just some of the festivities, or make an entire night of enjoying downtown—no matter how you choose to visit, you’ll leave with a smile.
Shows at the Clark Center
An Irish Christmas
Travel across the Atlantic for the holidays—from the comfort of a seat at the Clark Center Theater! As seen on PBS, this performance in honor of Irish Christmas features principal dancers from the international sensation “Riverdance.” Join their award-winning cast and World Champion Dancers in celebrating the great traditions of Christmas in Ireland. Enjoy acts about butter-making, the wren-chasing on St. Stephen’s Day, drawing down the half door and much more. The performance includes Christmas caroling from the Kerry Voice Squad, and live music from the Kerry Traditional Orchestra. An Irish Christmas brings the world to you for the holidays, and will expand anyone’s understanding of the meaning of Christmas through themes that unite us all. Plus: the festivities are fun for the whole family. Get in the holiday spirit with this joyous celebration of the people, places, and deeply-held traditions of the Emerald Isle that you won’t want to miss.
The classic Christmas tale of the Nutcracker comes to the Clark Center in Arroyo Grande to charm visitors of all ages. This great ballet about Clara and her Nutcracker Prince is one that’s been handed down through the generations. For this celebration, it is performed as part of the World Ballet Series by an international cast of 50 professional dancers. Travel through the beauty of Tchaikovsky’s music and Lev Ivanov choreography to Clara’s family Christmas party, where her mysterious Uncle Drosselmyer’s gives her a special gift. It’s the beginning of a wondrous dream that visits the Land of Sweets, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Peppermint Dancers, Mother Ginger and her Bon Bons, and much more. The World Ballet Series brings it all vibrantly to life, with intricately hand-sewn costumes, extravagant hand-made sets, and top-notch dancing. The holidays just aren’t complete without indulging in this delicious annual tradition. Bring the kids and the grandkids: they’ll never forget it.
New Years Celebrations
Polar Bear Plunge
Ready to put last year behind you? Ready for a fresh start in the new year? Take a Polar Bear Plunge—also known as a Polar Bear Dip. It’s one of Highway 1’s favorite ways to say goodbye to the old and welcome in the new. What is a Polar Bear Plunge? Quite simply, it’s a tradition of dunking in the cold January waters of Cayucos or Avila Beach on New Year’s Day. It’s like a reset for the body, mind and soul—and locals and visitors alike love to do the dip, year after year. Want to join the ranks of polar bears on Highway 1? Both locations have their own personality and charm (and their waters are equally chilly!) so the choice is yours. They’re also both free to the public, and open for all ages of folks who can swim. Bring your whackiest costumes, your warmest towels and ponchos, and a sense of humor. This is a wonderful celebration of regeneration and community in a picturesque setting. And leave time post-plunge for bowls of warm clam chowder, a cup of tea or coffee, and nearby wildlife viewing for the full-day experience.
4th of July
Cayucos 4th Festivities
If you want to time your visit to Cayucos just right, you’ll line it up with the 4th of July. While the cozy, quirky beach town is fun all year long, it really shines on Independence Day, with a whole host of festive activities to choose from. Most notably, the Cayucos 4th of July Parade is a celebration of all things patriotic, with outrageous floats, uproarious costumes, and plenty of home-town charm. The parade travels down Ocean Avenue, Cayucos’s main thoroughfare, and delights thousands of people each year. But if you’re willing to rise early, you can watch contestants in the Sand Sculpture Contest build elaborate designs beginning between 4 and 5am. (You can even build one yourself!) It’s all followed by a street faire featuring food trucks, artisans and live entertainment, including the famous Lion’s Club BBQ. Stay to hang out on the beach, surf, swim, kayak, and shop for antiques, then catch Fireworks from the Cayucos Pier at night.
Avila Beach Doggie Parade
Dog owners, start your engines! Every 4th of July in Avila Beach, the Avila Beach Community Center hosts a doggone good time with a Doggie Parade and Doggie Costume Contest. Dogs of all sizes, shapes, breeds and ages come in their finery for a walk down the Avila Beach Promenade. This pedestrian-only area fronts the beach, shoreline, and businesses, making it the paw-fect place for a stroll. Dog owners come from near and far to show their pups off and make new friends; their pups make new friends, too! It’s a morning of sniffing, strutting, and serious fun for the Fourth, and a great way to see Avila Beach at its best. Want to see the parade? Come at 11am. Want to sign up your dog for the parade? Come early to sign up. However you do the Avila Beach Doggie Parade, you’ll be happy you came.
Pismo Beach Fourth of July
A longstanding tradition of patriotic fun, festivities and fireworks makes Pismo Beach one of Highway 1’s hottest destinations on Independence Day. Locals and visitors both take the day very seriously, staking out seats on the sand for the best view of the fireworks. The show begins at 9pm, but don’t wait till then to show up! Spend the day on the beach with a picnic, or head to one of Pismo’s many excellent restaurants and eateries. (Some of these offer prime viewing areas for the fireworks—but be prepared to pay for the privilege.) Bring sand toys, boogie boards, surfboards, skimboards and even kiteboarding gear to make the most of a beautiful day at the beach. Or check out the live music and other entertainment available throughout the day. Then sit back, relax, and take in one of the best firework displays around.
Ask anyone who’s spent Memorial Day on Highway 1 how they chose to celebrate, and there’s a high probability they’ll talk about the Oceano Dunes. With an entrance at the end of Grand Avenue in Grover Beach, the Oceano Dunes offer a state recreational vehicle area (SVRA) for vehicles to drive and camp on. That means wheels on the beach, right on the picturesque Pacific shoreline. Stake out your spot on the sand, then build a bonfire to roast marshmallows over, with the sound of crashing waves as background music. Then head to bed and wake up to an unobstructed view of the ocean—one of the best in all of California. Spend the day taking off-road vehicles into the dunes for exploration and adrenaline-pumping fun. The rest of the time, play in the waves, hike the Oceano Dunes Nature Preserve, and discover Oceano’s restaurants, Depot Museum, and the Great American Melodrama. It’s a fun, family-friendly way to celebrate Memorial Day on Highway 1.