Things to do on Highway 1

Book Your Stay

Whether you’re new to Highway 1 or you’ve been traveling this magnificent byway for years, there’s always something new to see. The vast ocean, uncrowded beaches, clean air, boutique shopping, fresh dining, wine country, and history offer more than one trip can contain. But if you could only visit once, where would you go? What would you choose to see and do? While these are tough decisions, the SLO CAL stretch of Highway 1 does have its “greatest hits,” and they’re worth exploring. If you need a list of the must-see attractions on Highway 1, we’ve provided it here. From the Oceano Dunes in the south to Ragged Point and the Gateway to Big Sur in the north, this stretch of Highway 1 boasts treasures galore. And if you’ve already experienced our top recommendations, check out our suggestions for other spots to visit nearby. There are many ways to travel Highway 1—the following picks are from locals who know it inside and out.

Explore Highway 1

Table of Contents

Things to do in Nipomo

The Monarch Habitat of Nipomo

Imagine seeing thousands of jewel-toned Monarch butterflies at once, tucked in and fluttering among the silvery leaves of a eucalyptus tree grove. Such a place exists—multiple places, in fact—and can be seen just off Highway 1 in Nipomo. Located near the aptly-named Monarch Dunes Golf Course, this habitat serves as shelter to overwintering Monarch butterflies. Thousands of Western Monarchs spend several months here; they arrive in September and leave about mid-February each year. In fact, this 19-acre grove of Tasmanian Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees has supported as many as 60,000 migratory Monarchs in one season. Open year-round, the Monarch habitat welcomes visitors from sunrise to sunset every day. Bring lunch or dinner and relax at the picnic tables available in the eucalyptus grove; find the parking lot at 1610 Kingston Drive in Nipomo. You’ll also find an interpretive sign from the Western Monarch Trail, which recognizes Nipomo as a hub of Monarch activity. For more Monarch hot spots throughout the area, visit our page Monarch Butterfly Groves on Highway 1.

Monarch Butterfly Groves
View the beautiful Monarch Butterflies in Nipomo

Other Stops Nearby

Monarch Dunes Golf Course

Looking for more to do in Nipomo? Visit the Monarch Dunes Golf Course, just beside the Monarch habitat, for access to two of the finest golf courses on Highway 1. The first course built here, sometimes called “The Old Course,” is an 18-hole, par 71 championship-level track. The course was built in 2006 within a planned community called Woodlands Village. Architects Damian Pascuzzo and Steve Pate (also a pro golfer) designed the course in the style of a links track, with ocean views. Shortly after it opened, GOLF Magazine named the Old Course  one of the world’s Top 10 New Courses. In 2008, the resort opened its Challenge Course, sometimes called the “New Course.” This 12-hole track is par 26, with 8,000-square-foot greens with elevation changes of up to four feet. On either course, enjoy views of the storm-fed lakes throughout the property, clean bentgrass greens, and a driving range. Don’t miss the Butterfly Grille for pre- or post-game snacks and meals, plus craft beer and local wines.

Enjoy a day on the green at The Monarch Dunes Golf Course

Dana Adobe

Further south, step back into Nipomo’s frontier days with a visit to the Dana Adobe. Construction began on this historic home in 1839 by Captain William Goodwin Dana, upon a 38,000-acre land grant called Rancho Nipomo. Dana lived here with his wife Maria Josefa and their 16 children. During the time of the California ranchos, Dana’s Adobe served as a waypoint for travelers headed to Mission San Luis Obispo along El Camino Real. Here, they traded goods like soap, candles, and textiles, as well as livestock. Today, after a robust volunteer effort to preserve the property, the Dana Adobe continues to stand at the foot of the Nipomo hills. In fact, it is listed as a California Historical Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can enjoy views of the countryside that remain mostly the same since Dana’s time. Experience a guided tour, check out art installations, special events, classes, and a system of walking trails that fan out from the adobe.

Dana Adobe Cultural Center
The Dana Adobe Cultural Center

Dinner at Jocko’s

For one of the best steaks of your life, head to Jocko’s Restaurant on the corner of Thompson Road and Tefft Street. Jocko’s wasn’t always an icon of West Coast BBQ. It was originally established in 1838 as a saloon across the street by Emery Knotts. He put his eight sons to work in the bar, and one of them, Ralph “Jocko” Knotts took the lead. Over the years, the concept changed to a bar and BBQ restaurant, but it’s still owned by the Knotts family today. Walk in and enjoy Santa Maria-style hospitality, including huge portions, a low-lit bar, and cattle brands seared into the walls. The menu includes a wide variety of items, including chicken, fish, and vegetarian options, but the steaks are what make Jocko’s famous. Choose from a variety of cuts, all of which are fired over red oak coals on the restaurant’s outdoor pit. Full meals come with a relish tray, salad, garlic bread, Jocko’s famous beans, potatoes, a scoop of ice cream, and coffee.

Jocko's Nipomo
Come dine at Jocko's in Nipomo

Things to do in Oceano

The Oceano Melodrama

You may know Oceano for “The Dunes,” but if you haven’t visited The Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville Revue, you’re missing a hidden gem. Since 1975, this saloon-style theater right on Highway 1 in Oceano has hosted musicals, comedies, and classic melodramas in a cabaret setting. The Melodrama is a professional theater company, with actors known for their humor, musical abilities, and dedication to their craft. The theater also employs a live pianist to accompany all shows in a traditional performance style that’s perfect for all ages and stages. Come prepared to boo the villain and cheer the hero, Wednesday through Sunday, just about all year long. Also bring your appetite, as the Great American Melodrama serves dinner, snack, and bar items, served by the actors themselves during two intermissions. Note that dropping cash in the tip jar will get you a special “thank you” song, sung in harmony by the actors, just for you.

Oceano Melodrama Stage
A night of entertainment at the Oceano Melodrama

More to do in Oceano

Horseback Ride on the Beach

The picturesque coastline in Oceano makes a terrific setting for riding horseback on the sand. Check out the Pacific Dunes Riding Ranch, located just off Highway 1 in Oceano, which offers horseback riding right on the beach. Knowledgeable guides lead group and private trail rides, Friday through Tuesday, for ages 7 and up. (For kids under 7, the ranch offers fun and safe pony rides in the corral.) Providing calm, experienced horses, guides lead riders through forested areas to the dunes and then the beach. Riders can walk their horse along the shoreline in a safe and peaceful environment, to the sound of the waves. The ranch also provides equestrian camping facilities for those with their own horse, as well as horse boarding. Don’t miss this bucket list-worthy experience, set along Highway 1 and all the treasures it has to offer. No need to be an expert: all abilities are welcome here.

Going out for a ride along the beautiful beaches

Biplane Rides

If the saddle isn’t your thing, perhaps flying in a biplane will be. Based out of Oceano Airport, Banner Airways offers sightseeing tours over the Oceano Dunes in a vintage yellow 1942 open cockpit plane. This is the aircraft the U.S. military used to train pilots during World War II — a 450-horsepower Pratt & Whitney radial engine. You don’t have to train for battle in this biplane, though. Banner Airways offers the option to see the Pismo Pier from above, or the Pismo Pier and the vast Oceano Dunes.  For adrenaline junkies, Banner Airways also offers what’s called a “Top Gun” flight. This option provides plenty of thrills as you loop-dee-loop, squiggle and flip above Oceano. If a hair-raising ride interests you, don’t miss your chance to do it with scenic views of the dunes and ocean in the background. Banner Airways will loan you a leather jacket, goggles, a helmet, and a life jacket.

Biplane Oceano
Flying high above Oceano in a Biplane

Eat at Rock and Roll Diner

After a horseback excursion or biplane ride, stop in at the Rock and Roll Diner, one of the most original dining experiences on Highway 1. This vintage ‘50s-style diner inhabits two actual train cars from the golden age of rail travel. One is a dining car built by the Pullman Standard Car Company in 1946. The lounge car was built in 1947 by the Budd Car Company. It was once part of the “Orange Blossom Special,” about which Johnny Cash wrote his classic country tune. History aside, the Rock And Roll Diner serves American food that is an attraction in and of itself. Expect enormous burgers, crispy french fries, frothy malts and milkshakes and more. For all its American classics, the diner’s owner is actually Greek. Check out a side menu of Greek specialties available from the kitchen called “the Big Fat Greek Menu.” It’s unusual, historical, and loads of fun.

Rock and Roll Diner Oceano
Food and fun at the Rock and Roll Diner

Things to do in Pismo

The Pismo Preserve

Catch unbeatable views of the Pacific coastline, from Point San Luis to Point Sal, on a hike or ride through the Pismo Preserve. This 880-acre open space boasts 11 miles of trails suitable for all ages, open to hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian riding. The property has been grazing land for cattle for generations, and through a partnership with The Land Conservancy, it continues to be. These cattle also reduce potential fire hazard in this precious open space. Bring your hiking shoes, running shoes, mountain bike or even your horse: vistas lie around every corner of each trail. Get long views of the Nipomo and Oceano Dunes to the west, and wine country views through the hills to the east. This is also a terrific place for wildlife viewing. (To see what the Pismo Preserve’s local critters get up to when people aren’t around, watch the Wildlife Camera Project.) You might see deer, a coyote, sea birds, snakes, squirrels, or even whales offshore in the distance. Find the Pismo Preserve on the east side of Highway 101 in Pismo Beach. The parking lot offers ADA accessibility, a picnic area, and equestrian trailer parking.

Aerial views from Pismo Beach Preserve
The panoramic ocean views from the Pismo Preserve

More to See in Pismo

Pismo Beach Pier & Promenade

Take a walk through the downtown corridor of Pismo Beach to experience a real classic California beach town. The town sits right up against the shoreline, featuring a historic pier and promenade/boardwalk. Walk the promenade and enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean, then walk the Pismo Pier. Along the way, slip down the concrete slides or buy bait to catch The Big One off the end of the pier. Shops line the main drag, including surf shops like Pancho’s and Moondoggies, and Hotlix, the company notorious for selling insect lollipops. There are also plenty of restaurants to enjoy, including Splash Cafe, with its sourdough bread bowls and famous clam chowder. A number of food trucks also park near the pier with delectable options, from hot dogs and fried chicken sandwiches to salads and tacos. Play pool at Hot Shots Billiards or go bowling at Pismo Lanes, all within just a few steps of the pier and beach.

Pismo Beach Pier and Sign
A perfect day out at Pismo Beach

Things to do in Arroyo Grande

The Adventure Park of Arroyo Grande

Ready to test your wits, stamina and reflexes? The Vista Lago Adventure Park will do all that and more. The park is located on the eastern edge of Arroyo Grande, right inside the Lopez Lake State Recreation Area. It features multiple rope challenge courses that test participants’ agility with increasing difficulty. These include the Squirrel Zone, the Quail Trail, the Deer Run and the Black Bear. Kids 10 and under can walk the Cub Course, which is closer to the ground and provides a continuous belay roller for extra safety. Want a more hands-on experience? Take the All-Access Guided Tour or Agility Guided Tour to get the full experience of taking on the Vista Lago Adventure Park. The ropes courses lie side-by-side with a zipline park as well, with three lines that total 1,800 feet. And don’t miss “The Ledge,” where a 45-foot freefall will give you all the thrills and chills. Before or after your adventure, hang out on the viewing deck to play games and enjoy on-site food and beverage service.

Lopez Lake Recreational Area
The Lopez Lake Recreation Area

More Adventure Nearby

Lopez Lake & Mustang Water Park

The area around the Vista Lago Adventure Park is a hot spot for even more adventure. Lopez Lake is part of the Lopez Lake State Recreation Area, which stretches across 4,200 acres of open space and trails. The lake itself boasts 22 miles of shoreline and 450 surface acres. People come from far and wide to enjoy Lopez Lake for its boating and fishing. The lake is stocked in winter months with rainbow trout; largemouth bass, bluegill, and red-eared sunfish are a popular catch as well. Rent fishing gear at the marina to fish off the dock or along shore. If you’d rather fish the middle of the lake, rent a boat at the marina, where you’ll find a variety of styles and capacities. (Some even include built-in waterslides!) For an active experience, rent wave runners, jet skis and even a canoe, or bring your own. There’s always the option to kick back on shore, too, and enjoy the scenery. If waterslides are your thing, be sure to visit the Mustang Water Park, which is also located within the state recreation area. Mustang Water Park includes two 600-foot waterslides that cascade into a swimming pool. The park also features the Stampede halfpipe slide, a kiddie pool for kids under 48”, cabanas and a snackbar.

Fishing on Lopez Lake
A peaceful day of fishing on the lake

Things to do in Edna Valley

The Wine Trail of Edna Valley

Why do wine regions always exist in the prettiest parts of the world? It seems that grapes and humans like the same conditions: sunshine, cool evenings, and a gentle breeze. In the Edna Valley, the Pacific Ocean lies just a few miles away, and its influence can be felt in wine country. The north-south valley traps fog and cool air that travels over from the ocean, chilling the grapes throughout the summer and fall. That, combined with plenty of sunshine, makes for the longest growing season in California. No wonder over two dozen wine tasting rooms can be found among the rolling vineyards of Edna Valley—nearly all of them family-owned and operated. It’s easy to create your own itinerary of tasting rooms to visit, as the wineries are centered around Highway 227 and Orcutt Road. Edna Valley’s climate is coastal-comfortable (as opposed to Paso Robles where temperatures regularly climb into the triple digits) and pleasant for wine tasting.

Vineyards, Edna Valley
The vineyards of Edna Valley

Our Top Tasting Room Picks

Baileyana

This winery is an icon of the Edna Valley wine landscape, and a champion of this region from its beginnings in the 1970s. While Baileyana is the name of the tasting room, you can taste four different brands there: True Myth, Zocker, Tangent, and Baileyana. All are brands forged by the Niven family, which has devoted several generations to honing its farming and winemaking craft. Baileyana focuses on the best of the Edna Valley: chardonnay, pinot noir, and some syrah. True Myth produces cabernet sauvignon (from nearby Paso Robles), chardonnay, and red blends. The Tangent brand features cool-climate white varieties like sauvignon blanc, albariño, and pinot gris. And Zocker (which means “gambler” in German) produces grüner veltliner grown in the Edna Valley. Taste through the wines at Baileyana’s old Independence Schoolhouse, built in 1909. Enjoy views of the Santa Lucia Mountains, the vineyards, a traditional bocce court, and picnic facilities.

Baileyana Winery
Bocce and wine tasting out at Baileyana

Edna Valley Vineyard

Located on historic Edna Valley wine country boulevard Biddle Ranch Road, Edna Valley Vineyard is one of the area’s pioneering wineries. Like Baileyana, this winery began with the Niven Family, but has since passed hands to Gallo Wines. The quality of Edna Valley Vineyard’s iconic chardonnay remains the same. Similarly, the tasting room remains as picturesque as ever, with panoramic views of the vineyard behind the bar. Set up as such, it’s possible to sip wines made from the very vines that can be seen through the windows. Choose from a range of balanced, food-friendly wines with that trademark Edna Valley acidity: the winery offers a variety of tastings. These include the 18 Barrel Flight, a flight of five limited release wines. For the Heritage Flight tasting, enjoy a seated experience showcasing five limited release wines paired with fine cheeses. During the summer, stay for “Happier Hours” on Fridays, when the winery hosts live entertainment.

Tolosa Winery

Several decades ago, a young rancher bought property for grazing cattle in the Edna Valley. After experiencing the valley’s cool climate, he scrapped the cattle idea and swapped it for vineyards and a winery. Today, Tolosa Winery produces some of the finest chardonnay and pinot noir in California. The tasting experience at Tolosa is a luxurious affair, with opportunities for seated tastings both in and outside the tasting room. One tasting that sets Tolosa apart is its Barrel Tasting, which offers guests the opportunity to taste Tolosa wines before they’re bottled. A 1772 tasting walks guests through a flight of five signature Tolosa wines. For a completely different tasting, ask for the Perinet Experience, which features wines from Tolosa’s sister winery, Perinet, located in Spain. The Perinet Experience allows visitors to learn about the terroir of the Priorat wine region, its culture and traditions. Additionally, guests can pair their Perinet tasting with a Spanish cheese and charcuterie plate.

Things to do in Avila Beach

The Mineral Springs of Avila Beach

Treat yourself to one of the finest spa experiences on Highway 1 with a visit to Sycamore Mineral Springs. These natural artesian hot springs have attracted heat-seekers to Avila Beach for over a century, including celebrities en route to Hearst Castle. As is the case with visitors today, they soaked away stress and found restoration here, in the shade of the hillside’s sycamore trees. The Sycamore Day Spa experience is considered by many the best place to get a massage on Highway 1. Come in for one of the spa’s signature massages, or a hot stone, deep tissue, Swedish, or prenatal massage for individuals or pairs. The spa also offers a menu of facials and scrubs performed in a tranquil setting. Before or after your treatment, decompress in one of the private outdoor hot spring tubs set amid the trees. Soaks are included with every treatment, but they’re also available for rent by the hour, separate from the spa. Every room at the resort has its own hot tub as well.

Sycamore Mineral Springs
Taking a relaxing soak at Sycamore Mineral Springs

Hidden Spots in Avila Valley

Bob Jones Bike Trail & Avila Valley Barn

The area in which Sycamore Mineral Springs lies—the Avila Valley—offers a wealth of things to do and see. Parallel to Avila Beach Drive, the Bob Jones Bike Trail welcomes walkers, bicycles, scooters, and other non-engine vehicles. At about 3 miles roundtrip, the flat, paved trail begins on Ontario Road and ends at the beach in Avila Beach. The trail is also directly adjacent to Sycamore Mineral Springs via a bridge over Avila Beach Drive. Rent bikes from the resort and ride all the way to the beach. Afterward, hit the Avila Valley Barn at the corner of Avila Beach Drive and Ontario. This is a fully functioning farm with seasonal “U-Pick” options like pumpkins, apples, blackberries, apricots, olallieberries, flowers and more. Take a hayride out to the fields to pick your goodies, then return to the barn for gifts, preserves, cookbooks, cookware and linens. The Avila Valley Barn also sells a wide selection of produce, canned goods, smoked meats, and fruit pies. An old fashioned candy shop, plus one of the best selections of children’s toys and books around make this a popular stop for families.

Avila Valley Barn Berry Picking
Berry picking at Avila Valley Barn

Things to do in Los Osos-Baywood Park

Montaña de Oro State Park

This state park is a study in extremes, from the height of Valencia Peak to the miniature world of tidepools at the shoreline. These tidepools are a wildlife-lover’s dream, with plenty of rugged terrain for little sea-dwelling creatures to call home. These include anemones, urchins, sea stars, limpets and crabs—plus lots of shells, rocks, and interesting driftwood to see on shore. Montaña de Oro comprises several miles of coastline, with a tidepooling experience for everyone from the casual visitor to the gung-ho adventurer. Spooner’s Cove offers easy access to tidepools, just steps from where you park off Pecho Valley Road, the park’s main route. Corallina Cove is also easily accessible from the road, with just a quick walk down a sandy corridor to reach the water. Other tide pools can only be reached by hiking the many cliff trails throughout Montaña de Oro. Whatever your style or interest, these glimpses into sealife will amaze you with their intricacy, energy, and personality.

Tidepool children playing
Exploring through the tidepools

Other places to explore in Los Osos-Baywood Park

The Elfin El Moro Forest

Located on the northeast edge of the back bay, the Elfin Forest is so named for its pygmy oak trees. Unlike other oaks that can grow up to 100 feet, these oak trees only reach 4 to 20 feet in height. Their stature can be attributed to the soil they grow in, which is almost purely sand. This is a place of great significance to the indigenous people who once called it home. In fact, the remains of ancient disposal sites (called middens) from the native Chumash people occur frequently here. Walk along the one-mile boardwalk that travels to the wetlands of the Morro Bay National Estuary. Viewing decks called Bush Lupine Point and Sienna’s View provide direct views of wildlife taking advantage of the estuary’s riches—particularly birds. Bring your binoculars and perhaps a sketchbook to immerse in the aliveness of this place, with views of Morro Rock in the distance.

Elfin Forest
A walk through the Elfin Forest

The Estuary

The Morro Bay National Estuary was established as a federally-protected wetland area in 1996—a fact that has delighted nature lovers ever since. This special preserve includes 2,300 acres between Morro Bay and Los Osos. Eight-hundred of these acres are wetlands, with mudflats and salt marshes inhabited by more than 250 species of birds. This makes the estuary an excellent spot for birding and birdwatchers. Walk the Elfin Forest boardwalk to a viewing deck for one reliable viewpoint, or take one of several hikes around the estuary. Another terrific way to see wildlife in the estuary is kayaking or stand up paddleboarding (SUP). It’s possible to kayak around the estuary from the southern side, close to Los Osos, all the way to Morro Rock. But just paddling around the estuary is plenty of adventure, in and of itself. Borrow kayaks and SUP boards from A Kayak Shack, on the Los Osos side of the estuary. This is an ideal spot as it’s close to the wetland habitats, and avoids boat traffic. Guided kayak tours of the estuary are also available.

Estuary Los Osos
The Morro Bay National Estuary

The Rock

No one can visit the Morro Bay National Estuary without noticing Morro Rock, a towering natural landmark revered by local native people. It has also been revered by mariners who use it as a navigational aid. The geological wonder is formed from the remnants of ancient, now-extinct volcanoes. Morro Rock was named “El Morro” in 1542 by Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, referring to its crown-like shape. It is the last in a line of peaks called the Nine Sisters, which extend from San Luis Obispo to the sea. Spend a day at the beach beneath this State Historic Landmark; you may even see peregrine falcons, which are protected here. Take on the rocks of the jetty to explore the south side, or enjoy swimming on the north side. Crowds got you down? Morro Rock is a popular attraction and can become busy. If so, head north to Cayucos State Beach or south to Spooner’s Cove for more space.

Morro Rock Morro Bay
The iconic Morro Rock

Things to do in Cayucos

Estero Bluffs

The wild Estero Bluffs offer a scenic way to get in all the best Highway 1 has to offer: seaside walks, wildlife, and beaches. Right off the highway, pull off into one of several parking areas. Then take a short stroll out to the ocean bluffs for magnificent ocean views. As you walk parallel to the coastline, you’ll notice several micro-beaches available just a few short steps down the bluffs. As a state park, Estero Bluffs protects a wide selection of sea stacks, tide pools, wetlands, coastal terraces, and open beaches. Often, those stretches of sand are completely empty of people. Bring your beach chairs, blankets, and a picnic to one of these beaches, and you’ll likely have it all to yourself. Villa Creek parking lot offers the best access to wide open beach areas. Alternatively, on the southern end of the Estero Bluffs, find a beached fishing boat which has become a local landmark and fun photo op. This is most easily reached via the North Ocean Parking Area.

Cayucos Estero Bluffs Trails
Breathtaking views out at the Estero Bluffs

Beach Town Vibes

Downtown Cayucos & The Cass House

One thing is certain: everybody loves Cayucos. This sweet seaside spot is perhaps the most walkable beach town on Highway 1. It’s also a historic one, with roots that go back to the native Salinan people. (“Cayucos” refers to their kayak-like sea vessels.) One of the town’s first European settlers was naval captain James Cass, who built the original Cayucos Pier. The downtown corridor is centered on that pier, including a skate park, restaurants, restrooms and a large children’s play structure. Drop into surf shops, cafes, and historic buildings for a taste of beachtown life. One such spot is The Cass House, the home built by Captain Cass for his family in 1875. The building was completely restored in 2008 and now serves as a restaurant and bakery. Visit to taste Bijou Bakery’s authentic French pastries, with croissants, quiche, coffee, desserts and more. Afterward, walk those treats off with a tour of Cayucos’s public murals which highlight facets of local heritage and culture.

Downtown Cayucos
Charming downtown Cayucos

Things to do in Cambria

Moonstone Beach

The word “unique” gets tossed around a lot, but Moonstone Beach truly is a unique spot with so much to offer and enjoy. It is a beachcomber’s paradise with stones, sea glass and sculptural pieces of driftwood lying along the shoreline. But it’s the stones that really set Moonstone Beach apart. Here, a variety of types can be found, including chalcedony, a dazzling semitransparent microcrystalline quartz. Other varieties include pretty jade and agate stones. All are polished smooth after tumbling in the ocean’s waves for thousands of years, and their appeal is irresistible. Not into rock hunting? The Moonstone Beach Boardwalk stretches the length of Moonstone Beach, offering sweeping views of the ocean, with benches and platforms along the way. At about 2 miles out and back, the boardwalk makes for a peaceful oceanfront walk. It’s also accessible for wheelchairs and strollers, so everyone can get in on the views.

Walking along Moonstone Beach
Take a walk along the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk

The Heart of Cambria

The Village

When strolling the Village of Cambria, it’s hard to choose between the descriptors “charming” and “quaint.” This is a place for cozy-seekers, flavor-lovers, and history buffs among us. A seaside hamlet set amidst one of the only stands of Monterey Pines in the world, Cambria shines brightly. Boutique shopping, intimate dining, beachcombing, antique-hunting and more attract visitors from far and wide to its walkable downtown corridor. The heart of Cambria is split into two sides: the East Village and the West Village. Each side has its own distinct personality, but you can count on both to offer a wide selection of dining options, shopping, and history. Indulge your senses in a tea house or old fashioned candy store. Shop for gifts in a garden shop or art gallery. Flip through pages in a used bookstore or pick up skeins at a yarn shop. Cambria is all about the small, family-owned businesses that concentrate in its villages, entirely walkable and begging to be explored. (To learn about every stop here, visit our Shopping Cambria guide.) Want to immerse in another side of Cambria? Visit the Cambria Historical Museum, located in a historic home, to experience the well-preserved heritage of this quaint and charming place.

Strolling through the Cambria Village

Things to do in San Simeon

Elephant Seal Rookery

Blink and you might miss this incredible wildlife habitat on the west side of Highway 1 near San Simeon. The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery provides a rare glimpse into the lives of majestic Northern Elephant Seals, mere feet away from the viewing area. The rookery lies right off Highway 1, making it extremely accessible. Thanks to the volume of elephant seals that migrate here, it’s considered one of the best places in the world to view them. Their habitat is an 8-mile stretch of coastline—a beach that is often chock-full of elephant seals. The colony has grown to around 25,000, and the viewing area provides a front-row view of their lives. Early winter through late fall provides the best viewing window. Watch the elephant seals come ashore to birth their pups and mate during this time. Witness the bombastic bull seals as they battle for access to breeding females, and the tiny pups as they make their first sounds. It’s all front-and-center thanks to an elevated viewing deck and dedicated parking lot. Want to learn more? Drive over to San Simeon and stop in at the Friends of the Elephant Seals’ new visitor center, next to the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort.

Elephant Seal Viewing
Stopping to see the Elephant Seals at the Rookery

Grand Engineering in San Simeon

Piedras Blancas Light Station

Standing alone on a point along Highway 1 in San Simeon, the Piedras Blancas Light Station flashes its light every 10 seconds. The Vega VRB-25 lens is a replacement for the original: a Fresnel lens made in 1872 in France, and later damaged by an earthquake. (The Fresnel lens can now be found on display outside the Lions Club in nearby Cambria.) The lens may have changed, but the mechanics have not on this important lighthouse from 1875. While modern seafarers may not require the service of a lighthouse along this stretch of coastline, at one time, it was essential. Today, it’s possible to tour the bottom level of the lighthouse, as well as the historic Fog Signal Building. Docents lead visitors from the Piedras Blancas Motel (owned by the State Park system) to the lighthouse, sharing stories and information along the way. While reservations are required, during certain seasons, visitors can walk to the lighthouse from the nearby Boucher Trail.

Piedras Blancas Lightstation
The Piedras Blancas Light Station

Hearst Castle

Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst wasn’t a king, but to see his rambling estate, Hearst Castle, you’d never know. Born in 1863 to a wealthy miner, landowner and politician, Hearst grew up with access to anything his heart desired. When he designed his hilltop home in San Simeon, he hired the architect Julia Morgan to develop his singular style. It took Hearst and Morgan nearly 30 years to build, from 1919 to 1947, decorating the rooms and gardens with antiquities from Hearst’s collection. Since the 1950s, the home has become property of the state of California, and can be toured year-round. At 90,000 square feet including guest cottages, Hearst Castle is too vast to visit just once. Start with a tour of the grand rooms, then move to the upstairs suites, cottages and kitchen, and “Designing The Dream” tour. Hearst Castle also offers a variety of other tours available seasonally. These include the evening tour, private tours, a Hollywood tour, Julia Morgan tour, and a tour of the art in this “museum like no other.”

Take a tour of the historic Hearst Castle

Things to do in Ragged Point

Ragged Point

Ragged Point is called “The Gateway to Big Sur” for good reason. Here begin the views that Big Sur is famous for: tall forested mountains that cascade into the vast Pacific Ocean. Ragged Point marks the start of miles of notoriously untouched and unspoiled terrain, and it has the view to prove it. In fact, it’s potentially one of the best views available on Highway 1—and certainly a terrific spot to stop and take a selfie. Visit “The Million Dollar View,” a circular sculpture that faces out onto the shoreline. This structure has a hole in its center that perfectly frames the grandeur of Big Sur: its pristine natural state and ethereal beauty. Ragged Point Inn provides the backstop for this landmark worth pulling over for, with an open area available for taking in the view. The lawn area also features chairs, drinks, and food, for a picture-perfect picnic opportunity.

Ragged Point Million Dollar View Portal
The Million Dollar View in Ragged Point

Waterfalls of Ragged Point

Black Swift Falls

Just beneath the “Million Dollar View” sculpture lies one of the prettiest hidden spots that many people miss. Black Swift Falls is a seasonal waterfall that drops 300 feet to the ocean below. The trailhead for a short, steep walk to the beach lies just off Highway 1 by the Million Dollar View. Pull over, grab your grippy hiking shoes (note: don’t attempt in sandals!), and make the quick trek down to the water. The hike is less than a mile round-trip, but the terrain can be challenging. Once below, you’ll notice the distinctive color of the sand: thanks to ancient volcanic activity nearby, the beach is black. Thanks to its pigment, this sand traps heat from the sun and can be quite warm on chilly days. Hang out on the beach, warm your toes in the sand, watch the ocean’s waves roll, and listen to the sound of the waterfall. This is definitely a place to engage your senses.

Black Swift Falls Hiking
Beneath the Black Swift Falls

Salmon Creek Falls

Just 3 miles north of Ragged Point, Salmon Creek Falls offers another place to witness a Big Sur waterfall. Though not as tall as Black Swift Falls, the Salmon Creek waterfall is still impressive at 120 feet. Even better, the Salmon Creek waterfall is accessible just a quarter-mile from the trailhead off Highway 1. The trail leads through an oak forest to a stream that’s fishable for anglers with a current fishing license. Once you’ve enjoyed the falls, perhaps you’ll want to walk further into the Silver Peak Wilderness. Travel the Salmon Creek Trail 2 more miles in to find the Spruce Camp, followed by the Estrella Camp 1.25 miles further. To walk the entire Salmon Creek Trail, expect 6.5 miles of challenging trail out and back, gaining 1,300 feet in elevation. Otherwise, relax by the waterfall, enjoying the sights and sounds of the remote Big Sur wilderness.

Hiking in San Simeon and Ragged Point
Hiking through Ragged Point

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