California’s central coast stretches from Santa Cruz County in the north to Ventura County in the south. Along this part of the coast you will find a number of beautiful towns and small villages that make for an idyllic holiday.
In this article, we have gathered for you some of the most charming cities on California’s Central Coast. Some of these are technically cities, but they exude the small town atmosphere that makes them so suitable for shooting!
Cities on California’s Central Coast: Santa Ynez ValleyCities on California’s Central Coast County of San Luis ObispoCentral Coast cities Monterey Peninsula
Cities on California’s Central Coast: Santa Ynez Valley
The Santa Ynez Valley, located in the southern part of California’s Central Coast, is a bit remote from the water, but the valley’s landscape certainly has a high element of surprise, with rolling hills, lush vineyards, and majestic oaks creating a beautiful landscape.
The six small communities in the Santa Ynez Valley are close together, so it’s easy to explore them all or pick one or two for a relaxing vacation in the area.
Solvang: A little bit of Europe
Solvang, known for its Danish roots and charming downtown, is a beautiful central coast retreat in the scenic Santa Ynez Valley. Admire the beautiful facades of the Danish buildings and the many huge windmills. Taste the local wines in the numerous tasting rooms and do your shopping!
Visit the old mission of Santa Ynez: It offers beautiful views and a museum where you can discover the first European settlement in the Santa Ynez Valley. Elverøy Museum of History and Art, housed in a beautiful building resembling an 18th-century Danish farmhouse, is a place not to be missed. Here you can learn more about Solvang’s Danish heritage.
In the centre of Solvang there are five authentic Danish bakeries where you can taste Ablodiver and other delicious pastries. There are a few restaurants with Scandinavian cuisine, but you can also enjoy other dishes in Solvang.
Hotel: The King Frederik Inn is located in the centre of Solvang, within walking distance of restaurants, tasting rooms and shops. The rooms are spacious and modern. Parking is free and wifi is good. Taste the pastries from the local bakeries that are delivered every morning. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: This comfortable home has plenty of room to expand, with 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms, perfect if you are visiting with a family or small group. This home is located in the Ballard Canyon wine region, close to downtown Solvang. Book your stay here!
Get the full scoop: The best things to do in Solvang, California!
Los Alamos: The atmosphere of the Wild West
For a taste of the Wild West and an amazing gastronomic scene, visit the small town of Los Alamos. Bell Street, the main thoroughfare, is small (only seven blocks!) and pedestrian-friendly, with historic facades and original signage.
During the walk you will find many art galleries, antique shops and boutiques. Los Alamos is known as Little Los Angeles, as many famous Angelenos have moved here in recent years to help turn the small town into an excellent wine and food destination.
The stop in Los Alamos is Bob’s Bread, one of the best bakeries in SoCal. Enjoy their sandwiches and pastries, but don’t forget to bring a loaf of bread. Pico has a photogenic vintage structure and the menu, which emphasizes local ingredients, is tasty. For drinks with Wild West accents, head to 1880 Union.
Hotel: Skyview Los Alamos is a modern boutique hotel set on a hilltop in a 1950s motel overlooking the wine country. Some rooms and suites have a fireplace and a balcony overlooking the vineyards. The rooms are well equipped and have a touch of luxury. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: Perfect for a couple or small family. This 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home in Los Alamos is within walking distance of many shops and restaurants. The house has a nice big garden. Inside you will find comfortable living and resting areas, as well as a fully equipped kitchen. Book your stay here!
Los Olivos: Wine and food
With stunning views of the surrounding vineyards, Los Olivos offers a variety of tasting rooms and craft breweries (over 30!), making it the perfect place for a special day of fine food and drink. The city is known for its many artisan restaurants.
Los Olivos offers tastings of still and sparkling wines. Try the Foxy Bubbles sparkling rosé at Blair Fox: a low-sugar wine that’s both light and fresh. The Foxen Canyon Wine Trail is home to a number of local wineries where you can book wine tastings in advance.
It is nice to walk through the historic center. In the charming and picturesque city centre you will find numerous art galleries, antique shops and boutiques. At Global Gardens you will find organic olive oil, balsamic vinegar and other artisan products.
Airbnb: This studio is located on a five-acre fenced-in lot, just a five-minute drive from Los Olivos. The studio with one bed and one bathroom is ideal for families. Guests have access to an infrared yoga studio, pool, jacuzzi, fireplace and grill. The country is beautiful. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: This charming guest house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms and can accommodate up to four people. It overlooks the vineyards and has its own petanque court. Guests provide their own cruise bikes for the trip to the town of Los Olivos. Book your stay here!
Santa Ynez: Enjoying the outdoors
The picturesque town of Santa Ynez is surrounded by hills and vineyards. Santa Ynez is a place of entertainment for outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs and foodies.
Lovers of the outdoors can go horseback riding in the beautiful countryside. Adventurers can enjoy a flight in a hot air balloon when they get up early in the morning and wake up. Hiking enthusiasts may want to try the picturesque Lover’s Loop over Grassy Mountain Trail, which offers stunning views of the Santa Ynez.
History buffs will enjoy visiting the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum and the Janeway Parks House. The Coach House is the largest collection of horse-drawn carriages west of the Mississippi. Other exhibitions show the history of the valley.
Wine lovers can choose to visit the vineyard: Don’t miss the photogenic Bridlewood Estate Winery, with its tree-lined driveway and beautiful gardens. Rancho Olivos offers an olive oil tasting. For foodies, a visit to the S.Y. Kitchen to discover Italian delicacies. Brothers Restaurant serves American cuisine.
Airbnb: This lovely guest studio has stunning views and is a comfortable retreat for couples. The interior is nicely decorated and the large windows let in light and views. There are many outdoor spaces to enjoy the beauty of the area. Book your stay here!
Hotel: The ForFriends Inn Wine Country Bed & Breakfast is located in downtown Santa Ynez. The deluxe hotel has only eight rooms, well equipped with comfortable beds. A full breakfast is included, as is an evening happy hour. Book your stay here!
Buellton: Pea soup and side wall Sites
Buellton is home to award-winning craft breweries and distilleries. The Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company is a great place to sample beers made with local ingredients. The DorWood distillery offers unique spirits produced in small batches. For a taste of Buelton’s famous pea soup, visit Andersen’s Pea Soup.
Stop at Ostrich Land to view or feed ostriches and emus. Take a walk through the Santa Ynez Valley Botanical Garden, which features plants from the Santa Ynez River watershed. A visit to the fancy gas station and the Petroliana Mendenhall Museum. Wander the streets of the city centre and explore the shops and tasting rooms.
Buellton is the setting for the movie Sidewalks. The Days Inn where Miles and Jack stayed in Buellton is now called the Sideways Inn. The Hitching Post II restaurant offers Santa Maria-style barbecue (no ostrich steaks!) and other delicious dishes prepared with local ingredients.
Hotel: The Hampton Inn and Suites offers spacious and comfortable rooms. Each room is equipped with a mini fridge and a microwave. There is a heated outdoor pool and outdoor seating with fireplaces. The hotel is conveniently located among the hills and oaks of the valley. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: This gîte in wine country has a nice terrace overlooking the surrounding pastoral landscape. There is an outdoor area with a fireplace. Individual studio with kitchenette, ideal for two people. Book your stay here!
Ballard: Charm in a small package
Ballard is small, but very picturesque and very relaxing. And there is a nice hostel where you can stay for your vacation in the Santa Ynez Valley. We would have loved to spend a relaxing weekend at the hotel! If you are staying here, you can make advance reservations for dinner at The Gathering Table restaurant, located on the premises.
Stroll the streets of Ballard and admire the beautiful historic homes. The Old Country Chapel is a nice photo stop. The one attraction not to be missed is the beautiful Little Red Schoolhouse, open since 1883!
Ballard’s location amidst vineyards makes it a very picturesque town to visit when the wildflowers bloom in the spring or the vines change color in the fall. The vineyards of the tourist region should definitely be on your itinerary to Ballard!
Hotel: The Ballard Inn is a four-story, four-diamond hotel with fifteen individually decorated rooms. All apartments are quiet and stylishly decorated, some have a fireplace. The hostel offers free Wi-Fi and parking, breakfast made to order, an evening wine and cheese reception and cookies at sunset. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: Are you travelling with your family or in a small group? This beautiful house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The house is located outside of town, within walking distance of several wineries and a mini horse ranch. The property has a beautiful pond with a waterfall and a covered patio with an outdoor dining area. Book your stay here!
Cities on California’s Central Coast: San Luis Obispo County
Another charming cluster of coastal towns in Central California’s San Luis Obispo County offers endless recreational opportunities and great food and drink. Some places here are right on the water, others are a little inland but still close to the beaches and the sea.
Vineyards and countryside abound, and restaurants serve up tasty dishes prepared with local ingredients. This is the ideal state area for a great holiday, whether you are travelling alone, as a couple or with your family.
Pismo Range: Have fun outside!
Pismo Beach is a seaside town, but also offers many other outdoor activities and great food and wine. Visitors who prefer outdoor activities can choose from a wide range of water and land-based activities, but the city is also ideal for simply relaxing in beautiful surroundings.
The Pismo Nature Preserve offers miles of trails and roads ideal for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. The paths along the coast offer breathtaking views of the water. The pier and Pier Plaza are ideal for sunset walks. Adventurers have a choice between rides in a Hummer, biplane or mountain bike, or even on an ORV in the dunes of Oceano, a few miles south of town.
Take a kayak trip to Pismo Beach or Shell Beach. Take a surfing lesson. In the winter you can look for monarch butterflies that spend the winter in the eucalyptus plantation near Pismo Beach. Dine at a waterside restaurant and drink local wine.
Hotel: The Inn at the Cove offers rooms with views of the Pacific Ocean. There is a heated outdoor pool and a Jacuzzi. The rooms are spacious and comfortable. It offers free parking and Wi-Fi. The hotel is located right across from the Pismo Nature Reserve. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: This lovely guest house on Shell Beach is perfect for families. The guest house is within walking distance of restaurants and a private beach. The apartment is elegantly furnished and has a full kitchen. Book your stay here!
San Luis Obispo: excellent food + drinks
One of our favorite places on the central coast, San Luis Obispo, is not on the water, but it is a short drive to several beaches. The town centre is very lively and has many good restaurants, as well as numerous tasting rooms and craft breweries, distilleries and cisterns.
In downtown SLO, visit the beautiful San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Mission, stroll along the riverside path, and stroll the streets to discover the many unique shops and galleries. Downtown Bubblegum Alley is also in SLO.
The Edna Valley Wine District, located just outside of town, is an ideal area if you want to sample the vineyards or just go for a drive. If you want to be active, hike to the top of Bishop Peak and enjoy the panoramic views.
Hotel: Located in the heart of SLO, Hotel San Luis Obispo offers easy access to major attractions, restaurants and shopping. The hotel has a swimming pool and a whirlpool. The rooms are spacious and modern. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: This charming cottage is located in historic downtown, three blocks from shops and restaurants. The cottage has a private terrace, a fully equipped kitchen and two bedrooms. Parking and wireless Internet access are available. The host will provide bicycles for the duration of your stay. Book your stay here!
Get the full scoop: The best thing you can do in San Luis Obispo!
Baie du Morro: Large stone and beautiful otters
The small coastal community of Morro Bay is known for its idyllic setting and numerous natural areas. Morro Bay is a great place to see otters frolicking in the water and one of the most famous places for bird watching on the California coast.
Enjoy a cruise in Morro Bay or go kayaking or paddle boarding. Besides the breathtaking landscapes, you can also observe marine animals and birds. Stroll along the Embarcadero, a boardwalk lined with shops, restaurants and tasting rooms.
Spend some time walking along Morro Strand State Beach, which offers stunning views of Moro Rock, or explore other nearby natural areas like the El Moro Elfin Forest or Sweet Springs Nature Reserve. Morro Bay State Park is also a must-see. If you like bird watching, don’t miss the heron colony.
Hotel: The 456 Embarcadero Inn and Suites offers spacious and well-equipped rooms with microwaves and refrigerators. Some rooms have a view of the water. There is a spa on site, as well as free Wi-Fi and free parking. The hotel is within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: Located in the heart of Morro Bay, this oceanfront cottage is within walking distance of the Embarcadero and offers two bedrooms and a bathroom, as well as a fully equipped kitchen. There is a courtyard for recreation. Perfect for a couple or small family! Book your stay here!
Get the full scoop: The best thing you can do in Morro Bay, California!
Paso Robles: Reverse wine country
Paso Robles is inland, about 40 minutes from the coast, but it’s a must-see spot on California’s central coast. California Highway 46, which runs east and west of Paso Robles, is surrounded by scenic vineyards that can be visited.
Paso Robles’ city center offers beautiful architecture and great shopping. You will find many antique shops and art galleries. In the car-free city centre, you will find numerous tasting rooms and many quality restaurants serving farmhouse food.
Visit to the San Miguel Mission, founded by Spanish missionaries at the end of the 18th century. Century was built. Take a bike ride or a horseback ride, or enjoy a relaxing walk through the hot springs at River Oaks Spa. If you want to learn more about local history, visit the Pioneer Museum in Paso Robles.
Hotel: The grounds of the Allegretto vineyard are beautiful. We had lunch here on the way back from a trip to Southern California and plan to come back to …. The rooms are elegant and the park is beautiful. It offers a swimming pool and a jacuzzi. It is located a short drive from the city centre. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: This beautiful house is situated on a hill, surrounded by vineyards, with panoramic views of the countryside. The house has two elegant master suites, a fully equipped kitchen, private terraces and a private courtyard with a fountain. It’s not far from town. Book your stay here!
Cambria: Charming seaside resort
Cambria is a small coastal town on the charming coast of central California. It’s rare to go for a morning walk in Cumbria and not see deer, wild turkeys or other wildlife. The village is small and ideal for walks.
Stroll along the Moonstone Beach boardwalk, which also provides access to Moonstone Beach’s black sand beach, where you can enjoy tidal and beach sports. Another great hike overlooking the ocean is the Bluff Trail at Fiscalini Ranch Reserve. There are other trails in the nature reserve that you can explore.
Stroll through the village and browse the many souvenir shops and art galleries. Stop by Lynn’s for a piece of Ollowy pie. Cumbria may be small, but it has some great restaurants and wine tasting.
Hotel: Moonstone Landing is a waterfront property and all rooms offer partial or full ocean views. The rooms are spacious and comfortable. There is an outdoor terrace and a jacuzzi. Parking and Wi-Fi are free. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: Located two blocks from the ocean, this beautiful home in Cambria can accommodate up to six guests, but is also ideal for families. The guest has a Cal King bed and a fully equipped kitchen. There are two bridges where you can enjoy the outdoors. Book your stay here!
Get the full scoop: The best things to do in Cambria, California!
Cities on California’s Central Coast: Monterey Peninsula
The cities of the Monterey Peninsula are another group of picturesque towns on California’s central coast that are worth exploring. The region is located on the north side of the central coast and includes the beautiful Big Sur.
There is enough to see and do in each of these cities to spend two or three days there, but you can also choose the highlights of each city for a wonderful weekend getaway.
Carmel by the sea: Archie Village and virgin beach
The small village of Carmel-by-the-Sea covers just one square mile. In a small space, this chic village offers many unique shops and galleries, many fine restaurants, beautiful architecture and small picturesque courtyards and arcades to explore.
Carmel is also famous for its beautiful crescent-shaped beach lined with centuries-old Monterey cypress trees. Take a walk along the beach or take the scenic path that crosses the beach. Next to Carmel River State Beach is a lagoon teeming with seabirds, so don’t forget to bring your binoculars.
The Carmel of the Spanish Mission is one of the most beautiful in the Golden State. The gardens are beautiful and the museum houses many impressive objects. If you love history and architecture, you’ll also want to visit Carmel Cottages from the storybooks!
Hotel: Hotel Getaway is very well located, close to the shops and restaurants of the village of Carmel. The rooms are spacious and elegantly furnished and the beds are very comfortable. There is outdoor seating and an outdoor fireplace. Free parking and Wi-Fi are included. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: These lovely apartments are a two-minute walk from the southern end of Carmel Beach. This one bedroom, one bathroom house is modern and comfortable, ideal for singles on the coast. There is a well-equipped kitchen and a separate entrance. Book your stay here!
Get the full scoop: The best things to do in Carmel by the Sea, California!
Monterrey: Whale watching
Monterey is known for its aquarium and Cannery Row, a waterfront street with shops and art galleries where the sardine canning industry once thrived. While these are Monterey’s main tourist attractions, there is still much to do outside the tourist core.
Whale watching in Monterey is considered one of the best in the world. We’ve been this far once, and it was a fantastic visit because we saw dozens of whales, some of which even managed to jump out of the water!
Explore Monterey State Historic Park to learn more about Monterey’s rich past. There are a dozen sites you can visit today, some with beautiful gardens. Stroll along the coastal path to enjoy the stunning views, or book a relaxing spa treatment.
Hotel: The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa is located on Cannery Row, close to many restaurants and shops. The hotel offers stunning views of Monterey Bay. The hotel has a full-service spa and a private beach. The rooms have a separate living room and are well equipped. Book your stay here!
Get the full scoop: The best thing you can do in Monterey, California!
Pacific Grove: History + outdoor recreation
Pacific Grove is perhaps our favorite town on the Monterey Peninsula. Downtown Pacific Grove is quiet and quaint with many historic homes and colorful murals. There are also many places where you can eat and drink.
But Pacific Grove also has a beautiful waterfront that can be explored by car or on foot. The path of Asilomar, off the coast, is a must during your visit: It offers a beautiful view of the water and wildflowers at this time of year. You can also follow the dune promenade across the street.
Take a photo of the charming Point Pinos lighthouse. A kite ride on the sandy beach of Asilomar. Enjoy a picnic at Lovers Point Park, where you can also rent a kayak on the beach.
Hotel: Housed in a historic building on Ocean View Boulevard, the Green Gables Inn is close to the beach and hiking trails, as well as downtown Pacific Grove. The rooms are well equipped and a full breakfast is served at the reception. The rooms are equipped with fireplaces and the beds are of the super comfort category. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: This lovely cottage has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as a fully equipped kitchen. The house is beautifully decorated, with bright colors and has cathedral ceilings. Enjoy outdoor dining on the patio and a location close to the beach and downtown Pacific Grove. Book your stay here!
Get the full scoop: The best thing you can do in Pacific Grove, CA!
Carmel Valley: rural charm
The Carmel Valley is a bit inland, but there are many vineyards and a peaceful and relaxed pastoral atmosphere. Carmel Valley is full of wildflowers in the spring, and you might even see a lamb or two as you drive down Carmel Valley Road!
The vineyards of the tourist area are definitely one of the best places in the Carmel Valley. Hike to Garland Ranch Regional Park or drive along Carmel Valley Road and Laureles Grade Road. The latter offers a panoramic view over the valley.
A visit to Farm Earth’s demonstration garden. They have several small gardens and orchards that you can walk through. Finish with a simple but delicious lunch of soul soup or a sandwich made with organic, farm-fresh ingredients.
Hotel: The Bernardus Lodge & Spa is an absolutely stunning estate with a beautiful courtyard, many lush landscape features and views of the vineyards. There is a heated outdoor pool, and the on-site restaurant is very good: We’ve eaten here many times. The rooms are equipped with a fireplace and a whirlpool bath for 2 people. Book your stay here!
Airbnb: This romantic cabin is nestled between the branches of an oak tree. There is an outdoor jacuzzi and a relaxing terrace. Inside you will find a comfortable bedroom and bathroom, as well as a kitchenette. It is the perfect retirement for couples! Book your stay here!
Planning to explore more of central California? Check out our other articles!
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frequently asked questions
What is the cheapest resort in California?
California’s cheapest beach resorts – California.com
Which cities belong to the Central Coast of California?
Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey Bay make up the four regions of the central coast. Here you’ll find everything you expect from the California coast: miles of rocky shoreline, beaches perfect for swimming and surfing, and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
San Luis Obispo is it worth a visit?
There is so much to do and see in and around San Luis Obispo that I recommend. World-class restaurants and nightlife add to the town’s appeal, while great walking trails, fantastic parks and nearby attractions add to the small town’s charm. … Oh yes, a beautiful city on the coast, ideal for walking.
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