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California Coast Highlights

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This section covers the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH 1) from Los Angeles to San Francisco, although you can take it all the way to Vancouver, Canada!

Ventura

Miles of beautiful uncrowded beaches that are great for surfing. Departure point for Channel Islands National Park. The Ventura Visitors Bureau is at 101 California St. (805) 648-2075

The Channel Islands

Group of five isolated and unspoiled islands that possess great natural beauty and an enclosed ecosystem. Camping is free with permit, but bring your own water. Get your free camping permit at the Channel Islands National Park Visitors Center, 1901 Spinnaker Dr. (805) 658-5730

Ojai

15 miles north of Ventura, are spas and natural hot springs in the artsy, spiritual community of Ojai. Plenty of hiking trails in the area. Get access and info from the Los Padres Ojai Ranger Office, 1190 E. Ojai Ave. (805) 646-4348

Santa Barbara

A hip, rich town with golden beaches, museums and reasonably priced thrift stores and cafes. Check out State Street for trendy bars and clubs; the nearby mountains and valleys, for hiking and biking. If you like wine, get a list of regional wineries from the visitor’s center and explore the region including Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez and Lumpoc.  The Santa Barbara buses are great for getting around, costing $1.00 with free transfers. Or use the bike lanes on the roads and the waterfront bike path (Cabrillo Bikeway).  Santa Barbara is 1.5 hours from LA on Hwy 101; there is a Greyhound station at 34 W. Carrillo St (805-965-7551).
Santa Barbara Winery   Free tasting 10am to 5pm; tours from 11:30am to 3:30pm. 202 Anacapa St. (805) 963-3633

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo (SLO for short) is a young town, good for partying. It is located inland from the Pacific. The Main streets are Broad and Higuera where you will find the pubs and cafes. Use the Central Coast Area Transit to get to locations around SLO or SLO Transit for travel within the city. Free trolley service is available around downtown during the day. There is a farmers market every Thursday on Higuera St between Nipomo and Osos Streets. SLO is a great base for hitting the nearby attractions which include the Hearst Castle, Morro Bay, many wineries and outdoor activities such as horseback riding, windsurfing, hiking and bicycling. SLO is about 1.5 hours from Santa Barbara and 2.5 hours south of Monterey on Hwy 101.  There is a Greyhound station at 150 South St. (805-543-2121)

San Simeon, Cambria and Hearst Castle

The Hearst Castle was once the home of newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst. If you have seen Citizen Kane, then you have a clue as to what type of character this man Hearst was. Regardless of what you got out of the movie, this much is certain: That Xanadu Pleasure Dome that was in the movie actually exists! The Hearst Castle is a sprawling estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, pools and walkways. It took skilled craftsmen 28 years of labor to create it. Hearst packed it with Spanish, Italian and ancient Greek antiques, not to mention countless paintings. FOUR different 1.5 hour tours available here for $20+ each. Call Destinet for reservations. (800) 444-4445

Big Sur

The Big Sur, a spectacularly beautiful 90-mile stretch of internationally famous coastline, begins at San Simeon and ends in Monterey County, a few miles south of Carmel. Here, the Pacific Coast Highway winds through breathtaking views and offers ample opportunities to stop. In addition to the shoreline spectacle, the area offers state parks and camping that avid campers would most certainly describe in heavenly terms. But be warned – internationally known means traffic and competition for pricey camping sites. All well worth it in the end.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park   Diverse wildlife and terrain, the Big Sur river and hiking trails. $9-25 per camp site. Gone fast. (831) 667-2315

Carmel

5 miles south of Monterey, Carmel is that rich, genteel town packed with elderly, wealthy folks that elected Clint Eastwood mayor a few years back. While beautiful and impeccably maintained, it may not be the place for the free-spirited traveler without bulging pockets. For the artistically inclined, there are over 70 art galleries here.

Monterey

Monterey’s claim to fame once had a lot to do with the huge fishing industry and sardine packing factories that were located there. Now it is another beautiful town off of the Pacific Coast Highway that caters to tourists like the free-spirited traveler. All in all, a much better fate. Cannery Row, the heart of the sardine industry in the ’20’s and ‘30’s, now contains the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium, galleries, wine tasting rooms and all sorts of shopping. There are 2 Fisherman’s Wharves here. Unless you’re planning on fishing, Fisherman’s Wharf #1 is where you want to be, surrounded by seafood restaurants, fish markets, shops and sightseeing and whale watching tour companies. The Monterey Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau is at 5 Custom House Plaza. (831) 375-2553.  Monterey is about 2hrs south of San Francisco and 6hrs north of Santa Barbara.

Pebble Beach

The 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach is definitely worth touring, even at a small cost. The coastline and the wildlife are the main attraction with sea otters, seals and sea lions within easy spotting distance.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is on the northern lip of Monterey Bay, about 2 hours south of San Francisco. By any account, Santa Cruz is a happening town, just the kind of place free-spirited travelers might find themselves spending a lot more time than planned. It’s got the beaches, the camping, the natural beauty, but it can also serve as party central for everyone from beer guzzling frat boys to wine sipping aristocrats. When all is said and done, it’s a great place to have a great time. Wineries in the region abound. There are plenty of state campgrounds and reservations for all of them can be made through DESTINET.  Santa Cruz is about 1.5hrs south of San Francisco and 45mins north of Monterey; there is a Greyhound station at 425 Front St (831-423-1800).

Montara and Pescadero

Montara and Pescadero, respectively located 50 and 25 miles south of San Francisco, are home to lighthouses converted to hostels by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.  America’s largest lighthouse, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, stands at 115 feet and was built in 1872. Nearby are tide pools, redwood forests and gray whales. In season, you can see the whales, swim, surf and cycle along the shore.

Other Cool Places

La Purisima Mission; Point Lobos State Reserve


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