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Katie
Columbus

Katie from Columbus asked

Cute towns along the coast?

Maybe I’ve seen Sideways too many times but I really want to experience the California coast! I’ll be in L.A. for business in February and I’d like to drive up the coast to San Fran and really take my time driving up there. I have a lot of vacation time saved up which is great. Is a week or two enough?  I love quaint towns with cute little stores and restaurants and I’ve heard there are a lot of them along the coast. What are the best ones? A friend said that Cambria is along the lines of what I want if that helps. I plan to see it but I need more ideas!

California (CA)   Los Angeles (California)   Cambria (California)   San Francisco (California)

13 Answers
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answered by
JR from Manhattan Beach

Hey Khanh. I love that drive!! Here's a couple thoughts on the southern/central portion of the drive.

A lot of people say that  Hearst Castle is a must, but I would disagree. I think it's worth it only if you have a lot of time. If you're pressed, I'd pass. It takes a while to do the tour, and it's literally getting on a tour bus, then taking a guided walking tour through the place. Also, I find the whole thing fairly insignificant. Hearst was born into a millionaire family and his father was a senator. He took over his dad's newspaper, bought a bunch more, then built this mansion on a hill to wine, dine, and entertain his wealthy friends. Not really something that is very redeeming nor worthy of praise imo. It left me feeling rather empty. 

But nearby is something REALLY cool!!! There is a large elephant seal breeding beach at  Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals. You can get within a few feet of the giant, glorious mamals. Now this is definitely worth a stop! It's just off the highway and takes 10 minutes to check it out. Great bang for the buck if you're on a schedule. 

The area around  Solvang is some of the most beautiful landscapes in Southern California if you ask me, but be prepared because the town itself is very touristy. If you want to have a Danish pastry, most consider the best place in town to be  Olsen's Danish Village Bakery & Coffee Shop. If you have some time to drive around, I would head out towards  Foxen Vineyard because that will lead you through a bunch of vineyards with some nice scenery. The little town of  Los Olivos is worth a pass through as well. It has a quaint little one street downtown with some shops and tasting rooms. And if you're a king of pop fan, you can try to find  Neverland Ranch... but you can only get as far as the unmarked main gate :). Driving around you'll understand why he built his compound up there.

Have fun!!


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Katie
I've heard so much about Hearst Castle over the years that I'm intrigued by it, but good to know! Can I just drive up to it and look, or do I actually have to take a bus to it and do the tour? Everything else sounds really cool! Thank you for the advice, J.R.!
 
 
 

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answered by
Daniel from Los Angeles

If you're starting from L.A. and are looking for the "scenic" places along the coast of Southern California, you can start with Oxnard (Port Hueneme) and work your way up to Santa Barbara, then detour a little north to Solvang, then Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo and then Cambria and then working your way up to San Francisco.  You definitely should check out Hearst Castle and Pismo Beach.  It's been a while since I've been in that area, but Solvang and Cambria have been popular weekend/vacation retreats for California residents.


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Debbie
Awesome recommendations, Daniel! I'm in SF and have got to make it down to experience some of these places :) By the way, I'm a community manager here and I've helped you highlight the places in your answer on a map! In the future, you can do this yourself as you answer a question by simply typing the @-symbol followed by the name of the place. Your map looks pretty awesome with all those places plotted along the coast!
 

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Katie
Yes, the more scenic, the better. Thank you for this advice, Daniel! If that's where Cali folks go for staycations, then Cambria and Solvang it is!
 
 
 

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  1. Oxnard (city)
  2. Santa Barbara (city)
  3. Solvang (city)
  4. Pismo Beach (city)
  5. San Luis Obispo (city)
  6. Cambria (city)
  7. San Francisco (city)
  8. Hearst Castle (attraction)
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answered by
Terry from Sarasota

You definitely want to consider stopping and exploring Santa Barbara, which is a neat little town north of LA.  From there, plan on stopping for some of the world's finest split pea soup at Anderson's Soup in Buellton.  From there, perhaps consider stopping in Solvang and then onto highway 101 for some spectacular coastal scenery.

You want to also stop at Hearst Castle and see how rich people lived back in the 1920's and 1930's.

The coastline from San Simeon north to Monterrey is awesome, and you must plan to stop in Monterey and give yourself a chance to walk about.

Now you are near to wine country, full of really fascinating wineries and little villages.


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Katie
These all sound fantastic, Terry. Thank you!!!
 
 
 

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  1. Santa Barbara (city)
  2. Buellton (city)
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answered by
Damien from Los Angeles

Definitely stop by  Carmel By the Sea and  Monterey the area is very scenic with great hikes at the Point Lobos State Reserve and the towns themselves will have the restaurants and shops your are looking for :)


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Katie
Thank you Damien!
 
 
 

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top answer by
Michael

Since it sounds like you will go the  Hearst Castle do some enjoyable homework and watch one of the greatest movies of all time Citizen Kane which is, in reality, "inspired" by William Randolph Hearst who built the castle.  You could also read the book Season of the Witch about a couple of dramatic decades in which events and people in SF transformed our culture.  WRH's granddaughter, Patty Hearst, is one of the many distinctive individuals whose stories figure prominently in that book and SF Bay Area history.

If you continue north of SF you must go to  Muir Woods to spend time in the redwoods, see  Sausalito (its worth it despite being so heavily touristed,  Stinson Beach is also cool.  Further north is better.   Armstrong Redwoods which is NOT in Petaluma as the map shows (it is up in  Guerneville (California)) is a place you can better appreciate the power and quiet of an old redwood grove.  If you are a Hitchcock fan, go to  Bodega to visit the "school house" from THE BIRDS.   Bodega Bay is nice.  Freestone with  Wildflour BakeryOccidental with Negri's, the coast north of  Jenner (California) is nearly as stunning as Big Sur.  Inland there are hundreds of wineries from the city of  Sonoma, up to  Healdsburg (wander the Alexander Valley) and even up to  Geyserville.  There is lots more but you probably have to go back to work someday.


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Katie
Will do! Thank you so much for the recommendations, Michael! I may have to extend this trip to help further up north!
 

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Debbie
Hey Michael, thanks for flagging Armstrong Redwoods as mismapped! It has been corrected. If you notice anything like that in the future, just hit the "feedback" button at the top of the page to let us know and we'll be on it :)
 
 
 

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  1. Hearst Castle (attraction)
  2. Muir Woods (attraction)
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  5. Armstrong Redwoods (attraction)
  6. Guerneville (California) (attraction)
  7. Bodega (city)
  8. Bodega Bay (city)
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  10. Occidental (city)
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answered by
Michael

There is good wine along the coast between LA and SF.  It is a LONG trek and a beautiful one.  As a resident of "wine country" (i.e. Sonoma and Napa county area) I am trying to avoid snobbish bias.  Santa Barbara, Solvang, Cambria, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Monterey are gorgeous but the only "cute little town" in that would be Solvang.  A week would be fine and, if you have more time, drive north of San Francisco.


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Debbie
Great suggestions, Michael! Makes me want to take this road trip myself :) By the way, I'm a community manager here and I've helped you highlight the places in your answer on a map! In the future, you can do this yourself as you answer a question by simply typing the @-symbol followed by the name of the place. Look how cool your map looks with all those places you mentioned plotted along the coast!
 

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Katie
I don't mind a long trek so long as it is beautiful. Great to get advice from someone in beautiful wine country! I'll have to stop in Solvang for sure and maybe make time for wine country proper. Thank you, Michael!
 
 
 

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  1. Santa Barbara (city)
  2. Solvang (city)
  3. Cambria (city)
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  5. Big Sur (city)
  6. Monterey (city)
  7. San Francisco (city)
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answered first by
Larisa from Palo Alto

Solvang

Hearst Castle.  San Simeon (California)

http://www.hearstcastle.org/

San Luis Obispo, CA San Luis Obispo

Carmel and Monterey  Carmel

17 miles drive  17-Mile Drive


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Katie
Thank you, Larisa!
 

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Tiffany
Do keep in mind that while the 17-mile drive is nice, it does cost money and there are other beautiful and FREE drives along this coast.
 
 
 

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answered by
Peter from Burlingame

A week to 10-days is a good amount of time.  An itinerary of overnights in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Cambria/Hearst Castle (2-days), Big Sur, Monterey/Carmel By the Sea (2-days), Santa Cruz/Half Moon Bay, San Francisco will give you all that you've dreamed of the CA Coast Line.  Accommodations along this route can range from camp grounds to world-class uber resorts.

Santa Barbara can be high-priced depending on when you visit, nearby Oxnard is a low cost alternative.  SLO not quite as bad, nearby Pismo Beach and Morro Bay being the low cost alternative.  


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Katie
Thanks the for the suggestions, Peter, and good insight on costs around Santa Barbara because I plan on stopping there!
 
 
 

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  1. Santa Barbara (city)
  2. San Luis Obispo (city)
  3. Cambria (city)
  4. Hearst Castle (attraction)
  5. Big Sur (city)
  6. Monterey (city)
  7. Carmel By the Sea (city)
  8. Santa Cruz (city)
  9. Half Moon Bay (city)
  10. San Francisco (city)
  11. Oxnard (city)
  12. Pismo Beach (city)
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answered by
Jessica

Carmel..17 miles drive has Pebble Beach (California) on it! Incredible views.


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Katie
Thanks Jessica!
 
 
 

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answered by
Karissa from Santa Maria

Hi Khahn, 

I live on the beautiful central coast, and we definitely have some choice spots to visit. If you're near Cambria, check out  Hearst Castle as well as the elephant seals at the beach directly blow the castle. Moonstone Beach Dr is also in that area and is supposed to have jade on the beach, if I'm not mistaken. Another cute town right on the coast is Avila; check out  Avila Valley Barn for local produce and the farm animals. Just down the road for the barn is a  Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort where you can get an incredible hot tub under a canopy of trees by the hour.  Avila Beach has a fun pier where you can take stairs below the pier, and the waterfront stores and vacation homes are colorful and fun to peruse. Up the 101 a little further is San Luis Obispo where you can dine overlooking the creek at  Novo Restaurant & Lounge or Luna Red. Try Eureka! for gourmet burgers and an incredible beer selection. The town is GREAT for shopping, some of my favorites are Retrofit and Hands Gallery. If you're there on a Thursday evening, they have a pretty impressive farmer's market. Hope this helps you out, and have a fabulous trip. 


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Katie
This all sounds amazing Karissa, and the food and the shopping sound great, too! I'm also liking the sound of that hot tub. Thank you for your recommendations!
 
 
 

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  2. Moonstone Beach Dr (attraction)
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  5. Avila Beach (city)
  6. Novo Restaurant & Lounge (restaurant)
  7. Luna Red (attraction)
  8. Eureka! (restaurant)
  9. Retrofit (attraction)
  10. Hands Gallery (attraction)
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answered by
Tiffany from Corvallis

Ditto all of the above as people have really given you a great tour already. I agree with JR that Hearst is amazing, but can take a long time.

My only addition is to at Pescadero. My favorite California beach is the tiny Pebble Beach (California) just along the coast outside of Pescadero. It's tiny, but beautiful. There's a tiny parking lot. On the right is a beach of pebbles (beautiful ones) where you can play in the water. On the left is a series of rock formations and tide pools that you can walk along for a long time and even see sea lions up close as you near the end.

Head into Pescadero to have the famous artichoke soup at Duarte's Tavern. It's pricy, but iconic and good. Just past Pescadero is a wonderful produce stand with the most impressive collection of dried beans I've ever seen. Beautiful food.


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Katie
These sound great. I love artichokes and small beautiful beaches. Thank you Tiffany!
 
 
 

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answered by
Nicole

Cute beach towns I can recommend are:   Hermosa Beach and  Manhattan Beach Pier.  They have beautiful beaches and cute stores and fun bars.  Less hectic and touristy then Venice Beach and Santa Monica.  I also recommend stopping in Paso Robles, great wine town  Villicana Winery.  Of course,  MontereyCarmel, and Santa Cruz are beautiful scenic cities along the way up.  They have wineries in each one of the cities.  Lots to check out, and of course you'll have lots to do in San Francisco, Napa, and Sonoma.  Hope I have been helpful :)



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Katie
Thank you, Nicole! I love cute beach towns and wine!
 
 
 

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answered by
Lee from Merced

The tour of Hearst Castle will take two hours or more with buses running on a schedule. but a visit to the  free museum and watching the short movie is worth getting off  Hwy One at San Simeon (California).  On the beach side, a circular drive takes you past Hearst warehouses and  the quaint Sebastian's General Store.   5 miles north only a small sign indicates  view point of elephant seals but they are a sight .


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