Hey There :-)
We are about to be first time US travelers and have planned to drive from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, and we have two nights in-between to break up the journey.
I firstly came across Carmel By the Sea and was taken over by its charming downtown and coast but I've now come across San Luis Obispo and whilst larger it looks quite charming too!
What are peoples preferences and why? Have considered a night in each but feel that would be a bit rushed.
Both ocean towns are beautiful, but have a completely different vibe. Carmel tends to feel a bit more 'posh' with upscale hotels, eateries and shops while "SLO" (San Luis Obispo) is more laid-back. SLO also tends to see a lot of sun, while summer in Carmel is dreary and fog-filled.
Depending on what you're after, either option will provide easy access to the beach and is sure to be a good choice.
If you like large estates, book a tour of Hearst Castle in San Simeon. There are several tours available now that focus on different things and all are quite amazing. The swimming pools are currently empty because of the drought in California. If you head up to San Simeon, go to the beach and see the elephant seals. It's easy to find them. This time of year they are molting. In the late winter/early spring, the have their young. It's great to see wildlife so close. On your day up here, lunch in Cambria. They have a better restaurant selection than San Simeon. The Wild Ginger Cafe is absolutely excellent for one special meal, but a bit pricey.
Enjoy the beaches - Pismo Beach is especially beautiful.
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I much prefer Carmel By the Sea. Krista was correct that it is more "posh". The restaurants and hotels will cost more there. Check out some Airbnb options. It has a great small community atmosphere and we always feel so relaxed there. Great spot for walkers and dog lovers.
I would prefer Carmel By the Sea because it is near so many other nice places (Monterey, Pacific Grove, San Juan Bautista, and Big Sur) I think the old Fort Ord also has some interesting places like Fort Ord Dunes State Park
But I have to say that I am prejudiced because we lived near there for two and a half years. (in Marina
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Hi, my husband and I went to both places and we totally fell in love with Carmel. We just loved how it looked so European, and the very relaxed atmosphere. People don't even have physical addresses in Carmel, they actually meet at least once a week to distribute the mail and have a good chat. There are plenty of festivals there too, you should check the Pumpking rolling competition! We stayed in Hotel Carmel, and it was a lovely boutique hotel close to all the attractions and to the beach.