12 Fun Things to Do on the Central Coast of California

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Greenery-covered cliffs surrounded by blue sky and ocean
The California Central Coast is a beautiful area between LA and San Francisco

California in the United States is a renowned tourist destination, but the Central Coast is less well-known. Despite this, it’s becoming more and more popular as there are many fun things to do on the Central Coast of California.

The Central Coast of California is found to the north of Los Angeles and the south of San Francisco on the state’s coast. The area comprises six regions: San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. All areas of this region are easy to access as the California Central Coast highway runs through the area.

If planning a California Central Coast road trip or another type of visit to the region, be sure to check out these 15 fun Central Coast activities.

  • 12 things to do

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Map of Central Coast California

Using the map of California, you can explore all the things to do.

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A white brick palace-style castle surrounded by blue sky and palm trees
Hearst Castle in San Simeon is the most-visited attraction on the Central Coast

Explore Hearst Castle

Located in San Simeon in San Luis Obispo County, Hearst Castle is a palace-style estate constructed between the early and mid-1900s. Interestingly, the castle is the most-visited attraction on California’s Central Coast.

The castle was originally owned by William Randolph Hearst of the Hearst media empire. Today, visitors can take in the stunning glory of the Mediterranean revival-style castle. From its tall towers and intricate exterior details to rooms decorated with luxurious rugs, regal accents, and high-end furniture.

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Wine tasting is one of the fun things to do on the Central Coast of California
Going wine tasting is one of the fun things to do on the Central Coast of California

Go wine tasting in Paso Robles or Santa Ynez Valley

When visiting, you’ll find a fantastic selection of California Central Coast wineries. Two popular places for wine tasting are Paso Robles wine country and Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.

In Santa Ynez Valley, McKinney Family Vineyards and Lincourt Vineyards. In Paso Robles, Hoyt Family Vineyards and LXV Wine Tasting come recommended.

However, there are many other wineries to choose from in both areas, all with great recommendations. The majority will offer tours and tastings, with many having restaurants also.

Of course, after your California Central Coast wine tasting, be sure to pick up a few bottles to take home!

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Sandy shores and blue water surrounded by cliffs on Santa Rosa Island
Santa Rosa Island is one of five beautiful islands in Channel Islands National Park

Connect with nature at Channel Islands National Park

Channel Island National Park is an island chain just off the coast of Ventura and the Santa Barbara region. The chain comprises five islands in total: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara Islands.

There are many hiking trails in this scenic national park, and you will see a 1930s lighthouse, and wildlife, like seals and seabirds, among other attractions.

A trip to Channel Islands National Park is one of the must-do Central Coast activities and will make you feel miles away from the nearby busy towns and cities.

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A cliff with greenery and a lighthouse on top, surrounded by ocean
Anacapa Island is one of the islands in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Spot sea creatures at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

The ocean surrounding Channel Islands National Park is known as the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The area protects 1,470 square miles of water and its wildlife inhabitants.

Due to being protected to become an ideal habitat for wildlife, you can spot a vast range of sea creatures here. These creatures include blue, humpback, and Sei whales. Despite being a protected area, you can kayak, snorkel, and dive here to spot marine life up close.

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Orange-colored rocks surrounded by crashing waves under a pink and purple sky
Hiking in Montana de Oro State Park is a must when on California's Central Coast

Hike at Montana de Oro State Park

Montana de Oro State Park is another attraction found in the San Luis Obispo region. The park is located about six miles from Morro Bay and covers 8,000 acres.

This park is characterized by tall cliffs, sandy beaches, and coastal plains. It’s the ideal place to hike, bike, or horseback ride surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery.

Along with a range of trails to try, you’ll discover various animal species, such as deer, and can even camp overnight.

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A crystal blue pool of water surrounded by cliffs with the ocean in the background
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is an ideal spot to visit for nature lovers

Wander along coastal paths at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is another of the amazing places to visit in Central Coast California. This area is an oasis for nature and wildlife lovers.

When visiting, there is a selection of hiking trails to explore, all with incredible ocean and forest views. Wildlife is also plentiful here. You may spot whales or seals while walking the coastal paths, and it’s the perfect place to birdwatch.

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Learn about military vehicles at the Estrella Warbirds Museum

This museum in Paso Robles is dedicated to military vehicles, aircraft, and other memorabilia. The Estrella Warbirds Museum & Woodland Auto Display covers 13-acres and features exhibits offering background on each military vehicle’s use.

There are also exhibits related to pilots and other members of the armed forces, covering conflicts from World War I onwards. A visit to this museum is a must for history-lovers or those interested in military planes, tanks, and other vehicles.

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Jellyfish swimming in water at an aquarium
Jellyfish are one of many sea creatures to spot at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Discover marine life at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Found right by the ocean, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is home to a vast array of sea life. When visiting, you’ll get to see sharks, jellyfish, and a host of fish and sea plants. Other animals, such as sea otters and penguins, can also be seen.

Along with discovering the animals living at the aquarium, there are multiple viewing decks that look out to the nearby ocean. From these decks, you may spot whales, otters, and other marine animals.

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A mission building with two towers surrounded by gardens and a cross in front
You must check out Old Mission if in the Santa Barbara region

Visit Old Mission Santa Barbara

Old Mission Santa Barbara is one of the most popular places to visit in Central Coast California. The Spanish mission was constructed in the late 1700s and has been an important Santa Barbara landmark ever since.

When you can, explore the grounds and the interior of the mission. Guided tours are also available if you want to learn more about the mission’s history.

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Danish-style buildings on a tree-lined street
Solvang Danish Village is a unique town with European, especially Danish, influences

Experience European culture at the Solvang Danish Village

Enjoy a feeling of Europe while in California by visiting the Solvang Danish Village. The village features Danish bakeries, architecture, and other attractions common to Denmark, such as windmills.

Wandering around the quaint village, you’ll find lots of independent shops selling unique items. There are also European-style cafes and bakeries selling delicious Danish pastries and other baked goods. There’s also a cute miniature horse farm and a few small museums to check out.

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A cluster of orange and black monarch butterflies on a Eucalyptus tree
Every year, thousands of butterflies head to the Monarch Butterfly Grove

Be amazed by the Monarch Butterfly Grove

Located in Pismo Beach, the Monarch Butterfly Grove is an incredible natural occurrence.

Every year, thousands of vivid butterflies fly to this area of the California Central Coast. Once they’ve arrived, they cluster together in stunning, mainly black and orange, towers.

If interested in seeing this phenomenon, head to Pismo Beach between late October and February. It’s unlikely that you’ll see a sight like this anywhere else!

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A white sand beach with green-covered mountains and blue ocean
Relaxing at Carmel Beach is the perfect way to unwind while on the Central Coast

Relax on Carmel Beach

One of the main Central Coast tourist attractions is the area’s beaches. Carmel Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the area.

The beach features a scenic boardwalk and vast sandy shores. It’s the ideal place to sunbathe, swim, or surf. The beach is also dog-friendly if traveling with your pup.

If you don’t get to Carmel Beach or find it too busy, any of the other California Central Coast beaches are sure to wow you!

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In Conclusion

As you can see, there are a vast array of Central Coast tourist attractions. No matter where you visit in this area of California, you're guaranteed to find interesting places to visit and incredible beaches and parks to explore.

This article was edited by Loredana Elena.

Written by Alli Sewell

allisewell WRITER Currently based in Canada, I've also lived and worked in the UK and Brazil and travelled in North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. I love finding the best photo-ops and food and drink locations wherever I go!

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