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Central Coast Small Towns

Small Towns Overview

Central Coast

Small towns on the Central Coast include coastal communities, inland wine regions and lively college towns. Rent a boat at the Capitola Wharf and set out on your own tour. See a diver's perspective of Monterey sea life without getting wet at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Perfect your game at the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Resort in Carmel. Escape to nature on the secluded Big Sur coast. Soak in mineral spring water while sipping local wine at Paso Robles. Walk the seaside boardwalk on Moonstone Beach in the romantic town of Cambria. Board a submarine in Morro Bay for a below the surface glimpse of sea life. Join the vibrant nightlife in the college towns of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Try on wooden shoes in the Danish town of Solvang. From thriving beach communities to rolling hills covered with vineyards, you'll find all of the cool towns on the Central Coast listed on this page.

Central Coast Small Towns

Capitola is located off Highway 1 on the north side of Monterey Bay. The small town of Capitola is a quaint and quirky seaside community with sandy beaches, shops, restaurants and a pier. Grab an oceanview seat at one of many restaurants along the Esplanade and snap a shot of the brightly colored Capitola Venetian Hotel across the creek. Window shop several blocks of boutique shops in Capitola Village offering Hawaiian shirts, sea shells, psychic readings, swimwear, jewelry, surfboards and more. Have a picnic or pitch a tent at New Brighton State Beach that offers terrific beach camping. Rent a boat on Capitola Wharf and head out fishing or rent a hydrobike and pedal the Capitola coast. Many interesting attractions are in close proximity to Capitola. Ride the roller coaster at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Board a vintage logging train at Roaring Camp Railroads and climb into the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Practice your game at one of several local golf courses. Boggle your mind at The Mystery Spot where reality and perception meet the unexplained. Visit one of many local wineries nestled in the hillsides just outside of town. Consider a helicopter wine tasting tour with Specialized Helicopters.

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Fisherman's Wharf

Monterey is located off Highways 1 and 68 at the southern end of Monterey Bay. This small town was once the Capitol of California and made famous by Steinbeck's tales of Cannery Row, Monterey has experienced growth over the years. Cannery Row has great seafood restaurants and touristy shops. Victorian Bed & Breakfasts line the rocky shore where tide pools are also abundant. Fisherman's Wharf offers deep-sea fishing charters, whale watching and more touristy shops and restaurants. The Wharf is surrounded by sandy beaches inviting visitors to kayak, snorkel, scuba dive and swim. The Monterey Bay Aquarium features local fish species from a diver's perspective. There's always a good sale at the American Tin Cannery Outlets. Perfect your game at one of several golf courses at the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Resort. Catch a race at the Laguna Seca Raceway just a few miles out of town.

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Monarch Butterfly Preserve

Pacific Grove is located off Highways 1 and 68 at the southern end of Monterey Bay. The small town of Pacific Grove is a quaint seaside town situated on the Monterey Peninsula. Known as 'Butterfly-Town USA', Pacific Grove has a monarch butterfly sanctuary where butterflies winter from October to February. The Victorian town features boutique shops, cafés, antique stores and art galleries. There's always a good sale at the American Tin Cannery Outlets. The Point Pinos Lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the west coast and worth a visit. Head to the Museum of Natural History for exhibits of local biology, science, geography and history. Asilomar State Beach is popular with sunbathers and beachcombers. The scenic 17-Mile Drive follows the bluff through forest, golf courses and coastline south to Carmel. Perfect your game at one of several golf courses at the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Resort. Nearby attractions include Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Laguna Seca Raceway.

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Lone Cypress - Carmel

Carmel-by-the-Sea is located off Highway 1 just south of Monterey Bay. The small town of Carmel is a quaint seascape village with European charm. Clint Eastwood was once the Mayor of Carmel. Stroll through the town and window shop or take the scenic 17-Mile Drive through the coastal forest. The Lone Cypress Tree is a photography must and is perhaps the most photographed tree in the world. The world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Resort blankets the coast between Monterey and Carmel. Many romantic hotels and restaurants can be found in Carmel. Swimming beaches and Scenic Drive are located at the end of Ocean Avenue. Watch for sea otters playing in the kelp beds. Visit the Carmel Mission, the oldest structure in Carmel. Go wine tasting in Carmel Valley. See an old abalone fishing village in Point Lobos State Park.

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Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park

Big Sur is situated on some of the most pristine coastline California has to offer between Carmel and San Simeon. The Big Sur region spans approximately 50 miles and includes several State Parks and secluded beaches. Steep hillsides of lush pine forest mingle with Cypress trees before meeting a rugged Pacific coastline. Its seclusion from any major highway makes it a great place to unwind and relax. The winding Highway 1 through Big Sur contains some of the most expensive resorts in all of California, yet there are also a fair number of campgrounds and rustic lodges with cabins. Join a horseback riding tour through the redwoods or on the beach at Andrew Molera State Park. Popular activities in Big Sur include camping, hiking, horseback riding, beach combing, fishing, kayaking, diving, surfing and relaxing.

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Downtown Paso Robles

Paso Robles is located east of Cambria and north of San Luis Obispo on Highway 101. The small town of Paso Robles is the heart of Central Coast Wine Country with over 200 wineries dotting the surrounding hillsides. Wine tasting is the main attraction where you'll find multiple wine tours, or pick up a map and head out on your own. The area is also known for its hot spring activity. Some rooms at the Paso Robles Inn have hot tubs filled with natural hot spring water. For a small fee, you can soak in the spring waters at Franklin Hot Springs. The central park is surrounded by shops and restaurants and is reminiscent of a 1950's town center. The nearby Lake Nacimiento offers excellent boating and fishing opportunities. Visit the nearby San Miguel Mission, the oldest structure in the region.

Blog See our Paso Robles blog for more details.

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Moonstone Beach

Cambria is located off Highway 1 conveniently situated between San Simeon and Morro Bay. Most accommodations are located along Moonstone Beach where only a small two-lane road separates them from the ocean. Every hotel and Inn on Moonstone Drive offers rooms with ocean views. Other than hotels and Inns, the only other structures along Moonstone Drive are fantastic restaurants, bakeries and art galleries. Everything is within easy walking distance from your hotel. A boardwalk stretches across the bluffs and is a great place to take in a Pacific sunset. Steps lead down the short bluffs to Moonstone Beach and lookout points are strategically placed along the boardwalk. Downtown Cambria offers small town charm with a multitude of boutique shops, restaurants and a community theatre. Cambria is only 20 minutes from Hearst Castle or the nearest winery along Highway 46, and 30 minutes from Morro Bay. Cambria is one of top choices in California for a romantic getaway.

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Morro Bay

Morro Bay is located approximately 20 miles west of San Luis Obispo off Highway 1. Morro Bay is a seaside playground offering activities like boating, fishing, kayaking, surfing, hiking, biking, bird watching, beach combing, golfing and much more. Along the Embarcadero that parallels the harbor, visitors can find a multitude of restaurants, shops, kayak rentals, a small aquarium and even a submarine ride. Farther south are Morro Bay and Montana de Oro State Parks offering estuaries, forests, Pacific headlands and secluded coves.

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Cayucos is located off Highway 1 between Cambria and Morro Bay. The small town of Cayucos is a quaint little beach community with a pier and a huge expanse of beach. This undeveloped surf town is a glimpse into the past the way beach cities used to be - relaxing, carefree and unique. Sunbathing, surfing and pier fishing are the main activities in Cayucos. This is a family-friendly beach with playgrounds, picnic tables and restrooms on the beach. This small town offers visitors one-of-a-kind shops, hotels, cafés and restaurants including a cookie shop and Ruddell's Smokehouse that's possibly one of the best seafood barbecue restaurants on the Central Coast.

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San Luis Obispo is located off Highway 101 and was originally founded as one of the many Spanish Missions situated along the Kings Highway. The San Luis Obispo Mission still remains as the center point to a vintage downtown filled with unique shops and restaurants. Many of the restaurants are are backed by San Luis Obispo Creek and offer outdoor deck seating. The nearby university breathes life into the town with plenty entertainment and nightlife. Add a donation to the walls of Bubblegum Alley where visitors have been sticking their chewed gum for decades. Several wineries dot the foothills offering wine tasting, wine tours and other activities. The famous and eclectic Madonna Inn resides on the outskirts of town, and is just as much a tourist attraction as it is an Inn. Head to the quaint seaside village of Avila Beach for activities including swimming, surfing, fishing, biking, shopping and dining.

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Avila Beach

Avila Beach is located off Highway 1 between San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach. This small town is a relatively new community with plenty of charm. Activities at Avila Beach include sailing, swimming, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, sunbathing and more. The Avila Pier is a nice walking pier with a fishing tackle market at the end. It's surrounded by a huge sandy beach with a playground, basketball court, volleyball courts and restrooms. Beachfront businesses rent and sell all the equipment and necessities for beach fun. Two smaller beaches to the north offer a dog beach, small boat launch ramp and bonfire pits. The Harford Pier is at the north end of San Luis Bay and is more of an industrial wharf with fishing charters, boat tours and whale watching. The Olde Port Inn is a restaurant on the Harford Pier that features glass-top tables that view the goings-on in the water below. Catch a trolley or kayak to a secluded beach that leads to Point San Luis Lighthouse. Rent a bike and hop on the Bob Jones Bike Trail that follows Avila Creek past Avila Beach Golf Resort. Enjoy the day-use amenities of Sycamore Spa with natural hot springs and rejuvenating treatments. The Central Coast Aquarium displays local sea life with educational exhibits and an inviting pirate park in front. Join a kayak tour to the sea caves at the south end of Avila Beach. Sign up for surf school and test your skills on the Pacific swells.

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Solvang Windmill photo courtesy of www.SolvangUSA.com

Solvang is located north of Santa Barbara off Highway 246. The Village of Solvang is known as 'Little Denmark'. When you see the windmills, you know you've reached Solvang. Here you can purchase unique Danish goods like wooden shoes and savor traditional Scandinavian fare like meatballs, torsk and gherkins. It's hard to stay out of the many authentic Danish bakeries. Local hotels and country Inns are constructed and decorated to resemble Denmark. Visit a Solvang museum including an art museum, vintage motorcycle museum and museum honoring the famous Danish author, Hans Christian Anderson. Join a Segway Tour of the town and nearby points of interest. Rent a bike and discover Solvang on your own. Visit the historic Santa Ines Mission that was built by the Spanish back in 1804. See a concert or play at the Solvang Festival Theater. Spend the day boating or fishing on refreshing Lake Cachuma. Enjoy panoramic views of the entire Santa Ynez Valley all the way to the ocean from the seat of a glider plane. The real highlight of Solvang is it's location in the heart of Central Coast Wine Country. Wine tasting rooms are abundant in town and exceptional wineries can be visited by a short drive in any direction. Reserve a private horseback riding tour through Santa Ynez vineyards that ends with wine tasting. Celebrate Christmas all December long at Solvang Julefest when the town is decorated with lights and festivities include a Christmas parade, tree lighting ceremony, nativity pageant, wine & beer walk, pictures with Santa and holiday lights tour.

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Morro Bay

Santa Barbara is located off Highway 101 between Santa Maria and Ventura. Tucked between the Pacific Ocean and Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara is a dream come true for any outdoor enthusiast. To the north, El Capitan is a popular region for some of the best campgrounds the Central Coast has to offer, not to mention 'Glamping'. Spend the day wine tasting at one of the many Santa Barbara wineries dotting the foothills. Shop, dine and take in a movie or concert at one of the historic theatres downtown on State Street. Explore the historic Santa Barbara Mission that was built by the Spanish in 1786. Drive out on Stearns Wharf for seafood as fresh as it gets or a stroll through the Ty Warner Sea Center. Rent a kayak in the harbor and venture out on your own tour. Boat tours also head out daily from Santa Barbara Harbor for Channel Islands National Park just a few miles to the south.

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Ojai is located in the foothills of the Los Padres National Forest. Situated north of Ventura and east of Santa Barbara, Ojai is known best for relaxation. Downtown Ojai features small town charm with quaint Inns, boutique shops and art galleries. The focal point of Ojai is the AAA five-diamond Ojai Valley Inn & Spa which offers luxury accommodations, world-class spa treatments, fine dining and a challenging golf course. Several local wineries offer wine tasting rooms downtown. Head to Libbey Bowl for live entertainment and seasonal celebrations. Join a horseback riding tour with Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company and explore the backcountry. Nearby Lake Casitas offers boating, fishing, camping and a small water park. Rent a bike in town or bring your own and ride the Ojai Valley Trail that goes all the way from Ojai to Ventura.

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