Updated: Apr 14, 2022
A few years ago, my parents and I drove from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo along the famed California Highway 1. Stretching more than 650 miles, California Highway 1 has long been a favorite of road trippers. When you think of the West Coast, you’re probably familiar with images of beach attire and surf culture. Cities such as San Diego and San Francisco also likely come to mind. And while it’s perfectly acceptable to conjure these images of the coast, not everything about the California coast is big cities and bigger personalities.
The California coast offers visitors rest and relaxation in a uniquely California style, with quaint towns and cities that are the perfect destination for a weekend getaway or an extended vacation. These towns lie between the forests and towering mountains and the blue-hued ocean.
Here are ten coastal towns to explore and spark adventure on your road trip along the California coast.
1. Fort Bragg - Unlike some of the other villages and towns on this list, Fort Bragg doesn’t exude the same quaintness as those to come, but it is worth visiting. Here you can take in the coastal views while enjoying the variety of flowers and grasses at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, or hunt for a new favorite wine at the Pacific Star Winery.
2. Mendocino Village - This hilly peninsula is surrounded by bluffs on three sides and is home to many Victorian-era houses. Within the village, you will find artists coming together as a community with galleries and various shops.
3. Capitola Village by the Sea - This hotspot is one of the oldest vacation retreats on the Pacific Coast. Equipped with a Mediterranean atmosphere; the downtown is built with colorful buildings, Victorian homes, and numerous boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars.
4. Moss Landing - With a population of around 200 people, Moss Landing is the quintessential quaint town. In addition to the arts, the city offers access to Slough Reserve, one of the largest wetlands in California. There you can look up in the sky and spend hours bird spotting.
5. Monterey - Monterey might just be a destination you’ll want to discover in more than one day. The town is most famously known for its aquarium, a personal favorite of mine, as well as 17 Mile Drive, a private road that twists and turns around the coastline.
6. Carmel-by-the-Sea - With a village-like atmosphere, this coastal town is sure to sweep you off your feet. Not only are there luxury inns and hotels to help you get your pampering on, but there is also Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, which is a museum with extensive knowledge of the mission, as well as a peaceful garden where you can get lost in your thoughts and meditate.
7. San Simeon - Within the relatively small town, two major attractions are worth checking out. Hearst Castle allows you to explore the hilltop estate of media maven William Randolph Hearst. The other attraction is the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery where numerous seals come atop the rocks to breed, molt, give birth, and get some much needed R&R.
8. Cambria - Here you can enjoy rugged coastal views from the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, or take a stroll down Moonstone Beach and explore the unique translucent stones that seemingly light the shoreline.
9. Morro Bay - Morro By is one of the few remaining fishing villages along the coast. You can take your time exploring the Embarcadero, the town’s major waterfront boardwalk, or take part in a harbor cruise that will allow you to catch a glimpse of sea creatures in their natural habitats.
10. Oxnard - While much of Oxnard is more urban than quaint and quiet, the western side of town offers visitors a sandy beach area with many dunes and walking trails. A portion of this beach has earned the name Hollywood Beach due to the abundance of celebrities living there. Oxnard is also known for producing some of the sweetest strawberries in the country.
Are you ready to book a trip to the West coast and plan a road trip that will allow you to take in each and every one of these impressive coastal towns? If so, be sure to contact me and we can help make your seaside dreams a reality.