Central California Road Trip: Where To Stop Along The Way
Driving the California coast is out of this world. With spectacular ocean views, winding coastline, and landscapes changing from beach-y to desert to forest to wineland, there is so much to see and do as you explore the California coast.
I celebrated my birthday a couple of weeks ago, and one of the things I did to celebrate was take a road trip from Southern California up to Central California with my friend Jessica, driving from San Diego to San Luis Obispo!
...All in one day.
We hit the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) eaaaarly in the morning with the intention that we'd stop in Santa Barbara on the way back. It was a LOT of driving but still plenty of fun.
If you're looking to do a similar drive yourself I'd recommend spending the night up north to allow yourself more time for stops along the way.
Here is where we went if you're looking at planning out a route for a 1-day road trip between San Diego and San Luis Obispo:
Probably the most northern of North County San Diego, I met Jessica at her house super early.
This part of California is gorgeous - highly recommend seeing the beaches and towns up here (Solana, Cardiff, Encinitas) if you make a trip to San Diego.
Jess spotted a "you-pick" sign outside a farm and declared we go, making a hasty U-turn onto a side road.
I wasn't objecting as it was super cute and knew it would be fun to pick some fruit!
We spent time picking organic raspberries, chatting with the farmers, and taking photos by the beautiful sunflowers.
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo is one of the cutest towns in Central California! It is home to Cal Poly: San Luis Obispo (a university) and has plenty of cute cafes, shops, and restaurants in the area.
Okay, so when these girls who worked at a boutique in SLO told us that Paso Robles looks like it could be a set for Gilmore Girls, Jess and I knew we had to go.
Adorable architecture, boutiques, and a gazebo (!) looked like it could be straight out of the Warner Bros. set.
This is a Danish-inspired town...in California! The small towns in the San Ynez valley supposedly have themes, which Jess and I didn't know beforehand.
Solvang was another recommendation by a local from a small town about 10 minutes away, who told us we needed to take a quick stop.
Driving into the town, you'll see the road lined with evergreen trees. You'd only remember that you're still in California when you see the occasional palm tree.
Walking around Solvang looked like a Christmas card with its fairytale-like architecture, windmills, and string lights.
We stopped here quickly for a much-needed Starbucks run at 9:00 pm to power through the next few hours of driving back to San Diego.
Santa Barbara & Malibu
So these were part of the plan, however, it was late at this point (around 9-10 pm) and we were still hours away from San Diego.
If we had stayed the night in SLO these would've made wonderful additions to the itinerary!
At least we got to see the beautiful ocean views driving along the PCH on the way up. The ocean views over here are absolutely incredible.
If you're doing a similar trip, I suggest staying the night in SLO or Santa Barbara, or one of the other towns along the way. I left my house at 6:15 am and got home around 1:30 am the following night (day?), and we were a little rushed in each of the towns.
If you stay the night and don't have to worry about driving...do a wine tasting! As you'll notice on the drive, there are seemingly endless vineyards and wineries in California and it would be a shame to not stop at some.
Also, Malibu is home to the Instagram-famous Malibu Wines and their wine safari, where you can go wine tasting and interact with animals like giraffes! Plus there is plenty to do in Malibu and Santa Barbara.
Drive along the PCH if at all possible! The 101 highway, also known as the pacific coast highway, literally takes you along the California coastline (and stretches up through Oregon and Washington as well). The views are spectacular and like nothing else in this world...highly recommend :)
Headed to California?
Book a place to stay - my all-time favorite booking website is the well-known Booking.com - I’ve used it for years all over the world.
It is the easiest way to search and find the best hotels (hostels too!), especially based on reviews. I always check the reviews on Booking, even if it’s a name-brand hotel. You never know!