Central Coast Cruise: Ventura To Monterey

Lazy rivers, plunging waterfalls, and kid-friendly wineries make this coastal trip tops for the whole family.

Trip length: 4 days

Total distance: 262mi/436km

VENTURA. Float the Lazy River in the water park at Lake Casitas . The water park is open all summer, with wonderful family camping year-round. INFO Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau ;

SANTA BARBARA (34mi/54km; 39min). At Santa Barbara Zoo , let the kids check out critters and chug around in the zoo train pulled by a replica 1863 locomotive. Visit the Old Mission for history and awesome views. INFO Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau ; 805/966-9222

SOLVANG (34mi/55km; 43min). Get nose to nose with miniature horses at Quicksilver Ranch. Stop by family- and pet-friendly Carivintas Winery —plenty of puzzles and games to keep kids busy. INFO Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau ; 805/688-6144

PISMO BEACH (54mi/87km; 52min). Get treats from Old West Cinnamon Rolls , then take a guided Hummer tour of fascinating Oceano Dunes . End with steaming bowls of chowder at Splash Café . INFO
Pismo Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau ; 805/773-7034

SAN LUIS OBISPO (13mi/20km; 16min). Pick fruit at Cal Poly’s on-campus farm . Indulge your kids’ love of all things gross at Bubble Gum Alley, covered with already-been-chewed gum. INFO San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau ; 805/541-8000

MORRO BAY (13mi/21km; 17min). Explore Morro Bay Estuary , home to harbor seals, sea otters, and more than 250 species of birds. Six miles south, hike coastal trails at Montaña De Oro State Park . INFO San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau ; 805/541-8000

SAN SIMEON (29mi/47km; 35min). Imagine cooking for movie stars on the “Cottages and Kitchen” tour of ultra-extravagant Hearst Castle . Four miles north, see elephant seals at Piedras Blancas . INFO San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau ; 805/541-8000

BIG SUR (65mi/104km; 1hr 23min). Take a stroll to see McWay Falls, an 80-foot cascade tumbling to the beach below, at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park . INFO Big Sur Chamber of Commerce ; 831/667-2100

CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA (26mi/42km; 37min). Explore the tidepools at rugged Point Lobos State Natural Reserve , then relax on Carmel Beach. Visit Pastries & Petals for flaky pies. INFO Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau ; 877/666-8373

MONTEREY (4mi/6km; 11min). At Monterey Bay Aquarium, see sea otters in their newly spiffed-up area. Enjoy sustainable seafood at the aquarium’s excellent cafe. INFO Monterey Bay Aquarium ; 831/648-4800