Walk redwood groves, drive Big Sur, and tour Hearst Castle on this Central Coast winner.
Trip length: 4 Days
SANTA CRUZ (6mi/9km; 16min). Whip around the curves on the landmark Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk . Or for a new generation of thrills, take a spin—quite literally—on Undertow, a roller coaster with rotating cars. Dine on classic seaside grub, including clam chowder bread bowls, at the boardwalk’s Surf City Grille. INFO Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council ; 800/833-3494
MOSS LANDING (27mi/44km; 40min). Stop at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve visitor center to learn about this rich wetland environment and for guided weekend walks. Search for sea otters and harbor seals on naturalist-led tours with Elkhorn Slough Safari . Indulge in legendary cioppino at Phil’s Fish Market . INFO Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau ; 888/221-1010
CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA (6mi/10km; 17min). Make castles in the sand at Carmel City Beach , a dog-friendly stretch with crashing waves and views from Point Lobos to Pebble Beach. Plus bonfires are permitted south of 10th Avenue! Travel back to Carmel’s Spanish past at San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission . INFO Carmel Chamber of Commerce ; 800/550-4333
BIG SUR (7mi/11km; 10min). Thanks to blueberry scones, sandwiches made with wood-fired breads, and inventive pizza combinations, you could eat all three meals of the day at Big Sur Bakery . Work it off at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park for views of iconic McWay Falls tumbling to the beach below. INFO Big Sur Chamber of Commerce ; 831/667-2100
MORRO BAY (34mi/55km; 48min). See wildlife and take in awesome views of landmark Morro Rock on a guided paddle with Kayak Horizons . Savor wild-caught seafood from local fishermen at The Galley . INFO Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce ; 800/231-0592
SAN LUIS OBISPO (14mi/23km; 19min). Look for gifts in downtown boutiques and galleries, then give the kids a history lesson at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa . Dine creekside on the patio at pretty Novo Restaurant Lounge . INFO San Luis Obispo Visitors & Conference Bureau ; 805/541-8000