Explore the Central Coast on a World-Class Road Trip

Walk redwood groves, drive Big Sur, and tour Hearst Castle on this Central Coast winner.

Trip length: 4 Days
Total distance: 269mi/431km

SANTA CRUZ. Pitch a tent beneath the pines and oaks in the campground at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park . Hike from the campground along the easy Eagle Creek Trail to reach the Redwood Grove Loop Trail and see The Giant—a magnificent tree that’s as tall as a 25-story building. INFO Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council ; 800/833-3494

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

MONTEREY (20mi/31km; 27min). Glimpse the undersea world where giant bluefin tuna and hammerhead sharks rule—all without getting wet—at Monterey Bay Aquarium . Stroll Cannery Row for a taste of Monterey’s fishing heyday, as well as with salt-water taffy and souvenirs. 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 (22mi/35km; 32min). Saddle up and ride from the redwoods to the beach at Andrew Molera State Park with Molera Horseback Tours . INFO Big Sur Chamber of Commerce ; 831/667-2100

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

SAN SIMEON (67mi/107km; 1hr32min). No matter how many times you visit, Hearst Castle will amaze. For a different view, visit the castle after dark on Evening Museum Tours in spring and fall. Along the coast here, watch massive elephant seals battle for territory and care for pups at Piedras Blancas rookery . INFO San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau ; 805/541-8000

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

SOLVANG (66mi/106km; 1hr4min). Rent a mountain or road bike from Wheel Fun Rentals and follow a scenic cycling route through Santa Ynez Valley. Refuel after the ride with tasty Danish treats at countless bakeries, or dig into creative comfort foods at Succulent Café & Trading Company . INFO Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau ; 805/688-6144