At just over 50 miles, it’s not a long drive. But the trip north from San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point on Highway 1 packs an awful lot into such a short distance. Although you could cover it in under an hour, with beach towns, long stretches of pristine coastline, and Hearst Castle along the route, who wants to hurry?
STOP ONE: SAN LUIS OBISPO
You’ll certainly want to slow down in SLO—that is, the city San Luis Obispo. Hip and historic, it’s college and mission town in one, with open space perfect for hiking and mountain biking just a few minutes from a walkable downtown. Wake up with a double espresso made from locally roasted beans and just try to resist the almond croissants at Scout Coffee, where the weathered brick wall interior is as pleasing as that first sip. Take a walk through downtown and along restored Mission Creek before visiting the 1772 Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, where you can stroll beneath a shaded grape arbor in the serene gardens.
STOP TWO: MORRO BAY
Highway 1 leaves town and quickly starts cruising through open, rolling hills, with Bishop Peak, home to some of SLO’s best hiking (and views!), off to your left. In about 20 minutes, you’ll reach the shops and restaurants on Morro Bay’s Embarcadero. Follow the waterfront boardwalk to iconic 581-foot Morro Rock, Bishop Peak’s geological cousin, or look for sea otters and other wildlife as you paddle the bay with a rental from Kayak Horizons. Seafood is always on the menu in Morro Bay, whether you queue up for the halibut fish-and-chips at Giovanni’s Fish Market or go for the pan-seared scallops in the Galley Seafood Grill & Bar’s contemporary, waterfront dining room.
STOP THREE: CAYUCOS
Heading north, Highway 1 looks out on the long stretch of shoreline at Morro Strand State Beach, before reaching Cayucos. With its ranching traditions and surfing, Cayucos’ unique blend of the Old West and tasty waves earned it honors as America’s coolest small town from Budget Travel magazine a few years back. Walk out above the water on the pier for views down the coast to Morro Rock and to watch surfers catch their waves. Before leaving town, shop for beach-themed art at the Cayucos Collective and stock up on delectable smoked salmon and ahi at Ruddell’s Smokehouse.
Hearst Castle is positively enthralling: a collection of priceless art and antiques from all over the world, exquisitely assembled in a mountaintop Mediterranean estate.
STOP FOUR: HARMONY
Just north of Cayucos, the coastal trails at Harmony Headlands State Park lead through onetime ranch and dairy lands to a hidden stretch above the ocean. The park gets its name from the tiny, historic creamery town across the highway, where you can go tasting at Harmony Cellars, a family-owned boutique winery. The town of only 18 people (look out for its population sign) also has an interesting gallery of glass art, Harmony Glass Works, where you can learn to make your own in a one-hour glassblowing workshop.
STOP FIVE: CAMBRIA
Just some five miles from Harmony, the highway enters a forest of Monterey pines at Cambria, an artsy and historic coastal village. Browse the craft and fine art galleries in the heart of town, where a piece of Olallieberry pie at Linn’s Restaurant is a Cambria tradition. For fine dining, the Black Cat Bistro takes full advantage of San Luis Obispo County’s local and seasonal bounty in such dishes as an appetizer featuring abalone raised in Cayucos. Catch sunset from two memorable spots: the mile-long boardwalk above the coves at Moonstone Beach or at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, where trails along the marine terrace connect into the pine forests in the hills above the ocean.
STOP SIX: HEARST CASTLE
From Cambria, it’s only about 15 minutes to the visitor’s center and tours at Hearst Castle. Designed by legendary architect Julia Morgan, Hearst Castle is positively enthralling: a collection of priceless art and antiques from all over the world, exquisitely assembled in a mountaintop Mediterranean estate. The castle out-Hollywoods Hollywood and is as grand as the finest palaces of Europe. The story of its visionary owner, William Randolph Hearst, is a made-in-America fable that proves that fact is often stranger than fiction.
STOP SEVEN: PIEDRAS BLANCAS
Nor was Hearst the only colossus to call this coast home. A few miles past the turnoff for the castle, get close-up looks of giant elephant seals (some bulls weigh more than 5,000 pounds) as they battle for territory along the beach at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.
STOP EIGHT: RAGGED POINT
Continue 10 miles north—taking in the stunning untouched coastline views to your left—to arrive at Ragged Point. Grab a sandwich and wander the shops at Ragged Point Inn, or stay for a romantic gourmet dinner served 400 feet above the Pacific Ocean. Temporary road closures mean Ragged Point is the furthest point you can travel on Highway 1 without a detour, but you can still see California’s epic coastline from the inn’s property.
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