English (UK)
Ryan Donnell

San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point

This short but stunning coastal drive features idyllic beach towns, Hearst Castle and a roadside elephant seal colony.

Start:San Luis Obispo
End:Ragged Point Inn & Resort
1 - 2Days,13Stops,60Miles
San Luis Obispo
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Scout Coffee
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Morro Bay
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Matthew Micah Wright/Getty Images
Brown Butter Cookie Company
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Harmony Cellars
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Tom Grubbe/Getty Images
Ephraim Pottery West
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony
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Hearst Castle
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Ragged Point
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Ragged Point Inn & Resort
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Stop 1

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo

With its nuanced food and wine scene, rich history and mellow vibe, San Luis Obispo (or as locals call it, SLO) is a Central Coast must see. This university town has ranked in past surveys as one of the happiest cities in America.

Explore Mission Plaza and Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Enjoy live music in the plaza on summer Friday nights. Year round the first Friday of the month offers Art After Dark, with city centre SLO galleries opening their doors for wine tastings, snacks and chats with local artists. A few streets away every Thursday evening you can find the city’s farmers' market, a showcase for SLO’s culinary landscape, including local tri-tip steak, tamales and craft beer.

Make sure you pay a visit to the 110-room Madonna Inn when you are in town. You can finish the day with a slice of the famed pink champagne cake and then retire to one of its quirky themed rooms, such as the Caveman, the Love Birds or the Fox & Hound.

SLO delivers the goods on the wine-tasting front. Bottles bearing the world-renowned Paso Robles appellation can be found only about 30 miles away. But don’t miss the nearby Edna Valley region, in particular the Chardonnays of Edna Valley Vineyard and the Pinot Noirs of Tolosa. Then, check out the under the radar wineries of the Arroyo Grande Valley, including the sparkling wines at Laetitia Vineyard & Winery.

Stop 3

Morro Bay

595 Harbor St, Morro Bay

The quaint beach town of Morro Bay, just north of San Luis Obispo offers plenty of opportunities for fun. Don’t miss iconic 581-foot/177-metre Morro Rock, where you might spot nesting peregrine falcons. Alternatively, look for sea otters and other wildlife as you paddle the bay in a rental from Kayak Horizons. Explore Morro Bay State Park, with its colony of nesting great blue herons and egrets, learn about the local environment and take in gorgeous views across the water at the park’s Museum of Natural History or walk the short path to the summit of Black Hill Lookout for more panoramas of the bay. Morro Bay may be famous for its wildlife, but if you’re more into birdies than birds, play a round on the state park’s historic Morro Bay Golf Course, which dates to 1923. Seafood is always on the menu in Morro Bay, whether you queue up for halibut fish and chips at Giovanni’s Fish Market or go for the pan-seared scallops in the Galley Seafood Grill & Bar’s waterfront dining room.

Stop 4


41 S Ocean Ave, Cayucos

With its ranching traditions and surfing, Cayucos’s unique blend of the Old West and excellent waves earned it the honour of being America’s coolest small town according to Budget Travel magazine a few years ago. Take a walk on the pier for views down the coast to Morro Rock and to watch surfers catch their precious waves. In town, shop for beach-themed art at the Cayucos Collective and stock up on delectable smoked salmon and ahi at Ruddell’s Smokehouse. For dessert, you’ll definitely want to pick up a selection of the Brown Butter Cookie Company’s sweet-and-salty specialities. The espresso cookies are irresistible, but watch out for limited edition flavours and newly introduced varieties. If you’re looking for more formal dining, The Grill at Cass House serves an impressive lobster roll at lunch and dinner favourites such as Tuscan-style short ribs with charred tomatillo salsa. On the way out of town, follow the network of paths that explore four miles of coastline and the secluded pocket-sized beaches of Estero Bluffs State Park.

Stop 6



The sprawling metropolis of Harmony (population 18), across the highway from Harmony Headlands State Park (which leads to a hidden stretch above the ocean) is home to Harmony Cellars, a family-owned boutique winery and tasting room which has been carrying out the local winemaking tradition since the late 1800s. The town also has an exquisite glass art gallery, Harmony Glass Works, where you can learn to make your own pieces or browse the gallery for vases, jewellery and sculptures created by owner Eric Dandurand and other leading glass artists from around the world. For more crafts, Harmony Pottery Works sells beautiful ceramics and locally produced lavender soaps. While in Harmony, keep your eyes open for a 1957-vintage ice cream truck. Considering Harmony is barely a street long, it shouldn’t be too hard to spot. Indulge in some scoops and cones of Harmony Valley Creamery’s scrumptious craft ice cream.

Stop 8


767 Main St, Cambria

Browse the many craft and fine art galleries in the heart of town, including The Vault Gallery, which specialises in works by acclaimed West Coast artists and is located in a former bank building. A piece of Olallieberry pie at Linn’s Restaurant is a Cambria tradition, as is lunch on the trellis-lined patio at Robin’s Restaurant, a Central Coast favourite since 1985.

The Black Cat Bistro takes full advantage of San Luis Obispo County’s local and seasonal bounty in dishes including a starter featuring Cayucos-farmed abalone. During the day, discover premium varietals from boutique Central Coast wineries at Madeline’s Restaurant’s tasting room; by night, pair your new favourites with tantalising dishes such as a lamb tenderloin topped with dried fig in a Zinfandel reduction.

But before dinner, you’ll want to catch sunset. Take your pick of two memorable Cambria spots: Moonstone Beach’s kileometer-and-a-half boardwalk or Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, where paths take you into the pine forests in the hills above the ocean.

Stop 10

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony

250 San Simeon Ave, San Simeon

A few miles up the coast from Hearst Castle, you’ll find one of the state’s best wildlife experiences. Get an up close look at the giant walrus-like elephant seals on the narrow strip of rocky beach known as Piedras Blancas (white rocks). If you’re an animal lover, get ready to spend hours at this land-based seal colony, where the huge marine mammals breed, give birth, moult and rest. Giant bulls, some measuring 16 feet/5 metres from tip to tail and tipping the scales at more than 4,000 pounds/1,800 kg, inflate their trunk-like snouts to create a distinctive, roaring bellow that cuts through the sound of crashing surf. The smaller females soak up the sun or tend to their pups. Peak season is December to May. Smaller numbers of seals can be seen year-round. Helpful guides from Friends of the Elephant Seal are on-site to answer questions. Insider tip: four miles south on State Highway 1 in San Simeon, Sebastian’s Cafe serves juicy burgers using beef from the nearby Hearst Ranch and a tasting bar serves varietals from Hearst Ranch Winery.

Stop 11

Hearst Castle

750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon

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 mountain-top Mediterranean estate that Hearst dubbed La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill).

The castle out-Hollywoods Hollywood and is as grand as the finest palaces of Europe. And the story of its visionary owner, William Randolph Hearst, is a made-in-America fable that proves that fact is truly stranger than fiction.

Considering that the castle rambles over roughly 80,000 square feet/7,400 square metres, 165 rooms, and nearly 50 hectares of gardens and pools, no single tour can fully capture its splendour. In fact, you can take your pick of nine different ways to explore the castle, including seasonal evening and public holiday tours. Or splash out on your very own four-hour private tour for up to six people.

Love art? The Art of San Simeon Tour looks at the priceless assortment of tapestries, paintings and sculptures that Hearst collected for his castle. Limited to eight visitors, the tour explores a few rooms that have never previously been accessible to the public. Or for architecture fans, nothing beats the Designing the Dream Tour, which focuses on the unique creative collaboration between Hearst and Morgan that spanned more than 30 years.

It’s just a few minutes downhill to your next stop at William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach.

Stop 12

Ragged Point

Ragged Point

On the way to Ragged Point, take in the stunning coastline views along Big Sur’s southernmost cliffs. Stroll through the gardens at the Ragged Point Inn & Resort or work your way down the short but definitely steep 1.2-mile circular Ragged Point Cliffside Trail to reach a secluded black sand beach. For a casual lunch, head over to the food stall to order a burger, salad, or fish and chips (there’s also an ice cream stall). Settle in at one of the picnic tables or spread out a blanket on the broad lawn. On summer weekends, enjoy live music in the square or stay for a romantic gourmet dinner served 400 feet/120 metres above the Pacific Ocean at the Ragged Point Restaurant. Follow the Salmon Creek Trail into the rugged coastal mountains as you walk along a canyon and through oak forests to Spruce Camp. For day walkers, this is a good turn around spot and makes for a beautiful four mile round-trip outing.


Ragged Point Inn & Resort

19019 CA-1, Ragged Point

Stay at the Ragged Point Inn & Resort where you can see what’s in bloom as you stroll through the gardens or work your way down the short but steep 1.2-mile circular Ragged Point Cliffside Trail to reach a secluded black-sand beach.


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Road Trip Snapshot

Find out more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

Stop 1San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo
Stop 3Morro Bay
595 Harbor St, Morro Bay
Stop 4Cayucos
41 S Ocean Ave, Cayucos
SPOTLIGHTBrown Butter Cookie Company
98 N Ocean Ave, Cayucos
    Stop 6Harmony
    Stop 8Cambria
    767 Main St, Cambria
    SPOTLIGHTEphraim Pottery West
    728 Main St, Cambria
      Stop 10Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony
      250 San Simeon Ave, San Simeon
      Stop 11Hearst Castle
      750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon
      Stop 12Ragged Point
      Ragged Point
      SPOTLIGHTRagged Point Inn & Resort
      19019 CA-1, Ragged Point

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