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Elkhorn Slough

Elkhorn Slough
Paddle a kayak or board a pontoon boat to view otters and seabirds up close

This expansive estuary explodes with life, and even better, it’s really easy to see it. Kids love clambering aboard a 27-foot open-air pontoon boat with Elkhorn Slough Safari to poke around the slough, learning why sea otters thrive in this protected habitat—meaty clams and other sea-otter favorites thrive here. Other fascinating sightings include throngs of harbor seals hauled up on shoals, staring with limpid eyes and bodies shaped like overblown cigars. Binoculars are hardly needed to spot herons, egrets, white pelicans, and other interesting birds—more than 300 species are found here.

Older kids (and grownups) have fun paddling a kayak through the slough’s many channels. Rent gear and get instruction from Kayak Connection; guided tours are also available.

You can also explore on foot. Five miles of hiking trails wind around the preserve, accessing tidal creeks, freshwater marshes, and oak woodlands. Elkhorn Slough Foundation runs a hands-on education center, and offers guided walks and activities throughout the year.

Save time to explore the village of Moss Landing, where fishermen in the lively harbor often sell their catch right off the boat. Stroll past the research labs of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (not open to the public) to line up at Phil’s Fish Market for legendary cioppino, so good it went head-to-head with chef Bobby Flay’s version on the Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay.

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Mimi Ditchie/Getty Images

Central California

Discover the Central Coast

From the epic grandeur of Big Sur to the Mediterranean-style stretch of Santa Barbara coastline nicknamed “the American Riviera,” this region of picturesque hamlets, jagged sea cliffs, and rolling wine country has long attracted—not surprisingly—writers and artists mesmerized by its dreamlike beauty.

Monterey served as California’s first capital when the state’s first constitution was signed in in the coastal city in 1849.

Take the epic Highway One drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles to discover secret beaches and soaring cliffs along Big Sur, stroll a redwood trail, spy a sea otter at the incomparable Monterey Bay Aquarium, and sip Pinot Noir at sunset in the romantic Santa Ynez Valley.

Kenny Osehan
The creative force behind some of the state's coolest places to stay shares some Golden State recommendations

People to Know: Kenny Osehan

The creative force behind some of the state's coolest places to stay shares some Golden State recommendations

Although she has opened several uber-hip motels and inns throughout California, Kenny Osehan wouldn’t call herself a hotelier, per se. She’s more...

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Courtesy of Ventana Big Sur

5 Great Ways to Experience Highway 1

Discover your favorite way to take in this iconic drive through Big Sur and beyond

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Casa de Fruta Courtesy of Casa De Fruta

Casa de Fruta Orchard Resort

Part fruit stand, part theme park, this Central Coast stop is the perfect place to fill your belly

What started as a humble cherry stand in 1908 is now a massive roadside attraction, welcoming more than 3 million visitors each year. Located 40...

San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point

San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point
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Stay at the Ragged Point Inn & Resort were you can see what’s blooming as you stroll through the gardens, or work your way down the short but steep 1.2-mile round-trip Ragged Point Cliffside Trail to reach a secluded black-sand beach.

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Courtesy of Alisal Guest Ranch Resort

Santa Maria Barbecue

Head to California’s Central Coast to try this distinctive regional cuisine at its source

The barbecue styles of Kansas City, Memphis, and Texas are well known around the U.S., but California’s Santa Maria Valley claims a...

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Spotlight: Ventura County

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Absorb the relaxed vibe of this classic California destination on the coast

When it comes to places in California that feel like one big outdoor playground, Ventura County, on the south end of the Central Coast, stands out...

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San Luis Obispo’s Bubble Gum Alley is filled with more than 1.7 million pieces of bubble gum.
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Blaine Harrington III/Getty Images

Spotlight: Santa Barbara

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Mediterranean style magic and a perfect ocean breeze

Bougainvillea twining across red-tiled rooftops, birdsong mingling with the ocean breeze, islands and whale spouts on the horizon—...

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See a few amazing wonders of the sea first-hand

California is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Each year, about 20,000 gray whales make an epic 6,000-mile journey between Alaska and Mexico—and then back again. These...

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Michele W/Flickr
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Kodiak Greenwood

Spotlight: Big Sur

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Art and nature merge on this rugged coast, one of California’s most spectacular settings

Welcome to one of the world’s most unforgettable stretches of coastline. This roughly 90-mile-long stretch of redwood- and fog-trimmed waterfront...

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Castroville produces 95 percent of the nation's artichokes. In 1948, Marilyn Monroe was crowned the town's first "Artichoke Queen."
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Follow celebrated routes to iconic vineyards and tucked-away surprises

With more than 4,000 wineries statewide, California lets you sample award-winning wines almost anywhere you go. These classic and up-and-coming wine roads—some too packed with wineries to tackle...

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Kid-friendly fun zones, special kids' menus & amazing wine for the grownups

Sure wine country is romantic, but now it’s a surprisingly great destination for families too, with a growing number of vineyards trading in elegant tasting rooms for kid-friendly fun zones that...

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John/Flickr
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Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisanal cheeses, golden-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers markets are...

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Highway One Classic

Highway One Classic
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Discover the awesome sports scene in the Golden State

With nearly twice as many professional teams as any other state, California is big league all the way. But the state’s sports scene goes far beyond football and baseball, with a diverse line-up of...

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Christina Lauren/Flickr
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Beautiful locations, luxurious comforts

Get the starry nights, the campfire stories, the cozy sleeping bag, and all the best parts of camping in some of California’s most beautiful settings—but without the hassle of hauling loads of...

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Ken Lund/Flickr

Ventura County Wine Trail

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Visit vineyards in coastal hills and communities

Sip your way along the Ventura County Wine Trail, where you’ll find nearly 20 wineries and tasting rooms in settings ranging from urban...

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Big-city-worthy events liven the sleepy Central Coast

Bookended by the big cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Central Coast may be known for its mellow pace, but the closeness of those major gateways bring big names to relatively small...

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Courtesy of Monterey Jazz Festival
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Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind-the-scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of worth-the-...

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Michael Saechang/Flickr
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Old-fashioned fun in the Golden State

Historic oceanfront playgrounds, classic city-park charmers, boisterous adventures—smaller theme parks and attractions offer an array of ways to play.  These smaller parks offer old-...

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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Solvang

A Danish stronghold makes a charming outpost surrounded by ranchlands and vineyards

Imagine a village where fresh-cut flowers and warm-from-the-oven pastries scent the air. Add gingerbread architecture, twirling windmills,...

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Central Coast Missions

Visit some of California’s most beautiful missions to discover the state’s Spanish roots

Strung like Spanish pearls along an 824-mile trail from San Diego to Sonoma, California’s 21 historic missions offer a wealth of treasures, from...

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Santa Barbara ranks in the nation’s top 20 counties for bicycle commuters, with nearly 5,000 residents commuting to work by bicycle.