California Central Coast Vacation
California’s Central Coast is one of the best places in the USA to take a road trip! Check out the below vacation. Talk with our Preferred Travel Advisor to book this trip or customize it to fit your needs or that of your group!
From elephant seals and Heart Castle to seafood and sustainability in Morro Bay and the Channel Islands National Park, this California Central Coast Road Trip Vacation is a great trip for families, solo travelers and those looking to combine great food with California adventure.
We filmed along California’s Central Coast for my PBS and Ovation TV series, Travels with Darley, so were able to experience the trip personally and meet awesome locals along the way, many of whom serve as the guides for our customized itinerary below.
One thing we love about this adventure is that you’ll truly meet California locals, helping to support small businessmen and women who will show you the best of the Central Coast.
Let our preferred Virtuoso travel agent help you with this Darley Vacations booking or have her customize it to meet the needs of you and your group or family. There’s so much to love about California, so soak in the sun and fun of this epic road trip.
7 days/ 6 nights starting at $1598 USD* per person based on double occupancy
* Daily inclusions listed below. Itinerary pricing based on double occupancy. We are happy to customize this itinerary to fit your needs.
California’s Central Coast Itinerary
With beach towns, mountains, wineries, wildlife and historic sites, California’s Central Coast offers up varied adventures that are easily accessible on a road trip. This route will take you from Ventura to San Simeon along parts of the famous Highway One. One road trip stop is never so far from the next and views in between are their own roadside cinema.
We hand curated this itinerary based on Darley’s experiences filming for her PBS series. The tours, restaurants, hotels and activities are top notch, as will be the agent putting this together, so for travelers who want to take this itinerary and customize it further, we’ve got you covered.
So check out this awesome California Road Trip Vacation Itinerary.
Day 1: LOS ANGELES-SANTA MONICA
Upon arrival in Los Angeles, pick up your rental car at the airport and drive to Santa Monica. Check in at your luxury oceanfront hotel and make sure to enjoy a sunset by the sea. We picked this hotel, because of its location and beauty. It is a short drive to Malibu Vineyards and Santa Monica for shopping, restaurants and the family-friendly pier.
Enjoy relaxing the rest of today by the beach, shopping in Santa Monica or having a glass of wine on your balcony. It’s up to you!
Day 2: SANTA MONICA-VENTURA-SOLVANG
Check out at your hotel and start your road trip by driving to Ventura (about 50 min) for a Channel Islands National Park discovery mini-cruise.
Embark on a 3-hour non-landing Channel Islands wildlife cruise. The cruise passes the historic lighthouse on the eastern end of Anacapa Island. You can get a close up look at the many caves and arch formations including the Park’s landmark Cabrillo Arch Rock. Sea lions, seals, and island birds are just some of the wildlife you may spot on this adventure.
The Channel Islands are a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve. These remarkable islands are home to over 2,000 plant and animal species, 145 of which are distinctive to the islands, found nowhere else in the world. Though the islands are not far from Ventura Harbor, they developed over 1000 years in an isolated state, and as one of the least visited of the national parks, remain rugged and wild.
Channel Islands Cruise Tip! Bring a jacket and layers, even in summer, and your camera. If you tend to get seasick, bring along some motion sickness medication just in case.
Restaurant and dessert suggestion! Post cruise, we suggest dinner at Rumb Line restaurant, before making the drive to Solvang (75 minutes) and checking in at your hotel. Before you hit the road, stop at Coastal Cone, where you can choose from forty-plus ice cream flavors served, if you wish, in the photogenic taiyaki fish waffle cone.
Once in Solvang, otherwise known as “California’s Little Denmark,” check in at your well-located hotel, named in honor of the area’s wine! You’re in the Santa Ynez Valley now, where the hit movie Sideways was filmed, so you’re going to want to try a glass or two!
Day 3: SOLVANG “SUNNY FIELDS”
A sort of Disneyland for Danish culture, Solvang was originally settled by people from Denmark. The architecture is inspired by the Danish background, as is the food. If you like to sample new food items, this is a great place to do it!
Spend your morning exploring Solvang’s restaurants and shops or let our preferred travel advisor reserve your tee at the golf course, or help you explore Solvang’s nearby Figueroa Mountain in Los Padres National Forest. Many outdoor recreational activities are available.
Insider’s Restaurant Tips! For a good California breakfast, head to Fresco Valley Café, where the avocado toast is amazing, as are the pancakes. Fresco Valley Café places an emphasis on organic & natural ingredients with much of the menu items made from scratch.
Stop at Solvang Restaurant and try Aebleskiver, a Danish delicacy that’s akin to a pancake golf ball, sprinkled with powdered sugar and jam. You can enjoy one of these Danish treats, which in Denmark is generally served during the Christmas and Easter holidays, year-round in Solvang. Dine streetside or inside at Solvang Restaurant, where travelers vie for the booth that set a scene for the movie Sideways. This restaurant, owned by Jeff Paaske, has been serving up Danish food for over three decades, so is a Solvang institution.
Next, visit a bakery located beside a windmill just a short walk away from Solvang Restaurant, Solvang Bakery. To create Danish waffles, Susan Halme rolls flaky pastry shells in sugar and fills them with buttercream frosting and raspberry jam. This shop is a great stop in general for baked goods.
Don’t miss Ingeborg Danish Chocolate Shop! In business for about 60 years, they still use the traditional home-made savoir-faire, and chocolate candies are deliciously addictive! Try them, and if you can, continue your tour to the next pastry shop!
Cultural and foodie afternoon in Darley’s footsteps.
Have a sip of six different wines with bread at one of Solvang’s emblematic cultural venues.
Wine-tasting (6 items) in the windmill at Sevtap Winery (Included): Taste sustainable, locally made wine, and artisanal levaen bread made with organic flour, spring water and sea salt.
Visit Elverhøj Museum, which is one of the few museums outside of Denmark dedicated to the Danish culture and the Danish-American history. Danish culture has been collected to be exhibited to reflect Solvang’s Danish culture. (Visit free of charge. Donations are welcome)
This original and unique experience is hosted in 18th Century-style former home of two artists. From Viking to Rembrandt, learn more about Danish culture and the spirit of pioneers who came to the US.
Solvang was actually founded back in 1911 by three Danish immigrants. Solvang which literally means “sunny fields,” and that’s when they started bringing all of the other Danish immigrants over to help build this community.
*Closed Monday & Tuesday, open Wednesday – Sunday 11 am-4pm.
If you can eat dinner at this point, enjoy it on your own! Sleep tight!
Day 4: SOLVANG TO PISMO
Check out at your hotel in Solvang and continue your road trip by driving about an hour to Pismo. Check into your beachfront hotel in San Luis Obispo County, known to locals as SloCal.
Get ready for a thrilling ride at Oceano beach dunes, the most extensive dunes left in California! This is the only California state park that allows you to drive on the beach and folks take advantage, bringing their 4WD trucks seaside and venturing into the massive expanse of dunes to enjoy the 1500 acres of powdery, ever undulating sand open to vehicles. This area has long attracted native Americans, European explorers, artists and in the first part of the 20th century even had a free-thinking group of individuals called the “Dunites” settle in for a while.
Your private driver will take you on an awesome adventure through these stunning dunes. It may feel like a roller coaster at some points, as you drive through sand and careen down soft dunes. What a rush!
After your adventures, relax by the beach or on the beach from your hotel or try one of these other adventures.
- Exploring tide pools, coves, and caves
- Horseback riding
- History: Trails and replica Chumash Village are open daily to the public for hiking and picnicking. The 1893 historic Price Anniversary House is undergoing restoration and is open for tours by appointment year round
- Scuba diving
- Walking through the Monarch Butterfly Grove : The Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is one of only five sites in the state that has counts of over 10,000 butterflies annually. Each year thousands of vibrant orange and black Monarch Butterflies flock to Pismo State Beach. Seasonal: late OCT to FEB
Enjoy the 1200-foot Pismo Pier for sightseeing, walking, fishing and seeing the great sunset or take in sunset from your hotel or beachside.
Day 5: SAN SIMEON DAY EXCURSION
After breakfast, drive to Hearst Castle in San Simeon (72 miles). The home of the late newspaper publisher, magazine publisher, movie producer, Mr. William Randolph Hearst, this villa may remind you of a property in Italy or Spain.
Hearst Castle’s history begins in 1865 with the purchase of 40,000 acres of ranchland by George Hearst (1820-1891). His son, Rudolph William Hearst expended the estate, which was still unfinished even though it comprised 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways—all built to Hearst’s specifications and showcasing a legendary art collection.
Explore the grandeur of the estate on a tour. Many tours are available and our preferred travel agent will help get you set up with the best fit.
*Be aware that these tours involved steps, some of them up to 350 steps. For those who have difficulty walking or standing for lengths of time, we recommend Accessibly Designed Tours.
After Hearst Castle, we recommend driving just a few miles north to meet some of the Central Coast’s most famous residents: the 17,000 elephant seals that migrate to the Piedras Blancas Rookery every year. Named for the male’s truck-like nose, elephant seals are the largest seals in the Northern Hemisphere, weighing up to 5000 pounds or more and though most of the year, they are out at sea, you can find elephant seals on these beaches year round. They come ashore to birth new pups, breed, molt, and rest. Though the numbers vary depending on the time of year, during our visit in June, we were quite impressed by their chorus.
If you want to go further, take a tour of San Simeon’s towering 70 foot Piedras Blancas Light Station built in 1874. The light station is still operating today. Guided tours are available.
Day 6: MORRO BAY DAY EXCURSION
Private kayaking guided tour at Morro Bay
Your last day in Central Coast California will be dedicated to kayaking and hiking around Morro Bay, located half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. You will have the feeling of traveling back in time, and that you’re in old California for a few hours at this seaside town, known for its fresh seafood.
After breakfast, drive the protected waters of the Morro Bay Estuary (24 miles-35 min). This serene body of water spans the southern end of Morro Bay to the shores of Los Osos-Baywood. The estuary’s intersection of freshwater and saltwater supports a remarkably broad ecosystem of plant, insect, and animal species. To paddle a kayak in the Morro Bay Estuary is to enjoy the very best view of them all.
Explore Morro Bay State Marine Reserve
This magnificent marine protected area (MPA) makes for a great day of kayaking, year-round. Go kayaking in Morro Bay out to the sand dunes and feast on a gourmet picnic lunch. For this, the meeting time is 9:00am or you can go later in the day to enjoy a California beach style grilled dinner, timed for sunset, a truly a memorable experience.
GOOD TO KNOW
Guide, kayak, PFD (life jacket), paddle, waterproof fleece lined lap blanket, water, snack (granola bars), picnic lunch or dinner are included.
Restaurant tip! Enjoy lunch with views of Morro Rock at Tognozinni’s Dockside, where local and fresh catch and Morro Bay oysters with a beautiful view of the ocean are on tap. Have your oysters rockefeller, grilled, with garlic butter or just plain raw.
After lunch, explore on your own, venturing to Los Osos and Baywood before or after returning your kayak.
Back at your beachside hotel in Pismo, enjoy another beach sunset and have dinner on own. There are a variety of flavors and international cuisine offered in Pismo’s restaurants for your last evening in Central California.
Day 7: Back to Los Angeles
In the morning, check out of your hotel and drive back to Los Angeles (2.5 hours, depending on traffic).
At your request, we can add a night in Los Angeles at additional cost.
Check out our Los Angeles itineraries or head on home!
*Please note that this is a sample itinerary. Prices are subject to changes based on dates and activities, which Darley Vacations’ Preferred Travel Advisor can customize for you. Please check out why you should book trips through our Preferred Travel Advisor and other FAQs.
Trip Prices & Inclusions
7 days/ 6 nights starting at $1598 USD* per person based on double occupancy
* Daily inclusions listed below. Itinerary pricing based on double occupancy. We are happy to customize this itinerary for you!
6 nights hotel accommodation
Solvang Wine-tasting with Bread
Private Dune Buggy Tour at Pismo
Heart Castle Entrance Fees and Tour
Channel Islands Cruise
Guided Kayaking with Picnic Lunch
Meals Included: Lunch on Kayaking Tour
All taxes and fees are included
Any meal and service not listed in the inclusions
Transportation to and from start and end of trip