End­less beaches with­out the crowds

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY JILL K. ROBIN­SON

102 Ven­tura

104 Pismo Beach

106 Paso Robles

108 Santa Maria Val­ley 110 Ven­tura County Coast

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia may get prime beach town at­ten­tion, but it’s Cal­i­for­nia’s Cen­tral Coast re­gion that has it all, ex­cept for the crowds vy­ing for each sandy square foot. The string of small beach towns that line the coast south of Big Sur to Santa Barbara are the per­fect place to learn to chill-out like a lo­cal, get some fun and sun, es­cape the hus­tle and bus­tle, and sam­ple some of the best food and wine in Cal­i­for­nia.

The Santa Barbara area is the Cen­tral Coast’s largest pop­u­la­tion cen­ter, and it lures trav­el­ers with its white Span­ish-style build­ings, red-tiled roofs, vast beaches, plenty of fine arts venues, bright bou­tiques, out­door ad­ven­tures, culi­nary tastes and an in­land re­gion (the Santa Ynez Val­ley, fea­tured in the movie Side­ways) known for wine and Santa Maria-style bar­be­cue.

Vis­i­tors to the area can see hulk­ing ele­phant seals at Piedras Blan­cas, re­lax in the sleepy beach towns of Cayu­cos and Morro Bay, tour hill­top Hearst Cas­tle, or find some fun in col­lege-town San Luis Obispo. The old­fash­ioned piers of Avila Beach and Pismo Beach are ideal spots to take a tasty meal break with a view of the Pa­cific Ocean. Ven­tura’s Mis­sion San Bue­naven­tura is the last of the Cal­i­for­nia mis­sions founded by Junípero Serra. The ocean­side town is also a gate­way for ad­ven­tures in Chan­nel Is­lands Na­tional Park, con­sid­ered “Cal­i­for­nia’s Galá­pa­gos,” with tide pools, kelp forests and unique flora and fauna species.

Even though the Cen­tral Coast re­gion’s main high­light is in­deed, its coast, the var­ied geog­ra­phy and mod­er­ate cli­mate en­sure that there are

plenty of treats for vis­i­tors to en­joy. Whether your pref­er­ence is dig­ging for clams, surf­ing the per­fect wave, strolling Mediter­ranean-style vil­lage streets, sam­pling fresh re­gional cui­sine and world-fa­mous wines, or laz­ing on the beach and watch­ing the chang­ing tide, it’s all right here on the Cen­tral Coast—and there’s enough for ev­ery­one.

City & Town

South of Big Sur, the coast­line is dot­ted with a neck­lace of small beach towns. Cam­bria’s gal­leries and an­tique shops perch on pine-forested hills above the ocean. Laid-back Cayu­cos is an old-school beach re­treat with a surf break and fish­ing pier near the main drag. Morro Bay’s land­mark, an an­cient vol­canic peak emerg­ing from the ocean floor, stands at the en­trance to a beau­ti­ful es­tu­ary.

Tucked be­tween the ocean and the Santa Ynez Moun­tains, Santa Barbara is of­ten called the “Amer­i­can Riviera” be­cause of its Mediter­ranean cli­mate and red-roofed build­ings. Head in­land to artist en­clave Ojai to un­wind and take in the “pink mo­ment” sun­sets—the color of cot­ton candy.

The Great Out­doors

Even though Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo are larger than the rest of the beach towns, there’s enough space through­out the Cen­tral Coast re­gion to find am­ple breath­ing room and some­times, be the only per­son around. Hike to the top of Bishop Peak, the tallest of the Nine Sis­ters, a chain of vol­canic peaks. Take ad­van­tage of some sweet surf spots and catch the per­fect wave. Head out from Santa Barbara on a whale watch­ing tour to see some of the largest mam­mals in the Pa­cific Ocean.

On the Car­rizo Plain, con­sid­ered the largest sin­gle na­tive grass­land in the state, it’s pos­si­ble to see sur­face frac­tures of the San An­dreas Fault, which puts man/na­ture co­hab­i­ta­tion in per­spec­tive. The Los Padres Na­tional For­est stretches across the scenic Coast and Trans­verse ranges, and of­fers a wealth of op­por­tu­ni­ties for fish­ing, hik­ing, camp­ing and bi­cy­cling. Kayak among tide pools and kelp forests where sea ot­ters live in Morro Bay, or just am­ble along miles of scenic beaches, stop when you want to, and dig your toes in the sand.

Her­itage & Cul­ture

Many place names on the Cen­tral Coast re­main from Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes, as well as from Span­ish and Mex­i­can set­tlers.

The Cal­i­for­nia mis­sions and other well-pre­served build­ings still ex­ist from be­fore 1850, when Cal­i­for­nia be­came a state. The Cen­tral Coast’s in­land re­gion has a wealth of land for agri­cul­ture—from wine to olives—but farm­ers here are just as com­fort­able tak­ing a quick trip to the wide, sandy beaches dur­ing breaks from the har­vest. Even though Santa Barbara is the big city in the area, it has a re­lax­ing vibe that would suf­fo­cate in a sec­ond in down­town Los An­ge­les.

Fam­ily Fun

The Cen­tral Coast is rich with nat­u­ral adventure for fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing plenty of beaches and out­door space, his­toric sites and wa­ter ac­tiv­i­ties. View un­der­wa­ter life on a semi-sub­mersible tour in Morro Bay. Dis­cover how the ocean has shaped the his­tory of the Cen­tral Coast at the Santa Barbara Mar­itime Mu­seum. Go camp­ing in the Chan­nel Is­lands or Los Padres Na­tional For­est. Even pick­ing your own berries at a lo­cal farm is far more fun when you can smell the ocean air and not hear the sounds of traf­fic.

MORRO ROCK at Morro Bay, left; Vina Robles Vine­yards & Win­ery, bot­tom; But­ter­fly Beach at sun­set in Santa Barbara, op­po­site.

PASOLIVO TOMA­TOES, Paso Robles, left; arena rid­ing in Santa Barbara, op­po­site top; Ven­tura har­bor, op­po­site bot­tom.

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