View of the California Central Coast from Hearst Castle

6 Top California Central Coast Beach Towns to Visit

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission without any extra cost to you. Thank you!

If you are looking for a relaxing getaway, you should consider a visit to one of the many California central coast towns. One of the best things to do on the central coast of California is to visit the beach towns on the central coast. A few of our favorite California central coast towns are Morro Bay, Los Osos, Cambria, San Simeon, Avila Beach, and Pismo Beach.

Each town has its own charm and uniqueness. Some have a small-town vibe. There are many things to do when you visit California’s central coast cities. You can relax on the beach, eat great food, go hiking, learn about the history of each town, go wine tasting in Paso Robles, or just enjoy the small-town ambiance. One thing is certain: you will leave each of these California central coast towns feeling relaxed and ready to take on the world. These coastal towns are a few of our favorite places to get away, relax, and recharge in our home state. 

How to get to California’s Central Coast Towns

The drive up to this area of California’s central coast is quite picturesque. You will see California’s beautiful coastline, many vineyards, and orchards. Depending on the direction you drive, you might even pass some of California’s lakes. You will get a scenic drive if you travel on one of California’s most scenic highways – Highway 101.

When traveling to Central California, we recommend taking the 101 freeway. This is the best way to enjoy scenic coastal views of towns like Ventura and Santa Barbara. If you are traveling from Southern California, you will also pass the beautiful inland town of Santa Maria. If you are coming from Northern California, we also recommend traveling on the 101 freeway down to Central California. When driving from the north, you can drive part of the way on the Pacific Coast Highway. On this route, you will pass Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay before continuing on the 101 freeway. On Highway 101, you will drive by the beautiful wine region of California’s Central Coast and pass through the cities of Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, and San Luis Obispo.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay is a coastal town on the central coast of California located off Highway 101 on scenic Highway 1. Highway 1 is also known as the Pacific Coast Highway and is known for scenic views of the California coastline. Morro Bay has a small-town feel. It is a beautiful town surrounded on many sides by nature. You have rolling hills to the east of the town and the coastline on the west side. Due to its small-town vibe, Morro Bay is a relaxing and peaceful place to travel to. Morro Bay is located off the Pacific Coast Highway. Whether you are driving through Morro Bay or up or down the coast to a nearby town, you will see beautiful ocean views along with views of Morro Rock on the coast.

A Lamp Post with a Morro Bay sign in Morro Bay California

Visit Morro Rock

A key feature of Morro Bay is Morro Rock. Morro Rock is a California State Landmark. Morro Rock is a volcanic peak that is part of the Nine Sisters. Nine volcanic peaks that extend from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. Morro Rock can’t be missed as it stands 576 feet tall and is the main landmark of Morro Bay. Morro Rock is so large that it is easily recognizable from an airplane if you fly over the area. Many people travel here to get pictures of Morro Rock as it provides a fascinating picturesque backdrop.

Close to Morro Rock is Morro Rock Beach. Morro Rock Beach is a favorite beach for many tourists who come to Morro Bay due to its close proximity to Morro Rock. It is a great beach to visit, but can be busy because it is the closest beach to Morro Rock. Parking at Morro Rock Beach can also be challenging due to its popularity. If you are not in a rush and don’t mind walking, a great alternative is to drive to Morro Strand State Beach and park at the Morro Bay Sunset parking lot. From there, you can enjoy an oceanfront walk to Morro Rock while enjoying the sounds of the waves crashing along the shore. Just note that it is about a two-mile walk from Morro Strand State Beach to Morro Rock Beach.

View of Morro Rock in Morro Bay California. One of the top California central coast towns to visit.
Morro Rock

Visit Downtown Morro Bay 

Morro Bay has a great walkable downtown area. Downtown Morro Bay offers numerous shops, galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels. Due to the small-town vibe of downtown Morro Bay, many of the shops, restaurants, and galleries may close early.

View of downtown Morro Bay
Shops in downtown Morro Bay

Visit the Downtown Morro Bay Farmers Market

 If you are lucky enough to be in or near Morro Bay on a Saturday afternoon, you should stop by the Morro Bay Farmers Market. The Morro Bay Farmers Market is a great place to find locally grown fruits and vegetables. You will also find specialty foods such as sweets, desserts, olive oil, kettle corn, jams, and many other delicious products. There are many vendors selling arts and crafts, handmade soaps, candles, incense, and many other products. The Morro Bay Farmers Market is held on Main Street in Morro Bay. It is open every Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. During the winter season, the closing hour changes to 5:00 p.m. The variety of products and fresh produce available make this a farmer’s market that should not be missed. 

Take a Stroll Along The Embarcadero

The Embarcadero is the boardwalk area of Morro Bay. There are many restaurants offering local seafood and other delicious food. You will find many specialty shops such as local souvenir shops, coffee shops, specialty sweets such as taffy, and bakeries. And after a day of shopping and sightseeing, you can relax at one of the local breweries. The Embarcadero has so many options that you will not be disappointed. 

Things to do in the Embarcadero

The Embarcadero offers activities for the whole family. It is a great area to take photographs of Morro Rock if photography is your hobby. There are also many water activities to choose from. At the Embarcadero, you can rent kayaks and paddleboards or catch a boat for whale-watching excursions. There are also harbor excursions, day sailing trips, sailing lessons, and fishing trips. Whichever type of adventure you are looking for, you will not be disappointed with the offerings at the Embarcadero.

A sail boat anchored in Morro Bay during the evening.
The Embarcadero at Morro Bay

Los Osos

Los Osos is a charming coastal community nestled along the central coast of California. Situated just south of Morro Bay and adjacent to Montaña de Oro State Park, Los Osos is a breathtakingly beautiful town with a laid-back, welcoming atmosphere. Los Osos is known for its picturesque views of Morro Rock, a massive volcanic peak and famous landmark in Morro Bay. Los Osos is a great town for outdoor enthusiasts. There are many opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and exploring the nearby dunes and tide pools. The area’s coastal wetlands and estuaries make it a prime spot for wildlife viewing, with chances to spot sea otters, herons, and other native species. With its small-town charm, stunning coastal scenery, and many outdoor activities, Los Osos is the perfect town for those seeking a peaceful coastal retreat or a coastal adventure on California’s central coast.

Visit Montaña De Oro State Park

There are many things to do in Los Osos. Top on the list is a visit to Montaña de Oro State Park. Montaña de Oro is a California State Park located six miles southwest of Morro Bay and 2 miles south of Los Osos. Spanish for “Mountain of Gold,” the park spans over 8,000 acres and is one of the largest parks in California. The park has pristine coastal landscapes with dramatic cliffs, sandy beaches, rolling hills, and lush canyons. Montaña de Oro State Park is perfect if you love the outdoors. You will find many hiking trails as well as equestrian and mountain biking trails.

There are many activities to do in Montaña de Oro State Park; hiking enthusiasts can explore a network of trails that wind through coastal bluffs, offering breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean. The park’s rich biodiversity includes tide pools with lots of marine life, making it a popular spot for tidepooling, and birdwatchers can spot a variety of coastal and inland bird species. 

Montana De Oro State Park at sunset.
Montana De Oro State Park at sunset

Hike the Bluff Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park

The Bluff Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park is a 4.1-mile loop trail. It is a relatively easy hike with scenic ocean views. The main trail has smaller breakout trails that offer closer ocean views. Some of the smaller breakout trails lead down to the ocean, where you can visit the tide pools and sea caves. The trails are well maintained, with the smaller trails leading back to the main trail. This is a beautiful trail along the bluffs with spectacular ocean views that should not be missed.  

Hike the Valencia Peak in Montaña de Oro State Park

Valencia Peak is one of the highest peaks in Montaña de Oro State Park. The trail is 4.5 miles round trip and, due to its elevation, offers beautiful panoramic views of the ocean and the inland mountains. The trail is moderate, and care should be taken as poison oak is sometimes found along the trail.  

You will enjoy hiking the trails at Montaña de Oro State Park. The picturesque views are worth the trek. Montaña de Oro State Park’s natural beauty, serene ambiance, and amazing coastal views make this a must-visit State Park.


Welcome sign in Cambria. One of the best California central coast towns to visit in the state.

Cambria is by far one of the most popular California central coast towns. You will find that Cambria has a peaceful, relaxing, small-town vibe atmosphere. You will also enjoy Cambria’s artistic community, which showcases its artwork in Cambria’s shops and galleries. It is easy to lose track of time looking at all the wonderful pieces of art in the town’s galleries as well as those available in Cambria’s shops. The town of Cambria is about 25 minutes north of Morro Bay, also off of Highway 1. Cambria’s location off of the Pacific Coast Highway guarantees scenic views of the California coastline.

Visit Downtown Cambria

Cambria’s downtown is divided into two sections: the east end and the west end.  Both sections of Cambria’s downtown have many cafes and shops and many opportunities to purchase souvenirs and beautiful artworks. The east and west downtown areas of Cambria are very picturesque, have a small-town charm, and are very walkable. The people are very friendly and helpful. You will especially note this when visiting the many specialty boutiques, antique stores, galleries, and eateries.    

After a day of exploration, you will find that there are many choices to dine in Cambria. There are many cafes offering small bites, bakeries, and restaurants that offer locally sourced produce and seafood. Regardless of where you choose to eat, you will find that the food in Cambria is delicious. Whether you are in the eastern or western part of downtown, you will find wonderful places to get a bite to eat or simply relax while having a cup of coffee or tea and a delicious pastry.

Antique shop in downtown Cambria
View of shops in downtown Cambria

If you want to take in some of the scenic views of the Cambria coast, then the west side of Cambria along the coastline is where you want to be. As you travel west, you will arrive at Cambria’s most popular beach location, Moonstone Beach. Visiting Moonstone Beach is one of the best things to do in Cambria. Moonstone Beach is a very beautiful and popular beach. Its location close to Cambria is what makes Cambria one of the most popular California central coast towns to visit.   

Visit Moonstone Beach

A main attraction in Cambria is Moonstone Beach. Moonstone Beach is easily one of the most popular Central Coast getaways. It is also the perfect place to visit for a romantic getaway on the central coast. Moonstone Beach is known for the colorful moonstones that can be found throughout the shoreline. The stones have a moonrock look and sheen to them, giving them a gem-like look. While there, I noticed that there weren’t as many moonstones as in previous years. This is probably due to visitors taking a souvenir or two home. To preserve the natural beauty of Moonstone Beach and to allow others to experience Moonstone Beach in its most natural state, I suggest not taking any moonstones home.

While the colorful moonstones are a popular attraction of Moonstone Beach, the real attraction is the beautiful California coastline that makes up Moonstone Beach.  At Moonstone Beach, you can take a leisurely walk along the shoreline to enjoy the ocean. There are many benches along the boardwalk. You can sit, relax, and enjoy a small picnic on one of the many benches along the boardwalk. You can also take time to watch and enjoy surfers waiting to catch a wave. The beauty of Moonstone Beach is mesmerizing. Moonstone Beach is easily one of the best beaches on the central coast of California and definitely worth visiting.

View of Moonstone Beach. A beautiful beach to visit near Cambria. One of the top California central coast towns to visit.

Take a Stroll Along the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk

Along the shoreline of Moonstone Beach is the Moonstone Beach boardwalk. The boardwalk extends for one mile from Cambria’s north end to Leffingwell Landing. There are benches along the boardwalk where you can sit and rest, take in the beauty of the shoreline, and listen to the ocean breaking along the coastline. A leisurely stroll along the boardwalk will offer a morning or afternoon of peaceful rest and relaxation. 

Hike the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria

Along with its amazing coastal views, there are many hiking trails in the Cambria area to explore. The trails vary in difficulty; whether you are a beginner or an avid hiker, you will find a trail that is suitable for you. Due to its location, Cambria’s hiking trails are diverse. You will find trails that take you into the local mountain range as well as trails that lead you to the coastline. One of the popular trail areas is located at Fiscalini Ranch. There are approximately 17 trails in this area that offer hikes through protected forests and grasslands, along with trails that end with a scenic coastal view. You can view a map of the many trails available on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve website. Aside from the Fiscalini Ranch trails, there are many other hiking trails available with different levels of difficulty.    

View of ocean bluff from Fiscalini hiking Trail
View of ocean bluff from Fiscalini Bluff hiking trail

San Simeon

San Simeon is a secluded beach town located off Highway 1, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The small town of San Simeon offers spectacular ocean views, many outdoor activities, and historical landmarks to visit. While San Simeon is a very small town, there are many things to do in San Simeon. Several of these are noteworthy and extremely popular, such as Hearst Castle, Hearst Winery, and Hearst Memorial Beach. There are also several hiking trails with varying landscapes that include ocean views, spectacular hills, and rocky cliffs to visit around San Simeon. San Simeon is one of the popular California central coast towns with many wonderful activities to offer.

Visit William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach

William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach is located off Highway 1 across from Hearst Castle. The beach is a protected cove, making this a great spot for watersports such as swimming, kayaking, and boating. William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach is south of a popular elephant seal viewing area. There is a chance that you might see an elephant seal or two swimming in the water or sunbathing on the sand.

The beach area has many facilities, making this a great place to stop, enjoy the scenery, and have a picnic. You will find several picnic areas with tables, BBQ grills, and restrooms. Parking at the beach is easy as plenty of parking spaces are available with easy access to the beach.

Visit Hearst Ranch Winery

Very close to William Hearst Memorial Beach, you will find Hearst Ranch Winery. The winery is located at 442 San Simeon Road, off Highway 1. At the winery, you will be able to sample some of their best wines. Many of which are rated above 90 on Wine Enthusiast. There is a $28.00 charge for wine tasting, which is waived if you purchase two bottles of wine. Due to the popularity of the winery, making reservations is recommended.

Visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon

A short 15-minute drive from Cambria on Highway 1 is the iconic Hearst Castle, a mansion built by William Randolph Hearst. If you decide to visit Hearst Castle, you will find that there are many tours to choose from. The tours range from one hour to about three hours, with each tour exploring the different areas of Hearst Castle. Before going, you will want to read through the tour descriptions to ensure that everyone in your party can manage the tour, as some tours require a lot of walking both inside and outside of the mansion. Hearst Castle is absolutely beautiful, and the views from its hilltop location are nothing less than amazing. 

View of Hearst Castle in San Simeon California

The Neptune Pool

Aside from the magnificent size of Hearst Castle and the many pieces of artwork found in the various rooms throughout the mansion, the iconic pools of Hearst Castle are very impressive. The outdoor pool, known as the Neptune Pool, is breathtaking. Columns, statues, and gardens surround the large, inviting pool. The Neptune Pool is decorated with Roman and Greek revival style architecture, which adds to the artistry and beauty of the Neptune Pool. The Neptune Pool is one of the most iconic and well-known features of Hearst Castle. 

View of the Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle

The Roman Pool

The other iconic pool on the property is the Roman Pool. The Roman Pool is an indoor swimming pool whose design is similar to the baths of ancient Rome. The pool room is decorated with blue tile from the floor to the ceiling. The pool floor itself is lined with deep blue colored mosaic tiles, giving the pool a dark feel; however, the pool bottom is visible from the top. The walkway of the pool room is decorated with blue tiles as well, but in addition to the blue tiles, many of the tiles are decorated with 22-karat gold embedded in the glass. The pool grounds are surrounded by statues of gods and goddesses of ancient Rome, completing the pool room’s ambiance of an ancient Roman bath.

View of the indoor Roman Pool in Hearst Castle

Visit the Piedras Blancas Northern Elephant Seal Rookery

About 4.5 miles north of Heart Castle is the Piedras Blancas Northern Elephant Seal Rookery viewing area. The Piedras Blancas Northern Elephant Seal Rookery is open every day all year long. You do not need a reservation to visit the rookery and there is no cost to enter the rookery. At the Piedras Blancas rookery, you can view elephant seals relatively up close from the viewing area. Elephant seals come to the beaches near San Simeon and stay in this area year-round. Throughout the year, you can view different seasons of the lives of the Elephant seal, including mating, birthing, and breeding seasons. You should be careful not to disturb the elephant seals while viewing them.

If you would like a more personal tour to view the Elephant Seals, the State Parks of California offers guided tours. The tour starts at Arroyo Laguna, about 2.25 miles north of Hearst Castle off Highway 1. The guided tour includes a 45-minute, 1/2-mile trail hike, which is relatively easy. The guided tour is seasonal and available only during the spring. There is a $13.00 fee for the guided tour and reservations are required.

Hiking in San Simeon

There are several trails to hike near San Simeon. The trails offer beautiful coastal views and non-crowded views of the elephant seals. While walking the trails, you will be rewarded with amazing views of the California coastline and the opportunity to take spectacular photos.

Boucher Trail

Boucher Trail, part of the California Coastal Trail, is a relatively easy 3.8-mile round-trip trek along the bluff of Piedras Blancas Beach. The trail starts on the north end near where the elephant seal viewing area is located and goes past the Piedras Blancas Light Station. The trail will take you along the bluff, with amazing views of the California coastline and the elephant seals.

San Simeon Point Trail

San Simeon Point Trail starts at William Randolph Hearsh Memorial Beach. It is a relatively easy 2.5-mile roundtrip trek. To start the trek, walk along the beach away from the pier. You will come to the end of the beach area, where you will see the beginning of the trail that will take you up to the point. Once you reach the point you will have a beautiful view of a small beach and the California Coast. This is a great trail for all family members, including furry ones, as long as they are on a leash.

Avila Beach

Avila Beach is easily one of the best California central coast towns to visit. It is a hidden coastal gem along the Central Coast of California that offers visitors a picturesque and laid-back seaside escape. You will find tranquility and peaceful relaxation while you take in the beauty of this California central coast beach town. This charming coastal town has a unique blend of small-town charm and stunning ocean views. Avila Beach has a beautiful palm-lined shoreline, making it an ideal destination for sunbathing, swimming, and leisurely strolls along the sandy shore. You will also find surfers in the water catching a wave or two. You will find many things to do in Avila Beach. Avila Beach is by far one of my favorite California central coastal towns to visit.

The town’s vibrant downtown area has many wonderful shops, restaurants, cafes, and wine-tasting rooms where you can taste local wines while enjoying oceanfront views. Part of the street of the downtown area is blocked off to cars, allowing people to take a leisurely stroll along this part of downtown. It is tranquil and the perfect area to sit outside while sipping an iced tea or coffee or having a bite. If you are looking for outdoor activities, you will not be disappointed. Besides kayaking or paddleboarding in the calm bay, you can explore nearby hiking trails. There are also whale-watching excursions available during whale-watching season. 

View of the downtown area in Avila Beach. One of the top California central coast towns to visit.
View of the beautiful Avila Beach Shoreline.

Hike the Bob Jones Bike Trail

Cyclists and hikers can explore the Bob Jones Bike Trail. The Bob Jones Bike Trail is the City to the Sea bike trail that follows the Pacific Coast Railroad right-of-way along the San Luis Obispo Creek to Avila Beach. The Bob Jones Bike Trail starts at the parking lot right off the 101 freeway by the Avila Hot Springs Resort and ends near the beach in downtown Avila Beach. The trail is 5.2 miles out and back and is generally considered an easy trail. This is the perfect trail for biking as well as walking and jogging. You will find the Secret Garden just over the Green Sycamore Bridge off the Bob Jones Bike Trail.  The Secret Garden is an outdoor concession spot offering snacks and drinks to patrons and is a great place to rest and unwind as you explore the trail. 

Visit the Mineral Hot Springs  

One of the standout features of Avila Beach is its rejuvenating hot springs, which are a rare coastal find. You can soak in the healing mineral waters of the Avila Hot Springs or the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, which provide a relaxing and therapeutic experience. Both offer extended stays and day trips to enhance your stay at Avila Beach. 

Avila Beach has a warm and welcoming community. It truly is a coastal haven and the perfect getaway that beckons travelers to unwind and soak in the beauty of the California coastline. If you visit Avila Beach you will discover that this truly is one of the most beautiful California central coast towns to visit.

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach is a quintessential coastal town known for its laid-back vibe, expansive sandy beaches, and charming beachfront community. With its picturesque shoreline stretching for miles, Pismo Beach is a paradise for sun-seekers and surf enthusiasts. The town’s most iconic feature is the towering Pismo Pier, which offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and is a popular spot for fishing, strolling, and watching breathtaking sunsets. Pismo Beach is one of the larger California central coast towns. Because of its location and size, you will find many things to do in Pismo Beach and the surrounding area.

View of the Pismo Beach Sign in Pismo Beach
View of the Pismo Beach shoreline. Pismo Beach is also one of the top California central coast towns to visit.

Outdoor activities in Pismo Beach

There are many outdoor recreational activities available in Pismo Beach. Tourists can take an ATV adventure on the Oceano Dunes, a unique and exhilarating experience amidst the vast coastal sand dunes. One of Pismo Beach’s unique attractions is the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, where thousands of Monarch butterflies migrate annually to escape the colder climates. It’s a remarkable sight to behold as these vibrant creatures cluster in the grove’s eucalyptus trees. 

Visit Oceano Dunes

The Ocean Dunes are the most extensive dune area in California. The Oceano Dunes are a very unique place to visit. It is a coastal area with a beach where you can go swimming, surf, and enjoy the ocean. There are also dunes where you can spend the day riding off-road vehicles. If you do not have your own off-road vehicle, there are excursions available where you can take an exhilarating two-hour ride in a dune buggy, ATV, or UTV. This off-road excursion is very exciting and definitely worth taking.

Visit the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

The Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove gets over 10,000 butterflies every year. The butterflies migrate here to get away from freezing temperatures from October to February. if you visit the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly grove you will see the thousands of butterflies on eucalyptus trees. The Butterfly Grove is located in the southern part of the town of Pismo Beach off Highway 1.

Visit the Pismo Beach Vibrant Downtown Area

Beyond its natural beauty and many activities, Pismo Beach has a vibrant downtown area. The downtown area is filled with boutiques, various restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, and souvenir shops. Pismo Beach hosts various events and festivals throughout the year, including clam festivals celebrating Pismo’s culinary heritage. 

View of downtown Pismo Beach.

Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach, explore the natural wonders of the coast, or indulge in local cuisine and wine, Pismo Beach offers a delightful coastal escape for travelers of all interests.

Take Time to Visit California’s Central Coastal Towns

Whether you want to relax along the California coast shoreline, take in scenic ocean views, hike the trails along the central coast or the rolling hillsides, or go wine tasting, there are many California central coast towns to visit. Each town has its distinct charm, activities, and much to offer every visitor. You will not regret visiting and spending time in one of California’s Central Coast towns. If you are interested in visiting the Paso Robles wine country, read our post about things to do in Paso Robles. You can also read our posts about San Luis Obispo, Templeton, and Atascadero to learn about other great towns in Central California.

Read our article about the Best Things to Do in Carlsbad if you are interested in visiting a popular Southern California beach town.

Scroll to Top