The California Coast Road Trip is a rite of passage for any outdoor adventure traveler. Iconic Highway 1 provides incredible ocean views, waypoints, easy access to classic California beach towns with tons of outdoor activities — and of course, great food. This April, we joined forces with Visit California in search of the best adventures from California’s lesser-known region: The Central California Coast.
This itinerary combines outdoor adventure travel with top-notch opportunities to experience the local culture of the Central California Coast. From sea-to-spoon and farm-to-fork meals to hikes with sweeping views, boutique hotels, and hidden gems that are just off the beaten path, there’s a ton to explore here.
Ready to hit the road? Here’s your epic 6 Day Central California Coast Road Trip Itinerary.
This trip was sponsored by Visit California. Check out their website to start planning your adventure-packed trip to the Golden State.
Central California Coast Road Trip Overview
- Day 1: Arrive in Ventura
- Day 2: Explore Ventura
- Day 3: Ojai
- Day 4: Santa Barbara
- Day 5: Avila Beach and Cambria
- Day 6: Morro Bay
Central California Coast Road Trip Video
Day 1: Explore Downtown Ventura & Hit the Beach
Grab a quick bite and morning coffee at Marie Shannon Confections in the center of downtown Ventura. This cozy indoor and outdoor café is a great spot for people watching as you slowly perk up and begin your day. Its central location in town makes Marie Shannon’s an ideal launching pad for the rest of your adventures.
Order a coffee to go and walk a couple of blocks over towards the beach to the Visit Ventura Visitors and Convention Center for some inspiration and ideas to plan out your day. We suggest chatting with one of the super-friendly folks who work at the Tourism Center.
Insider tip: Ask for Ken, a long-time Ventura local who shared how much he loves this California beach town. The Center also has a great gift shop if you’re looking for a cute souvenir–they even have Channel Islands National Park souvenirs with the endemic island fox on them!
Afterward, cruise around town to check out all of the unique and colorful shops in downtown Ventura. The morning and early afternoon in coastal California can be a bit overcast depending on the time of year, which makes it the ideal time to pop in and out of shops with coffee in hand. Check out Passport Habits, an eclectic travel-themed shop, located on East Main Street in downtown Ventura, Jockamo Records, Iron & Resin, and the Patagonia Flagship store to name a few.
For lunch, chow down at Beach House Tacos at the historic Ventura Pier. If the weather is nice, enjoy a day at the beach for the afternoon. Alternatively, Grant Park is a great place to spot wildflower blooms and to get a city-wide view if you aren’t keen on heading down to the water.
Walk back into town and cool off with a round of beers at the Ventura Coast Brewing Co., a cool, laid back brewery with indoor/outdoor seating and a friendly local crowd. The beers and tacos will hold you over until it’s time for a late dinner – after sunset, of course.
Surfer’s Point is a prime beachfront spot to watch the sky shift to shades of pink, orange, purple and blue over the horizon line. We recommend scoring a seat on the rocks near the estuary. By this time you’ll be hungry enough to scarf down some pizza at Fluid State, an order-at-the-counter restaurant that’s fun and casual so you can hang out, bring a crowd or just enjoy relaxing after day one of your California coast road trip.
Day 1 & 2: Ventura Lodging
Van-lifers and car campers will want to check out Faria Beach Campground on their central California coast road trip. It’s situated in a quiet and scenic beachfront spot off Highway 1 branching off the Ventura Freeway. They allow tents and RV camping for up to 6 people per campsite, there are bathrooms, showers, hook-ups, and a popular concession stand, in addition to unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands. You’ll want to book in advance to score sites 6-13 which have the most space and the best views (although no hookups at these specific site numbers). No matter where you park, there’s beach access right off of the campground. People are friendly, dogs are allowed, and there’s a no generator past 9 pm rule, which makes it a quiet and peaceful place.
Day 2: Ventura Area Activities
Wake up at Faria Beach Campground to enjoy the beautiful views and ocean breeze. Make yourself a cup of camp coffee and a nourishing breakfast, or order a bite from the concession stand which has a breakfast and lunch menu with outdoor seating that opens at 8 am.
After you’ve eaten, fill your backpack with snacks, water, and sunscreen to get ready for a day of biking on the local bike paths beginning at Bike Depot, which is located right on the outskirts of downtown Ventura. Ask for Shelley, the owner and tour guide of the Bike Depot, who can give you suggestions for which trail is best that day. Ventura is an extremely bike-friendly city with well-marked paths that lead in and out of town, connecting you to must-see sights around Ventura.
In the springtime, bike the Ventura River Trail to Ojai while it’s not too hot and the scenery is green. On this path, you can head straight to downtown Ojai and back, while making a stop at the Ventura Spirits Company, a distillery along the route. It’s only open for tours and tastings during the weekend, so plan accordingly–they make an incredible strawberry brandy from local Oxnard & Ventura strawberries.
During the warmer months when the River Trail gets too hot, you’ll be better off riding the Ventura Coastal Bike Trail to catch a cooling ocean breeze. Take a bike map with you from the Bike Depot, since the coastal trail has some sections that are on the street.
Pack a lunch or scout out a spot ahead of time to eat and make sure you stay hydrated and well-fueled for your ride!
When you return, make time to visit the Art City Gallery, located right around the corner from Bike Depot for a taste of Ventura’s local character and culture. This world-famous sculpture studio and garden is owned by sculptor Paul Lindhard whose mission is to support and bring together local and global artists in an inspiring outdoor space. You can walk around the artist studios, chat with the sculptors about their work, and browse the gallery. If you get the chance, go see if Ramon is around to check out his incredible stonework!
By this time, you’ll be ready for a cold one, so quench your thirst at Topa Topa Brewery for happy hour drinks. Then head to one of Ventura’s lively restaurants like, Social Tap or Rice By Mama, two eateries that the locals rave about.
Insider Tip: If you’re looking to expand your vacation with another day of sightseeing we recommend heading out to the Channel Islands National Park. Anacapa & Santa Cruz Islands are the most popular for day trips to hike and/or kayaking. Check out the Channel Islands Adventure Company for sea cave kayaking tours on Santa Cruz Island. Camping is also available on both islands.
Day 3: Ojai Activities
Day three of your central California coast road trip will take you inland for a day in the charming, SoCal town of Ojai. It’s a scenic 30-minute drive away from the coast and into a bucolic landscape filled with farms, wineries, and mountains nearby.
Get your caffeine fix at Beacon Coffee, a popular café that’s conveniently on your way into town. Sip on great quality coffee and enjoy delicious pastries and breakfast foods in a beautifully designed space with a view of the mountains on a clear day.
Whether or not it’s a sunny day, you’ll have fun exploring Ojai, if not for the shops, but for the local flavors and handmade culture that thrives in this town. Stores like Fig, Bungalow, Human Arts, and Bart’s Books provide a quintessential Ojai vibe that are a must-see while you’re there.
Take a break from browsing the shops and refuel over at Food Harmonics for a nourishing meal made from 100% organic ingredients. This sidewalk eatery has a phenomenal menu that’ll hit the spot when you’re craving classic California health food. It also has a back patio so you can sit outside on a nice day. If you’re just looking for a little energy kick don’t miss Revel Jun Bar–jun is like Kombucha but made with green tea & honey instead of black tea & sugar.
Insider Tip: If you’re in town on Sunday don’t miss the bountiful Ojai Farmer’s Market, it’s from 9-1 pm rain or shine. It’s located at 300 E. Matilija Street.
After lunch, drive to the outskirts of town to spend your afternoon at the beautiful Lake Casitas. There are plenty of hiking trails, bike paths, and picnic areas, plus boating is also allowed. There’s a $10 entry fee for vehicles, plus $2 for pets, however, it does vary depending on holidays and weekends — check their website for updated information.
Another great place to go hiking or even backpacking is Piedra Blanca. Kim Vawter, Bearfoot Theory’s Community Manager, loves heading here on the weekends to hike to the Willett hot springs or up to Pine Mountain. To get to the Piedra Blanca trailhead, follow HWY 33 into the Los Padres National Forest and turn right at the sign for Rose Valley. This is a very popular area for bouldering & climbing as well.
Drive back into town so you can hit up the wineries, highlights include the Majestic Oak Winery and Tasting Room and The Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room. Beer lovers can sip on some pours at the Ojai Beverage Company, or as the locals call it, OBC or at the Ojai Valley Brewery. For dinner, check out The Nest, Ojai Pizza, and Nocciola.
Day 3: Ojai Lodging
Stay at the Emerald Iguana Inn, a boutique hotel located in the heart of Ojai. Go for the relaxed yet upscale vibe and stay for the beautiful rooms decorated in a tranquil, Southwestern style. We highly recommend enjoying a soak in their hot tub or a swim in the pool.
If you want to camp or park your van somewhere instead, Lake Casitas has campsites and parking spots for van lifers, too.
Day 4: Santa Barbara Activities
The next stop on your central California coast road trip is sunny Santa Barbara, California.
There are tons of options while in Santa Barbara depending on your interests. In the morning, you can walk or bike on the beachfront coastal path from Butterfly Beach, where the famous Biltmore Hotel is, all the way to West Beach/Marina area.
Next, head downtown to the Santa Barbara Public Market and sample some of the Asian fare at Empty Bowl. Get the curry soup, you won’t regret it! Or for those craving tacos, hit one of the many taquerias near Milpas Street, including Julia Child’s favorite taco stand, La Super-Rica Taqueria.
Wash down lunch with a stop at Samsara Winery, Goleta’s first winery that’s less than one minute off the 101 on the outskirts of Santa Barbara. Unlike most of the wineries in the Funk Zone, Samsara makes their wine right on site, and it happens to be some of the highest rated wine in the county. Do a tasting and a tour of the winery in one stop, and if you visit during harvest season, you might have a chance to stomp some grapes yourself with winemaker Matt Brady and their production team!
After sampling Santa Barbara’s eats and treats, make sure you save some time to get to Hendry’s Beach before sunset. It’s a dog-friendly spot with towering seaside bluffs and plenty of space to meander along the shoreline with your furry friend. Here you’ll also find the Boathouse Restaurant which is pretty much the best place in Santa Barbara to grab happy hour.
While you’re over in the Mesa neighborhood, you’ll also want to get a different viewpoint of Hendry’s Beach from above at Douglas Preserve. This is a prime spot to watch the sunset over the Pacific.
If you’re looking for a great atmosphere, try Zaytoon (Mediterranean) for dinner where you can sit around fire pits while listening to live music.
Insider Tip: If you’re looking to expand your stay in the Santa Barbara area we recommend checking out the town of Los Olivos which is in the Santa Ynez Valley. Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours offers biking & van tours to the valley for a day of wine tasting and exploration.
Day 4: Santa Barbara Lodging
For an urban spin on van life, stay in a tricked out Airstream trailer in town at Autocamp. Prices vary from less than $200 a night to more, depending on the date. Check out their website for more info. It’s right next door to Handlebar Coffee, which makes a mean cup of coffee and avocado toast with balsamic & pomegranate seeds.
Other affordable boutique hotels in town include Hotel Indigo and The Wayfarer, which also has the option to book a shared dorm room if you’re trying to save money.
If you want to camp or park your van or RV, check out El Capitan Canyon or Refugio State Beach.
Insider Tip: Santa Barbara does have a strict city ordinance that makes it illegal to park an oversized vehicle (tall Sprinters are included) without a free permit, which you must obtain online. Make sure to do your research before your trip.
Day 5: Avila Beach + Cambria Activities
Located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is San Luis Obispo County, otherwise known as, SLO Cal. Many people love the Central Coast for the picturesque California beach towns that have it all without the breakneck pace of city life.
On your way out of Santa Barbara on Highway 154, take a quick detour up Painted Cave Road. Follow the winding road up to a scenic lookout where you can pull off the road into a dirt parking lot. Soak up the breathtaking panoramic views of the city and coast from this unique vantage point.
After that, it’s only a short drive to Cold Springs Tavern, a divey local favorite tucked away in the hills. This biker bar is famous for its BBQ Tri-Tip Sandwich and live music on the weekends. If you have time, the area surrounding the tavern is full of great hikes; we recommend that you use All Trails and look up a well-rated hike that suits your experience and preference.
As you continue north, we highly recommend grabbing a bite at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery in Los Alamos, known for their artisan baked goods and mouthwatering sandwiches. Stop and eat in their courtyard or take it go — oh, and tell Bob we say hi!
We recommend continuing your journey & driving another 40 minutes up the 101 to get to the colorful town of Avila Beach. Take some time to scope out the vibrant downtown scene and then head straight over to Avila Beach Paddle Sports, situated right outside of town. Owners Vince and Emily will set you up with a kayak or paddleboard for the afternoon. But before you get going, chat them up for a bit to get some insight on how to best scout out the seals and sea otters that live in the bay. Take their advice and paddle all the way out to see the Port San Luis Lighthouse, a historic area right above a sandy beach that has wildflowers, eucalyptus trees, old maritime structures and, most importantly, a wooden swing.
When you get back check out Vince’s incredible photography in the shop and ask them about the humpback whale sightings in the bay. If you’re hungry for a bite, Fat Cats Cafe is a local favorite, conveniently located across the parking lot from the Paddle Sports storefront.
Hop back in the car and coast up Route 1 to Cambria. Time your arrival to catch the sunset in Cambria at Moonstone Beach, one of the last untouched beach towns on the California Coast – and a must-see on your central California coast road trip.
Cap off your day with dinner at Robin’s, which offers mouthwatering comfort food in a restored adobe home, a favorite spot among locals and visitors.
Insider tip: If you have an extra day, Montana de Oro State Park (amazing beachfront hiking) and San Luis Obispo are a stone’s throw away.
Day 5: Cambria Lodging
We highly recommend staying at Cambria Beach Lodge – a beach-inspired boutique hotel with a low key vibe and elevated minimalist design that’s located on the scenic Moonstone Beach Drive with unobstructed views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean from the hotel. We loved the natural aesthetic, the soothing colors, and small details that made a big impact. Spend as much time here as you can! It’ll leave you feeling relaxed and inspired.
Day 6: Morro Bay + Tin City Activities
Make the final day of your central California coast road trip an adventurous one that’s full of exploration in Morro Bay and Tin City in nearby Paso Robles.
Drive 30 minutes back down from Cambria to Morro Bay where you can soak in the coastal views and get a glimpse of famed Morro Rock as you make your way into the downtown area. Stop at Frankie & Lola’s for a hearty and classic breakfast. Don’t fill up too much, whale watching is next, and depending on the time of year, swells can get big and the boat ride can be a bit rocky.
Morro Bay Whale Watching offers guided tours on the open water to give you a glimpse of SLO Cal’s most famous visitors. If you time it right, you can catch Humpbacks on their Northbound migration from late March through April into May; Blue Whales from April through the summer, and Gray whales from March to May. Catch them all going southbound from December through February.
Once you’ve made your way back to land, grab a nourishing California-style vegetarian lunch to go at Shine Café and head out for a short but scenic hike at Black Hill Trail in Morro Bay State Park. This is a moderate 2.5-mile hike that can also be cut short if you want to drive up to the parking lot near the hilltop instead. It’s an enjoyable and moderate hike with just over 500 feet of elevation gain that ultimately has you topping off with 360-degree views of the coast, city, and hills behind you. Eat your lunch here and snap a few picks — oh, and make sure you bring sunscreen, bug spray, and plenty of water as there is very little shade. You can make this an out and back or a loop trail – download the map on All Trails for more information.
Wrap up your central California coast road trip and cruise out to Tin City in Paso Robles. Located in Central California Wine Country, Tin City is a cool and eclectic place to walk around and sample the local brews, wine, and food that the region is known for. Check out Barrelhouse Brewing Co. (where they also have live music in the summer!), Tin City Cidery, and the Negranti Creamery.
When you’re ready to eat, grab a bite from one of the food trucks at Tin City, or go to the historic downtown of Paso Robles to scope out the different restaurants this vibrant city has to offer. Here, you can dine al fresco and enjoy the night, as many of the restaurants have outdoor seating and a view of the square. Fill up on something tasty and take your time as you enjoy the last night of your central California coast road trip.
Have you done a California Central Coast road trip? Where are your favorite places to stop on a California Central Coast road trip itinerary?