25 Seriously Cool Highway 1 Road Trip Ideas to pour into

My husband has a dream that one day we will spend a few weeks road tripping California’s famed Highway 1. Life hasn’t allowed us to do “weeks” yet but we have spent a day here and there exploring this 100-mile stretch of coast between Big Sur and Santa Barbara on California’s Central Coast in San Luis Obispo County. (Have you sipped in Edna Valley wine region yet?!?) 

There’s so much to uncork along Highway 1, much of it isn’t even in a bottle… You can discover a hidden waterfall, a Sphinx, a shipwreck, and a wine tasting room in a eucalyptus grove? Gasp at the sight of a whale tail or a herd of zebras and then soak up the view from a beachfront tree swing. It’s truly an iconic American road trip that requires an epic itinerary. Here are 25 seriously cool Highway 1 road trip ideas – most available year-round – that Highway 1 Discovery Route has shared for all you wine loving travelers.  

What is Highway 1?

Highway 1 is the most iconic roadway in California, but not all sections are created equal. Highway 1 Discovery Route, the 100-mile stretch that weaves through San Luis Obispo County along California’s Central Coast, connects 10 artisan communities. Known for wide open spaces, uncrowded white sand beaches, abundance of outdoor adventure, wildlife, and award-winning wineries, this scenic coastal route also includes Hearst Castle, 13 state parks, an elephant seal rookery, and the only drivable beach in California.

Located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco with Big Sur to the north and Santa Barbara to the south, Highway 1 Discovery Route includes: Ragged Point, San Simeon, Cambria, Cayucos, Los Osos/Baywood, Avila Beach, Edna Valley wine region, Arroyo Grande Valley, Oceano, and Nipomo. 

Highway 1 road trip ideas
Big Sur

25 Things to do on a Highway 1 Road Trip

The Million-Dollar View

The round outdoor sculpture near Ragged Point Inn provides a perfect window to the Big Sur coastline. One of the most Instagram-able shots around, this view explains why Ragged Point really is the Gateway to Big Sur.

Hidden Beach

At Ragged Point, follow the Black Swift Trail down, down, down to a tiny black sand beach with its own waterfall. Just be sure to bring your grippy shoes and a sense of adventure.

Birthing Season at the Elephant Seal Rookery

Between December and February, mother elephant seals give birth to their young right on the beach at the Elephant Seal Rookery in San Simeon. Stand on the cliffs and watch the circle of life unfold. Locals’ tip: Head north from the Rookery on the Boucher Trail to avoid the crowds and find five more elephant seal overlooks. 

Highway 1 Road Trip Ideas
Highway 1 Discovery Route, Photo by Danna Dykstra-Coy

Kayak in Peace

The magic of San Simeon Bay lies in its position, protected from the wind — and from crowds. Paddle along the shore and you may just see an elephant seal happily sunning itself on the beach.

Earn Your Stripes

herd of zebras in San Simeon? Believe it or not, descendants from William Randolph Hearst’s zoo roam Hearst Ranch in full view of Highway 1.

A Wine Experience Like No Other

Set amongst the eucalyptus trees in old San Simeon, Hearst Ranch Winery pours wine with a view of the ocean and the San Simeon Pier. You may even spy the ghost of William Randolph Hearst, who kept his world class art collection in the barns here.

Hearst Ranch Winery - Highway 1
Photo Provided by Highway 1 Discovery Route

Preserve Your Inner Peace

A network of 17 hiking trails spreads across the remarkable seaside Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. Walk through the forest, over the hills, and along the shore, or just relax on a driftwood bench and soak in your surroundings. 

Horsing Around 

One of the largest free range herd of Clydesdale horses  roams the Covell Ranch in Cambria’s countryside. Take a trail ride on one of these majestic animals over the hills and through the ranch’s large stand of Monterey Pines.

The House That Olallieberries Built

Linn’s Fruit Bin began as a simple farmstand outside Cambria in the 1970s, known for its fruit, preserves, and pies. Take a country drive to the stand and taste Linn’s famous pie made with olallieberries — an unusual cross between Loganberries and Youngberries.

Picture Perfect

Travel Highway 46 between Cambria and Paso Robles in spring, and don’t be surprised when your jaw drops. The rippling, rolling hills cascade down in vibrant emerald to the sparkling ocean with distant views of Morro Rock — a view just begging to be Instagrammed.

Hit The Hills, Soak Up The Ocean Views

Between Cayucos and Cambria, Old Creek Road delights cyclists from around the world with its challenging hills and ocean views. Go single file with a cycling buddy or take the climbs solo.

Ships, Ahoy

Walk the winding Estero Bluffs Trail near Cayucos, and you’ll see an old fishing boat that ran aground, left in a little cove. Scramble down and you can even get to the ship at low tide, if you’re careful.

Ship Wreck Highway 1
Highway 1 Discovery Route, Photo by Danna Dykstra-Coy

Tidepools in Cayucos 

Delicate anemones, spiny urchins, dancing hermit crabs and more inhabit a miniature world of wonders at the Cayucos tide pools. Bring the family for an hour or spend the day exploring every nook and cranny.

Sunset Perch

Looking for a unique place to watch the sunset? The whale tail bench at Cayucos’s 1st Street beach access affords the perfect position for wishing the sun goodnight.

Picnic for Two

Take your special moments to the next level with a picnic on the beach care of Cayucos Picnic Company  White sands on a hidden beach and a gourmet spread with comfortable blankets and pillows turn any occasion into a luxurious, secluded treat.

Spot Otters Up Close

If you want to see fuzzy, plucky California Sea Otters  you usually have to stake out your spot among everyone else. Not so at this little-known sea otter preserve overlooking Morro Rock in Morro Bay, where there’s plenty of room to watch their adorable antics.

Family Foraging

You may have been on a wine tasting tour, but what about a seaweed foraging tour? The Marley family in Los Osos teaches all ages to forage edible seaweed, then prepares seaweed ramen on the beach.

Edge of the World

Hike out to the end of the Montaña de Oro Bluff Trail in Los Osos for one of the most expansive vistas around. Come in fall to get the clearest view of the bay between Point Concepcion and the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. 

See Whales From Shore

Whale watching is awe-inspiring along Highway 1, but the area around Avila Beach sees more than its fair share of these gentle giants. Perch on the Harford Pier, take a whale watching tour, or paddle into San Luis Bay on your kayak.

Whales along Highway 1
Highway 1 Discovery Route, Photo Credit to Vincent Shay Photography

Swing With A View

The Point San Luis Lighthouse is a hidden gem in and of itself, tucked back behind the hills of Avila Beach. A tree swing on the property faces the ocean for what is the most relaxing, romantic spot around.

A Rare Bridge Back in Time

The historic Swinging Bridge in Arroyo Grande is one of the only in California. At 40 feet above the Arroyo Grande Creek, and 171 feet across, it provides plenty of wobbly, wiggly fun.

Walk in Solitude

True solitude is rare, but the expansive ecosystem of the Oceano Dunes  offers the real deal. Enjoy 22,000 acres of protected dunes between Pismo Beach and Point Sal, one of the largest dune systems in North America.

Above The Clouds

biplane ride over Oceano gives a view of the Central Coast not usually seen. Take in the wide, sparkling Pacific Ocean, the beach towns of Oceano, Pismo Beach, and the rippling dunes.

Art for All

At Nipomo’s Monarch Club at Trilogy, a sculpture garden featuring work by independent local artists welcomes guests in. Made from steel, marble, stone and glass, the collection is free and open to the public.

Uncommon History

After Cecil B. DeMille directed The Ten Commandments on the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in 1923, many set pieces were buried under the sand. Decades later, excavators unearthed a large Sphinx head, a bit of Hollywood history now on display at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.

Elaine Schoch Wine

Elaine N. Schoch

Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.