Sunset at Moonstone Beach © Mike Richard

7 Essential Outdoor Adventures Along California’s Stunning Central Coast

“Diverse Microclimates. Dynamic Flavors. Perfectly Located.”

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This succinct tagline describes the unmistakable appeal of California’s Central Coast, particularly for wine growers and wine aficionados. But it’s also revealing of the many other facets of San Luis Obispo county, including the myriad outdoor experiences that await more adventurous travelers.

After a week along the Central Coast, we experienced more of the region than most sane travelers might see in a month. Here are just seven of our favorite outdoor adventures in and around SLO …

#1: Search for Moonstones @ Moonstone Beach

Moonstone Beach, Central Coast, California
Moonstone Beach, Central Coast, California © Mike Richard

Moonstone Beach is a favorite among SLO locals and it’s easy to see why. Even by California standards, the sunsets are breathtaking and reason enough why you’ll find dozens of visitors aimlessly strolling the soft pale sand any time of day.

Pile of moonstones from Moonstone Beach on California's Central Coast
Pile of moonstones from Moonstone Beach ©

Sunsets aside, what makes the beach truly special is the abundance of its namesake stones in the sand. On the origin of the beach’s moonstones, one geologist notes:

[T]he moonstone/chalcedony crystals … originated in the Central Coast Range mountains to the east between Paso Robles and Cambria. On their relatively short journey to the water’s edge, any jaggedness would be eventually smoothed down, the crystals tumbled relentlessly over and over until they became the softly rounded pebbles being tossed about by the surf breaking on Moonstone Beach.

While not especially rare, these smooth, otherworldly pebbles are said to be lucky!

#2: Tour the Underground Wine Caves @ Eberle Winery

Wine Caves at Eberle Winery, Paso Robles, California
Wine Caves at Eberle Winery in Paso Robles ©

Eberle Winery has been credited by many as ground zero for the massive proliferation of wine production along California’s Central Coast. Since 1984, Gary Eberle has been at the forefront of it all and, to this day, still greets visitors for tours and tastings.

The big get here is the underground wine caves which are unique to the region. Visitors can tour the intricate, 16,000 square foot, man made cave system that was designed and developed decades ago to age and store the winery’s maturing barrels. It’s perhaps the closest a stateside traveler can come to feeling like a tourist in Italy. Complimentary wine tours and tastings every half hour.

#3: Experience Sunset @ Hearst Castle

Sunset at Hearst Castle, Central Coast, California
Sunset at Hearst Castle © Mike Richard

My good friend Melanie described newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst as “a bit of a shopaholic”. The man had far more money than he knew what do with. As evidenced by the obscenely lavish and breathtakingly beautiful private “summer cottage” he built for his paramour Marion Davies.

Built nearly a century ago, Hearst Castle is now a California State Park and the premier landmark of the state’s Central Coast. To visit the castle is to step back in time, to an era of decadent parties and extravagant events hosted among the property’s many gardens, original works of art, and romantic patio alcoves and esplanades. There’s no question the best time to tour the property is at sunset, with its stunning, unobstructed views to the Pacific.

Visitors are welcome to a self-guided tour of the exterior or to step inside to join one of three guided tours, each exploring a different aspect of the castle’s more than 165 rooms. Ticket prices start at $25 per person.

#4: Tour a Working Ranch @ Cambria Pines by the Sea Ranch

Clydesdale Horses at Cambria Pines by the Sea Ranch, California
Clydesdale Horses at Cambria Pines by the Sea Ranch © Mike Richard

The Central Coast isn’t all about vineyards and wineries. Hundreds of cattle and horse ranches dot the landscape as well. Take a tour of a working ranch at Cambria Pines by the Sea Ranch. Owner Ralph Covell personally takes visitors on a guided tour of his prized ranch where you can:

… experience almost 2000 acres of pristine Monterey Pine forest and rolling pastures with an exquisite view of the ocean and, as if that’s not enough, over 100 head of Clydesdale Horses all in one location.

Views of Cambria Pines by the Sea Ranch in Cambria, California
Views of Cambria Pines by the Sea Ranch, California © Mike Richard

The massive property stretches across a beautiful, natural landscape that is a quintessential representation of California’s Central Coast. Tours available by reservation only.

#5: Just Drive …

Sunset from SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel in Pismo Beach, California
Sunset from SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel in Pismo Beach, California © Mike Richard

Like so much of California, everything is infinitely more accessible by car. Get behind the wheel and take a scenic drive in almost any direction. The coastal highway offers miles of unrivaled views of the Pacific along California Highway 1, through Cambria, Cayucos, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, and beyond.

Panorama of Central Coast Wine Country in California
Panorama of California’s Central Coast Wine Country © Mike Richard

Inland, you’ll find mile after mile of vast rolling hills and the sprawling vineyards and wineries that put the Central Coast on the map. We spent a full day aimlessly meandering the side roads and hidden driveways in and around Paso Robles, and those are still among the most memorable hours of our entire trip to California.

#6: Elephant Seals Rookery

Elephant Seal Male at Elephant Seal Rookery in Piedras Blancas, California
Elephant Seal Male at Elephant Seal Rookery in Piedras Blancas, California © Anita Ritenour

Along Highway 1, lovers of marine mammals and bizarre animals in general will appreciate the area’s famous elephant seal rookery in Piedras Blancas. It’s the ideal location for these unique creatures as it’s:

… protected by the Piedras Blancas point from storms from the northwest; it has wide, sandy beaches offering pups protection from high water; and it is protected from predators by a kelp forest.

Also important to the seals are the shallow rocky areas just off the beach. These areas are protected by the rocks from breaking waves and provide an ideal location for recently weaned pups to learn how to swim and for the males – from juvenile to adult – to spar.

It’s a fascinating place to watch elephant seals interact in their own habitat. Plan for at least a half-hour visit (longer if the males are feeling particularly frisky). Plenty of parking is available and admission is free.

#7: Kayak the Open Ocean @ Morro Bay

Morro Bay along California's Central Coast
Morro Bay, California © zoxcleb (Flickr)

Kayak, bike, paddleboard, or just drive … there are countless ways to see California’s Central Coast. Central Coast Outdoors covers all the best ones. Head out on the open ocean and explore Morro Bay with a dedicated, expert nature guide. You’ll be sharing the waters with harbor seals, sea lions and sea otters, as well as hundreds of species of birds, including several rare and endangered species.

The best part is that the waters around the bay are protected by a four-mile sandspit and the area affords visitors moderate year-round weather. So it’s the perfect spot for kayaking newbies and experts alike. Tours starts around $55 per person for a 1.5-2 hour paddle. Specialty tours such as sunset paddles and full moon paddles are also available.

Founding Editor
  1. Next time your in SLO county, specifically the Paso Robles area. You might want to check out Derby Wine Estates historical winery location. Full tours are available.

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