Best Hikes on the Central Coast

It’s no secret that California’s generous Central Coast region is *breathtaking*, but instead of clogging traffic and infuriating locals by taking it in via a life-threatening selfie by the Bixby Bridge, consider a more verdant route. Within this span of rugged Pacific coastline you’ll find miles upon miles of trails for all levels. Looking for turquoise pools and waterfalls? Who isn’t. How about a temperate rainforest vibe? It’s all here.

*Wildfires happen, things change — be sure to check the trail status before you go.

Photo Credit: Kasia Pawlowska
Photo: @verlisia

Andrew Molera Beach Trail to Creamery Meadows Trail

Big Sur
Level: Easy — 2.3 miles

There’s just something exhilarating about skipping on rocks to cross a river, which is exactly what you get to do here. (Forging with bare feet, shoes in hand, is also a possibility.) Maybe it’s a reminder of our primitive humanity, but either way, it’s one of the many joys of this popular trail. Accessible year-round, you’ll walk down a sun-dappled path with a negligible incline (only 68 feet) to a remote beach covered in driftwood. Among the surprises you might encounter are: sea otters, whales, and naked sunbathers. More intense hikes proliferate from there for the more ambitious.

Photo: Kasia Pawlowska

Grabtown Gulch to Purisima Creek Loop

Half Moon Bay
Level: Moderate — 5.3 miles

In this old lumber region, there are plenty of stories about the origins of “Grabtown.” Some are rooted in thievery, while others point to land “grabs.” An item you will 100% want to grab before coming here is a jacket, as the deep redwood setting is damp and misty — especially at the beginning. With close to a 1,300-foot climb this is definitely a butt burner at times, but well worth it for the dense rainforest that envelops you.

Photo: Sean Kelley/unsplash

Old Landing Cove Trail

Santa Cruz
Level: Easy — 2.3 miles

A must if you’re in Santa Cruz. Mild enough for young kids and grandparents alike, this trail doubles as a multi-sensory nature and history lesson. Stroll along the coast and hear dozens of sea birds including pelicans and gulls — sea lions are another vociferous staple. Check out the remnants of the old Wilder family dairy, the farm machinery, and the debonair antique cars. Whale watchers: December through April is also peak whale migration season.

Photo: Kasia Pawlowska

Overlook Trail to McWay Falls

Big Sur
Level: Easy — 1.1 miles

If a trail could be a person, then this one would be Brad Pitt — this is the Big Sur path that takes you to those photo spots. Note: there will be chaos and people parking on Highway 1. Save yourself the anxiety by waiting and paying to park in the parking lot. Just a mile-long in total, you’ll pass under the highway and hug the cliff toward the coast. McWay Falls will dutifully empty into the cove. On the other side you can read about Julia Pfeifer and take in views from the observation deck.

Photo: Kasia Pawlowska

Pedro Point Headlands Trail

Level: Moderate — 2.4 miles

A heavily trafficked loop located just before Devil’s Slide tunnels, this trail offers an abundance of treats. Mushroom lovers will delight in the fungi, including fairy tale amanitas that sprout up following the rains. Dog owners can bring their pups, and just about everyone can take pleasure in the pristine coastal views and swaths of wildflowers. Parking can be dicey and there is poison ivy off the path, so don’t veer from it.

Photo: Kasia Pawlowska

Soberanes Point and Whale Peak

Level: Easy — 1.8 miles

When there’s an opportunity to see sea otters, you should take it, and there’s a good chance of that happening here. Located about 8 miles south of Carmel in Garrapata State Park, this trail is downright gorgeous and, on the right day, not too crowded. Well worth some lowkey bushwhacking (hiking boots are highly advised), the trail brings on loads of wildflowers, a chorus of bird songs, and a very rewarding view from the mountain that often includes — you guessed it — whales.

Looking for more things to do in the area?

Visit our Central Coast page for more ideas on where to eat, stay and things to do.

You so deserve a vacation. 

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