Central Coast

Everything you need to know about visiting the Central Coast.

California’s Central Coast offers unforgettable vistas along the Pacific Coast Highway, and a wealth of fascinating points of interest along the way that prove just as memorable. For this region Local Getaways covers the seaside communities from Half Moon Bay south to Big Sur. 

Half Moon Bay:

Just 30 miles from San Francisco, this small town offers a real escape. It’s most famous for Titans of Mavericks, the world’s premiere surfing competition, held every winter or so, when the winds and waves (typically up to 60 feet) are at their maximum. But there’s much more to recommend.

The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay is a five-star, coastal retreat with a luxury spa, great restaurants, and two championship links courses. If you love wildlife, book a local boat to see the annual migration of gray whales, or head 25 miles south, to see feisty northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park. Every October the Art & Pumpkin Festival draws folks for food, music, and the weighing of a world champion gourd that often exceeds 1 ton.

A few popular, long-time restaurants include the allegedly haunted, but always scary-good Moss Beach Distillery, and Sam’s Chowder House, a fish shack with crab, lobster rolls, fish and chips, and more, all also available from Sam’s ChowderMobile. But two more recent meccas for craft beers and food are Hop Dogma Brewing Co. and Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, two highlights amid a cute and walkable central district near the water.

Filoli: East of Half Moon Bay in Woodside awaits a national treasure, a local landmark and a timeless Grand European-style manor house covering 54,000-square feet. But the exquisitely beautiful 16-acre garden is the main draw.

Santa Cruz: This town about 40 miles south of Half Moon Bay plays home to University of California Santa Cruz. From the Bay Area, it offers a great one-day getaway for sunning, swimming and paddle boarding. Dine on its historic Municipal Wharf at Stagnaro Bros. Cool off at The Penny Ice Creamery. Walk over to the lively Beach Boardwalk amusement park and its rickety Giant Dipper roller coaster that’s been inducing screams since 1924.

Monterey: Another 42 miles south on Highway 1 sits the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium along Cannery Row, which is filled with high-end hotels, great restaurants like the C restaurant + bar, and local boutiques. You can go see humpbacks and blue whales from shore or from boats from Moss Landing (across the bay) or famous Fisherman’s Wharf.

Carmel: Nearby appears this small beach town, also known as Carmel-By-The-Sea, and Pebble Beach Golf Links in neighboring Pebble — America’s #1 public golf course (but it will set you back about $600 per round). Take a scenic 17-Mile-Drive, visit Carmel Beach for surfing, go hiking or scuba diving at Point Lobos State Reserve (with reservations), and check out the Carmel Mission that dates back to 1797. Ex-mayor Clint Eastwood owns Mission Ranch, a great Sunday Brunch place; Toro is a superb new sushi spot; and there are many great farm-to-fork, Italian and seafood eateries in the charming, walkable downtown. More than 20 local wineries’ tasting rooms and seemingly infinite shops can be found here too.

Big Sur: Finally, about 25 miles further south is the natural grandeur of Big Sur — Spanish for “Big South.” From the purple sands of Pfeiffer Beach, to the alluring hilltop views from the now all-inclusive Ventana Big Sur, or the wrap-around patio at Nepenthe, there is no shortage of scenic stops. Dress in layers; mornings can be cool and foggy, while afternoons can be warm and sunny.

History: The history of the Central Coast is similar to the South Bay — originally it was home to several tribes of Native Americans, followed by Spanish explorers and ranchos, then American homesteaders in the 1850s. There is still a strong Mexican heritage throughout the area.

Featured Photo: Spencer Davis via Unsplash

Where to Stay on the Central Coast

What to Do on the Central Coast

Where to Eat on the Central Coast

Central Coast's Annual Events

JANUARY: Whalefest Monterey is a free fun and educational, interactive family event for all ages celebrates the migration of the gray whales, and benefits the many local and national marine organizations that build awareness.

FEBRUARY: Natural Bridges Park’s Monarch Grove provides a temporary home for up to 100,000 Monarchs each winter, though climate change and human interference are creating a major disruption in the force. In good years, from roughly mid-October through mid-February, the Monarchs form a “city in the trees.”

MARCH: PaddleFest is the largest paddle powered surf contest in the world, attracting some of the best paddle-powered wave magicians on the planet. Spectators can view the international champions at Steamer Lane.

APRIL: Ducky Derby is a fun-filled day of activities with food, carnival games, live music, local entertainment and the highlight of the day: The racing of 12,000 rubber ducks down a man made waterway. 

MAY: Centered around the visual arts, the Carmel Art Festival features sculptures, a plein air painting competition, art activities for children, live performances and more. In addition, galleries throughout Carmel will be holding receptions and demonstrations.

JUNE: The Monterey International Blues Festival strives to preserve the blues, a great American music tradition, by introducing festival attendees to all of its forms, with the goal of increasing appreciation and thereby creating a new, expanded audience for the Blues.

JULY: The Artichoke Festival takes over the Monterey County Fairgrounds with a focus on local food and entertainment and the iconic thistle. Expect artichokes prepared in a variety of ways, including: fried, grilled, steamed, ice creamed, wrapped, sauced, reinvented and elevated in myriad ways.

AUGUST: If you’re a classic car enthusiast and sports car fanatic, there is no better series of events on the planet than Monterey Car Week. It’s full of auto shows, tasting events (with autos), auto memorabilia and so much more.

SEPTEMBER: The Monterey Jazz Festival is the longest continuously-running jazz event in the world. The Festival features scores of artists performing on eight stages at the Monterey County Fairgrounds.

OCTOBER: The Monterey Beer Festival attracts upwards of 3,500 attendees who enjoy tasting an array of incredible beer. In addition to many new beers to delight the senses, the Monterey Beer Festival features music from several live bands and special VIP ticket holder benefits, all in a fun and relaxed party atmosphere. 

NOVEMBER: The Big Sur Food & Wine Festival showcases the many culinary and winemaking talents of this special stretch of California coast. Here you can expect the best in regional and nationally acclaimed chefs and winemakers against the intimate backdrop of the beautiful Big Sur coast.

DECEMBER: Sponsored by the Santa Cruz Yacht Club and including a canned food drive benefiting Second Harvest Food Bank, the Lighted Boat Parade features 50 beautifully-decorated power and sailboats parading through the Santa Cruz Harbor.

*Things change, so please check in with the organizers of these events for details.

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