48 Hours on the Central Coast

By Ashley Robinson

There is a little hill covered in wildflowers and ruddy rocks that stands above the Coast within the village of Cambria. Facing south, you can see the soft silhouette of Morro Rock hugging a dramatic coastline covered in gold grass. In the opposite direction, the dark grey beaches stretch into twisted pine trees snaking up the Coastal Mountain Range. On a clear day, you can make out the white towers of the Enchanted Hill, aka Hearst Castle.

This is the spot I go to when I want to feel relaxed – the Pacific wind and sun embracing my bundled body and the crashing waves singing in my ears.

This is the essence of the Central Coast.

It’s California how it used to be, before massive urban development and screaming freeways. It’s rough coast, sloping hills, small towns, slow pace and unique history. And I highly recommend every California make the trek at least once in their lifetime.

Distance to Sacramento:

Take off work early on a Friday and take the five hour drive south (I recommend taking I-5 through the Pacheco Pass and down 101, about 290 miles), cut through Paso Robles on 46 and find yourself winding down CA-1. Cambria, Cayucos, San Simeon, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo … this is the REAL Central Coast. (Santa Barbara and Monterey, I don’t include in the Central Coast region, FYI.)


Cayucos Pier

Rolling hills covered in vines, wine tasting rooms, cliffs, pine forests, gardens, little boutiques, tiny restaurants, Morro Rock, the Pacific Ocean.


Uber laidback. Paso is an emerging wine country that I just can’t get enough of. I foresee this region, as well as the neighboring beach towns to begin building up more high-end hotels and restaurants in the next few years, but for now, it’s pretty hard to find anywhere that’s going to feel glamorous. Jeans and sweatshirts is an acceptable uniform.


Yep! There are tons of pet-friendly hotels and houses for rent … you just have to search them out. We found the best deal in Cayucos at the Shoreline Inn. (The place is NOT five stars … but it is $22 total for a pet fee on top of the room charge and direct access to the beach. We will definitely be going back.)

Hungry, Thirsty:

Cass House (222 North Ocean Avenue, Cayucos, CA 93430-1030) Ok, I’m biased, as I just got married at this fantastic spot in April, but we got married there for a reason. The house was built by Capt. James Cass in the 1860s, and after decades of sitting derelict and spooky, it has been completely revamped into this stunning organic/locally grown inspired restaurant and B & B. The five course meals are TO DIE FOR, the wine menu superb and the surrounding gardens enchanting. If you are looking for a fancy meal on the Central Coast, this IS THE PLACE TO GO.

The Tea Cozy in Cambria

Ruddell’s Smokehouse (101 D Street, Cayucos, CA 93430-1107) Another fantastic Cayucos spot. This tiny hole-in-the-wall beach taco shop is a local institution. The tasty tacos are comprised of fresh smoked fish covered in a mix of apples, celery, lettuce, carrots and some sort of light cream sauce. Local’s note: Call in your order or be prepared to wait a while for your tacos. This place is super popular.

The Tea Cozy (4286 Bridge Street, Cambria, CA 93428) My mom, sister and I have been obsessed with this authentic English tea house for years. A tiny cottage surrounded by wild roses in the Cambria Village, this place is perfect place to have grown-up tea parties, complete with finger sandwiches, crumpets and a long list of fascinating teas.

The Hamlet at Moonstone Gardens (7432 Exotic Gardens Drive, Cambria, CA 93428) Um, ok, so this place is not known for its food. It’s known for having a killer spot to watch the sun set over the Pacific while listening to a guy play piano in the corner while sipping on cocktails or local wines. The place was built in classic midcentury architecture, floor to ceiling windows, redwood beams and an “exotic” garden in the back. I recommend this place if you are looking for somewhere quintessential isolated kooky midcentury California.

Thomas Hill Organics (1305 Park Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446-2236) After a day of sipping/gulping Paso Bordeaux in the wine country unwind and detox at this hidden bistro in downtown Paso. Seriously, it’s hidden. The entrance is down an alleyway and the main sitting area is a courtyard surrounded by little boutiques. A perfect lunch spot.

A Place to Lay Your Head:

Cass House (see above) I love staying here. It’s a bit expensive, but worth it if you have the cash. There are five distinct rooms all with great stereo of the rare beach-beach across the street.

Fog Catcher Inn (6400 Moonstone Beach Drive, Cambria, CA 93428-1808) My husband and I love this place. Each room comes with a fireplace (just flip the switch!), plush rooms and is again, across the street from the beach. This is a mid-priced hotel with great breakfasts that I think is a serene spot for couples to hide away. (Room next to the pool: not so serene.)

Also, be sure to check out the VRBO or rental house availabilities. Good for long stays and big groups.


Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is a MUST. Take outrageous Mediterranean architecture, 1920’s charm (thank YOU Morgan) and some Hollywood glamour, and you have the perfect California historical site. Please, PLEASE make your reservation today.

Wine tasting in Paso … my personal faves are L’Aventure, Booker, Linne Calodo … others I have visited and liked were Jada, Denner, Terry Hoage, Justin (this place is popular, not top of my list, but should be visited). Paso’s wine country, in my opinion, is far superior to Napa because the wine is innovative, the atmosphere comfortable, the tasting prices reasonable and not nearly as snobby.

Kayaking over to Morro Bay State Park (dune bar) … take a kayak and a day’s worth of supplies and ship yourself over to the dunes.

Best of all, the Central Coast’s best “funtivity” is all about relaxing. Plant yourself on a ocean-view deck with a glass of wine and watch the sun set … or in my case, find your wildflower hill and a little piece of mind.

Just let the unique and majestic California scenery take you in.

Shortest five hour drive ever.


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