I’ve done variations of the California coastal road trip over the years, and even more so recently now that I’m based in Southern California. I still have a dream of taking 2 full weeks to explore all the tiny towns, remote hikes, and scenic views dotted along Route 1, but for now, I’ll settle for some shorter trips. Just the other week, my husband and I were able to get away for about 5 days. We visited Paso Robles and Cambria, and then headed down to Santa Barbara – a timeless favorite. Below is an outline of our itinerary and the stops we enjoyed along the way!
Day 1: San Diego –> Paso Robles –> Cambria
We set out this morning from San Diego and headed straight up the 5 to Paso Robles – approximately a five and a half hour drive. Since we had a very important 2 pm wine tasting reservation to make, we pretty much drove straight from San Diego. The drive was very easy though and we were lucky not to hit too much traffic.
At 2 pm, we arrived at Daou Vineyards in the Paso Robles Wine Country, known for its Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Rhône-style wines. And WOW! The views from this vineyard are just spectacular and their setting is perfect for outdoor seating and social distancing. Aside from the views and cozy outdoor seats, we also delighted in the wines and learned so much from our Wine Educator, Laura! She even gave us some great recommendations for the rest of our trip.
After our wine tasting, we headed 45 minutes east to the small town of Cambria, which has grown in popularity recently. But despite emerging onto the tourism scene, Cambria is still a small town, full of charm, antique shops and local flavor. The majority of accommodations are located by the sea, just across from Moonstone Beach, which is exactly where we stayed. White Water Cambria opened in the summer of 2020 after a full renovation of an existing property. With just 25 rooms, the hotel embodies a unique blend of Scandinavian design and California bohemian lifestyle. We enjoyed a Premier King room with partial ocean views. The room was very well appointed with a large window seat to peek at the ocean, a (very comfy) King-sized bed, a TV with streaming capabilities, and a mini bar featuring curated local goodies.
Two of my favorite touches were the morning picnic basket full of fresh baked scones and local coffee (or tea!), and the complimentary bikes, available for guest use.
After checking in, we took some time to walk along the boardwalk by Moonstone Beach. We saw tons wildlife – birds, bunnies, and seals! – and enjoyed really great views of the ocean. For dinner this evening, we opted to enjoy some of the light bites (and a local wine and cider) in the lobby bar while watching the sunset over the ocean. This day was a major breath of fresh air after a very long winter!
Day 2: Cambria Region
Today, we spent the full day exploring the Cambria region! After our morning scones and tea, we grabbed 2 bikes at the front desk and biked the 15-20 minutes into the town of Cambria. Some of this was uphill but the challenge was welcome so we could earn our second breakfast. With a recommendation from the hotel front desk, we headed to The Spot – where we ate on their balcony and enjoyed a fabulous breakfast panini and strawberry & cream crepes! Next, we biked into the main street of town and spent some time walking around and exploring the antique shops and gift shops. In town we got a tip on where to spot elephant seals, so we biked back to the hotel and swapped our two wheels for four.
Just up the coast, we arrived at Elephant Seal Vista Point where we were able to see hundreds of elephant seals lazing along the coast! March is the end of their birthing season, so most seals were females and growing pups, but we did see a handful of males, which are HUGE (they can weigh up to 5,000 lbs!). This was a real highlight of our trip and a must do in Cambria.
Next, we drove up the 1 to Ragged Point for a photo op and short walk, before coming back down to San Simeon State Park where we enjoyed a 3 mile hike through diverse ecosystems. In non-COVID times, I would also highly recommend a visit to nearby Hearst Castle (unfortunately it was closed on our trip).
That evening, we headed out to dinner in town at Robin’s Restaurant – another amazing recommendation from the hotel front desk. Robin’s has the cutest garden area perfect for outdoor dining, and a large portion of it is covered by a tent with heaters, so even though it was misting a bit, we were perfectly cozy and safe. The cuisine at Robin’s is eclectic – offering globally-inspired dishes from around the world, and lots of local wines from nearby Paso Robles. Dinner here was just delicious and they even treated us to a McConnell’s hot fudge sundae for celebrating our anniversary!
Day 3: Cambria –> Cayucos –> San Luis Obispo –> Santa Maria –> Solvang –> Santa Barbara
After another wonderful night’s sleep at White Water Cambria, we were up early to pack while we enjoyed our tea and scones. We had a full day planned for our drive from Cambria down to Santa Barbara! The first stop was Harmony Headlands State Park, a small park just south of Cambria known for its ocean-view hike. We were the only ones on the trail and thoroughly enjoyed this 3 mile hike. We saw great wildlife and really cool birds doing mating calls. We walked through rolling green hills and a small forest before we approached the ocean, where we had incredible views across the wildflowers and craggy rocks to the water below.
Next, we were off to the small coastal town of Cayucos where we picked up blue corn waffles at Hidden Kitchen (they have a location in Cambria too!). These were DELICIOUS and probably my favorite thing I ate on the trip! We also caught site of the Brown Butter Cookie Company and bought some of those to take home (spoiler alert – they were fabulous!!).
Back on the 1, we drove south to San Luis Obispo where we picked up some sandwiches at High Street Deli (are you sensing a food theme??) and then drove on to Santa Maria for our wine tasting reservation at Riverbench Winery. This was a recommendation from our wine educator at Daou and again we enjoyed a delightful tasting in the loveliest outdoor garden setting with perfect sunny California weather! Riverbench has a variety of wines but they are known for their sparklings and I was able to do a full sparkling wine flight – love!
Last but not least, we headed for Solvang, a Danish-inspired village just outside of Santa Barbara that was developed in the early 1900s. The architecture is in the Danish style with little windmills and Danish restaurants and bakeries dotted throughout. It’s a little touristy but was lovely to feel like we were in Europe for an hour or two!
Finally, we drove on to Santa Barbara and checked into the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, a 5-star property set right on the ocean, just a 15 minute drive from downtown. The Bacara dates to the early 90’s and recently underwent a full refresh of its rooms and communal spaces. With over 350 accommodations, it’s a larger resort, set among 78 acres and spread across several buildings. We were able to stay in an Ocean View room which I highly recommend since that is the highlight of the location of this hotel. The rooms feature earthen tones, with soft blue rugs and bright white drapes. All rooms have private balconies and we spent a lot of time on ours, enjoying our plush chairs, ocean breeze and reading in the sun.
For dinner this evening, we stayed on property and ate at The Bistro. The tuna tartare was divine, as was the lemon blueberry cheesecake!
Day 4: Santa Barbara
On our last full day of the trip, we woke up to a perfect 10 as far as California weather goes: brilliant sunshine, cool breezes, and crystal clear skies. After grabbing some breakfast at First Drip coffee bar, we were off to the tennis center where we had reserved a court for an hour. The court rental is included in your resort fee, and can be arranged in advance via email or phone. We loved playing on the clay and one benefit of this road trip was that we were able to bring our own rackets and balls (although the center does have these available for rent). After tennis, we stopped by the Bistro and ordered a special pizza to go which we enjoyed on our private balcony.
In the afternoon, we had a reservation to sit by the pool, which worked pretty smoothly given that reservations are a pandemic-era change. They did a good job of spacing out the groups and it was nice to take a quick dip in the large pool, read in the lounge chair and enjoy a tropical cocktail.
In the afternoon, we drove into downtown Santa Barbara (tip: check real-time parking availability here!) and walked around State Street. We did some window shopping before stopping for a wine tasting at Happy Canyon‘s tasting room – a place I visited (and loved) on my last visit to SB! After purchasing a few bottles to take home, we headed down to The Lark where we enjoyed a fabulous dinner of small plates on their large outdoor patio area. Stuffed, we ended up getting our olive oil cake for dessert to go, and enjoyed this back at the hotel!
Day 5: Santa Barbara –> San Diego
Today we bid adieu to Santa Barbara and our little road trip getaway. After packing up, we enjoyed some walks along the bluff and down by the beach at the hotel.
On our way out of town, we stopped for breakfast at The Shop. While a little off the beaten path, this restaurant was recommended to us by our server at Happy Canyon and was clearly a local favorite – this place was hopping! We loved the good food, quick service and sunny patio, before our drive back down to San Diego.
A road trip is a great way to explore safely with a lot of convenience and minimal stress. It’s the perfect trip to get back out there if you’ve been isolated at home for a long time. Please message me if I can help you plan a fabulous road trip this spring or summer!