Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

Central Coastal California

Sponsored by:

Coyote Valley RV & Golf Resort

Heading north on the 101 freeway, we reach the city of Santa Barbara, CA, a beautiful Spanish-styled town that’s eighty miles north of Los Angeles, but could be a whole world away. The pace is luxuriously laid back, which is not meant to insinuate slow and boring. Quite the contrary; Santa Barbara features many opportunities for an exciting, fun-filled and relaxing vacation, and is home to some of the finest restaurants and entertainment venues in the world. Each year, the city hosts the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which draws celebrities from all over the world during its 10-day run. There are some very good reasons that Santa Barbara’s sister city is Cannes in the south of France.

On arrival, we have the opportunity to get some exercise by renting a bicycle at one of the shops at the south end of State Street. They offer bikes for one, or for as many as four people. One can easily get around downtown with one of these conveyances, enjoying the plentiful sunshine and fresh sea air. One sure don’t-miss spot is the Pier, with plenty of shopping and eating experiences to please one and all. We can also take the opportunity to book a harbor cruise or go whale watching; such cruises are frequent, but we should definitely call ahead for a booking.

The shopping in downtown Santa Barbara can’t be beat anywhere. We can spend hours at the stylish outdoor Paseo Nuevo mall, or cruise the lower downtown area where the shops offer everything from silly novelty gifts to rare bead necklaces and bracelets from Morocco. Every Tuesday, lower State Street is closed to all but foot traffic for the weekly tradition of the Farmer’s Market, where produce, flowers and herbs from the finest local growers is brought for sale. Be sure to treat yourself to some of the best seasonal fruit you’ll ever taste, and afterward you can take a quick bike ride down the beachfront Cabrillo St., and enjoy the world-famous Santa Barbara Zoo.

Getting back on the 101 freeway, we exit via the off-ramp for Highway 154, which takes us along the scenic route behind Santa Barbara. Twenty miles later, we exit on the westbound Highway 246, leading us to the quaint little town of Solvang.

Solvang is only three miles east of the 101 freeway, but we can easily imagine we’ve somehow traveled to Denmark. But we don’t need our passports; Solvang is an excellent replica of a Danish village, nestled between rolling green hillsides. We can tour the town’s quiet streets via a horse-drawn carriage, or walk through town and sample some of the tastiest Danish pastries to be found anywhere. Come to think of it, with all the pastries we’re likely to eat, walking sounds like a good idea!

Moving west on the 246, we run into the city of Buellton, home of the world-famous split-pea soup. We should pull over and sample a bowl, provided we haven’t had too many pastries in Solvang! Buellton sits adjacent to Highway 101, so when we’re done we head north. In about an hour, we reach the city of Pismo Beach, CA, which hosts an annual surfing competition that draws competitors from all over the United States. We can watch the waves from the impressive 1200-foot pier, after which we can take a walk and souvenir-shop along the beachfront promenade. We can go scuba diving, or explore some of the many tide pools along the shore, or pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic on the beach in one of the secluded coves. There are several caves to be explored along the shoreline, but before you go investigating, be sure to check what time the tide comes in.

Just a few minutes’ drive up the 101, we can enjoy the hot sulphur springs at Avila Beach, followed by a relaxing massage and some fine dining at any one of the many excellent restaurants in the area. The locally-caught seafood is definitely something to try.

A pleasant drive further on the 101 brings us to San Luis Obispo, a city with a relaxed vibe that has a lively, youth-oriented element thanks to the nearby Cal Poly University. It has a great balance of urban activity with a small-town’s sensibility. Higuera Street in the downtown area has a great creekside walk, where clear water from the nearby mountains runs alongside the sidewalk. You can enjoy an excellent lunch or dinner at one of the many creekside restaurants; any kind of food you like can be found here, and the majority of these restaurants are all 4 stars or higher. Prices are reasonable, and lunch specials are the norm. Whatever you’re looking for, be it kayaking, golfing, shopping in the eclectic downtown shopping area, touring through the local wineries, or maybe just lounging at the beach, San Luis Obispo has it waiting for you. It’s no wonder that San Luis Obispo has been rated one of the best stopover points on the trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

A short drive up the 101 takes us into Paso Robles, CA, a warm, hospitable city containing over 170 wineries, including Eberle and J.Lohr. The local Farmer’s Market provides some of the finest produce on the Central Coast. Check out the city’s website – – for dates and times. During the summer months, we can enjoy outdoor music during the Twilight Concert in the Park series. Paso Robles is also home to four excellent golf courses, including the 4 ½ star Hunter Ranch course, and three hot springs mineral spas. No matter which season we visit this peaceful town, we can be treated to spectacular visions of natural beauty; green hills in the winter, pink and white springtime flower blossoms, rich, verdant vineyards in the summer and beautifully brilliant fall colors.

If you’re craving something a bit more active, Lake Nacimiento is available for boating, wakeboarding, fishing, horseshoe throwing and camping out. If you didn’t bring the appropriate gear, no worries; they’ve got plenty on hand for rental.

Further on up the road, we pull over for a stop and a bite to eat in King City, which is in South Monterey County. While we’re here, we can enjoy the geological marvel that’s the Pinnacles National Monument, composed of immense rock formations that were created more than 23 million years ago. We can also tour the historic missions of San Antonio and Soledad, both of which were founded in the late 1700s.

The next stop on our journey is Salinas, CA, which is known as the “Salad Bowl of the World” and is home to author John Steinbeck. Outdoor enthusiasts can find plenty to do at the recreational areas of Laguna Seca, Lake San Antonio and Arroyo Seco, including hiking, boating and mountain biking. Three local golf courses offer some of the most challenging play in the world. Oldtown Salinas remains largely untouched since the early 1900s, and while we’re here, we shouldn’t miss the National Steinbeck Center, which celebrates the life and works of the world-famous author. Another spot of note is the Steinbeck House, his boyhood home which has been converted into an excellent restaurant; it’s well worth checking out.

Our final destination is the town of Morgan Hill, CA, which is proud to consider itself a family community. The city offers year-round festivals and activities such as the Mushroom Mardi Gras Festival, the Friday Night Music Series, and December’s Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting ceremony. Morgan Hill also has a variety of fine dining experiences, along with an array of spas, microbreweries and several local wineries. If you missed out on that hot-air ballooning experience back in Napa, here’s your chance to try it again. Morgan Hill’s a great place to spend a couple of days and relax before heading home, or continuing on to San Francisco.
With its relaxing, laidback atmosphere and plenty to see and do, it’s easy to see why so many people migrate to Northern California every year. It’s truly a place to get away from the fast-paced, stressed-out grind of city life, and will likely make you want to extend your vacation just a few more days…or longer!

Other Area Sponsors in California:

Campland on the Bay
Capitol West RV & MH Park
Far Horizons 49er Village RV Resort
Napa Valley Expo RV Park
Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort
Tradewinds RV Park of Vallejo