4 Days on the Central California Coast
We have a little tradition around here during the month of November. Since our birthday’s are only 10 days apart, we like to take a little road trip to celebrate our birthday week. A couple of our last few birthday trips we’ve taken have been on the California coastline somewhere along Highway 1. The entire Pacific Coast Highway is full of some of the coolest, most charming coastal towns. We’ve gotten to visit a lot of them from the start of Northern California down to Cambria right under Big Sur. But there’s one stretch of the coast we’ve never done before – the Central Coast! We decided to spend the first four days of Thanksgiving week in the Central Coast area, starting in San Luis Obispo. We spent one night in SLO, two nights in Pismo Beach, and one night in Solvang.
Since our time was limited in each place and we were on a mission to just chill, this post will be more of a review of what we did with a little sprinkle of recommendations! We really fell in love with the Central Coast. If you haven’t been, it should be on your list if you’re on the West Coast. Here’s our 4 day guide to visiting the beautiful Central California Coast!
San Luis Obispo
SLO (as the locals call it) is a hidden gem in the Central California area. It is located just 15 minutes from the beach and 30 minutes south of the Paso Robles wine country. It’s home to California Poly Technic University, so the vibes are definitely college-esque – but in a good way. The downtown area is full of hip eateries, loungey bars, music venues, and unique shops. SLO reminded us a lot of a mix between Portland and San Francisco, but less busy than both cities. From where we stayed, everything was really walkable and felt very safe even when we were walking at night. It has been dubbed the happiest place in America by Oprah and from our experience, we don’t disagree.
Like always, most of our exploration in a new place involves finding the best watering holes in town. This includes coffees and brews because those are two of the best liquids known to mankind. Some of our favorites included the hip coffeeshop Kreuzberg Coffee (for brekky), the Libertine Brewery (for the sour ale lovers), the Frog and Peach bar (for a cheap drink), and Mother’s Tavern (for dessert). If you happen to find the Citrus Squeeze from SLObrew anywhere on the coast, you definitely need to try it! It was one of our favorite beers of the area!
Honorary Mention: Central Coast Brewery
Central Coast Brewery is located a little bit outside of the downtown but it is worth the jaunt over to sit on their patio with your brewski. We tried their Hefeweizen and the Pale Ale and both were so refreshing and satisfying!
Trav Tav’s Pick: Firestone Walker Brewery
Technically this isn’t in San Luis Obispo but we had obviously had to stop here because we love their beer. The restaurant is located adjacent to the actual brewery/taproom. You can drink at both but we opted for the restaurant so we could eat and drink. The food menu is really unique and the food we ordered was phenomenal! We both tried a beer we couldn’t get outside of the area and really enjoyed our selections. We recommend the ahi wonton tacos and the pulled pork mac and cheese and pair those with the Saison Ynez or the Electric Union IPA Kolsch!
Two things to check out in SLO are the gum wall (a bizarre and yet satisfying attraction) and the mission (a 1772 Spanish mission with peaceful grounds close to the river walk).
We booked our room in SLO a little late and we knew we wouldn’t be in our room a lot, so instead of paying high hotel prices we opted for a hostel stay instead. This gave us our Europe feels – except this time we actually got our own private room! If you need a last minute room close to downtown, we recommend staying at the San Luis Obispo Hostel for sure! The hostel was clean, cozy, and everything we needed for a one night stay.
Trav Tav’s Pro Tip:
We love using Booking.com for all our travel accommodations. We have found that it usually offers cheaper options than other sites, offers hostels, hotels, and houses, has free cancelations in most cases, and discounts for the more you use it. You can use our discount code for $20 back after your first booking!
From SLO we headed towards Pismo Beach, a place I think Kenny and I both agreed that we could live. Pismo Beach embodies the surf life vibes and chill lifestyle. Everyone seems to be on vacation time and soaking in the fresh ocean air. This is one of the best places to take time of relaxation and rest in our opinion. It should 100% be on your list when visiting the coastline.
Drink + Eat
We explored a lot of Pismo, especially since there is a fairly small “downtown” area. We walked to a lot of the places during our time and could take a quick drive for anything else we needed. Some of our favorites in Pismo were Wooly’s (we ate here twice because we loved the happy hour, view, and food the most!), Surfside Donuts (for the breakfast sammies), Splash Cafe (for the clam chowder), Scorpion Bay (for the coffee), and Harry’s (for cheap drinks and cheap pool).
We did try Pismo Beach Brewery because we got a really good Groupon for a flight of beer. However, it wasn’t our favorite brewery, so we don’t necessarily recommend it. It’s in a cute little spot of Pismo Beach, but we just didn’t love the beer – so do with this info what you need to!
An obvious thing to do in Pismo Beach is clearly hanging on the beach, but another thing we love to do while traveling is playing pool. We usually try to find a local bar with a cheap table, but every now and then we get lucky and find a random pool hall. You can find Hot Shots Billiards on one of the main streets in Pismo Beach. Hot Shots is equipped with arcade games, local beers, and very nice pool tables. Another attraction in the Pismo Beach area is the Oceano Dunes that allow you to camp and four wheel on the beach. We know a decent amount of people who have come to the area for this and love the beach and off road activity. We didn’t go onto this specific beach, since you do have to pay to get in but you can find info about it here.
Trav Tav’s Pick: Avila Beach
Even though this technically isn’t consider Pismo Beach, Avila is a quick 15 drive north. This was one of our favorite parts of visiting the coast and we think it has to be added to your stay. We would still recommend to stay in Pismo because there’s more to do but Avila is a great place to grab a drink and have a picnic. Grab yourself a drink at PierFront and enjoy the ocean views. If you do decide to have a picnic, you can also head to Avila Market and grab supplies for your beach meal! There’s also a Libertine in Avila if you miss it in SLO.
We scored a killer Groupon deal fairly last minute in Pismo. We were choosing between a couple different places in the area but ended up booking the Sea Venture because every room comes with a hot tub on the balcony. Since we were all about relaxing on this trip, that was the clincher for us. And we sure did get our money’s worth, we used that sucker every second we were in our room! We also got a pretty good view of the ocean since the Sea Venture was an oceanfront property. As a bonus, we were within walking distance of everything we wanted to do in Pismo.
Solvang is located in the beautiful Santa Ynez valley surrounded by mountains and many well known vineyards. This cute and charming California town is just like walking through a part of Disneyland. It was settled by a group of Danes that were tryin to escape the midwest winters and made the town Danish themed. There’s also some replica attractions from Copenhagen in Solvang, like the Little Mermaid statue. And of course, the US’s only Hans Christian Andersen museum for the literature lovers!
Drink + Eat
We’ll admit, Solvang is not the most budget friendly destination that we’ve visited. Wine tastings in the area are really pricey compared to what we’re used to while traveling. Food and beer is about average priced, especially in California. Some of the places we recommend to check out in Solvang are Sevtap (pricey wine tasting but fun owner and good wine), Good Life (for a good local beer or wine), and Fitzpatrick Pub (for lunch and Irish beer).
Trav Tav’s Pick: Solvang Brewing
We had two stops at the Solvang Brewing Co. – once for happy hour and again for dinner. They have a cool, medieval themed restaurant and we loved the burger and salad we ate. We definitely recommend stopping in and checking in on Yelp for a little discount!
Anytime you research Solvang, you’ll probably come across the Santa Inés Mission. It was founded in 1804 as the 19th out of 21 missions built in California. Not only are the grounds of the mission beautiful, but they offer you a self guided tour to take in the beauty on your own time. We didn’t go inside the actual church but we rode our bikes around enjoying the views of the Santa Ynez valley.
As mentioned early, we love playing pool so we were super happy when our bartender at Fitzpatrick’s told us about his favorite spot in the area, SY Billiards. It’s about a 5 minute drive south into the town of Santa Ynez, but absolutely worth the short drive. SY has some really unique and hard to find beers on tap. They also offer bottled beers in the fridges lining the walls. Also, did we mention they serve liters?! It’s a great place to hang later at night, since Solvang seems to close up fairly early into the night.
One more activity you can do in Solvang is find all the windmills in the town. There is a total of 4 around, although our favorite was the one attached to the Solvang Brewing Co. A great resource is the Solvang Tourist Center, where you can find out about fun things going on (like a wine walk while we were there!) and places to see while visiting Solvang.
We absolutely loved our stay at the Hamlet Inn. They offer super nice rooms, have a great staff, and gave us free bikes to use with our stay! The bikes were definitely a highlight of staying in Solvang. If you can, we recommend staying here or somewhere that gives you the option of getting around on 2 wheels.
We are so happy we decided to explore this part of the central coast and can’t wait to get back to drink our way around more of the area. We know there is so much more to do and see, tell us your favorites in the comments below!
Til the next coastal vacation,
The Traveling Tavener’s