7 Relaxing Days on California’s Central Coast and Beyond



Courtesy of Jenna Day/Unsplash

California is a land of calming waves, serene lakes, and prehistoric sequoias, and each diverse attraction remains within easy access to the next. Whether it’s enjoying yoga classes and candlelit dinners in Ventura County, taking in the timeless style of the Central Coast, or skiing and sledding amid the snow-capped groves of Sequoia National Forest, this trip through the Golden State is a recipe for certain tranquility.

Of course, with our weeklong itinerary, there’s plenty to stimulate wellness for body and mind as well, with no lack of lively cultural curiosities and fresh, innovative cuisine. Moreover, with opportunities at every turn to hike, surf, and swim, this part of California will keep you feeling fit without sacrificing all the crucial little comforts to make you feel right at home.

Though the Central Coast should be every bit as sunny and mild as you imagine it to be, by winter the Sierra Nevada mountains also transform into a snowy wonderland. Visiting in the shoulder months of fall and spring, though, allows for the perfect compromise. Flying into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) offers the most flexibility, but for domestic flights, the Bob Hope (Hollywood Burbank) Airport is another easy option located just over an hour’s drive to Malibu.


Trip Highlight

Hearst Castle

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Hearst Castle is a grand estate designed by legendary architect Julia Morgan for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Now a National Historic Landmark, the painstakingly preserved site features opulent rooms, gardens, and pools, as well as an extensive art collection. By evening, tour guides dressed in period costumes make it feel as if you’ve stepped onto the set of Citizen Kane.

Trip Designer

Visit California

Visit California’s goal is to remind travelers of the vast experiences that await in California. The Golden State boasts a variety of trip options, from laid-back luxury to outdoor adventures, and Visit California is the ultimate resource to guide the way.
The Hotel June pool

The Hotel June pool

Courtesy of Hotel June

Day 1Dining and Diving with the Stars

After checking into your midcentury beachside bungalow at Hotel June in Malibu, start your day with an invigorating balcony brunch at Carbon Beach Club. Then stock up on some stylish swimwear at Faherty or one of the many other boutiques at Malibu Country Mart.

Once your shopping bag is full, grab some fried clams and seared tuna to go at Malibu Seafood, Malibu’s classic destination for fresh-caught fish, then skip across Pacific Coast Highway for sunbathing on the beach.

After returning to the hotel for a bit more relaxation poolside, head to Topanga Canyon’s renowned Inn of the Seventh Ray for farmer-fresh organic cuisine served in an impossibly romantic creek-side setting.

Meditation Mount in Ojai

Meditation Mount in Ojai

Courtesy of Will Edward

Day 2Embracing a New Age

Grabbing your breakfast to go, beat the sun with a refreshing morning hike through Malibu Creek State Park in the picturesque Santa Monica Mountains. Alternatively, for a more leisurely start to the day, grab an açaí bowl or some breakfast tacos at Malibu Farm. Then take a light stroll along the Malibu Pier or along the lagoon past the historic Adamson House out to Malibu Point for breathtaking views of the coastline. Once you’ve had your fill, head up the coast for lunch at Neptune’s Net, another legendary institution for fresh seafood in a casual seaside setting.

Bid farewell to Malibu and head inland to the Topatopa Mountains, where the charming village of Ojai awaits. Slow down with a visit to Meditation Mount to take classes in sound meditation, or do some yoga in Light + Space’s 1,500-square-foot desert garden. From there, take a stroll through town to stock up on spiritual implements, or browse the impressive outdoor collection of over 130,000 new and used books at Bart’s.

As the sun sets on Ojai, grab a seat for a delicious dinner at bustling Rory’s Place for hyperlocal California cuisine, from their Santa Barbara sea urchin to their hand-cut tagliatelle with chanterelle mushrooms and crisped sage. If you decide to make a night of it, book an Airstream at Caravan Outpost just down the street to fully immerse yourself in the wild spirit that makes Ojai so special. Or continue on a bit further up the coast to check into Montecito’s five-star hotel and spa, Rosewood Miramar Beach.
The Old Mission in Montecito

The Old Mission in Montecito

Courtesy of Jay Sinclair

Day 3 Tracing California’s Roots

Kick your morning off with a coffee and pastry at Pierre Lafond, whose market, winery, and bistro have graced Montecito’s Plaza del Sol for more than five decades. Once you’ve had a bite, head into the hills for a visit to the Old Mission, an 18th-century colonial landmark which boasts unbeatable ocean views.

After exploring the Mission’s rose garden and having properly brushed up on the region’s history, head downtown for made-to-order tortillas and juicy lomito suizo at the perennially popular La Super-Rica Taqueria, long held in high esteem by culinary legends such as Julia Child. Follow that up with more window shopping and people-watching on the car-free State Street Promenade, the de facto center of the city.

By night, dip into a juicy cut of filet mignon on the veranda at Louie’s, then close things out with a concert at the historic Lobero Theater, which has been entertaining Californians since 1873.

Horseback riding in Solvang

Horseback riding in Solvang

Courtesy of Vino Vaqueros

Day 4Wine and Windmills in the Santa Ynez Valley

It’s a short drive inland to Solvang, the long-popular roadside attraction known for its iconic collection of windmills and half-timbered homes, thanks to Danish heritage that gave the town the nickname the “Danish Capital of America.” But Solvang and the surrounding hills of Santa Ynez Valley are rich beyond this history.

Once you’ve checked into the Landsby in Solvang’s center, taste the strudel and aebleskivers (Danish pancake balls) from its famous bakeries, then browse the porcelain and lace in the neighboring shops. The Santa Ynez Valley is also known for its many world-class wineries, thanks in part to the 2004 film Sideways.

Seven distinct American Viticultural Areas are represented in the region, and Los Olivos makes for a particularly rewarding wine-tasting experience or Vino Vaqueros offers guests the exceptional opportunity to explore the rolling hills on horseback. After sharpening your palate against local varietals, tuck in for a bottle of house-made Pinot Noir and Santa Maria-style, red oak–fired BBQ at the Hitching Post 2, a veritable institution among locals and tourists.

The Hearst Castle pool

The Hearst Castle pool

Courtesy of Visit California

Day 5Decadence in the Central Coast

The famous tides of Pismo Beach merit a morning stop for surfing or sunbathing, followed by some clam chowder to go at the celebrated Splash Cafe. Nearby in San Simeon, Julia Morgan’s Hearst Castle is a master class in magnificence, meriting a tour of its gilded grounds.

Before night falls, check into San Luis Creek Lodge in downtown San Luis Obispo, then head to the quaint coastal village of Cambria for oysters Rockefeller, clams casino, and an unbeatable sunsets at Sea Chest. If you prefer to stay in San Luis Obispo, go all-in with a juicy, generous portion of surf and turf, followed by a colossal famously fluffy slice of pink champagne cake at the notoriously frilly Madonna Inn, arguably the most campy and colorful hotel in the state.

Forestiere Underground Gardens

Forestiere Underground Gardens

Day 6Fresno County

Just north of downtown Fresno, start your day with a visit to the Forestiere Underground Gardens, a truly unique subterranean network of grottoes and greenery first excavated by a Sicilian immigrant over a century ago. While in town, reach peak peacefulness with a visit to the koi ponds and Japanese-style teahouse at Shinzen Friendship Garden.

After exploring the gardens, dig into a special lunch at The Vineyard, a farm-to-table restaurant that showcases the best of the Central Valley’s local produce. From there, it’s time to explore the Madera Wine Trail to taste award-winning vintages at family-owned wineries set against stunning views of the Sierra Nevada range.

End the day at The Darling, a charming Art Deco hotel in nearby Visalia, where you can recharge before one last day of recreation.

The Buckeye Tree Lodge

The Buckeye Tree Lodge

Courtesy of The Buckeye Tree Lodge

Day 7Saying Goodbye from the Sierra Nevadas

After a rooftop brunch at the hotel, make your way toward the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas with a visit to the rustic village of Three Rivers for arts and antiques shopping. Later, grab a bite to go and cool off with a dip into the refreshing waters of the Slick Rock Recreation Area just outside of town.

Whatever you do, be sure to carve out a few hours for a hike through the groves of Sequoia National Park, which include General Sherman, the largest tree on earth, among many other natural marvels. End the day on a high note with beers and pupusas at the Three Rivers Brewing Co., followed by a stay in a riverside suite at the eco-friendly Buckeye Tree Lodge, which offers stargazing, massages, and yoga classes to help ease your transition back to normal life.

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Journeys: United States
Journeys: United States
Journeys: United States