10 off-the-beaten-path beaches for relaxing and rejuvenating on the Golden State’s Central Coast.
There’s perhaps no better antidote to too much time indoors than discovering the coastal wonderland of SLO CAL’s (San Luis Obispo County’s) sandy shores and dramatically jutting cliffs. Miles and miles of beaches—with everything from sea caves to homes for elephant seals—mean there’s a hidden stretch of sand to suit everyone who’s ready to get outdoors and soak up the healing power of nature. And activities including yoga on the beach, kayaking, whale-watching, and more mean you can have deeper experiences in the environment. Being immersed in nature, studies have shown, can have numerous health benefits, from lowering blood pressure and stress hormone levels to reducing nervous system arousal, and even enhancing immune system function. So, get ready to inhale the invigorating coastal air and find comfort and peace in the wide-open spaces at some of this area’s most awe-inspiring (and less-traveled) beach destinations.
Unspoiled and largely uninhabited, the isolated sandy beaches of San Simeon’s wild and rugged shores are among the finest in California. Best visited on a hot day, San Simeon Beach (also known as William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach) offers iconic views of Hearst Castle with its towering terraces above the historic pier. Be sure to pack in and pack out food, water, or anything else you’ll need here. You’ll enjoy dramatic cliffs and sprawling ocean views, abundant up and down the area all along Highway 1.
Bundle up to take in your romantic surroundings at Moonstone Beach, the picture-perfect, uncrowded setting for a stroll with a loved one or a picnic lunch. An ideal beach destination after a tour of Hearst Castle (check to see if they have re-opened for tours), you may see migrating whales as you walk the sandy shores and boardwalk. Before or after, there’s shopping, excellent dining, and wine-tasting in downtown Cambria.
A surfer’s paradise awaits at the delightful beach town of Cayucos Beach, located on Highway 1 between Morro Bay and Cambria. Grab some lunch while marveling at the waves before exploring the tide pools and walking out along the pier. The dog-friendly destination offers laid-back seaside charm and plenty of recreational activities, from biking to horseback riding.
Enjoy a sunny day, laying out in the rays or seeking out waves to surf along Morro Strand. The state beach stretches from Morro Rock uninterrupted nearly all the way to Cayucos. Or get out into the ocean along Morro Bay: Whale watching, dinner cruises, and fishing charters are all available for memorable outings.
Head to Spooner’s Cove and hike the bluffs or explore the tide pools at this rocky beach in a protected cove inside Montaña de Oro State Park. Golden wildflowers that dot its vast terrain give the park its name. Go when the sun’s out to sit on the rocks and savor a packed lunch with the relaxing soundtrack of gently crashing waves. Leashed dogs are welcome.
For a family bonfire in the evening, the stretch of Avila Beach known as Olde Port and Fisherman’s beach is also happily dog friendly. Up for a hike? Be sure to check out the nearby historic Point San Luis Lighthouse, built in 1889. And enjoy Hartford Pier for a glimpse at some sea lions basking on a nearby dock.
Steal away at the free-spirited, secluded Pirate’s Cove, named for its infamous history as a location for liquor smuggling. Explore nearby sea caves along the bluff, frolic European-style on the sandy alcove below, and snap a selfie at the other end of the rock tunnel with the San Luis Bay in the background before you depart.
Feel the heat at Avila Beach with its own uniquely sunny microclimate guaranteeing it will be the warmest beach in the county on any given day of the year. This small hideaway makes a fun family outing. Discover charming oceanfront eateries, cute boutique hotels, and, for the adults in the party, palate-pleasing local wines. The whole crew will appreciate a trip to the nearby Central Coast Aquarium, too.
At the northern end of the heavily trafficked Pismo Beach, walk down private stairways from seaside hotels to discover rugged rock caves and gloriously isolated spots to soak up the sun. Just a few miles south from downtown San Luis Obispo along Highway 1, this energetic surf town boasts fresh seafood shacks, famous clam chowder, and local wine tastings. It’s a great place to catch some waves, or some rays.
A favorite among walkers, joggers, dog lovers, kayakers, and more, Dinosaur Caves Park offers trails, a children’s playground, park benches, and tables. Nature-lovers can enjoy watching local birds perched on nearby cliffs, and seals and sea lions playing in the ocean surf. Keep your eyes peeled for the occasional whale or dolphin jumping out of the waves offshore, as you explore tide pools below or bask on the grassy bluffs above. The park also hosts a popular local art event every first Sunday of the month from June through November.
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