Stay in the quaint seaside town of Avila Beach, or book a vacation rental in a nearby city, to enjoy the California coast as you’ve never seen it before. Experience the local wildlife during a bird-watching tour or a nature hike, or satisfy your need for speed with a dune buggy tour of one of the central coast beaches. Make your trip memorable by finishing it with a wine tasting or fine dining experience in California’s wine-making and agricultural heart.

1. Avila Beach

full moon above the sailing boats
Source: Flickr / Anita Ritenour

Located on San Luis Obispo Bay, Avila Beach is a great location for taking advantage of the laid back California coast. Vacation rentals here come in the form of condominiums and detached homes and offer easy access to the sandy beach. Enjoy hiking along the rocky coast and swimming in the mild waters here — or head into town for a relaxing day at the Spa or Avila Hot Springs.

2. Pismo Beach

night scene at the beach pier

Head just south of Avila Beach to hit Pismo Beach. This all-American beach tourist town is a great spot for those seeking adventure and fun in the sun. Rent a bike or a dune buggy to experience the beach terrain from dry land — or take a surfboard or kayak out into the waves. When the sun sets, head back into town to experience the local boardwalk, packed with unique shops and casual dining.

3. San Luis Obispo

oak tree beside the road
Source: Flickr / emdot

Drive a few miles inland from Avila Beach and find yourself in the city of San Luis Obispo. This quirky metropolis is known for its booming art scene, and home to numerous galleries and studios that are open to the public. Check out a show at one of the local live theaters, and don’t forget to walk down Bubblegum Alley, an alleyway in the center of the city that’s been turned into a public artwork featuring thousands of pieces of chewing gum.

4. Morrow Bay

head shaped rock

A short distance north of Avila Beach lies Morrow Bay. This coastal community offers a huge range of opportunities for outdoor adventure. Experience the California coast on foot by taking a walk down one of the nearby hiking trails, or rent a bike and take in the view from a speedier vantage point. Take advantage of the natural diversity here and break out your binoculars for an afternoon of bird watching.

5. Los Osos/Baywood Park

relaxing view
Source: Flickr / Julie Jordan Scott

The community of Los Osos, along with Baywood Park, occupies a long stretch of land and beach between Avila Beach and Morrow Bay. Los Osos is built along an inlet protected by Morrow Bay Sandspit, meaning the waters in front of this city are quite calm and safe for swimming and kayaking. Enjoy the calm waters or choose from a wide array of activities in this lush area, including cycling, motorsports, golf, hiking, or even just picnicking.

6. Santa Margarita

yellow wildflowers
Source: Flickr / daveynin

Head inland and just north of San Luis Obispo to reach Santa Margarita. This historic town is known as a community for artisans and boasts a range of independent boutiques, jewelry shops, and clothing stores. Book a vacation rental in Santa Margarita for a friendly taste of Californian small-town living. Take advantage of the excellent cycling paths that run through the town and the surrounding wilderness, and enjoy the historic architecture that dates back to 1889.

7. Lompoc

colorful flower gardens
Source: Flickr / Anna Levinzon

The town of Lompoc and the surrounding area of Lompoc Valley is a historic ranch town that offers visitors an authentic taste of inland California. Enjoy the fine dining and wine tasting available in Lompoc, thanks to the community’s proximity to California wine country. Come during the springtime to spend a day touring the gorgeous local flower fields, or check out the local museums and galleries that boast both historical artifacts and contemporary art from the area.

8. Cayucos

rainbows covering the sea
Source: Flickr / Fred Moore

Drive north from Avila Beach along the scenic central California coast to arrive at Cayucos. This beach town is an ideal secluded spot for visitors who want to experience the sun and surf without the crowds. Break out your fishing gear in Cayucos – the bay waters here are great for snagging the catch of the day. Vacation rentals in the area range from detached homes to RVs – not to mention ample opportunity for camping. Get back to nature in Cayucos.

9. Atascadero

hiking route
Source: Flickr / docentjoyce

Enjoy a tight-knit community atmosphere in Atascadero. This inland town offers much in the way of public events, including arts productions and farmer’s markets. Bring the whole family during the summer to enjoy the annual summer concert series. Be sure to stop by the Atascadero’s historic city hall building for a look into the town’s past.

10. Paso Robles

attractive vineyard
Source: Flickr / Gabriel Millos

Drive north from San Luis Obispo to visit Paso Robles. Located within a major agricultural region of California, Paso Robles offers exquisite dining opportunities as well as a welcoming wine culture. Spend a day in town checking out the local shops and restaurants, or take an excursion to visit nearby Hearst Castle, a historic monument, and museum that has been beautifully maintained in its original 1919 state.

11. Cambria

seaside scene
Source: Flickr / Andrew Dupont

The quiet beach town of Cambria is situated next scenic sandy and rocky beaches, popular with tourists and photographers alike. Stay at a vacation rental in Cambria to experience sun and relaxation along with upscale modern amenities. Hike up to the Pedras Blancas Light Station, relax on Moonstone Beach, or take the family on a viewing adventure to the local elephant seal rookery.