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Ten Coastal Towns to Explore Along California's Highway One

I’m originally from Missouri, and California was added to my bucket list already at age 15. So, when my parents asked me what I wanted as a gift for my high school graduation – and me being a travel lover from day 1 – I said I wanted to take a trip, of course. California was my first choice. We completed the iconic Highway 1 road trip, starting in San Diego and finishing in San Francisco. Our trip was in June, and I remember being surprised that the weather wasn’t entirely warm for a beach vacation. August through October are the warmest months to visit. Stand-out locations for me were San Diego, Morro Bay, Carmel, and San Francisco. If you haven’t experienced this trip previously, I recommend adding it to your bucket list!

Arch bridge in Monterey County, California
Bixby Creek Bridge

Stretching more than 650 miles, California Highway 1 has long been the best way to take in all the sights the California Coastline has to offer. The West Coast might bring to mind images of beach attire and surf culture. Cities such as San Diego and San Francisco also likely come to mind. And while it’s perfectly acceptable to conjure these images, not everything about the California coast is big cities and personalities.

The California coast offers visitors relaxation in a unique Californian style, with quaint towns and cities that are the perfect destination for a weekend getaway or an extended vacation. These towns are even more improved by forests and towering mountains that provide the backdrop to the blue hues that make up the ocean. The best part about these coastal towns is that they’re all easily accessible from Highway 1.

Here are ten coastal towns to explore and spark adventure on your road trip along the California coast.

As a nonprofit botanical garden, their mission is to engage and enrich lives by displaying and conserving plants in harmony with the Northern California coastal ecosystems and to preserve public access to the coast.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

1. Fort Bragg

Unlike some of the other villages and towns on this list, Fort Bragg doesn’t exude the same quaintness as those to come, but it is worth visiting. In Fort Bragg, you can take in the coastal views while enjoying the variety of flowers and grasses at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Or, hunt for a new favorite wine at one of the local wineries.

Mendocino is a coastal community in northern California
Mendocino Village

2. Mendocino Village

This hilly peninsula, surrounded by bluffs on three sides, is home to many Victorian-era houses. Within the village, you will find artists coming together as a community with galleries and various shops. There are also some great glamping spots in the area!

Capitola is a city in Santa Cruz County, California, United States, on the coast of Monterey Bay.

3. Capitola

This hotspot is one of the oldest vacation retreats on the Pacific Coast. With a Mediterranean ambiance, the downtown displays colorful buildings, Victorian homes, and numerous boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars.

Home to hundreds of species of birds and marine life, the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserve is the remainder of an ancient river valley. The main channel winds seven miles inland, feeding 2,500 acres of rich marsh and tidal flats. Pelicans, herons and egrets, as well as countless fish, sharks, crabs, sea lions and otters call the slough home.
Elkhorn Slough Reserve

4. Moss Landing

With a population of about 200 people, Moss Landing is the quintessential quaint town. In addition to the arts, the city offers access to Elkhorn Slough Reserve, one of the largest wetlands in California. There you can spend hours bird spotting or watching the sea otters play.

Located at the ocean's edge on historic Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is your window to marine life.
Monterey Bay Aquarium

5. Monterey

Monterey might be a destination for you to discover in more than one day. The town is most famously known for its aquarium and 17 Mile Drive, a private road that twists and turns around the coastline.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach city on California's Monterey Peninsula. It's known for the museums and library of the historic Carmel Mission, and the fairytale cottages and galleries of its village-like center.
Carmel by the Sea

6. Carmel-by-the-Sea

With a village-like atmosphere, this coastal town is sure to sweep you off your feet. In this town, you can find a little bit of everything. Luxury inns and hotels will pamper you with service and spas. You can also find Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, now a museum and includes a peaceful garden to meditate and enjoy nature. If shopping is on your list, Carmel is a good spot with various boutiques and jewelry stores.

William Randolph Hearst started to build a fabulous estate on his ranchland overlooking the village of San Simeon in 1919. He called the estate "La Cuesta Encantada" - Spanish for The Enchanted Hill. By 1947, the hilltop complex included a twin-towered main building, three sumptuous guesthouses, and 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools.
Pool at Hearst Castle

7. San Simeon

Within the relatively small town, two major attractions are worth checking out. Hearst Castle allows you to explore the hilltop estate of media maven William Randolph Heart. Next is the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, which sees numerous seal mammals come atop the rocks to breed, molt, give birth, and get some much-needed R&R.

Cambria is a seaside village in San Luis Obispo County, California, United States midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along California State Route 1.
Moonstone Beach in Cambria

8. Cambria

Enjoy rugged coastal views from the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve or take a stroll down Moonstone Beach and explore the unique translucent stones that seemingly light the shoreline. Rent a bike and explore the beach boardwalk, then stop for lunch in the village.

Morro Rock is a volcanic plug in Morro Bay, California, on the Pacific Coast at the entrance to Morro Bay harbor.
Morro Rock

9. Morro Bay

One of the few remaining fishing villages along the coast. Take time exploring the Embarcadero, the town’s waterfront boardwalk, or enjoy a harbor cruise that allows you to catch a glimpse of sea creatures in their natural habitats. A great spot to do some whale watching!

Oxnard is a seaside city west of Los Angeles, in California.

10. Oxnard

While much of Oxnard is more urban than quaint and quiet, the western side of town offers visitors a sandy beach area with many dunes and walking trails. A portion of this beach has earned the name Hollywood Beach due to the abundance of celebrities living there. Oxnard is also known for producing some of the sweetest strawberries in the country.

Are you ready to book a trip to the West coast and plan a road trip that will allow you to take in all these impressive coastal towns? If so, be sure to call today, and I can help make your seaside dreams a reality.


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