Central California Coast Road Trip

In the slide show above, you're viewing pictures of Big Sur and other coastal California attractions. California Highway 1, hugging the cliffs of the Central Coast, is surely one of the world's most beautiful roads that motorists may enjoy. You'll get ideas for making your own memorable Central California Coast road trip on this page.

Photo of Monterey 's Ghirardelli chocolate shop in Monterey, California, USA As you leave the San Francisco/San Jose metropolitan area and head south, you'll enter California's beautiful Central Coast area. After passing through lettuce and vegetable fields, you'll come to the towns of Monterey and Carmel, California. And then next...you'll head into the wilds of Big Sur territory, known for its stunning, rugged coastline.

Before you begin your daydreams of a Central California Coast vacation, perhaps you'd like to view a road map of the area to refresh your memory about the "lay of the land." As you'll be able to see, California Highway 1 hugs the ocean's coastline almost all of the way through Central California---and that fact will give YOU the chance to relax and enjoy the area's stunning ocean views. It's an overwhelming feast for the eyes!

Central California Coast map: Here's the link to a printable PDF map of Central California's coastal area, from Monterey south to Malibu. This includes the Big Sur region of the central coast that's so popular with summer tourists.

Central California Coast Attraction: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Photo of rays swimming at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Central California

Driving southward from San Francisco, you'll reach the seaside town of Monterey, California.

A major Monterey tourist attraction...that you may not want to miss...is therenowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, a large aquarium that features exhibits of all kinds relating to marine life. In fact, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is rated as being on of the very best aquariums in the USA! Since the USA has many good aquariums, that's quite an honor!

For one thing, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has exhibits of larger marine animals that smaller aquariums don't have, such as sea otters and penguins (seen the penguin picture on your right, just below.) For another thing, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has half a dozen different live "animal cams" so that you can watch your favorite creatures from your computer once you get back home. For another, this aquarium sits right on the bay, and includes the natural environment in its exhibits. And, lastly, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is very active at staging educational programs, both for local school kids and for the general public. In other words, you really "can't go wrong" if you decide to take your family to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium!

Photo: The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California has a penguin exhibit that you'll enjoy

The Monterey Bay Aquarium address is 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940. The Monterey Bay Aquarium phone number is 831/648-4800.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium hours of operation: open 10 am, close 6 pm daily (except for Christmas Day, the one day on which the aquarium closes.) During the busy summer vacation season, the Monterey Bay Aquarium opens 1/2 hour earlier, at 9:30 am.

Monterey Bay Aquarium discount coupon: You can save $2 of each regular admission ticket with the Monterey Aquarium savings coupon on the California attraction coupons page of VisitCalifornia.com. (This is California's official tourism website.) While you're on the discount coupons page, you'll surely want to check out what OTHER coupon specials you can find!

Monterey Bay Aquarium Military Discounts: Does the aquarium give a discount to military members and their families? The answer is both "yes" and "no." No, you won't get a discount if you show up at the aquarium's ticket booths. However, you MAY buy discount tickets on base in advance of your visit for a nice savings. Here's a link to the aquarium's military discount information, for your convenience.

Monterey Bay Aquarium group discounts: It only takes 12 or more paying guests to make up a group (not counting kids age 3 & under, who are free.) Groups can be anything from a birthday party, preschool or school group, family reunions...or even simply several families visiting together at the same time. Discounts start at $2 per ticket, but large groups may save $3 or $4. If you'd like to plan a group outing, here's a link to the aquarium's group discount information. The aquarium asks that you give them 48 hours advance notice before group visits.

Corporate and credit union discount tickets: You may already be eligible for Monterey Bay Aquarium discounts & not even know it! A number of corporations and credit unions in the area are members of the aquarium's corporate discount tickets program. You may check the aquarium's list of participating companies and credit unions to see if your group is already on the list. If so, you should ask your human resources or member benefits department about obtaining them.

If you're even remotely thinking about paying a visit to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, you should check out their delightful website. This is certainly one of the very best aquarium sites on the web...maybe one of the best websites for ANY type of attractions. Not only is the website informative, but you'll find it chock-full of features: web cams (including a penguin cam, shark cam, Monterey Bay cam, and MORE!), marine animal videos, and lots of activities that you and your child can do together. Here's a link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website, for your convenience.

Central California Road Trip -- Monterey's Cannery Row

Photo: Monterey, California's Cannery Row at twilight

Another family-friendly Central California activity is strolling along Cannery Row, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex which gets its name from the fact that it used to be a real, working complex of fish canneries...busily putting up the harvest of fish brought in by the Monterey fishing fleet. But...those days are gone. These days, you'd come here, instead, for checking out the shops and dining at one of the fine restaurants on the pier. (Check out the photos to your left and below.)

We heartily recommend that your family pays a visit to Cannery Row. There's so much here that's new and different...so many things that can appeal to all age groups, from toddlers to teens to senior citizens! You may enjoy a quick one-hour "overview tour" of Cannery Row...but, don't count on being able to leave so soon! There are too many unusual shops to snoop through, and too many activities in which you can get involved. You're quite likely to get caught up in Cannery Row's charm, and stay for much longer than you originally planned!

Photo of the Chart House Restaurant at Monterey, California's Cannery Row

The Cannery Row shops are quite varied. Many of them are one-of-a-kind. You can buy boat-themed merchandise, movie memorabilia, souvenirs of Monterey and central California. Or, you can buy upscale clothing and accessories, both from well-known name shops (like IZOD and Sunglass Hut) to one-of-a-kind boutiques. You even buy fine art!


When it comes to dining, you'll find that your choices are varied, as well. As you'd expect, you can find great seafood at Cannery Row. But, you can also find Pizza, American, Mexican and Italian restaurants, and quite a few snack outlets for eating on-the-run.

Cannery Row Family Fun!

As mentioned above on this page, you can visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium while you're at Cannery Row. What else can you do? Why not have fun viewing an IMAX 3D movie? At Cannery Row, there are bike rentals, kayak rentals, and replicas of old-time roadster cars to rent for a drive. You can play miniature golf on an indoor course featuring black lights. You can paint ceramics, buy a colorful kite to fly, get your kids' faces painted, or tour a wax museum. Along the bay, you can explore tide pools.

If you have kids in your group, they'll surely enjoy visiting the Monterey County Youth Museum, filled with interactive exhibits to explore.

If you're interested in paying a visit to the Monterey County Youth Museum while you're at Cannery Row, then use the following link to view the Monterey County Youth Museum official website. The Monterey County Youth Museum phone number is 831/649-6444. The Monterey County Youth Museum address is: 601 Wave St, Suite 100, Monterey, CA 93940.

For directions to the Cannery Row area, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Monterey children's museum, plus the various stores and restaurants mentioned on this page, please use the following link to view a Google map of the Cannery Row area with various attractions pre-marked.

Printable PDF map of Cannery Row: If you'd like to plan ahead for your fun Cannery Row outing, you may print out the following PDF map of Monterey, California's Cannery Row to help you locate the various attractions you're interested in visiting.

Photo of Monterey, California's Cannery Row

California Coast Road Trip -- Scenic Carmel, California

Just south of Monterey lies the enchanting town of Carmel, California where your family can step back in time at the Spanish-era Mission, tour spectacular "17 Mile Drive" (fee), or just check out the town where Clint Eastwood used to be the mayor!

For more information about touring beautiful Carmel,
use the following link to visit the City of Carmel official website.

For information about touring the lovely Carmel Mission, you may call the Carmel Mission phone number, 831/624-1271. Or, you may use the following link to visit the Carmel Mission official website.

Central California Coast Road Trip -- Incomparable Big Sur!

Photo: Big Sur's rugged shoreline in Central California is a stunning place for a road trip

Heading south from Monterey and Carmel, you'll once again come to the choice of whether to take the inland road (US 101) or the shoreline route (California Hwy. 1). Let's assume that you choose the coast route---after all, this is a California COAST road trip!

You'll head into Big Sur country...a region made famous by its stunning views of waves crashing against rocky shorelines. In fact, the drive along the Big Sur coast of California is one of the most beautiful drives in the entire USA...if not in the entire world! I'd recommend that you plan to make a Big Sur road trip at some time in your life without fail. If you love travel, it's as simple as this: you'll love Big Sur!

Though you may lengthen your stay in the Big Sur area by staying at one of its few inns or campgrounds, the actual drive itself doesn't take that long. You'll enjoy several hours of driving through this beautiful coastal wonderland. You may stop at one of the pull-outs along this 2-lane highway to admire the view and snap some photos. Perhaps you'll even spot a seal or two!

Photo: You just may see a seal as you drive along Big Sur's coast line in Central California!

Services are few and far between in this area, so gas up & fill your picnic basket ahead of time!

Popular activities in the Big Sur area is hiking, picnicking or camping. (If you're planning on making a camping trip to Central California, you may wish to check out the "Big Sur Camping" page of our site.

The Central California shoreline is rocky and the Pacific Ocean water is cold, so swimming is not a typical activity at Big Sur. However, there is an underwater scuba park near Big Sur that scuba enthusiasts (in wet suits!) can enjoy. The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is one beautiful area for taking a hike through the lovely woods lining the coast, or doing some tent-camping. You may use the following link to view the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park website. Or, you may call the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State park, phone number 831/667-2315.

Andrew Molera State Park
is another popular place to hike through the woods and engage in other back-to-nature activities. If you're interested in further information, you may use the following link to the Andrew Molera State Park website. You may also call the Andrew Molera State Park, phone number 831/667-2315. (You may notice that both the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and the Andrew Molera State Park are both reached by the same telephone number. Both of these California state parks are located not far from one another along the Big Sur coastline, and are administered together.)

Central Coast Road Trip -- South of Big Sur

San Simeon, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara are delightful beach towns

San Simeon, California is a small...but popular...tourist town on the south end of Big Sur country. In addition to this little hamlet's beautiful ocean views, it is home to one of the most popular tourist attractions along the Central California coast: Hearst Castle.

Hearst Castle is the large and ornate former home of William Randolph Hearst. Indeed, if you'd like to view the estate in its entirety, you'd have to take all 4 of the Hearst Castle tours (yes, four!) to do it. Nevertheless, you may see some of Hearst Castle's major features by simply taking the popular overview tour at the estate. For further information about Hearst Castle tours, please view our Hearst Castle Pictures and Information page.

Or, you may simply enjoy the pleasures of San Simeon's lovely mountains and shore. San Simeon boasts of having a large and beautiful state park which features not one, but TWO, separate campgrounds. One of the park's camping areas is located at sea level and makes a great base for a beach vacation. The second campground is located up high in the coastal mountains, and gives campers a completely different view and "feel" to their outdoors experience. You may see pictures & discover this area's delights on our San Simeon Camping page.

Other delightful beach towns south of Big Sur include Cambria, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach...all excellent choices for taking your kids on an enjoyable vacation along the sands of the Pacific Ocean. All three of these beach towns have a number of inns and hotels...but many people choose to get closer to nature by camping. Either way, if you're planning a summer vacation in these popular resort towns, be sure to plan ahead and reserve your room or camping space early. You may see photos and get more info on our Morro Bay State Park Camping and our Pismo State Beach Camping pages.

Other important websites: If you'll be visiting one of these lovely seaside hideaways, you may find reliable information on the websites of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, the Morro Bay website, and the city of Pismo Beach official website.

After leaving the California's central coast, you'll come through the beautiful city of Santa Barbara on your way into Los Angeles. Santa Barbara is another interesting city in which to spend time along the coast. Particularly lovely are the state's four campgrounds located in the vicinity of Santa Barbara; you may enjoy the photos and info about them on our Santa Barbara Beach Camping and our Carpinteria Beach Camping pages. The city also offers travelers a wide selection of inns and hotels, as well.

Things to do in Santa Barbara: If you're planning to spend your vacation in this area, you'll also probably wish to read through the City of Santa Barbara's official website.

Heading south from Santa Barbara: You may enter the LA metro area in several ways. Taking the US 101 Freeway through Ventura and Camarillo into the populous cities of Los Angeles County is the most-traveled route...and by far the busiest traffic-wise. However, by continuing down the coast through gorgeous Malibu---you'll find an excellent and relaxing way to enter Greater LA. Malibu is still largely undeveloped, and one area in Southern California that's NOT noted for its traffic jams!

Photo: A restless ocean pounds the sharp rocks of Big Sur's coastline in Central California

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