From the coast to the high desert, this is your ultimate guide to road tripping through Central California. There is so much to love here whether you find yourself kicking back at the beach or exploring one of the many wineries in the valley.
I embarked on this week-long road trip this month to explore more of California’s scenic destinations. All three locations were spots I had yet to spend more time in. So when Visit California partnered with me to go explore, I was excited to hit the road again. Spring and summer are particularly some of my favorite times of the year to go on a road trip as wildflowers are in full bloom and the weather is mild.
For our first stop, we went straight to Pismo Beach to refresh by the coast. Two nights gave us time to explore the bustling downtown, check out the beaches, and even get a hike in. It’s all very close together which makes for a convenient base to call home to explore this part of the central coast. Afterward, we made our way to the Santa Ynez Valley to explore charming towns and wine country. There is a lot to love here from wineries that look like the French countryside to chic local boutiques to peruse. For our final stop, an off-the-beaten-path destination called New Cuyama to hang our hats at the roadside resort, Cuyama Buckhorn.
I found all three of the destinations as a wonderful mix together as each was different enough. From the coast to wine country, and then ending in the high desert showed just how unique California’s landscape can be in just a few hour’s drive. You’ll find my whole road trip guide below, our favorite stops, and where to stay for your trip!
| This post is in partnership with Visit California. As always, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.|
A Road Trip Guide to Central California: Pismo Beach, the Santa Ynez Valley, and New Cuyama
What to Know Before You Go
Itinerary: Pismo Beach – Santa Ynez Valley – New Cuyama. This can be arranged in any order as all are within an hour or two of each other.
Amount of time: I would recommend 2-3 nights in each of these destinations to fully experience the area.
Getting there: Since this is centrally located in California, it’s a great destination for those based anywhere in the state. From San Francisco, it is around 5 hours to the general area and around 4 hours from southern California pending your location.
Time of year: I am partial to spring as I love when it is all green and in bloom. However, this is definitely a year-round destination and each season offers a wonderful experience.
Pismo Beach, California
Where to Stay
Vespera Resort — Look no further than the Vespera Resort right on Pismo Beach. The location is incredible and just footsteps from the boardwalk. And if you book an oceanfront room, you can hear the waves from your room. The hotel is coastal modern and features a restaurant and bar downstairs as well called the Somerset Grill. Staying at this hotel was a highlight of our time exploring Pismo Beach. Find the best rates here from $429
Where to Eat
La Bodega Tapas: Come here for a fun night of tapas and a great wine list. I loved the flatbreads, the fish tacos, and the empanadas.
Zorro’s Cafe & Cantina: We came here twice, once for breakfast and another time for lunch. Good Mexican and American fare and their brunch on the weekends are amazing.
Somerset Grill: Great spot right at the Vespera Resort for fresh eats. Their seasonal menu has things like steak, fresh fish, and more.
Kraken Coffee Company: The spot for a good coffee and they even have breakfast burritos if you’re looking for something to eat in the morning.
Old West Cinnamon Rolls: A classic Pismo Beach spot that you can’t miss. Worth the wait!
Surfside Donuts: For another sweet treat, grab one of the unique donuts here.
Things to Do
Hike in Pismo Preserve: For epic views over Pismo Beach, the Preserve has incredible hiking trails. If you catch it during spring, you’ll also have an abundance of wildflowers along the way. We did the Lone Oak trail which made for a scenic afternoon out.
Walk the Boardwalk + Town: Pismo Beach has a boardwalk that takes you along the ocean and leads you into town (it’s stroller-friendly if you’re going with a baby). I would recommend popping into town as well to peruse the shops, I loved Esteem Surf Shop.
Check out the beaches: There are a lot of local beaches if you’re looking for a day by the ocean. There is Pismo Beach right there and further, up the coast, I would recommend going towards Memory Park. Another great coastal area to check out is near Dinosaur Caves Park, we went for a stroll here along the cliffs.
Go wine tasting: You’re close to the amazing Edna Valley which is home to several wineries. My favorite winery in the valley is Biddle Ranch to wine taste under the olive trees. Reservations are required.
For more things to do in San Luis Obispo, check out this city guide
Santa Ynez Valley
Where to Stay
Hotel Ynez — If you’re looking for a laidback, charming spot to call home, Hotel Ynez is it. Quite the looker, this relaxed hotel near Santa Ynez is chic in design. I loved the various outdoor spaces to enjoy like the bocce ball court and pool area. Inside the rooms, it was very bohemian and set up with a wet bar and even a Nespresso machine. Well located to everything in the valley you may want to do. Find the best rates here from $350
Where to Eat
Bob’s Well Bread: One of the best spots in the valley, Bob’s Well Bread is a must-stop when visiting. Fresh loaves of bread, a great sandwich selection, and you can’t miss the pastries.
Nella Kitchen & Bar: For an upscale experience, head to Nella for a dinner to remember. The wrap-around porch has a lot of charm, my preferred spot to dine. We loved their menu, from craft cocktails to the pinsas, everything was delicious.
The Lucky Hen Larder: Best spot for artisanal sandwiches, charcuterie, and more. We came twice here we loved it so much, and I would recommend getting food to go to take to a winery as well!
Industrial Eats: Fun menu to explore at Industrial Eats, there were several unique dishes to choose from. They also have pizzas here as well.
Pony Espresso: Our go-to spot for coffee right in Santa Ynez, they also have a great breakfast menu like avocado toast and breakfast burritos.
Solvang Bakery: For a sweet tooth fix, come to Solvang Bakery. So many pastry options and assorted cookies.
Things to Do
Explore Los Olivos Town: The quaint town of Los Olivos is full of tasting rooms and small boutiques. You could easily spend an afternoon here just perusing around. I would go for a wine tasting at Epiphany Wines or the Bubble Shack, both are at the same location. The Bubble Shack is a fun little building set up for tasting sparkling wine from the Fess Parker Family Wines. While in town, definitely go into Los Olivos General Store to shop local and stock up on any provisions you may need. Another highlight was getting coffee at the recently opened Lefty’s Coffee shop.
Wine tasting at Sunstone Winery: This is the largest winery in the area in terms of production and one idyllic setting for a wine tasting. You feel like you’re transported to the French countryside with lavender surrounding you. It’s a casual spot to go for a tasting, reservations are not required.
Stroll through Solvang: Solvang is the Danish postcard town of America! All of the architecture makes you feel like you could be in Denmark and it’s full of a lot of shops, tasting rooms, and bakeries. If you’re looking to wine taste, I would recommend going to Dana V. Wines, they have a lovely patio and have live music during the summer.
Shop Local: One of my favorite spots in the valley was getting to go to the Santa Ynez General Store which featured a chic selection of home goods. They have also just opened up their clothing boutique down the street as well. This shop is a must-visit when here.
New Cuyama, California
Where to Stay
The Cuyama Buckhorn — The one and only hotel in New Cuyama and quite possibly the reason to visit is this hotel. It’s a destination within itself and has everything you need for your stay. The resort has been renovated and has a pool to enjoy, and plenty of outdoor lounge spaces. I highly recommend taking advantage of the firepits at night. Right at the resort, there is a restaurant that features in-house bbq, and be sure to go into the old-school bar for a cocktail or two. Find the best rates here from $400
Where to Eat
The Restaurant at the Buckhorn: There is one restaurant right at the hotel that is your go-to spot for all meals. We ate here for two days, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I would recommend trying their bbq at least once, the grain bowl, and the burgers. One thing I loved about the restaurant was that you could order the food in your room or anywhere on the property like the pool. While here, be sure to grab a cocktail at the bar as well, it has an amazing interior space too.
Things to Do
Relax at the hotel: When at the Buckhorn, my recommendation would be to hang out at the hotel and kick back. Sit poolside, order lunch, read a book, and soak it all in. There are bocce ball courts, firepits for at night, and even an outdoor pool table.
Wine Taste at Condor’s Hope Winery: If you’re looking for a unique winery to visit in the area, Condor’s Hope is one of a kind in its dry-farming growing technique. Their winery is family-owned and dedicated to being sustainable and it’s all organic. You can organize a wine tasting directly with the owners to learn more about their sustainable practice and to try their wines and olive oil.
Go for a scenic drive to Carrizo Plain National Monument: If you’re lucky and time it just right, you’ll get a look at some of the best spring wildflowers in the state. Carrizo Plain National Monument is one of the largest grasslands and during super blooms explodes with wildflowers.