If you’re visiting Los Angeles and want to get out of the hustle and bustle of the big city, drive north to enjoy some of the greatest beach towns and views along the California coastline. Here you’ll experience the real California with rugged coastline mixed with majestic mountain views. This one-week itinerary from Los Angeles to San Simeon includes the best things to do in Pismo Beach and Morro Bay.
Day 1 – Santa Barbara
Head up the coast to Santa Barbara. Often called the American Riviera for its Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs, Santa Barbara is framed by the ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains in the background.
Start your tour of Santa Barbara at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Designed in the Spanish-Colonial style and completed in 1929, the still-functioning courthouse is an iconic Santa Barbara landmark with its distinctive four-faced clock tower, red tile roof, elegant arches and sunken garden and grounds. You can climb to the top of the clock tower for a panoramic view of Santa Barbara and beyond.
Next, visit the 78-acre historic landmark Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, where you can walk the 5.5 miles of trails which showcase California’s native landscapes and diverse habitats ranging from desert and meadow to creek side and redwoods.
In the afternoon head downtown to Stearns Wharf where you can stroll the iconic boardwalk which features clothing and souvenir shops. If you’re hungry grab an ice cream or sit down for a meal at one of the great seafood restaurants. Kids can also enjoy the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, where they’ll learn about the fascinating creatures beneath the Wharf through cool interactive exhibits.
Finish your day with a stroll along East Beach. Located along Cabrillo Blvd, this four mile stretch of open beach offers plenty of space to picnic, swim or play beach volleyball.
Day 2 – Pismo Beach
Make the one and a half hour drive from Santa Barbara up to Pismo Beach. Bookended by the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and the fruit-bearing vines of wine country, Pismo Beach exudes the laid back California attitude.
Each year the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove welcomes thousands of vibrant orange and black Monarch Butterflies to Pismo State Beach. The Grove is essential to their successful migration, as they seek shelter from the freezing northern winters. Visit from late October to February when the butterflies cluster in the limbs of towering, majestic Eucalyptus trees.
If you’re interested in hiking or biking the Pismo Preserve is the place to go. At over 900 acres, the Pismo Preserve offers a variety of recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy over 10 miles of existing ranch roads and trails that meander throughout the property offering ideal routes for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The trails pass through serene oak woodlands and coastal ridgelines with stunning panoramic vistas of the Pacific Ocean.
After your hike, kick back and beat the heat at the Avila Hot Springs. Discovered in 1907 Avila Hot Springs is a natural artesian mineral hot springs. Enjoy the hot springs as well as a heated freshwater pool with double slides, BBQ facilities, massage therapy, and Wally’s Bike Rentals with access to bike trails.
Day 3 – Morro Bay Itinerary
Head up the coast towards Morro Bay. Just before arriving stop in at the Montaña de Oro State Park. This park features dramatic ocean bluffs and summits with sweeping views. The park covers over 8,000 acres and has 7 miles of undeveloped coastline. Hike the three mile Bluff Trail and see tide pools, beaches, and impressive cliffs along the picturesque coast.
Continue on to Morro Bay. In town head towards the ocean to visit Morro Rock. Morro Rock, a State Historic Landmark, was formed about 23 million years ago from the plugs of long-extinct volcanoes. It’s hard to image the bulk of the rock until you actually get up close and see it.
If you want to relax on a quiet beach with incredible views drive slightly north on highway 1 to Morro Strand State Beach. The State Park also has a campground if you want to try our beach camping.
Day 4 – Arrive in San Simeon
Make the short 40 minute drive from Morro Bay to San Simeon. San Simeon is home to the world famous Hearst Castle. Built as the private residence of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, the complex, completed in 1947, is an extraordinary temple to opulence and excess. Now a state park, the castle is a must-see attraction with a 165-room castle, 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools, and, to top it all off, spectacular views of the sunny Central Coast.
There are a large number of tours available of the Castle. The Grand Room tour is recommended for first time visitors. This overview of Hearst Castle offers an itinerary through the main building called Casa Grande: the Assembly Room, Refectory, Morning Room, Billiard Room and Theater. The tour lasts 60 minutes and reservations can be made, changed or cancelled online at ReserveCalifornia.com or by calling 1-800-444-4445.
Day 5 – Stop in Malibu
Above are the best things to do in Pismo Beach and Morro Bay. If you are heading back to LA and have time, stop in Malibu. Malibu has some of the best beaches in California. First head to Surfrider Beach, just off the Malibu Pier, to watch the surfers. “Malibu Beach” is actually comprised of the Malibu Lagoon, the Malibu Pier, and the area referred to by locals as “Surfrider” Beach. Although all of these areas are adjacent to each other, each element of Malibu Beach offers visitors a unique experience. Malibu Lagoon is 22 acres of wetlands, gardens, and sandy beach, while Malibu “Surfrider” Beach has almost a mile of ocean frontage, and famous Malibu Pier is great for a walk and for saltwater fishing. With some of the greatest waves in the world, Surfrider beach was named the first World Surfing Reserve.
Next, head further out from Malibu to El Matador State Beach. Small, beautiful and dominated by rocky outcrops, El Matador looks not unlike a European beach. The beach features some massive rocks and sea caves you can explore. A trail descends through rock formations on the face of the bluff, then stairs take you the rest of the way to the beach. There are no lifeguards or other facilities, but it’s a great beach to explore.
Day 6 – Second Day in Malibu
On your second day in Malibu visit the Getty Villa, the original home of the Getty Museum, which opened in 1974. The museum focuses on ancient Greek and Roman Art. Admission to the Getty Villa is free, but you must get a timed-entry ticket before you visit.
If you’re hungry or in the mood for some shopping browse the shops at the Malibu Country Mart, an upscale shopping center. This casual outdoor retail center attracts a mix of both locals and tourists strolling through after a day at the beach. Restaurants range from upscale eateries to take out sandwich shops, while the retailers mostly sell L.A. essentials: designer jeans and $100 T-shirts. If you’re finished shopping grab a bite at Malibu Farms, the organic café and restaurant that sits right on the pier. Or browse the fresh catches, and try one of the famous ahi tuna burgers at Malibu Seafood,
Day 7 – Back to LA for the completion of Best Things to do in Pismo Beach and Morro Bay
Make your way back to LA. Take in the sights of the Santa Monica Pier before you leave if you have time.
For information on Los Angeles, see our other Los Angeles itineraries such as the Pasadena, Burbank and San Marino itinerary.