California’s coast offers so many types of adventure as it stretches from the warm Baha border through the crisp cutoff of Oregon’s forests. Yet there’s nothing quite so alluring as the lush, beachy mid-section of the state: California’s central coast, an area ripe for road tripping along the famed 101 Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway. When traveling north from Los Angeles, the central coast offers all the thrills a well designed weekend road trip needs. From roadside oddities to delicious food and fun places to stay, you won’t ever be left without an available option for activity.
We teamed up with Silvercar for a road trip from LA to Santa Barbara and back again. Our 2018 Audi Q5 was located at LAX and the pick-up process was seamless: all you needs to do is download the Silvercar app, reserve a car (you’ll need a specific time and day in mind) and select a level of insurance coverage. When you’re ready to pick it up, head to your car’s location and scan the QR code. The car doors will unlock, the trunk pops open and you’re ready. Each time you use Silvercar, you get a fully loaded Audi A4 or Q5—no sneaky charges, no queues, no bargaining and the fuel cost is always fair (based on the nearby prices). We started toward Hearst Castle, and have lots of worthwhile destinations up and down the coast—from iconic and classic California, to roadside weirdness.
Media mogul William Randolph Hearst spent much of his later years dedicated to building a “little” ranch outside of Cambria that we now know as Hearst Castle, a once private estate now under the care of the California State Parks. Part West Coast Versailles and part antique/museum mix-up, the early 20th century mansion fuses Spanish aesthetics with international flair. The place has everything from imported Egyptian statues to zebras grazing hillside to a cobalt indoor pool.
South of Hearst is Scout Coffee, a homegrown roaster from the folks behind HoneyCo located in two eye-catching San Luis Obispo locations. The shops offer everything fresh takes on classics, drinks like seasonal sodas and coffee with house-made almond milk, while offering a lifestyle by way of an in-house shop to pick up magazines and mugs associated with their brand of coffee living. Whether for a morning sip or afternoon pick-me-up, Scout is the place to stop in SLO.
Nuzzled at the center of the state is a little town called Los Alamos, an under-the-radar roadside town ripped from wild West lore. The main attraction here is Shelter Social Club’s Alamo Motel, a woodsy ranch inspired boutique hotel that re-envisions the American motel as an approachable evolution of rustic life. The Alamo is a quaint, 22-room lodge from the folks behind the Ojai Rancho Inn that is walking distance to a handful of restaurants, antiques, and wine shops and a short drive from Santa Ynez Valley food and vineyard staples.
Within eyeshot of the Alamo is Plenty, one of the younger food spots in town. Created by Edible LA magazine’s founders, the restaurant is known for breakfast and lunch and Friday dinners made from locally sourced ingredients almost literally grown in their backyard. The spot feels like a diner updated with gluten free and vegan alternatives to classics and fits in nicely with local staples like Bob’s Well Bread, Pico at the Los Alamos General Store, and Full of Life Flatbread.
Whether traveling north or south, Buellton’s Ostrichland is an oddly appealing stop. For less than $10, visitors can explore the farm and feed ostriches and emus by the bowl. Maybe a little hokey, but certainly a lot of fun, it’s the type of roadside attraction that’s entirely ridiculous and feels like you’ve stumbled on a real treasure.
Smithy + Santa Barbara Public Market
In Santa Barbara, try newcomer Smithy for lunch or brunch, a rustic Californian food concept from Chef Lauren Herman formerly of Los Angeles’ lauded Luques Group. Within walking distance is the Santa Barbara Public Market, a local food hall with everything from coffee to candy, tacos to noodles. Consider swinging by for dessert, grabbing sweets from Enjoy Cupcakes or Rori’s.
Combination market and restaurant, Malibu Seafood has become a Pacific Coast Highway staple—a spot to stop for a little fish taco or crab salad before hitting the beach. The popular stand draws lines around the building and is beloved by locals and tourists alike for their Southern California seafood style. Parking can be a challenge but, if you go early enough, you can park at the tiny Corral Canyon Park lot and explore beach adjacent trails.
The latest addition to Malibu’s hotel scene is The Surfrider, a small hotel bringing the internationally known city’s beach town roots to life. Surfrider offers luxurious rooms that combine California modernity with oceanic casual. The hotel offers a peaceful LA getaway but is most wowing with a guest-only roof deck and restaurant overlooking the city’s pier. Like the Alamo Motel, Surfrider is an update on a California classic – and is the newest must-stay for those driving north to the central coast.
Images by Cool Hunting