Quick—name three cities on California’s coast that don’t start with “San” or “Los.” If you can’t do this easily, you owe yourself a Golden State road-trip.
Off-radar to many Canadians, California’s Central Coast is rife with opportunities for adventure. White-sand beaches with overhead waves. Lush forests crisscrossed with serene trails. A dusty island chain with more sea caves than anywhere else on Earth. It’s all here, and more.
Running north to south, here is part one of your guide to an adventurous road trip along California’s Central Coast:
Ride Waves at Carmel Beach (Pictured)
The jewel of Carmel-by-the-Sea, white-sand Carmel Beach crests gently from Pebble Beach in the north towards Point Lobos State Park. It is dog friendly. It is also campfire and booze friendly. And it is a sublime spot to watch a sunset. With NorCal waves rolling in year-round, the beach is also a cold-water surfing mecca. According to locals, Carmel gets surfable when the waves hit about one metre, and keeps its shape until the break is well overhead. The best waves are found at the base of 8th Street, a short walk south from the main access. While hard-charging locals get pipelined with impunity at Carmel Beach, newbies will find waves and whitewash to learn on too, with lessons locally available. carmelcalifornia.com
Hike & Camp in Big Sur
Occupying a slice of the Santa Lucia Mountains’ western slope as they rise from the coastline, Big Sur is as much an attitude as it is a physical location. It is a locale for Gore-Tex cloaked REI original members and knot-haired surf bums living out of Westfalias. Though the actual Pfeiffer Sig Sur State Park is only 400 hectares, it’s backed by massive Los Padres National Forest—about 20 times bigger—and flanked by Andrew Molera and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Parks. Within these redwoods and river valleys, travellers can uncover 300 kilometres of hiking trails, complemented by accommodation at 61-room Big Sur Lodge, 150-drive-to campsites along Big Sur River or hike- or bike-in sites further into the forest. parks.ca.gov
Sunny Days at Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach, about halfway between San Francisco and L.A., is a California surf town the way you want one to be: approachable and palpably chilled out. The key draw here is 400-hectare Pismo State Beach. Explore it on a beach-cruiser bicycle or rent a surfboard (and wetsuit) and tackle the consistent shore-break. Pismo Pier, which reaches out 400 metres into the ocean from the beachside promenade, is home to a small farmer’s market. Search out fresh kale and avocadoes—sold for a fraction of what they cost in Canada—as well as locally sourced strawberry lemonade and other agri-treats. classiccalifornia.com