Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip – Santa Barbara to Cambria

For me, this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway was one of the most exciting since it started to take me through the piece I’d never done before. One of my big goals before turning 30 was to check off the chunk of PCH I hadn’t done and had a blast accomplishing it on a road trip with my sister.

This length of the drive is different from most. While you do pop into different coastal towns you also get a chance to see one of California’s top industries: Agriculture. Most tourists don’t get the chance to see California as the number one producing state in the country. You’ll find it again further up the Pacific Coast Highway but slow down and take a look at the farms as well as the coastline. And stop at one of the fruit/vegetable stands, it will be some of the best produce you’ve ever had.

If you’re just joining us in this series focusing on the Pacific Coast Highway don’t miss out on our earlier pieces including the overview and additional legs along the route. Make sure to sign up to receive the rest of the series right in your inbox here.

Note: Some tours, passes, stays and meals were provided at no cost to the author. All opinions remain my own. You’ll find affiliate links in this post which allow me to continue to improve Traveling Nine to Fiver. I hope this article is useful for you. 

Santa Barbara

Like so many of the towns along the coast, Santa Barbara is a great place to grab a bite to eat whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. In the morning, swing by Handlebar Coffee Roaster for delicious latte and pastries. In the afternoon, stand in the long line for La Super-Rica Taqueria. It might take an hour for you to get your order but it’s worth it, Try the tacos, the suizo (it’s like a little quesadilla), and the guacamole is amazing. For dinner, I loved the burgers over at American Ale, plus they carry a variety of California breweries you might not find elsewhere.Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Barbara to Cambria. Including Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Morro Bay.

For activities you can visit the mission or just explore the downtown and wandering to the pier is a great treat. You can watch the sunset over the marina while getting in a good walk. You can even attempt driving onto the pier, but to be honest, I was too nervous to give it a try. Just up from the beach, you’ll find the start of the Urban Wine Trail, comprised of over 20 wine tasting rooms you can walk to. Start on Anacapa Street and work your way along getting to know the local wines and cute and quirky spots.Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Barbara to Cambria. Including Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Morro Bay.

Santa Barbara is a great place to launch into the Central Coast. Stay the night just off the Pacific Coast Highway at The Goodland. This Kimpton property has taken an old motel and spiffed it up, making you feel like you’re witnessing the heyday of the California motel. You’ll find fireplaces to relax by and record players in your room. Book a relaxing night at The Goodland before you head up the coast.

Pismo Beach

Another town along the Coast where you can take in beautiful views, eat some delicious food, and explore a cute downtown. You can start off your stay by taking in the view and maybe even a sunset at the Ventana Grill, one of the classic spots on the coast.

If you’re looking for something more casual but packed with flavor you have a wide range of choices. Two favorites are Splash Cafe for award winning clam chowder and Mo’s Smokehouse for BBQ.

If you plan on crashing in Pismo, a great place is Shore Cliff Lodge, a Best Western Plus that sits right on top of the cliffs. It books up fast but you can get breathtaking views at reasonable costs. The pool itself sits right on the cliffs and is a perfect place to relax.

San Luis Obispo & Morro Bay

Visit the home of the first commercial vintner in the area at the Dallidet Adobe and Gardens, this historic landmark is a beautiful tour where you learn a little more about the history of the area

On your way up to Morro Bay you can stop and take a hike in Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve, here you can find beautiful sand dunes and old oak trees to explore.

If you’d rather get out on the water, you’ll find a great spot to kayak or paddle board in the marina and along Morro Rock. While it’s not uncommon to be blocked from view by a gloomy day, Morro Rock is one of California’s quintessential coastal landscapes that’s worth making the stop for.Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Barbara to Cambria. Including Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Morro Bay.

Cambria

The perfect middle point between San Francisco and Los Angeles is Cambria. Here you can lay back and disconnect for a bit in this little town.

Enjoy some of the delicious wines in the region without traveling far from the coast. Find some of my favorite spots on my guest post at Visit Cambria.

Stay the night at Sand Pebbles Inn, right on Moonstone Beach. If they’re available get one of the rooms with a view. It’s an amazing place to relax by a fireplace and take in the sunset. But even if you don’t stay here make sure to take a walk along Moonstone Beach Drive while the sun sets. It’s a perfect west facing beach; which are harder to come by than you’d expect.Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Barbara to Cambria. Including Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Morro Bay.

Don’t forget to enjoy some of Cambria’s delicious cuisine. Dinner at Robin’s is well worth the wait, make reservations if you want to avoid that, but save room for a few courses since you’ll want to try a little of everything. The next morning, head over to Linn’s for a great breakfast whether you want something healthy or a plate of buttery hashbrowns.  Also, make sure to get one of their scones.

For some more details on exploring Cambria pop over to this post, And don’t worry we’ll explore the amazing places just North of Cambria, but we will get to those next week as we head up to Monterey.

Did I miss any of your favorite spots on this stretch of the drive? If so, let me know in the comments below. If you’re looking for more tips on driving the Pacific Coast Highway head over to the series homepage. And sign up for the Traveling Nine to Fiver newsletter to follow the series as it comes out! Next week we’ll cover Santa Barbara to Cambria.Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Barbara to Cambria. Including Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Morro Bay.

About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the political world in California, but on evening and weekends spends time exploring the West Coast and more. All while encouraging others to join in on the adventures.
  • Elaine J Masters

    Nice drive. I love that area and the coast route. It’s a classic road trip with lots of places to pull over and explore. The pictures give a real feeling for the area.

  • Lesley

    I’m on a road trip from San Diego to San Francisco right now. Unfortunately, I didn’t get in the water in San Luis Obispo. That looks like a great experience. Did you visit the Bubblegum Wall while you were here?

    • Awesome!! Hope you’re enjoying it. And no I didn’t but I went to the gum wall in Seattle last fall right before the took it down.

  • Sounds like a great trip. I would love to see Morro Rock, it looks fantastic!

    • It’s a pretty cool anomaly. Well worth a visit.

  • I love road trips! As we look ahead to start planning our RV trip(s) through the US, I just keep coming back to CA for SO many things/ reasons. I have a feeling we’ll be spending a lot of time over in that area!! Taking a pit stop for kayaking near Moro Rock seems perfect!

    • I’m bias but I’ve lived here 20 years and still have more to explore so I think you can fill up however long you can stick around.

  • what a great itinerary – I’ve always been dreaming of doing a road trip. Now I want to do it even more!

  • The Goodland looks like it has plenty of character- love the whole look of the place.

    • It was pretty perfect. Gotta love a quirky hotel.

  • Kimberly

    I was able to this a few years ago and its beautiful. Its one of those…typical road trips everyone must take once 😛

    • So true! Glad you had a chance to take the trip.

  • Anna Johnston

    Guess I better add Pismo Beach for some award winning clam chowder and Mo’s Smokehouse for BBQ, I freakin love me some BBQ.

    • Yes!! I think there might have to be another post just on eating your way up the coast 🙂

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  • Dawn Balliet

    I just came across this! I am planning a two night trip from San Diego to San Francisco on the PCH. I do not need to be on the PCH until the Anaheim area. I will have an opportunity to drive that portion earlier in the trip. I am looking for a budget friendly area to stop on night one after leaving San Diego. Night two will be at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Any suggestions? Thank you!

    • Hey Dawn! You’ll love the drive. I don’t think I have a specific recommendation but Santa Barbara might be your best bet for budget friendly spots, they have more under $100 than other places on the coast.

      If you want to make it a little further up I love Cambria but they seem to run more in the low $100s. Or San Luis Obispo is right there but a little off the coast, they have more budget spots. Sorry I don’t have specific recommendations but hope that’s helpful.