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8 Must-Sees on California’s Highway One

8Must-Sees on California’s Highway One

By Mary Farah

If there’s ever been a time for a good old road trip to shine, it’s 2020. Whether it be travel restrictions or merely playing it safe, there’s no time like now to hit the open road and discover what’s in your backyard.

Since I was born and raised in California, I’ve been fortunate to see a good portion of this beautiful state. I have many favorites but love any opportunity to take a ride up Highway One. From funky coastal towns to one-of-a-kind eats, these are eight cities along the “One” that are worth a stop.

Oceanside

Starting from San Diego County, Oceanside has captured my heart many times. Grab a cup of Joe at one of their locally-owned coffee houses and take a walk along their world-famous pier. Got some time to spare? Rent a bike and go for a scenic ride over the San Luis Rey trail. If staying over is in the cards, check into O’side’s iconic Fin Hotel to be in the center of the coastal action.

Beautiful Seal Beach sunset

Seal Beach

Call me biased given I’ve lived in Seal Beach, but this Orange County town is a true gem. Often called “Mayberry by the Sea,” this tight-knit community offers a bustling Main Street with adorable boutiques, bars, restaurants, and even a pub. Nosh on some worldfamous clam chowder and fish tacos from the Hangout, then check out open mic nights at Bogart’s Coffeehouse.

Ventura

As you continue north, you might notice those chill, laid-back vibes become more apparent. It certainly is so when you stop in Ventura. The ultimate “Beach Bum” haven, expect to see classic vans and hippie descendants enjoying their oasis. No visit to the town is complete for me unless I grab a sweet treat from Blenders in the Grass, and grub from Harvest Cafe. If you’re a hiker, don’t miss the up-hill trek to the Serra Cross at Grant Park. On a clear day, enjoy breathtaking views of the Channel Islands and Santa Barbara.

Shell Beach

While neighboring towns Pismo and Avila Beach often draw the crowds, Shell Beach has always been my favorite in San Luis Obispo County. Unassuming and with fewer than 9000 residents, Shell Beach truly offers its visitors the chance to escape the noise. Meditate at one of their several parks or simply enjoy driving through with the windows down.

San Luis Obispo

Although not by the beach, San Luis Obispo is awfully close and worth some of your time. San Luis Obispo (or “SLO” as the locals know it) offers an extremely eclectic experience ranging from kitschy hotels, attractions, and world-renowned cuisine. Take a peek inside the wild restrooms at the Madonna Inn, and leave your mark on famous Bubblegum Alley. Looking for a classier visit? Stay at Apple Farm, and make dinner reservations at Luna Red. Stroll the town’s main drags of Higuera and Marsh streets. Don’t expect to leave their shops empty-handed.

Cayucos

Another “hidden gem,” Cayucos offers the perfect pit stop for a quick bite and more beautiful beach views. Grab a drink at one of their many bars (or a saloon!). No visit is complete without going to the Brown Butter Cookie Company. I always buy extra intending to give as gifts, but somehow finish the bags before returning home. Oh, well.

Cambria

If you're crunched for time on your Highway One tour, make Cambria a priority. Despite its smalltown roots (Population is barely 7000), the tranquil city offers plenty for all. From its beautiful Moonstone Beach to fine dining at Linn’s and Robin’s, you’re sure to fall in love while visiting. No matter the season, several festivities are always on the calendar from Scarecrow Festivals to holiday light extravaganzas.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Last, but certainly not least, we end in the fairytale village of Carmel-by-the-Sea. You may have to stop and ask yourself if you are in California? Or a princess movie? If you have pooches in tow, even better. Carmel is continually rated as one of the most dog-friendly cities in America. Plan a night or two at the Hofsas House Hotel, and make reservations (or take out) from Dametra Cafe.

Photos (Top, L-R): Downtown Ventura awaits you; Views from the Ventura Harbor; Dogs love it in Carmel-by-the-Sea, too; (Middle): Shell Beach welcomes you; Learn about San Luis Obispo at the History Center; Cozy mornings at Carmel's Hofsas House Hotel; (Bottom): The iconic Apple Farm Hotel of San Luis Obispo; Catch some waves at Cambria's Moonstone Beach; Let the artistic side of Cayucos capture you