Categories: CampingDestinations

An Unforgettable California Central Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Buckle up, campers—we’re hitting the road for a journey through the stunning landscapes of Central California, from Northern California wine country to the bucket list-worthy beach towns on the Pacific Coast Highway. Here, you’ll have the chance to experience the great outdoors like never before, with unique campsites, RV spots, and cabins to stay in along the way. The best part? We’ve mapped out a full, 4-day itinerary for you, so all you need to do is book your favorite spots below and pack the car.

Day 1: Santa Cruz County

There may be no better spot to start a road trip than California’s Central Coast, and Santa Cruz County is about as good as it gets. Here we’ll hit New Brighton State Beach, where you can relax on the sandy shores and dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean. Also just a short drive inland is The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, a prime spot for hiking through the redwoods and climbing coastal mountains to take in ocean views. More great hiking can be found nearby at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and Toro County Park, or you can spend some time exploring some of the coast’s small towns, such as Santa Cruz and its beach boardwalk, Monterey‘s Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf (home to many sea lions and clam chowder spots), or Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is full of wine tasting rooms and offers easy access to Pebble Beach’s 17-Mile Drive.

For the first night of your road trip, book a stay at one of these Hipcamps near Santa Cruz to relax before we head out tomorrow.

Photo by Hipcamp Host Matt B. at Fern Ridge Flats

Day 2: Big Sur & Beyond

Heading south along Highway 1, our next Central Coast road trip destination is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, just beyond Carmel Valley. If it’s your first time, you’re going to want to make pit stops at McWay Falls and Big Sur’s iconic Bixby Creek Bridge, which spans over 800 feet across a deep canyon on the ocean. Trust us, they’re both worth it for the panoramic coastline views.

Once we arrive in the heart of Big Sur, campers can take to the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park redwood forest for hiking, wade in the Big Sur River, or picnic at Pfeiffer Beach, where Sycamore Canyon Creek drains into the Pacific Ocean. For charming experiences along the town’s main stretch, grab a bite at Big Sur Bakery on the grounds of the Loma Vista Gardens, a sweet spot to wander through colorful wildflowers.

Here are some great Big Sur camping options for once you’re done adventuring for the day, all within striking distance of Monterey and Big Sur.

Photo courtesy of SMR Carmel Camping, CA

Day 3: San Luis Obispo County

On day 3, it’s time to continue our California road trip by cruising down the coast for about two hours to a stretch of coastal towns known for ocean waves, wine, and top-notch hiking. On the way in, you might want to stop at the Piedras Blancas Rookery to spot sunbathing elephant seals, walk the smooth, sandy coves at Moonstone Beach, or tour San Simeon’s Hearst Castle.

Further down the coast, Cambria, Cayucos, and Morro Bay are all worth a stop in to see art galleries and local artisan shops, but after that, we’ll make our way about 40 minutes inland to Paso Robles, a wine country hot spot dotted with vineyards, wineries, olive oil orchards, and tasting rooms.

After a day in the heart of Central California, settle in for the night at a Hipcamp near Paso Robles.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Abigail Hunter at Vineyard Oasis, CA

Day 4: Santa Barbara County

Good morning, campers! Once you hit Highway 1 heading south toward Southern California, drive about 30 minutes south of Morro Bay to reach Arroyo Grande, home to the historic Swinging Bridge, and Pismo Beach, a supreme kayaking destination with ATV rentals on the sand dunes.

After a morning by the water, we’re continuing on for the final night of our road trip, where we’ll conclude down in the area of Santa Barbara and Goleta. (Consider taking Highway 101 instead of the 1 for this leg to shave off about 30 minutes from an otherwise 2-hour drive). Here you’ll find balmy weather, Spanish colonial architecture, and a smattering of coastal destinations, including El Capitán and Refugio state beaches.

We’ll end our trip at one of these Hipcamp spots for a night under the stars.

Photo by Lisse Lundin at Private Beach Farm, CA

Ready to get going? If you don’t have your own ride, check out RVshare’s California RV rentals, then discover more of Hipcamp’s Central California stays to start planning your own road trip around the state’s coast, valleys, and mountains.

More camping road trip inspiration for you

We’ve got scenic spots and road tripping tips all over the US.

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