California's Central Coast

Coastal drive from Ventura to Pismo Beach


highway 101
The drive north on California 101 after you leave the Oxnard/Ventura area takes you alternately through fields and towns located along the California Central Coast. You can drive straight through or stop along the way and really enjoy your day!

oil drilling facility near la conchita la conchita memorial seafood truck La Conchita is located on your right before you get to Carpinteria. You might remember in January 2005 when a landslide and debris flow destroyed homes and killed ten people. There is a monument to the lost amid the debris where the homes are still filled with mud. We used to go to a banana plantation located at the end of the town that thrived in the unique climate enjoyed by this narrow strip of coast. We understand that a loss of lease and a cold winter led to this charming California plantation becoming an avocado farm. (Note: You can get some great seafood at the truck (mid town) if they are open!).

local california surf shop santa claus lane original santa location santa claus lane santa oxnard surfer Carpinteria is located 12 miles south of Santa Barbara and offers a wonderful State Beach that is perfect for swimming, surf fishing and tide pool exploring. You can stop for lunch or camp here if you have more time. The tide pools are full of crabs, snails, sea urchins and anemones and an occasional octopus. The best time to spot seals, sea lions and grey whales is from December through May. Carpinteria got its name from the Chumash Indian's carpentry shop located here during their seagoing hey day!!! The south edge of Carpinteria is Rincon Point, the world renowned surfing spot (Big Wednesday). Even if you don't surf you have to stop and walk down the trail and see 'how it's done' at Rincon! Traveling north on 101, exit Bates Road. The parking lot on the left has the path to the south side of the surfing zone and the one on your right has mountainside stairs to the beach north of the point. I love the huts made out of driftwood right out of Gidget!!!

santa barbara foothills
Next, you will drive through Summerland and Montecito on your way into Santa Barbara. Oprah Winfrey has a home in Montecito and it is really a lovely area. You can spot the Montecito Country Club up on the right. It looks like a California mission and has a breathtaking view of the ocean. My cousin got married here and it was the perfect spot for a really gorgeous ceremony.

santa barbara harbor entrance boat slips santa barbara harbor drydock sailboat santa barbara harbor santa barbara yacht club santa barbara maritime museum surry santa barbara sailboat home away from home
pier at santa barbara santa barbara bay beach boardwalk historical boat registered beauty santa barbara bay beach california travel bus skate park at santa barbara santa barbara skate park
Santa Barbara is a beautiful city that has a lot to offer. Located about an hours drive (or so) north of Los Angeles, it is situated between the mountains and the sea. The climate is just about perfect and much of the town has the old Spanish flavor. There are also fabulous restaurants, resorts and shopping as well as every type of outdoor sport you can imagine. We often watch folk's hang gliding off the mountains, riding the thermals as we drive through the center of town on the 101. You never know what the traffic is going to be like when driving through Santa Barbara so be prepared to just exit and enjoy yourself if it is not moving. The mission here is beautiful and the harbor offers so much to see and do. We love the skate part located just about mid bay and the 'people watching' is just about as good as it gets!!!

coral tree santa barbara As you leave the Santa Barbara city limits and before you drive through Goleta there is an opportunity to take the 154 (San Marcos Pass) through Lake Cachuma. We have found that can save about ½ hour when traveling to our daughter's home in Los Osos. The lake has camping and picnicking available and you drive through Santa Ynez and Los Olivos back to the 101 or at Santa Ynez take the 246 to Solvang and back out to the 101 further south. To stay on the coastal tour just keep driving north and soon you will see signs to El Capitan and Refugio State Beaches. We love to camp at El Capitan and feel it is worth the 'day fee' to drive down into the park and have a picnic. We always see dolphins, seals and pelicans at this remarkable beach! The wildlife just thrives here and I know you will enjoy it. shoreline trail el capitan coastal nap If you plan to camp you must make reservations through ReserveAmerica. (Note: I always TALK my way into these parks to 'have a look' without paying a fee. I like to see the campsites so I can book one that is simply fabulous when we come back! Be sure to ask for a map and whatever else they hand out!)


central coast ranch cattle california poppies gaviota tunnel oak trees mustard plants in bloom refugio beach
After you leave the rolling hills of the Santa Barbara Ranch country and the state beach parks you will come to Gaviota Pass. They have the busiest rest stop on earth and because there are so few of them on this drive we always stop. Be sure to lock your car and keep your kids near!!! Drive through the Gaviota Tunnel and into some really beautiful country. There are rolling hills with oak trees and depending on the season - wild flowers. I love to imagine living in one of the ranches with horses and cattle - just for a minute.

buellton war memorial andersons restaurant buellton buellton hotel windmill flag is up farms horse farm santa inez valley monte roberts farm
horse training ring pollyrich farms breeding and sport horses country view central coast breeding race horses ostrich farm sycamore tree
Next is Buellton, sort of the gateway to the Santa Ynez Valley and Solvang from the 101. Split Pea Andersons and the motel with a giant windmill are town landmarks we always look for and you might as well get gas - it will be expensive the entire trip! Take the 246 (east) a few miles to Solvang. Along the way you will pass an ostrich farm and horse farms where champions are bred and trained. Monte Roberts (the 'horse whisperer') has his The Flag is Up Farms, where he and wife, Pat Roberts, raised 47 foster children and train champion race horses. Guests are welcome if you contact them in advance (we didn't). When you get to Solvang find a parking place and walk around. This replica of a Danish village is simply charming and a great place to score unique gifts. You must go into a bakery and get pastries and hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream! YOU MUST!!!

Drive the opposite direction (west) on the 246 to visit Lompoc, Vandenberg or the La Purisima Conception Mission. When JJ and I visited all 21 California Missions for his fifth grade project(Yes, we did!), this was one of our favorites. The mission is actually a state park offering 25 miles of hiking and riding trails. They have livestock and people dressed up like Father Sierra telling you what life was like 'back then'.

vinyard central coast farm crops rows of grape vines laetitia winery central coast wines by laetitia farm harvest central coast
As you continue to travel north on the 101 through Los Alamos and then Santa Maria you will drive through commercial flower fields and through miles of vineyards. Every time we drive through here there are more and more rows of vines that seem to be thriving! Good news for the central coast! Before you know it you will be back at the coast but as you leave Santa Maria (just past the duck pond on the right) as you cross the bridge across the dry river bed count the bumps in the road…..did you get 30???

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