5-Day Highway 1 Road Trip Itinerary: SLO to San Simeon

Ashlee and Pablo hiking at Montana de Oro State Park in Baywood-Los Osos, California.

Our 5-day Highway 1 Road Trip itinerary covers Avila Beach, Cayucos, Cambria, San Simeon, and Baywood-Los Osos along the Central Coast of California in San Luis Obispo County.

A road trip along California’s famous Highway 1 is a bucket list trip if you love adventures with ocean views, wildlife, and fun outdoor activities.

My husband, Pablo, and I drove from San Luis Obispo (SLO) to San Simeon and are sharing what we did to help you plan your trip. From hiking and kayaking to foraging for seaweed, discover things to do, find the best places to eat (gluten-free friendly), and learn where to stay.

When Highway 1 Road Trip invited us for a hosted adventure, we jumped at the chance because we’d been dreaming of driving the iconic route for years.

How To Get There and Where To Start

Ashlee overlooking the Elephant Seal Rookery.

Overlooking the Elephant Seal Rookery.

If you’re not from California, like us, fly into the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP). It’s a small airport and easy to get in and out of.

You’ll want to rent a car if you’re flying in. Pick up your vehicle at the airport by the baggage claim area (it’s super easy).

Start your adventure right from the airport and head southwest towards the coast to kick the day off at Avila Beach.

If you’re not flying in, no problem. Still, start at Avila Beach.

Where To Stay

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.

Highway 1 is known for its cute artisan communities recognized for their laid-back coastal vibe. You can find boutique hotels and motels or inns overlooking the ocean. It’s the perfect road trip for adventurous couples and friends.

The Pacific Motel – Cayucos

Inside of The Pacific Motel, Ashlee pointing at the room number.

The Pacific Motel.

We stayed at The Pacific Motel in Cayucos for half our road trip.

The owners take pride in what they have built. The motel has a hip surfer ambiance that is ideal for people wanting a relaxing and casual adventure near Cayucos. The rooms are trendy and within walking distance of the beach. They also serve a nice coffee bar in the morning.

The motel has fire pits, ping pong, a cute shop that supports local businesses, beach towels, beach chairs, and a beer and wine cooler. Guests can use beach cruisers from The Pacific Motel to get around town if they don’t want to walk.

It’s one of the cutest places we have stayed at, and we loved walking to breakfast and the beach every morning.

The Baywood Inn – Baywood-Los Osos

The Baywood Inn in Baywood-Los Osos, California

The Baywood Inn.

When we walked into our room at the Baywood Inn, we immediately ran to the huge windows and balcony facing Morro Bay.

Staying here is like staying in an apartment. There is a living room with vaulted ceilings, a fireplace, a small kitchenette, a bathroom, and a bedroom. It’s within walking distance of a handful of restaurants and an excellent location to access hiking, kayaking, and the Morro Bay Marina.

Breakfast is complimentary with your stay. When you check-in, the inn will tell you which restaurant is hosting breakfast.

Best Time To Visit

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

The Central Coast of California has a Mediterranean climate, meaning you can visit year-round. However, depending on the type of adventures you want, like getting in or on the water, spring, summer, and fall will have warmer temperatures. June, July, and August are busy, so be sure to plan ahead if you travel during the summer.

We visited during April. It was warm enough to wear a light jacket. Every day was sunny except for two days when the famous coastal fog rolled in. It was neat to see the fog, so it didn’t mess up our plans. We still hiked and explored until it burned off later in the day.

The wildflowers bloomed during our spring trip, and we saw the Elephant Seals. I can’t recommend the beauty of traveling along Highway 1 in the spring enough.

Day 1

Mersea's Restaurant and Pablo standing at the Pier near Avila Beach, California.

Mersea’s Restaurant and Pablo standing at the pier.

Explore Avila Beach, drive to Cayucos, check into The Pacific Motel, then walk Moonstone Beach in Cambria

Kick the adventure off by driving straight to Mersea’s for food near Avila Beach. We both got fish tacos – they were so good.

The restaurant is at the end of a pier. You might also see seals hanging out on the platform (we did). The water is a beautiful blue, and it will take your breath away.

After eating at Mersea’s, drive to Avila Beach a little down the road. You can access the beach here, and there are a bunch of boutique shops and restaurants.

Hit the road, drive towards Cayucos, and check into The Pacific Motel. If there’s still time in the day, drive a little further north towards Cambria and walk the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk.  It’s pretty at sunset.

For dinner, Pablo and I had a wonderful garden patio dinner at Robin’s Restaurant in Cambria. When we visited, they served mouthwatering, handcrafted meals and even had gluten-free cheesecake. If you’re road-tripping with your dog, pets are allowed on their darling patio.

Day 2 – Morning

Beach by Cavalier Coastal Kitchen in San Simeon.

Beach by Cavalier Coastal Kitchen.

Tour Hearst Castle in San Simeon 

Rise and shine. Then, walk to breakfast at the Hidden Kitchen in Cayucos. They have gluten-free waffles and breakfast tacos that are out of this world. Sit out back on their patio and enjoy oceanfront views.

After breakfast, hop in your car and drive Highway 1 north towards San Simeon to tour Hearst Castle. With the help of architect Julia Morgan, media mogul William Randolph Hearst funded the elaborate estate—the “who’s who” of the entertainment industry would retreat here by invitation only.

Today, you can take a guided tour to see all the magnificent art William Randolph Hearst collected from around the world. We thought the most interesting parts of the tour were walking through the gardens, seeing the Neptune Pool and the Egyptian Fountain, and walking across gold-plated tile in the Roman Pool. Online reservations to take a tour can be made 60 days in advance.

After we visited the castle, we drove to the Cavalier Coastal Kitchen. I ordered a BLTA on gluten-free bread, and Pablo got a fried chicken wrap that hit the spot. If you’d like to take in the views, a path is near the parking lot that overlooks the ocean. You might have the beach to yourself — we did.

Day 2 – Afternoon

Ashlee and Pablo foraging for seaweed in California

Ashlee and Pablo foraging for seaweed with Kelpful.

Visit the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery near San Simeon and go seaweed foraging in Cayucos

Drive to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery to work off your food coma. Located right off Highway 1, park your car and walk the trails along the coast to see the seals basking in the sun.

Walk to the north of the parking lot if you want to take photos — it has better vantage points. Watching the Elephant Seals was one of my favorite parts of our trip. Plus, it’s free to see them.

Did you know you can eat other seaweed besides the nori found around your sushi roll? During a seaweed foraging tour with Kelpful, you’ll learn all about the seaweed you can gather and eat. You can only do this special eco-activity when the tide is low. Visit Kelpful’s online scheduler to make a reservation.

We met our guide outside of Cayucos and walked down to the tide pools. We tasted raw seaweed from the ocean and saw crabs and an octopus while exploring. The experience was heartfelt, informative, and inspired us.

For dinner, check out the Lunada Garden Bistro. We walked there from our motel in Cayucos. They served up some of the best steaks we’ve ever had – and that’s not an exaggeration.

Day 3 – Morning

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve near Cambria, California.

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

Hike Fiscalini Ranch Preserve outside of Cambria

From The Pacific Motel, walk to breakfast at Bijou Bakery in Cayucos. They have delicious gluten-free pastries (I got a lemon scone) and regular pastries (Pablo got a croissant). After enjoying a lovely breakfast on their patio, head back to the motel and pack up. Check out and drive toward Cambria to hike the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

We loved the trail along the bluff. There are neat spots to sit along the trail that remind us of Games of Thrones. Keep your eyes peeled for Harbor Seals – we saw one hanging out on the rocks. It’s free to hike here.

After, head into Cambria for lunch at Linn’s Restaurant. Try their famous Olallieberry pie – they have a gluten-free and regular pie crust. We were in pie Heaven.

Day 3 – Afternoon

Estuary and El Moro Elfin Forest near Baywood-Los Osos, California.

Estuary and El Moro Elfin Forest.

Check into the Baywood Inn and walk El Moro Elfin Forest in the Baywood-Los Osos area

In the afternoon, drive south towards San Luis Obispo and check into the Baywood Inn. If you still have energy, drive and explore the El Moro Elfin Forest. It’s about a 5–10-minute drive from the inn, and you can get good views of the estuary. It’s free to hike here.

For dinner, Noi & Doi’s 2nd Street Café, across from the Baywood Inn, serves some fantastic Thai food. The beef fried rice and green curry with tofu did not disappoint. We got ours to go and enjoyed a sunset dinner from our inn overlooking Morro Bay.

Day 4 – Morning

Ashlee and Pablo kayaking in Morro Bay, Morro Rock in the background.

Kayaking in Morro Bay.

Kayak in Morro Bay 

If hungry, drive 10 minutes into Los Osos and grab breakfast at Celia’s Garden Café. Pablo ordered corned beef hash, and I ordered an omelet. It reminded me of a good old fashion diner breakfast — they give you huge portions of food.

After breakfast, drive to A Kayak Shack at the Morro Bay State Park Marina. The manager at A Kayak Shack said the best time to paddle is early morning before the winds pick up, so keep that in mind. We did a self-guided trip and cruised around the bay. It was terrific, and we even saw otters.

Make sure you stay at least eight kayaks length away from the otters so you don’t stress them. If they get stressed, they could have trouble finding food or taking care of their young.

After kayaking, have lunch at the Bayside Café across from A Kayak Shack. Guess what we had? If you guessed fished tacos – you’re our people.

Day 4 – Afternoon

Hiking at Montana de Oro State Park in California.

Hiking at Montaña de Oro State Park.

Hike at Montaña de Oro State Park outside of Baywood-Los Osos

Montaña de Oro State Park is one of the largest state parks in California. We used AllTrails to find a hike that suited our adventure level for the afternoon. We walked along the Bluff Trail and loved it.

Along with a beach to sun at and enjoy the water, the Bluff Trail wanders along the ridge, and you get fantastic views of the ocean and rocky coastline. We even saw more otters (or seals) frolicking in the waves.

After hiking, if you’re up for some tasty Mexican cuisine, walk to La Palapa across from the Baywood Inn. I ordered chicken enchiladas, and Pablo enjoyed the carne asada. It hit the spot.

Day 5

Ashlee standing on Cayucos Beach in Central California.

Cayucos Beach.

Check out of your inn, go to breakfast, and drive to the SBP Airport

On your last day, check out of your inn and head to breakfast in Los Osos. We grabbed pastries and lattes at Ascendo. It is right across from Celia’s Garden Café.

They did offer gluten-free muffins while we were there. I grabbed a gluten-free blueberry muffin and a chai latte, and Pablo ordered a croissant and latte.

After, find a place to gas up your rental and return to the SBP Airport.

We couldn’t believe how fast the trip went and were sad to leave. We honestly sat in the airport looking at real estate because we loved visiting so much and were dreaming about living in this area full-time.

More Towns To Explore Along Highway 1 Nearby

Restaurants along Highway 1

Hidden Kitchen / Robin’s Restaurant / Lunada Garden Bistro.

If you have more time in the area, you might also enjoy visiting Ragged Point, further north of San Simeon.

The Edna Valley wine region, Arroyo Grande Valley, Oceano, and Nipomo are south of San Luis Obispo.

Have a wonderful time. The area truly is remarkable.

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Ashlee Fechino

Ashlee Fechino is an outdoor recreation and travel writer sharing the best-kept secrets that aren’t in your typical guidebook. Her goal is to inspire people to travel with a sense of adventure by sharing hidden gems across the U.S. and beyond. She is married to an expat Argentine, Pablo. They camp in their Aliner often and love wandering the world. Follow their latest adventures on Instagram @thehappinessfxn.