7 Things to Do on the California Highway 1 Discovery Route

Favorite

Road-tripping down the California Coast on the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most famous road trips in America, if not the world. 

Sweeping Pacific Ocean views, rugged cliffs, roadside waterfalls, and beautiful beaches line the drive through Big Sur. However, while this is many people’s image of the Central California Coast, there’s far more to it than Instagrammable landscapes.

That’s where the Highway 1 Discovery Route, and more particularly, its award-winning Stewardship Travel Program, comes in. This unique Central California Coast program and route, through coastal San Luis Obispo County, highlights programs that foster a deeper connection to Central California’s nature, locals and history, which many travelers never experience. All told, the travel stewardship program features more than 50 unique activities to inspire and educate travelers, while helping preserve the region's history and nature. Below, check out 7 things to do on the California Highway 1 Discovery Route.

The travel stewardship program features more than 50 unique activities to inspire and educate travelers, while helping preserve the region's history and nature.

Get a Stewardship Traveler Clean-up Kit

Highway 1 Discovery Route’s Stewardship Cleanup Kit is a great opportunity to be a solution for one of the world’s biggest problems: Plastic pollution. Odds are that you’ve seen headlines lately of reports about how plastic pollution is literally killing wildlife. With a Stewardship Cleanup Kit, however, travelers can play a small part in giving back to the Central California coastline they’re enjoying, and therefore help preserve the beautiful California coastline for generations. Free kits and appreciation tote bags are available at the Avila Beach Central Coast Aquarium, Cayucos and Cambria visitor centers.

Go on a Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Docent Nature Walk

Hiking Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, located on the outskirts of Cambria, is a personal favorite, since I did this on my most recent Central California Coast road trip. While the preserve itself is small by most standards, Fiscalini Ranch makes up for its size with an amazing ecosystem filled with birds and unique natural features, and perched just above the Pacific Ocean and overlooking the seaside village of Cambria. Walking on any number of the preserve’s trails are short and sweet, while guided hikes are available on select weekend days. View the schedule here.

Visit, or volunteer, at Point San Luis Lighthouse

While lighthouses are a common sight on a coastal road trip, few are as historic as San Luis Obispo Light Station. First built in 1890, near Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo Light Station as it stands today is the only surviving Prairie Victorian lighthouse on the West Coast. Docent-led tours take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays year-round, but visitors can also give back by ways like the Tuesday “Work Crew,” which has become integral over the years in helping maintain the integrity of the structure and property. Find out more information on San Luis Obispo Light Station’s website.

First built in 1890, near Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo Light Station as it stands today is the only surviving Prairie Victorian lighthouse on the West Coast.

Take a tour of the Historic Dana Adobe

Continuing with the historic theme is the Dana Adobe, a 13-room adobe that dates back to the early 1800s. Known today as the Dana Cultural Center, the adobe is open to the public daily for self-guided tours of a Central California coast landmark that explores a unique part of California’s past. An important stopping point along the El Camino Real stagecoach route during the 1800s, the Historic Dana Adobe is a juxtaposition of Rancho, Spanish colonial and Mexican history. While open for self-guided tours daily, tours are available by appointment, affording guests an in-depth look into the history of the adobe. For an even deeper connection to the Dana Adobe, membership and volunteer opportunities exist to help further support and continue the mission of the cultural center.

Enjoy a farmers’ market tour and farm-to-fork lunch

Although a number of great restaurants dot the Central California Coast, deeper culinary connections abound, like the farmers’ market tour and farm-to-fork lunch by Casitas Estate. Happening during the fall, guests enjoy a chef-led field trip to the farmers' market, where they learn how to shop and source local food while traveling. Then, they're taken back to Casitas Estate for a farm-fresh lunch overlooking the Arroyo Grand Valley vineyards and Santa Lucia Mountains. Contact the Casitas Estate at (805) 710-1587, or pat@casitasag.com, to make arrangements.

Visit a butterfly grove

When people think Central California wildlife, they may think whales, elephant seals and other animals found up and down the coastline. However, unique to Central California are numerous butterfly groves, such as the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. From late October through February, thousands of Monarch butterflies descend on Pismo State Beach, clustering together on Eucalyptus trees. The grove is open daily during the late fall and winter months, with docents offering talks twice per day. Find out more on the butterfly grove’s website.

Take a historical walking tour in Cambria

As I alluded to at the beginning, the headliner of the Central California Coast is, well, the coast. Nevertheless, one shouldn’t look past the unique seaside towns that line the Central California coast, such as Cambria. Situated just south of Big Sur, amidst the Monterey pines and dramatic coastline of Central California, Cambria is steeped in history, dating back more than 150 years. Today, 28 historic sights are preserved, which guests can learn about on a self-guided walking tour of Cambria. Visit the Cambria Historical Society's website for a map and detailed itinerary.