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California’s Hwy 1 Top Stops for Outdoor Lovers

Nature adventures along California’s Central Coast and Hwy 1.

Even I was surprised at what you can discover on a classic California road trip along Hwy 1. From wildlife to nature hikes, outdoor lovers shouldn’t miss these top stops on California’s Central Coast and along Hwy 1, where opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors abound.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Behind the scenes filming at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. This photo let's you see the viewing boardwalk travelers can access for free to safely observe the seals.

Behind the scenes filming at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. This photo let’s you see the viewing boardwalk travelers can access for free to safely observe the seals.

Just a few miles north of iconic Hearst Castle, elephant seals gather along miles of beaches. Named for the male’s truck-like nose, elephant seals are the largest seals in the Northern Hemisphere, weighing up to 5000 pounds. Though most of the year, they are out at sea, you can find elephant seals on these beaches year round. They come ashore to birth new pups, breed, molt, and rest. Though the numbers vary depending on the time of year, during our visit in June, we were quite impressed by their chorus. Visiting the elephant seal rookery is free. Friends of the Elephant Seal has information on the best times to visit.

Morro Bay

Having some Morro Bay Oyster Company fresh oysters at Tognazinni's Dockside Restaurant with views of Morro Rock.

Having some Morro Bay Oyster Company fresh oysters at Tognazinni’s Dockside Restaurant with views of Morro Rock.

Head further south to Morro Bay, a seaside fishing village where sustainability is top of mind. Take in views of oyster farmers at work by taking a guided kayak tour of Morro Bay National Estuary and Morro Rock, an extinct volcanic plug, called by some “The Gibraltar of the Pacific.” Travelers may also enjoy bird watching by land, including while dining on oysters and the catch of the day from the comfort of Tognazinni’s Dockside Restaurant, which offers stellar views of Morro Rock.

Cerro Alto Trail

Views of the Cerro Alto Trail, which was lined with wildflowers during our June hiking adventure.

Views of the Cerro Alto Trail, which was lined with wildflowers during our June hiking adventure.

Bird watchers and hikers also frequent the nearby Cerro Alto Trail, located a short drive from Hwy 1 and Morro Bay off Route 41, in the Los Padres National Forest. This area is a biologically diverse haven for wildlife and plants, including beautiful, ever-changing wildflowers. Cerro Alto is one of the highest points in San Luis Obispo County. The climb to the summit is steep, with multiple switchbacks that pop you in and out of shaded areas. As you get closer to the peak, you’ll be in direct sunlight, but the views are worth slathering on extra sunscreen. On a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean and rolling mountains in an awesome panoramic view.  For those who want to camp, the Cerro Alto Campground has campsites located in an oak-shaded canyon.

These are just a few good stops to add to your next California Central Coast Road Trip Adventure. Stay tuned for more and our upcoming PBS episode on California’s Central Coast. Get more tips from California’s Central Coast Tourism and Visit California.

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