The Trailer Pond in Paso Robles.

SLO Down: 3 Laid-Back Days Along the Coast in San Luis Obispo County

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A three-hour drive south of the Bay Area will take you to the charming villages, wineries, and winding coastline of San Luis Obispo County. You can expect a more relaxed vibe, an abundance of marine animals, and that world-famous castle.

Day 1: Paso Robles Wine Country + Cambria's Moonstone Beach

Downtown Cambria.

(Courtesy of (Highway 1 Discovery Route)

Currently, Highway 1 is closed for slide removal from south of Big Sur to Ragged Point, so make a beeline down via Highway 101. Just after Paso Robles turn right onto State Route 46 where the area's wine country—and your weekend—begin.

More than 20 wineries such as Eberle, Graveyard Vineyards, Broken Earth, and the Hearst Ranch Winery dot the route offering tastings, noshes, and occasionally live music, plus you can pick up a few bottles to enjoy throughout your weekend of leisure.

If you want to stay in the Paso Robles area, there are plenty of places to rest your head (including the Trailer Pond vintage trailer park), but if you want to wake up to the sound of ocean waves, head to the charming village of Cambria. Cambria is divided into the East Village and West Village, and each side features numerous restaurants and shops. For dinner visit Robin's Restaurant for eclectic meals of lamb curry and ginger-miso Skuna Bay salmon with furikake fried rice. For a view of the ocean, the Sea Chest Oyster Bar and Seafood Restaurant serves seasonal fish, shellfish, and a rich Escargot Bourguignon. Don't forget to end your meal with the locally made Leo Leo gelato or sorbet.

After dinner, enjoy the sunset with a stroll along the boardwalk next to Moonstone Beach. The beach is decorated with driftwood tipis and small pebbles worn smooth by the Pacific waves. Its namesake can be found if you are willing to do some searching. Sift your fingers through the small pebbles looking for a whitish stone with a distinctive starlike glint. Congrats! You've found a moonstone!

In Cambria, you'll find four separate charming inns (all owned by the same family) along the road that traces Moonstone Beach. Moonstone Cottages features three individually designed cabins tucked into a grove of cypress trees, while The Blue Dolphin Inn's rooms are named and decorated for various bodies of water. In addition, there's no need to get dressed in the morning to head to breakfast—each of these hotels delivers a picnic-style morning nosh to your room.

Day 2: Hearst Castle + The Whale Trail

Hearst Castle.

(Christina Nellemann)

Time for some exploring. SLO towns, tucked into the rolling hills and along the winding coastline, all have their own distinctive vibe. Activities range from unwinding on the sunny beaches and watching elephant seals duke it out to hiking, biking, and surfing. To see the beautiful coastline as well as some some ancient art and sculptures, wake up early and head 15 minutes north toward Ragged Point.

Get up close and personal with some sea creatures and stop at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. This protected beach features hundreds of the huge animals in various stages of their lives, from birth to breeding. You can watch the rookery beach from a roadside viewing area near Hearst Castle. Fair warning: watch these creatures from a distance. Tiny humans are no match for these ton+ beasts.

No trip to this area is complete without visiting the home of one of the OG Bay Area billionaires, William Randolph Hearst. Designed by Hearst and San Francisco architect Julia Morgan, Hearst Castle is located atop a hill overlooking San Simeon Bay and is filled with art and antiques from the publishing magnate's world travels. A shuttle bus will take you up the castle's stunning driveway, which has views of the ocean and property's 80,000 acres.

For lunch, head across the street from Hearst Castle to Old San Simeon Village and Sebastian's General Store. Grab some burgers and drinks from the cafe for lunch, and maybe some wine from the Hearst Ranch Winery if your stock is already running low. The store sells a variety of local faves like the avocado honey from Stepladder Creamery, and if you are interested in picking up some of their cheese, the farm offers daily tours of their land. Just down the road from Sebastian's is the San Simeon Fishing Pier. At 850 feet long, it's the 25th longest pier in California.

For an afternoon break, the Pacific Coast Wine Trail is an easygoing way to taste vino. In this land of tiny towns the tiniest is Harmony (population 18), located about 15 minutes south of Cambria. Once a dairy co-op and creamery, it's now an enclave for artists with a pottery studio and glassworks shop. The former cold storage building has been converted into a diminutive wedding chapel. Just above the town, Harmony Cellars has been making and selling their wines since 1989 and offers $10 tastings. Their newest release is the dry and crispy Rosato Vivo—perfect for summer.

Another 15 minutes south will take you to the beach town of Cayucos and its 953-foot long pier that juts into Estero Bay. The pier has great views of Morro Rock in Morro Bay and is one of the stops on the official Whale Trail, a marine-protected area offering some of the best wildlife viewing in the world. More than 34 species of marine animals can be seen, including humpback whales, harbor seals, and southern sea otters. Don't forget your binoculars.

After a walk along the pier and the Cayucos Public Beach, enjoy an early dinner from the rooftop deck of Schooners restaurant and bar. Try their Ahi egg rolls and spicy cioppino. Across the street, The Grill at Cass House is an open-air pavilion that serves dishes laden with Central Coast ingredients, all served on ceramic dishes made by a local artist. Aim for house specialties like cauliflower & mushroom empanadas; oak-grilled prawns with arugula and lime; or a wood-grilled pizza top with apples, onions, bacon, & gruyer. Don't be surprised to see the chefs and bartenders run to the Cass House garden for fresh rosemary, kale, and tiny strawberries.

Along the Central Coast, accommodations can range from tent camping at Morro Bay State Park to a luxurious break at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa in the town of San Luis Obispo, where the suites feature in-room hot tubs and the resort has hillside pools and waterfalls sourced from 100 acres of natural, underground springs. Another option is the Madonna Inn is a classic and kitschy icon boasting 110 thematic rooms; pick from wacky decors like Pick & Shovel, Yahoo, and Caveman.

Day 3: Art + Crustaceans in San Luis, Los Osos + Pismo Beach

A chowder bowl at Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach.

(Courtesy of Splash Cafe/Facebook)

Breakfast in downtown San Luis Obispo could start at Louisa's Place with one of their massive omelets or a stack of honeywheat pancakes or grab a coffee and muffin to go from Blackhorse Espresso & Bakery. While in the city, visit the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, the Downtown Creek Walk, and the slightly disgusting Bubblegum Alley.

Take the relaxed drive to Los Osos to work off breakfast with a hike at the rugged Montaña de Oro State Park. This windswept park has seven miles of undeveloped coastline that you can explore on your own timeframe. Choose from nine hiking trails or the bike-friendly Oats Peak and Islay Creek Trail. It's okay to get lost in this area for the rest of the day—but then you might miss lunch.

About 20 minutes south of Los Osos, Pismo Beach's lunch options feature some of the best seafood in the area. The Cracked Crab serves its namesake crustacean as in soup, salads, and classic fried cakes, or you can opt for local abalone and crispy fish tacos. The nearby Splash Cafe is worth a stop for its clam chowder, which has received accolades from Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines.

Afternoon holds a variety of Central Coast activities including hiking, biking, golfing, hot springs, and tiny historic towns.The Old Edna Townsite has a winery, several historic homes for rent, and a cute gypsy wagon painted with whimsical rabbits; Arroyo Grande's 171-foot--long swinging bridge is the only one of its kind in California; and Avila Beach offer both hot springs and the Bob Jones City-to-Sea bike trail. After a last-minute trip to Oceano to watch the kite boarders, Highway 1 will quickly take you back to Highway 101 and home.

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