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10 cool things to do on your Highway 1 road trip

Avila Beach CA Photo by Jen Warren

Highway 1 along the Central Coast is hands down one of the world’s most captivating road trips. Even if you exited your car only for rest stops and overnights, you’d still have an amazing journey, thanks to the unrivaled views of the California coastline and vistas around every bend. But then you’d be missing out on a lot of cool activities found only on this route.  

In particular, the stretch between Nipomo and Cambria in San Luis Obispo County is packed with unusual things to do. Check out these 10 unforgettable experiences, running from south to north along Highway 1.

1. Visit a luffa farm in Nipomo

Luffa Farms

Photo by Jen Warren

At the Luffa Farm, thousands of gourds grow on vines inside greenhouses, then are dried and harvested to make fibrous and biodegradable luffas (used to make those fun bathing scrubbers). After soaking up info about the quirky farm during a brief tour, browse a selection of luffas, along with handcrafted products like soap and lotion, in the gift shop.

Luffa Farms Signs

Photo by Jen Warren

Most luffas found in stores are imported and go through a fumigation process that can make them rough to the touch; the ones grown in Nipomo are softer and fluffier.

Info: 1457 Willow Road; (805) 343-0883.

2. Ride a dune buggy in Oceano

Dune buggies

Photo courtesy California State Parks Oceano Dunes District and Highway 1 Discovery Route

Make like Mad Max and zip around Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, a seaside off-roading destination. From single-driver ATVs to 6-seater buggies that can fit entire families, SunBuggy Fun Rentals has a variety of rides to navigate the 3,500 acres of voluminous sand dunes with incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. Keep your eyes peeled for the stark-white shell middens, ancient trash dumps where the Chumash people disposed of clam shells and possibly animal bones. Tip: Ride earlier early in the day when it’s less windy.

Info: Rentals start at $89.50, plus fuel and fees. 307 Pier Avenue; (805) 244-9721.

3. Tour a reptile rescue in Arroyo Grande

Turtle and Tortoise Rescue of Arroyo Grande

Photo by Jen Warren

For more than 30 years, the Turtle and Tortoise Rescue of Arroyo Grande has served as a refuge for the shelled creatures, as well as birds, goats, and other animals. 

Turtle and Tortoise Rescue of Arroyo Grande

Photo by Jen Warren

On Saturdays, owner Jeff Dobbs and his family invite visitors to their funky 5-acre sanctuary to meet the 30-plus species of residents, including a mammoth African spurred tortoise named Apollo and an Eastern box turtle with the unique ability to completely retract like a clam.

Info: Tours are free; donations are encouraged. 313 E. Ormonde Road; (805) 458-1949.

4. Enjoy ocean-view wine tasting in Avila Beach

Sinor-LaVallee Wine Tasting

Photo by Jen Warren

On the outdoor patio at the Sinor-LaVallee tasting room in Avila Beach, take in sweeping views of the pier while sampling the region’s coastal terroir. Pair your tasting with a tray of shuck-your-own oysters from the Morro Bay Oyster Company. (For maximum convenience, consider a stay across the street at the charming Avila Lighthouse Suites.)

Info: Four-wine tasting flight, $20. 550 First Street; (805) 459-9595.

5. Kayak to a lighthouse in Avila Beach

Avila Beach Paddlesports Kayak

Photo by Jen Warren

For an enchanting oceanic excursion, rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Avila Beach Paddlesports and plot a course across San Luis Obispo Bay to Point San Luis Lighthouse. 

Point San Luis Lighthouse

Photo by Jen Warren

The 125-year-old structure is the only Prairie Victorian–style lighthouse remaining on the West Coast. Along the way, look for the otters floating in the bay or sea lions lounging under the pier. The round trip should take about 3 hours, depending on how long you wander around the lighthouse exterior (on-site tours available only Wednesday and Saturday). 

Mersea's

Photo by Jen Warren

Back on shore, pop over to Mersea’s at the end of the pier for the area’s best seafood.

Info: $35 for 2 hours in a single kayak. 3915 Avila Beach Drive; (805) 704-6902.

6. Soak in mineral springs near Avila Beach

Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa

Photo by Jen Warren

Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, famous for its naturally heated waters, rents access to more than 20 private hillside hot tubs and one dramatic waterfall lagoon (which can fit up to 20 people) by the hour. Some overnight rooms are equipped with their own hot tubs. Bring your own towel or rent one from the spa.

Info: Rentals start at $22.50 per hour, per person. 1215 Avila Beach Drive; (805) 595-7302.

7. Explore an elfin forest in Los Osos

Elfin Forest Tree Path

Photo by Jen Warren

Overlooking the majestic Morro Bay, the El Moro Elfin Forest is home to miniature California live oak trees that grow between 4 and 20 feet tall, thanks to unique coastal conditions. (Elsewhere, they usually reach 50 feet.) A sturdy, accessible boardwalk zigzags around the 90-acre area, where bracken ferns, California sagebrush, and fuchsia-flowered gooseberry also flourish. A set of overlooks provide prime views of the estuary and Morro Rock in the distance. Enter the canopied Rose Boker Grove located in the center of the forest and you’ll feel like you’re on the set of The Lord of the Rings.

Info: 11th to 17th streets.

8. Forage for seaweed in Cayucos

Kelpful

Photo by Derrik J. Lang

Kelpful, a sustainable seaweed harvesting company, hosts a rare experience: in-depth foraging classes where visitors can join team members on the shore to learn about the nutrient-dense food source—where to find it, how to safely collect it, and why we should be eating more of it. During the foraging session, guests tromp through water and across rocks to hunt down and pluck seaweed varieties like nori and the pungent golden rockweed; the class concludes with a light picnic where every snack, from the cookies to tea, is infused with—you guessed it—seaweed.

Info: $145 per session. 141 Suburban Road, No. D3.

9. Indulge in ice cream in Harmony

Harmony Valley Creamery

Photo by Jen Warren

Don’t blink and miss the hamlet of Harmony, tucked between San Luis Obispo and Cambria. A former dairy co-op that boasts a population of just 18, Harmony is a block of bohemianism that’s worth the detour. The Harmony Valley Creamery ice-cream truck, which sits in the center of the town, serves up craft flavors like Cow Town Coffee Bean and Harmony Chapel Chocolate, named in honor of the town’s adorable lone chantry. Enjoy a scoop, then browse the art at the only other businesses in town: Harmony Glassworks and Harmony Pottery Studio and Gallery.

Info: 2177 Old Creamery Road; (805) 927-1028.

10. Ride a Clydesdale in Cambria

Covell's Clydesdales

Photo by Jen Warren

Trek across a 2,000-acre ranch dotted with Monterey pine while riding on the back of a gentle Clydesdale, one of the world’s largest horses. Covell’s Clydesdales has a 2-hour trail ride that takes you through pastures of grazing cattle and up to the property’s highest point for eye-popping views of the Pacific. If you want to keep the equestrian theme going, spend the night at nearby Oceanpoint Ranch resort, where the stylish rooms are decked out with bull-horn wall hangings and horse portraits.

Info: 5694 Bridge Street; (805)-975-7332.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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