Central Calf. Coast

Your journey north along California’s coast continues through Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties with stops at Santa Barbara, Grover Beach, Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and San Simeon.

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1 Downtown Lower State Street in Santa Barbara, California

Although Santa Barbara was discovered by maritime explorers in the mid-16th century, it would not be settled by Spanish soldiers and missionaries until 1782. The city is located along the Pacific coast and is marketed as the “American Riviera.” This Lower State Street neighborhood stretches for several blocks and is lined with boutique shops, restaurants and nightlife.

1116 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
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2 Who’s in Charge? Statue in Santa Barbara, California

I thoroughly enjoy visiting a city like Santa Barbara that has heavily invested in outdoor art. I was especially delighted to see this mixed medium of a young boy riding his father’s shoulder at a carnival. The full-size bronze statue named “Who’s in Charge” is by J. Seward Johnson. Jr. The carousel mural was painted by Donn Byrne. These are two of several pieces at the historic La Arcada shopping area on State Street and West Anapamu Street.

1120 State St Santa Barbara, CA 93101
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3 Granada Theater Marque in Santa Barbara, California

The eight-story Granada Theater was a grand movie palace when it opened in 1924. In 2008, it reopened as the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts after a $52 million dollar renovation. It is now a venue for performances that include opera, ballet and the sympathy orchestra.

1214 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
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4 Public Library Tympanum in Santa Barbara, California

When Carleton Winslow was the architect for the Santa Barbara Public Library, which was built in 1924, he designed this detailed and colorful tympanum. The wood carvings by Marshall Laird display an old version of the city’s coat of arms surrounded by the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Above them are the shields of four distinguished libraries.

40 E Anapamu St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
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5 County Courthouse Clock Tower in Santa Barbara, California

In 1929, this Spanish Colonial building replaced the original County Courthouse that was destroyed during a 1925 earthquake. It is worth visiting in order to see the spectacular murals in the second floor chambers and to view the original clock workings as you climb a spiral staircase to the observation deck above the El Mirador clock tower.

1100 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
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6 Spirit of the Ocean Fountain in Santa Barbara, California

The original Spirit of the Ocean fountain was installed in front of the County Courthouse when it opened in 1929. But after years of deterioration, the sandstone sculpture had to be replaced. A team headed by Nick Blantern worked six days a week for seven months on the courthouse lawn carving a 190,000 pound block with hand tools similar to those used by artist Ettore Cadorin in 1927.

1100 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
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7 Old Mission Church in Santa Barbara, California

The Old Mission Santa Barbara was the tenth of the 21 Spanish missions established along the coast of what was then called Alta California. It was founded in 1786 with the goal of converting the Chumash Indians to Christianity. This church, with its unusual two bell towers, was built in 1820 and was extensively refurbished after an earthquake in 1925.

2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
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8 Old Mission Church Altar in Santa Barbara, California

This exquisite church altar with its colorful painting and pilasters is just one beautiful reason why this 1820 mission is called, “The Queen of the Alta California Missions.” Beneath the crucifix is a statue of Saint Barbara. She was beheaded by her father in the 3rd century for refusing to denounce her Christian faith. The other statues are (clockwise) the Virgin Mary, Joseph, St. Dominic and St. Francis.

2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
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9 Stearns Wharf Shops in Santa Barbara, California

In 1872, the Stearns Wharf was built at the end of State Street to accommodate cargo and passengers ships. Over the next 140 years, its wooden boardwalk and pilings would be damaged by several storms and fires but it remained a vital part of Santa Barbara’s growth. It was totally rebuilt in 1981 and now offers 17 shops and restaurants plus a sandy beach. It is one of the most visited landmarks of the city.

217 Stearns Wharf # A, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
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10 Moby Dick Mural on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, California

Toward the end of the 2,300 foot Stearns Wharf is the Moby Dick restaurant which offers good food, great views of the Pacific Ocean, and this mural of the giant sperm whale that foiled Captain Ahab in the Herman Melville novel. It was first painted by Beth Amine in 1991 and then repainted after a fire in 1998 destroyed part of the wharf.

220 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93109
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11 Scenery Along Stagecoach Road North of Santa Barbara, California

From 1861 until 1910, the Stagecoach Route was the only means for horses and covered wagons to travel across the San Marcos Pass. Now called Stagecoach Road, this history is preserved along five miles of twists and turns. Along the way you are treated to colorful views of California chaparral vegetation, forests, scrub brush and painted hills.

Stagecoach Rd Santa Barbara, CA 93105
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12 Cachuma Lake in Santa Barbara County, California

In 1953, the Bradbury Dam was built along the Santa Ynez River to create a 3,100 acre reservoir called Cachuma Lake. On the shore is a huge recreational area that includes camp sites and cabin rentals so you can enjoy boating and the surrounding Los Padres National Forest. If you look closely, you can see the light colored waterline. I was told the water level had dropped over 60 feet after several years of drought.

116 Lakeview Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
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13 Sandy Beach at Low Tide in Grover Beach, California

Grover Beach is a small town of 13,000 people along Highway 1 but, more importantly, it is also along the Pacific Ocean. As you can see, their sandy beach is the perfect place for a solitary stroll during low tide in order to enjoy the beauty of the rolling waves and clouds.

1 W Grand Ave, Grover Beach, CA 93433
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14 Cluster of Monarch Butterflies in Grove at Pismo Beach, California

These Monarch butterflies clustering on a eucalyptus tree are a small percent of the 25,000 that annually fly about 1,500 miles from the Rocky Mountains and Canada to spend the winter at the Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove. It is amazing to see so many orange and black fluttering wings in one place.

410 CA-1 Grover Beach, CA 93433
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15 People Walking on Beach and Flying Seagull in Pismo Beach, California

Although the average high in Pismo Beach is in the mid to upper 60°s all winter, you can tell these people enjoying the beach are locals because they are dressed as if it is about to snow. Afterwards, in order to warm up, they enjoy a bowl of clam chowder from a restaurant at the end of the pier. It is excellent soup! But then it should be because the town is nicknamed the “Clam Capitol of the World.”

100 Pomeroy Ave, Pismo Beach, CA 93449
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16 Waves Crashing Against Pismo Pier in Pismo Beach, California

The waves of the Pacific Ocean crash relentlessly against the wooden pilings of the Pismo Beach Pier. It was originally built in 1882 and has been renovated several times since. This is an ideal location for surfers. But there are so many other ways to enjoy the 60 acres of sandy beach.

Pismo Beach Pier 100 Pomeroy Ave, Pismo Beach, CA 93449
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17 Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in San Luis Obispo, California

A Franciscan friar named Junípero Serra established nine Spanish missions from San Diego to San Francisco from 1769 until two years before he died in 1784. This one in San Luis Obispo was his fifth. Although he selected its location in the “Valley of the Bears,” it was built by Father Jose Cavaller beginning in 1772. This church was constructed 20 years later.

799 Monterey St San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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18 Carnegie Library in San Luis Obispo, California

This is one of over 1,600 public libraries that were built in the U.S. with grants from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The style is Richardsonian Romanesque named after the famous architect who designed so many of Boston’s landmarks in the late 19th century. The library opened in 1906 and became a historical museum fifty years later.

696 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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19 Carnegie Library Gable Carving in San Luis Obispo, California

William H. Weeks was a very prolific architect who designed hundreds of buildings throughout California. With this incredible workload, I admire his attention to detail like this carving in the yellow sandstone gable of the Carnegie Library in San Luis Obispo, California.

696 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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20 J.P. Andrews Building in San Luis Obispo, California

The first building to occupy this intersection at Monterey and Osos Streets was the Andrews Hotel. It was built in 1885 but the wooden structure burned to the ground nine months later. The owner was a wealthy rancher and banker named J.P. Andrews. He was also determined but had learned his lesson so he had his next building constructed with red bricks in 1894 for his Andrews Banking Company. It was also the first home for the town’s library.

998 Monterey St San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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21 Old County Courthouse in San Luis Obispo, California

San Luis Obispo is the seat for the county of the same name. Its namesake is Saint Louis of Toulouse who was a 13th century bishop for only six months before dying at the age of 23. The city has had three courthouses. The first served the community from 1873-1939. It was demolished to make room for this one in 1940. It is now called the Old Courthouse yet still offices a few government departments.

976 Osos St #207, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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22 Amtrak Train Station in San Luis Obispo, California

San Luis Obispo is a city of about 45,000 people that was founded in 1772. During your drive along U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1, it is located about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Or if you want to nap between visits to California towns, then you’ll hop aboard an Amtrak train at this station which was built in 1942.

57914 Railroad Ave San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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23 Flock of Birds Around Fishing Boat in Morro Bay, California

The Morro Bay Harbor and the nearby Pacific Ocean is a favorite among commercial and recreational fishermen. When they return to port, a flock of birds is always there to greet them. Many local restaurants serve a fresh catch of halibut, albacore, sole and salmon.

1185 Embarcadero Morro Bay, CA 93442
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24 Morro Rock Close Up in Morro Bay, California

This giant volcanic mound named Morro Rock stands over 575 feet in the Morro Bay Harbor. It was first discovered and named by maritime explorers in 1769 as part of the Portolà Expedition that sailed from present day Baja California to San Francisco. “Morro” is a Spanish word for a prominent rock formation.

Coleman Dr Morro Bay, CA 93442
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25 Three Smokestacks of Dynegy Power Plant in Morro Bay, California

The most visible landmark in Morro Bay is “The Rock” which is a very large volcanic plug formation. From the base of the Morro Rock is this view of the “Three Fingers,” a nickname given to the Dynegy electricity power plant that sits at the edge of the harbor. Although it was a significant contributor to the economic growth of the city for about fifty years, the power station closed in 2014 and no future plans have been announced.

Coleman Dr Morro Bay, CA 93442
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26 Sailboat Returning to Harbor at Dusk in Morro Bay, California

The Morro Bay Harbor was formed in 1933 when a breakwater was built which included a small road out to Morro Rock. The port extends for about four miles along the coast which is lined with docked pleasure boats.

Coleman Dr Morro Bay, CA 93442
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27 Drift Wood on Beach in San Simeon State Park, California

As you drive along Highway 1 between the town of Cambria and the Hearst Castle, please take time to stop and enjoy the pristine coastline that is part of the San Simeon State Park. And once you fall in love with the scenery, unpack your car and stay the night at one of their 115 campsites.

723 San Simeon-Monterey Creek Rd Cambria, CA 93428
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28 Women Strolling Beach in San Simeon State Park, California

The only thing better than strolling along a California beach on a warm, sunny day is doing it with your best friend. Together you can enjoy the rolling surf, bird watching, a glimpse of a passing whale and each other’s company at San Simeon State Park.

9245 Balboa Ave, San Simeon, CA 93452
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29 Visitor Center at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

William Hearst spent 28 years building the Hearst Castle. He decorated it with a priceless collection of 25,000 pieces of art and other historic artifacts. Since the estate was donated to California in 1957, over 34 million people have visited. Your experience starts by walking through this Visitor Center and then taking a bus up to “The Enchanted Hill.” If you selected the Grand Rooms Tour, a guide will lead you through several rooms in Casa Grande for 45 minutes. Then you can leisurely stroll around the estate to see the lush gardens and elaborate swimming pools.

Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
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30 Lampposts Around Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

In 1915, when William Randolph Hearst first discussed building on his ranch, he told architect Julia Morgan he wanted a simple bungalow. Construction stated in 1919 and the palatial estate was considered unfinished when he died in 1951. In addition to the Casa Grande (seen in the background), the Hearst Castle also has three elaborate cottages, an enormous outdoor pool with these sculpted lampposts, and an indoor pool that resembles a Roman bath.

Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
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31 Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

William Hearst delighted in inviting celebrities to his La Cuesta Encantada. Imagine how impressed they were when they saw this Neptune Pool. After two previous attempts at building a suitable swimming pool were considered inadequate and therefore removed, this heated one was completed in 1936. It holds 345,000 gallons of water. It is named after the Roman god of the sea and includes a colonnade of Roman columns that date back to the 1st-4th centuries.

Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
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32 Casa Grande at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

The Casa Grande, which was completed in 1928, is the heart of Hearst Castle. Its 115 rooms are beautifully appointed with carved paneling, ornate ceilings, tapestries and rugs, 30 fireplaces plus priceless art. It has been preserved just as when William Hearst walked out for the last time in 1947. In the foreground is the Central Plaza’s pond with an 1883 marble and bronze sculpture by Leopoldo Ansiglioni. It portrays the goddess of the calm seas and is named Galatea on a Dolphin.

Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
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33 Bell Tower on Casa Grande at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

This 160 foot bell tower crowns the Casa Grande at Hearst Castle. Its design was inspired by the Church of Santa María la Mayor, which is also called the Ronda Cathedral. That Spanish church, which was built from 1485 until the end of the 17th century, has only one tower while William Hearst’s 68,500 square foot residence has a matching pair on its western façade.

Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
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34 Casa Grande Sculptures at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

The ornate façade of the Casa Grande at the Hearst Castle is reminiscent of Renaissance cathedrals that inspired William Hearst during his first tour of Europe as a young boy. Over the front door you’ll see this statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus. Surrounding her are two kneeling angels, the shields and helmets of knights, plus a row of bas relief knights on horseback.

Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
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35 Casa del Monte at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

This cottage is named Casa del Monte or House of the Mountains because of its view of the Santa Lucia Coast Mountains. It was the first of three guest houses to be built at the Hearst Castle estate. The family lived here for one summer until the larger Casa del Mar was completed.

Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
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36 Casa del Sol at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

In the middle of the grand staircase in front of Casa del Sol is an elegant fountain that is capped with a reproduction of the David statue that was originally created by Italian sculptor Donatello circa 1440. This Spanish Revival guest house is named for its view of the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. There are eight bedrooms, eight bathrooms and three fireplaces within its 3,620 square feet.

Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
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37 Roman Pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

Eight statues of Roman and Greek deities by sculptor Carlo Freter adorn this swimming pool. It was beautifully decorated by Camille Solon with a mosaic of one million blue and orange glass tiles, some of which are infused with gold. Inspired by ancient Roman baths, this 81 foot heated pool took seven years to build and is the centerpiece of the unfinished Recreation Building. Above it is an outdoor tennis court.

Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
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38 Sunset at Hearst State Beach in San Simeon, California

Imagine you are William Hearst, the wealthy newspaper man, who spent 28 years building a castle high on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. You want to enjoy a swim but not in either of your ornate Roman pools. Then your private beach on San Simeon Bay is the place to slip into the gentle waters at sunset. Now the William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach offers free access to an 850 foot pier, a sandy beach and the chance to swim among seals, otters and dolphins while enjoying the fragrance of eucalyptus trees.

Slo San Simeon Rd San Simeon, CA 93452
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39 Bike on Boardwalk in San Simeon State Park, California

Over three miles of trails wind through San Simeon State Park which is ideal for walking, hiking and cycling. And when you get too warm, just tie up your bike on a scenic overlook, head toward the beach and enjoy the cool Pacific Ocean breeze.

Elephant Seal Vista Point, Cabrillo Hwy, San Simeon, CA 93452
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40 Northern Elephant Seals on Beach near San Simeon, California

About eight miles north of Hearst Castle are wooden platforms to view northern elephant seals on Piedras Blancas Beach. These mammals look enormous but surprisingly they are juveniles. The bulls would not start arriving until a month after this photo was taken. The typical mature male measures 14-16 feet and can weigh more than 5,000 pounds.

Elephant Seal Vista Point, Cabrillo Hwy, San Simeon, CA 93452
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41 Female Juvenile Elephant Seal near San Simeon, California

This juvenile northern elephant seal is “hauling out” during molting season on Piedras Blancas Beach to stay warm. This is a female because the male or bull has a long, extended proboscis that resembles the trunk of an elephant. Apparently, her smaller nose was itchy.

Elephant Seal Vista Point, Cabrillo Hwy, San Simeon, CA 93452
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