Ready for a joyride? Check out these can’t-miss scenic drives in SLO CAL (San Luis Obispo County). With awe-inspiring roads dotted with farm stands and unbelievable coastal views, you’ll be cruising the scenic route, and then some. Home to iconic Highway 1 and one of the most gorgeous roadtrips in the country, find off-the-beaten-path adventures around every turn. Wildlife sightings, nature trails, tasting rooms and even a miniaturized storybook town await. Traffic? Not a chance. It’s time to hop in the slow lane and start your engine: The road to adventure is ever-winding in SLO CAL.
Amazing ViewsBack to Top of List
Cruise the coast: Prepare to be wowed beyond belief. It’s no secret that SLO CAL’s often-photographed stretch of Highway 1 contains some of the most stunning views on the entire West Coast. With sweeping vistas, dramatic cliffs and glorious twists and turns, cruising north on Highway 1 from Cambria to San Simeon has a way of making anyone feel like the star of a car commercial. Plus, this National Scenic Byway is full of fabulous ways to soak in the coastal scenery. Stop in Cambria for a stroll along Moonstone Beach, where shining treasures peek from the sand. In San Simeon, say hello to a family of local Elephant Seals, tour the opulent offerings of Hearst Castle or cap it all off with a visit to Hearst Ranch Winery, nestled right along crashing ocean waves. If you need more motivation to cruise Highway 1, check out 10 Reasons You Should Take a Highway 1 Road Trip.
Picture this: The elevated drive to Prefumo Canyon Outlook provides bird’s eye views of the coast, Morro Rock and blue horizon beyond. Simply drive up Prefumo Canyon Road in San Luis Obispo for an incredible hilltop photo opp, then head down through See Canyon Road for apple orchards and wine tasting in sunny Avila Beach. Kelsey See Canyon Winery is a great stop along the way for a glass of “hot tub wine” paired with whimsical peacock sightings. While in Avila Beach, stroll along the white sand, visit Avila Valley Barn for farm-fresh fun or enjoy a soothing soak at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort.
Forest to beach: A leisurely drive from laid back Atascadero to coastal Morro Bay is full of awe-inspiring twists and turns. Flanked by oak groves, rural meadowland and rocky hillsides, savor the journey from forest to the Pacific on Highway 41 West. Plus, you’ll find an incredible lookout along the way: The challenging-yet-rewarding Cerro Alto Trail Loop just off Highway 41 offers 4.7-miles of rugged trails culminating in a sweeping view of the coast and forested terrain. Afterward, drive onward to Morro Bay, where you’ll be ready to devour some fresh seafood on the Embarcadero. Be sure to save room for a handful of saltwater taffy!
Tasting AheadBack to Top of List
Highway 46 West
Have it all: Paso’s Highway 46 West provides the perfect way to enjoy tasting rooms and beachy wonders all in a single afternoon! Stop at dozens of unique wine tasting rooms along this well-traveled wine trail, ending at breezy Highway 1 (plus, there’s a miniature storybook stop to check out, too). Situated on Highway 1 between Cayucos to the south and Cambria to the north, Harmony, CA is a remarkably tiny town with big personality—population 18, if you count the cows. Explore the tiny chapel and post office, mingle at hilltop Harmony Cellars or explore Harmony Headlands State Park, just a few miles south. Hungry for more? Grab a nourishing bite at Hidden Kitchen in nearby Cayucos, known for sweet or savory blue corn waffles and superfood smoothies.
Vines for miles: Imagine rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see, blue skies and a throwback to the SLO CAL’s pioneering spirit. Sound enticing? Cruise Orcutt Road through Edna Valley, where celebrated SLO Coast Wine tasting rooms dot the dreamy landscape. The Old Edna Townsite (founded in the 1840s), is located adjacent to Sextant Winery, a historic place to stretch your legs. Check out the site, order up a gourmet lunch from the onsite deli and relax with a glass of famous Edna Valley pinot noir or chardonnay. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for charming local farm stands along the route leading into San Luis Obispo, where delicious farm-to-table restaurants abound.
Paso Back Roads Wineries Trail
Off the beaten path: Discover tucked-away tasting rooms brimming with boutique wine, olive oil and locally-grown treats when you road trip along Paso’s Back Roads Wineries territory, nestled east of the greater Paso Robles AVA. Farm fields, vineyards, horse stables, cows (and cowboys) are all likely to cross your path. Indeed, this cluster of more than 30 family-owned tasting rooms situated south of Highway 46 East and east of Highway 101 boast their own rural charm! Explore seldom-visited back roads carving through Atascadero, Templeton, Creston and Paso Robles and easily extend the adventure when you sign up for a trail ride through these hills (no horse trailer required). Find equestrian programs offered throughout this route, including at Cass Winery, a local favorite with an onsite restaurant to boot.
Wilderness FindsBack to Top of List
Brake for wildlife: Keep an eye out for a surprising swath of wildlife as you make your way along rugged Lopez Drive toward Lopez Lake in Arroyo Grande. In fact, you’re liable to spot deer, hawks, turkey, and even wild boar on your grand adventure to this multifaceted recreational destination. At Lopez Lake, find campsites, hiking trails, waterslides and the nearby Vista Lago Adventure Center, ground zero for high-flying zip lines and challenging obstacle courses. True adventurers can also hunt for waterfalls tucked behind Lopez Lake: An off road drive (for skilled drivers only) to Big Falls trail leads to a breathtaking 80-foot waterfall while Little Falls trail features its own majestic photo opp. It goes without saying that you’ll want to keep an eye out for animals here: bears may be seldom seen, but they do call the area home.
Shell Creek Road
Great plains: If you’ve yet to witness one of SLO CAL’s world famous super blooms, add it to your bucket list! While these incredible Springtime events—when countless wildflowers bloom simultaneously—require specific weather conditions, a quiet drive through Shell Creek Road in eastern SLO CAL always feels magical. Named for the many fossilized shells that are found in the nearby hills, this pristine, uninhabited wilderness provides the best view of spring wildflowers as well as several important area habitats. The only native grassland of its kind remaining in California, the nearby 250,000-acre Carrizo Plain National Monument is home to vast grassy plains, wetlands and woodland areas where native foxes, birds, lizards and antelope roam. Yes, plains in SLO CAL. Who knew?
Oso Flaco Lake Road
A birder’s dream: With farms and dunes aplenty, Nipomo’s unique scenic route is a calming oasis for the mind. Relish the serenity of row crops, farmhouses and barns on Oso Flaco Lake Road leading to a famous roadside hike offering a combination of forest, wildlife and dunes. Yes, Nipomo’s Oso Flaco Lake boasts an array of nature experiences in a single stop: Trek along the flat boardwalk which leads all the way to the sea. Along the way, find an undisturbed lake teeming with coastal seabirds, turtles, frogs, deer and more. Pause as you cross this popular watering hole and watch for local critters congregating in real time.
Quiet MomentsBack to Top of List
Old fashioned fun: Motor through a colorful tapestry of flowers, farmland and vineyards when you motor along Huasana Road in Arroyo Grande. Stop for farm stands or pack a picnic and enjoy Biddle Regional Park surrounded by trees, wildflowers and birdsong (great for kiddos and dogs looking to get their wiggles out). Afterward, stroll the quaint Village of Arroyo Grande, where boutiques, restaurants, ice cream shops and an ancient swinging footbridge await. Note: roaming wild chickens are known to strut along these streets, adding to the tried-and-true Americana charm.
Old Creek Road
Whale of a trail: Discover your new happy place with a well-earned cruise along Cayucos’ Old Creek Road to the beautiful Whale Rock Reservoir. One of SLO CAL’s lesser-known back roads for driving as well as cycling, this is a selfie spot worth stopping for. Backdropped by the 38,967 acre-foot reservoir created by the earthen dam on Old Creek Road, it’s hard not to feel the stately grandeur of these breathtaking surroundings. While enjoying the reservoir, cast a fishing line into the water in search of steelhead, catfish and bass or hike the dog-friendly nature trails with your furry four-legged friend.
Los Osos Valley Road
Back bay beauty: Find a roadside flush with flora and fauna when you travel “the back bay way” from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. Winding from Los Osos Valley Road to Turri Rd to South Bay Boulevard, this route affords incredible nature walks perfect for birders and daydreamers alike. Catch a back bay view of the Morro Bay Estuary (where fresh and saltwater meet) and enjoy the splendor Morro Bay State Park, home to the Museum of Natural History. Be sure to also stop for a trek of Black Hill Trail, a volcanic peak akin to Morro Rock. Here, you’ll find chaparral, coastal shrubs and eucalyptus groves where Monarch butterflies flutter during the winter season. Plus, the three-mile round trip to the summit reveals a beautiful panoramic view drenched in delicious solitude.
See you on the scenic route!
Ready to roll on these scenic drives in San Luis Obispo County? Before you start your engine, ensure that you have a physical map of the area handy. Some SLO CAL backroads lack consistent cell service, so it’s important to download any information you might need to get from point A to point B in advance of your drive. Of course, a full tank of gas is always a good idea and you’ll want to double-check your emergency kit for any tools and resources you might need to get you back on the road in the unlikely event of any speed bumps pop up along the way. Now, enjoy the ride.