Very merrily explore the seaside wonderland of Highway 1 and beyond
Let your heart be light—and grab a pair of sunglasses, while you're at it! Here in SLO CAL, we're happy to trade traditional snow for the allure of pristine, sandy beaches. This winter, go where the weather is always merry and bright (more than 300 days of sun per year means your winter vacation has little chance of being rained out). Pack your swimsuit, hiking boots, your appetite, and perhaps a Santa sun visor. Highway 1's coastal communities are legendary for outdoor fun, fresh cuisine and enchanting destinations open to the public all year long. So, gather faithful friends who are dear to you, the whole (extended) family and even Fido. These coastal holiday adventures are fit for kids from one to 92.
Get your fill of festive food and fine wine (no fruitcake, we promise)
Magical meals in San Simeon, Cambria, Harmony and Cayucos
The holidays are all about sharing special dinners (and wine pairings) with those you love. San Simeon might be known for Hearst Castle, but the wines at Hearst Ranch Winery are just as opulent—plus, the view from nearby Ragged Point Inn Restaurant just might rival a few of the castle's most epic views. Cambria's sophisticated, farm-fresh restaurant scene is bursting with winter produce to savor now, so make your reservation today. When you dine at Black Cat Bistro or Harmony Cafe you can rest assured you're nibbling the finest bounty of the season. Just remember, chefs will trade sugar plums for olallieberry (pronounced oh-la-leh berry) this time of year, a popular pie order at Linn's Restaurant. Tip: Grab a few frozen pies to go for your holiday meals back home. You won't regret it! Cambria's coastal tasting rooms—including Cutruzzola Vineyards, Stolo Vineyard, Moonstone Cellars and Twin Coyotes Winery—showcase grapes grown steps from the Pacific Ocean and make singular gifts. Don't forget to stop by Harmony Cellars, located in the nearby hamlet of Harmony, population 18, if you count the cows. Harmony Cellars wine—along with a selection of Harmony's own glass-blown jewelry and tableware—make creative presents for your most artistic friends this holiday season. Not sure if you've heard, but Santa's bored to death of chocolate chip cookies and milk. This year, grab a sea-salted bag from Brown Butter Cookie Factory in downtown Cayucos and a bottle of local vino from Cayucos Cellars. You'll be on the “nice” list for the next decade!
De-stress in Avila Beach
Long shopping lists, robust travel schedules, and a little too much family togetherness can all get on your nerves this time of year. Any lingering remnants of holiday stress will be melted instantly away upon your arrival to Avila Beach, where you can dine at a plethora of seafood restaurants along the water or sink into a private tub filled with hot, naturally soothing mineral water. Sample Avila Beach wine selections from Alapay Cellars, Sinor-Lavallee, or Peloton Cellars or embark on a day tour through magical terrain where vines meet the sea. Your friends will love cruising along The Avila Beach Wine Trail, which leads to festive tasting rooms (including Kelsey See Canyon Winery, famous for its coastal chardonnay mixed with See Canyon apple cider. These crisp, slightly sweet bottles make for fabulous stocking stuffers, to be sure! All your holiday pie needs can be solved in one fell swoop when you stop by Avila Valley Barn, which is decked out in fragrant wreaths and jolly ornaments this time of year. Tip: Grab a family photo-op with the resident farm animals and fresh-cut Christmas trees. Yes, there's mulled apple cider, too!
Sip's up in Pismo Beach
Surf's up, Santa! When you think of “Pismo Beach” you may think primarily of surfing, sun, and the bustling pier. But did you know that this classic beach town is home to Splash Cafe's world-famous clam chowder? Get your fill of this hot comforting winter treat, then head to the area's unique tasting rooms, like Sans Liege, which offers up a laid back, family-friendly tasting experience. Looking to pick up multiple bottles from an array of producers to give away as holiday gifts this year? Stop by Taste of the Valleys, where you can sample flavors from across the southern SLO CAL coast.
Feed the fam in Grover Beach
Known for its mesmerizing sand dunes and community-friendly vibe, Oceano is not without its own unique holiday flavor. Here, it's all about fine wine served alongside comfort food served casually. Stop by Monarch Grove Winery, a stellar tasting room along Highway 1, or grab a bite to eat at Rock & Roll Diner, a classic train car-turned-1950s-diner that offers up generous breakfasts, juicy pastrami burgers, great guacamole burgers and a number of authentic Greek dishes sure to stick to your gills. Sometimes you just need a quick, filling bite to keep the holiday fun rolling on!
Waterfront dining in Morro Bay
Delicious Morro Bay oysters are a must this holiday season. Try a half dozen on the half shell from both Morro Bay Oyster Company and Grassy Bar Oyster Company, both of which have opened new retail establishments on the Embarcadero. Yes, that means you can take some fresh morsels back to your vacation rental, if you so desire! Waterfront dining is a big draw each holiday season, so be sure to grab your group a table as the sun sets (on Dec. 7, catch the Morro Bay Lighted Boat Parade as it chugs through the harbor). Stax Wine Bar and Bistro is a great place to bring the whole merry gang to sip wines sourced from SLO CAL's diverse microclimates.
Taste Edna Valley, SLO and Arroyo Grande this holiday season
Whether you're in town for Thanksgiving or New Years, the SLO CAL Coast is rife with flavorful gifts sure to put a twinkle in your eye. Just four few miles from the beach and boasting more than 30 wineries, you'll find Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys—two renowned wine regions you won't want to miss on your next holiday adventure. Explore a whole new world of wine and food crafted to be paired and enjoyed together. Sip famous Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and aromatic white varieties like Albariño, all of which are known for exceptional balance due to their coastal growing conditions. The Southern Charm Wine Trail also includes an array of nearby tasting rooms perfect for toasting the season, including Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, Verdad & Lindquist Family Wines, Talley Vineyards and more.
Make memories at the farmers market
What are the holidays without good food? Not very tasty, I'll tell you that much! SLO CAL is known for its incredible free, family-friendly farmers markets kicking off almost every day of the week. Stop by a winter market in Cambria (Fridays from 2-5:30 p.m. at the Cambria Vet's Hall), Morro Bay (Saturdays from 2:30-5:30 p.m. at Main and Harbor Street), Los Osos/Baywood Park (Mondays from 2 to 5 p.m. at 668 Santa Maria Avenue in Baywood Park), San Luis Obispo Downtown Farmers Market (Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. along Higuera Street), Pismo Beach (Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. between Pismo Avenue and Main Street), and Grover Beach, among many others. Besides fresh produce, local meats, artisan wares, and fine snacks, you'll also find joyful holiday treats and handcrafted gifts on display. Come hungry, leave happy!
Fun for Fido
Tails will wag all winter long
Roam off-leash in Cayucos
Run, jump and jingle! SLO CAL is known for being supremely dog-friendly, but Cayucos takes freedom one step further and allows dogs to forgo their leashes altogether. Watch your pup roam freely as he enjoys all the sights and smells of the SLO CAL Coast this winter season. You can also embark on a fun, easy walk along Ocean Avenue, where the window shopping is second to none. Be sure to take your canine friend for a stroll down the historic pier and watch surfers tackle picture-perfect waves below. We don't blame you for hanging around in the surf all day. Cayucos' ample beach is home to a beloved play structure, and safe wading and tide pools at its southern end. Your dog (and your kids) will be having a splashing good time, indeed.
All paws on the deck in Avila Beach
Have yourself a furry little holiday: On Nov. 30 from 11 a.m. to noon, hundreds of dogs decked out in their finest holiday sweaters, scarves and caps will take to the Avila Beach Promenade for a holiday dog parade you won't soon forget. Want to participate in dog-friendly SLO CAL? All dogs must be registered and check-in between 10:30-10:45 a.m. on the day of the event to receive a contest identification number for the costume contest: best dog costume, best dog/owner look-alike, best holiday look, funniest costume, and best in show. This year's parade participants will receive goodie bags donated by Petco Arroyo Grande. Think of it as a gift for your best friend in the whole world, whether or not he or she's been particularly naughty or nice this year.
Community-wide holiday gatherings
When the locals get together, it's always a jolly good time.
Join the celebration! SLO CAL's coastal communities love to throw fun and exciting events all year long. However, winter brings out an even more exuberant lineup of community-wide festivities. Don't miss out on these free, family-friendly shindigs filled with wonderment.
Snow on the forecast in Grover Beach
Get your good cheer on in Grover Beach. Grover Beach's 53rd Annual South County Holiday Parade kicks off Dec. 7 from 10-11 a.m. and admission is free with an unwrapped toy (toys donated to local charities). This is the only daytime parade in South SLO CAL, which makes it easy to bring the little ones along for the ride. Immediately after, stroll the fine art at Santa's Workshop Fine Art & Craft Faire, kicking off from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Find unique handmade gifts, prize drawings and enchantment for the entire family. Next up, a tree lighting ceremony will illuminate downtown from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Ramona Garden Park. Warm-up with cocoa, cookie decorating, “snow,” and caroling. Plus, Santa will be paying a visit.
Oceano has the laughs
Trust us, this gives new meaning to the phrase “dinner and a show.” At Oceano's Great American Melodrama, the whole family is invited to guffaw, howl and even boo the characters performing on stage. Plus, hot food, cold beer and fine wine are always available, rounding out this quintessential holiday event. This Nov. 21-Dec. 31, see Scrooge find his new-found Christmas spirit in a heart-warming tale of holiday magic. Chuckle until your sides ache and celebrate the music of the season in the Melodrama's Holiday Vaudeville Revue. This triple bill is a very special family tradition designed to bring a year’s worth of smiles to you and your loved ones in a great musical and theatrical experience that grandson and grandpa will enjoy equally. How often does that happen?
An aquatic holiday in Morro Bay
Morro Bay's iconic fishing harbor will be transformed into a winter wonderland this Dec. 6-15, when WinterFest brings twelve days of holiday cheer, including a lighted boat parade, lighted trees, Santa's House open daily, a Santa Bar Crawl for 21 and over, tall ships in the harbor and real snow for the kids. There will even be a Paddleboard Parade on Dec. 8, featuring stand up paddle boarders decked out in their funkiest holiday finery. You can join them if you wish: Bring your own paddleboard, kayak or non-motorized vessel (or rent one from local shops). This year, $1,000 worth of cash prizes will be awarded to the best holiday décor and costumes. On land, there will be paper boat building, along with other family-friendly activities. Learn more about the SLO CAL Paddleboarding trend here. It's not as difficult as it looks!
A very Cambria Christmas
You haven't seen holiday lights like this before. From Nov. 29 through Dec. 23 (from 5 to 9 p.m. nightly), explore an illuminated world of wonder at the Eighth Annual Cambria Christmas Market. Step into a world of music, merriment and holiday treats, including traditional German foods and spiced wine. Hear those jingle bells in the distance? That's your cue to make the trip to the gorgeous Cambria coast, where every member of your family can enjoy the magic of winter in SLO CAL. Say hello to seasonal characters like Santa and his elves, shop unique gifts and marvel at more twinkle lights than you can shake a candy cane at!
Outdoors for the holiday
No snowmen here, but plenty of smiles!
Take the plunge in Cayucos
On New Year's Day, more than a thousand locals and travelers alike make the pilgrimage to Cayucos for the annual Polar Bear Dip. Clad in colorful costumes—some even arrive with their dogs decked out in matching outfits—the crowd rushes into the water at high noon. It's a beloved local tradition that has a way of kick-starting the year into high gear. Join in the chilly fun beginning at 9:30 a.m. and start 2020 with an invigorating rush.
See the Elephant Seals in San Simeon
Pay a visit to SLO CAL's unofficial ambassadors. Yes, the Great Northern Elephant Seal is a sight to behold, especially in wintertime. These majestic animals migrate to a rookery just north of San Simeon in November, when the seals root around (and even compete) for choice birthing spots. By mid-December, the first pup usually makes his or her debut! Perhaps Christmas will come early on your visit. Tip: Looking to burn off some extra energy before heading back to the car? Built in 1875, the nearby Piedras Blancas Light Station offers tours of its 100-foot-tall lighthouse and grounds. This is a great place to get your wiggles out and pose for one heck of a holiday card photo.
A harbor-full of friends in Morro Bay
Meet a wild band of carolers who live beneath the sea. With ideal waters for first-time kayakers and experienced paddlers alike, the Morro Bay Estuary offers a special protected cove that hosts as many as 20,000 migrating sea birds annually, including Marbled Godwit and Long-billed Curlew (keep an eye out for Western Pond Turtle, Swell Sharks, and sea lions, too). Rent gear from a local outfitter, or reserve your spot for a tour with an experienced guide. SLO CAL's newest aquatic attraction, Estero Adventure, offers up electric pontoon boats ready to take you around the harbor in style. Pile the family into one of these nifty vessels and traverse the peaceful harbor in search of floating otters and curious seals. Reserve your rental at the Estero Inn (boats launch from the hotel dock). Kayaks and paddleboards are also available for hourly rental. Just pray there isn't a mutiny on board!
Swimming and soaring in Arroyo Grande and Pismo Beach
Cannonball into the holidays! Imagine, lake swimming in winter! In SLO CAL, this isn't a crazy idea at all. Lopez Lake Recreation Area has delighted families for decades with swimming, water skiing and fishing—come see why it's one of SLO CAL's most popular family-friendly destinations all year round. Check out Mustang Waterpark (complete with slides, kiddie pools and cabanas for lounging). Right at the lake's edge, the Vista Lago Adventure Park thrills visitors with a ropes challenge course and ziplines. Tip: Not able to get out to the lake on this stay? Visit the historic Swinging Bridge in the Village of Arroyo Grande, which swings 40 feet above the Arroyo Grande Creek. The kids may shriek but it's all in good fun. For a low impact adventure filled with natural wonderment, look to the sky. Each winter, thousands of Monarch Butteries cluster within the leaves of local eucalyptus trees, their orange and black wings opening and closing in the sun. You've got to see it to believe it—just head to the Monarch Butterfly Preserve for your own mind-blowing experience.
Cambria's natural gifts
Who says holiday gifts have to cost a dime? Cambria's Moonstone Beach is littered with glittering treasures just waiting to be found. These wave-worn stones and smooth lumps of sea glass look lovely alongside any holiday décor. Stroll the gentle Moonstone Beach Boardwalk, an ADA-compliant one-mile path along the beach perfect for the whole family to traverse. Wildlife abounds with dolphins, seabirds, and otters lounging on their backs. Gray and Humpback whales are also found emerging from the dramatic waves, so keep your eyes peeled. Tip: To help your party out, The Whale Trail organization’s interpretive signs stand at 10 different whale watching outposts along the SLO CAL (that’s more than any other county in California). Looking for more fun on land? The kids will love Covell’s California Clydesdale Ranch, home to a herd of 100 freely-roaming majestic Clydesdale horses. The 2,000-acre ranch is made possible through a nature conservation easement, with views of a Monterey Pine forest, glimpses of the ocean and pristine pastures. Tours of the 2,000-acre property are available in the ranch’s open-air trailer or on horseback. Whew! After all that, it's time to relax and enjoy a picnic at nearby Shamel Park, featuring scenic day-use areas, a children's playground, and a heated swimming pool.
History in the making
Tour the SLO CAL's most magical cultural destinations
Christmas past meets SLO CAL's future
Want to learn more about SLO CAL's interesting and ever-evolving heritage? It's this easy: Just check out the History and Heritage Trail, a compilation of museums, historic homes, and other significant sites along Highway 1. Train enthusiasts will totally dig the Oceano Train Depot & Museum, complete with a 1940s era Southern Pacific boxcar and 1907 wooden caboose. A trip to the SLO CAL Coast is incomplete without a cruise to the castle—Hearst Castle, that is. Drive gorgeous Highway 1 to San Simeon's enchanted house on the hill, where one of Hearst's most opulent prizes, the Neptune Pool, has been recently restored to its stunning original glory.
Holidays at Hearst Castle
Glitz, glamor and sleigh bells: Known by locals as simply “the castle,” Hearst Castle's enchanted estate—perched atop a staggeringly scenic vista in San Simeon off Highway 1—is a must-see stop any time of year. That said, the holidays bring a new gleam to the late great Hearst's collection of Grecian statues, centuries-old tapestries, and shimmering, gilded pools. Explore the lush, manicured grounds and worldly environs as never before this holiday season. Special winter events, including a host of intriguing tours, offer up a whole new way to remember Hearst's ornate world.