Central Coast (California)
The Central Coast of California is a region that remains calm and tranquil. Between the Bay Area's high-tech hassles, and the megalopolis of Southern California, the Central Coast provides nice beaches, beautiful Spanish missions, and a more peaceful way of life.
The Central Coast includes some of the classic tourist country of California – particularly the scenic version of the drive (or train ride) from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The Spanish colonialists traveled along the Central Coast – roughly on the route of Highway 1 – and created missions at Santa Cruz, San Juan Bautista, Carmel, Soledad, Jolon, San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, Lompoc, Solvang, Santa Barbara, and San Buenaventura (Ventura). Depending on what you count as Central Coast, the area has about half of the state's missions.
Much of the Central Coast is agricultural, with an emphasis on crops that flourish in relatively cool, coastal climates – such as artichokes and strawberries. In recent years, land has increasingly been converted to grape growing, especially in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. The Santa Barbara County wine country was made famous in the movie Sideways. Monterey County is a renowned wine region, with more than 40,000 acres planted in premium wine grapes. Fishing was once an important part of the regional economy, but has receded greatly. There is oil production off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, but activity is greatly below previous levels.
Tourism is a critical industry, particularly on the Monterey Peninsula and around Santa Barbara. The temperate Central Coast has also been known as a retirement area, particularly for people from Los Angeles.
Population in the Central Coast is concentrated in a series of small-medium sized cities, only two of which exceed 100,000. The cities include Monterey, fast growing Salinas (a few miles inland), Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara. Santa Cruz city and county are sometimes considered part of the Central Coast, but they have become increasingly tied to Silicon Valley (Santa Clara County), to which many Santa Cruzans commute. Ventura County, at the southern end of the Central Coast, is classified by the Census Bureau as part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and commuter train service to LA is available.
The Central Coast has a large number of colleges, considering its relatively small population (about 2 million of California's 37 million). There are University of California branches at Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, each of which strongly shapes the character of its city. California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) is the mainstay for the city of San Luis Obispo. There are newer state colleges at Ventura and at Fort Ord, a converted military base in Monterey County.
The small airports in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria or Santa Barbara have flights to major hubs on the West Coast like Seattle, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. If coming from beyond that, flying in a LA or SF metro airport will be a better option as those airports have more destinations.
US Highway 101 is the Central Coast's main artery. Two-lane Highway 1 is the slower, more scenic option as it winds along the entire Central Coast coastline. Coming from the central valley are several state highways.
Amtrak's Coast Starlight runs from Seattle to Los Angeles and the Pacific Surfliner goes from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.
Greyhound is the only major company that goes through these small cities. There is Orange Belt Stages, which goes from Las Vegas through Bakersfield, Hanford, Paso Robles and ends in Santa Maria. An Amtrak bus can be taken provided you ride a train for part of the journey.
Some cruise ships stop in Santa Barbara or Monterey as part of their journey.
US Highway 101 is a freeway virtually its entire length. It connects San Jose, Salinas, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Oxnard with Los Angeles. The Monterey Peninsula is a few miles to the west. Outside of the Monterey Peninsula there are few towns of any size off 101; Lompoc in Santa Barbara County is one.
The rail route essentially follows 101, which was built along the rail corridor. There is only one train a day – the often unreliable Coast Starlight – that covers the whole corridor. The Pacific Surfliner to San Diego goes as far north as San Luis Obispo, there is more service from Santa Barbara south. Amtrak Thruway buses cover gaps in train service.
Greyhound serves Santa Cruz, Salinas, King City, Paso Robles, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, and Oxnard (but not Ventura), connecting to San Francisco, Los Angeles and the Central Valley. Many cities or towns have bus systems run by the local government for travel within a city or county.
There are commercial airports near Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and Santa Barbara (largest one); there are no flights within the Central Coast, only flights to West Coast hubs.