I was thrilled to stumble upon the newly unveiled "Discovery Route" which spans 101 miles of pristine coastline and encompasses ten diverse destinations along the way. Each of the ten areas boast their own unique offerings such as wine tasting, outdoor adventures, cultural exhibitions, sandy beaches, artisan dining and a diverse group of historical monuments such as the famed Hearst Castle. The Discovery Route is perfectly situated along the California coast, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco and is the ideal getaway for vacationing families or couples seeking the experience of a lifetime.
I recently packed my family in the car and set out on an adventure to explore the Discovery Route but before I left, I reached out to Laila Kollmann, owner of the Cayucos Shoreline Inn, to ask her for tips on family travel in WineCoastCountry:
"The Discovery Route is really catching on with travelers who are already familiar with Highway 1, Big Sur and Hearst Castle, yet want to learn and experience much more along this majestic, 101 mile stretch of the Central Coast. The new digital app feature is really convenient for families who want to plan ecotourism and Stewardship Travel experiences as well as the staple hiking, biking, tours or art events. It's also a great tool for discovering where to dine or stay on the Discovery Route."
I am not a techie person by nature however; I took Laila's advice and downloaded the app before beginning our adventure at the northernmost tip of the Discovery Route which also happens to be one of my favorite places on Earth, Ragged Point. From there, we traveled through quaint beach towns, gorgeous valleys and eventually ended our trip in a small but booming wine region called, Edna Valley. I was especially intrigued by the stewardship travel program which is offered throughout the Discovery Route.
Stewardship travel allows tourists to take their vacation to a much deeper level and actually make a difference in the area that they are staying. As a mother, this concept was extremely appealing and sounded like a valuable and memorable experience for my entire family. There are many different options available such as beach clean-up efforts, hiking trail maintenance or even the opportunity to accompany a docent at the magnificent elephant seals rookery at Piedras Blancas.
Here is a list of the ten fabulous destinations that make up the Discovery Route:
Ragged Point: Known as the gateway to Big Sur, Ragged Point is home to some of the most magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. Coined by many as the "Million Dollar View", travelers can observe a plethora of sea life such as dolphins, whales and elephant seals from atop 400-foot sheer cliffs. We enjoyed lunch at the patio of the Ragged Point Inn and then wandered around the property in awe of the scenery surrounding us.
San Simeon: Drive just 15 miles south and you will arrive in San Simeon, home to Hearst Castle National Monument. This area is coveted by outdoor enthusiasts for its gorgeous hiking trails along with fishing, bird watching, elephant seals and whale watching. We spent almost two hours watching the elephant seals on the beach and speaking to the knowledgeable docents who were happy to answer our endless questions.
Cambria: Tucked in between towering pine trees and the bravura coastline sits a picturesque village known as Cambria, where visitors will discover a lively art scene, fantastic restaurants along with antique shops and specialty boutiques. There are two portions to this village -- the east village and the west village and both are equally fantastic. A stay on Moonstone Beach and a walk on the boardwalk is a must as it was one of the most beautiful beaches that we've ever seen.
Cayucos: Visitors will see why this town was voted as "the coolest small town in America" in 2009, Cayucos is everything that you would expect from an authentic California beach town. You have not tried a cookie until you've tasted a cookie from Brown Butter Cookie Company. I was thoroughly convinced that Heaven had officially melted in my mouth.
Los Osos and Baywood Park: This is a truly hidden gem and the gateway to a phenomenal ocean-side park known as Montaña de Oro State Park. The daytime possibilities are endless with a plethora of things for the entire family such as hiking trails, tide pool adventures, horseback riding, kayaking and the best way to end the day was of course, a sunset walk through the magical Elfin Forrest.
Avila Beach: This beach town is known for its ideal micro-climate, charming downtown, boutique wineries, historic pier and expansive, well-kept beaches. We were delighted to discover how truly family friendly the area was with swings and slides on the beach and a charming sea-themed playground for children of all ages. The town comes alive on Friday nights with live music, bounce houses and a fabulous Fisherman's Farmers Market. A kayak tour at Avila Beach Paddlesports is highly recommended!
Oceano: There are no words to describe the majestic sand dunes that seem to stretch for miles and miles. We were pleased to discover that this is the only beach in California that you can actually drive on! The Oceano lagoon is a wildlife dream come true for birdwatchers of all ages. If theater is on your to-do list, the Great American Melodrama is a fabulous adventure for the whole family.
Nipomo: The southernmost point on the Discovery Route, Nipomo is a delightfully quaint town nestled in the foothills while boasting perfect weather. Nipomo is home to Cypress Ridge Golf Course which ranks second in the State of California and Jocko's Steakhouse which ranks first place according to my husband.
Arroyo Grande Valley: We were delighted to find ourselves traveling winding back roads with vineyards speckled on both sides of the road and rolling, green hills that seem to go on for miles. Lopez Lake Recreational Area provided us with endless hours of entertainment. The lake boasts 22 miles of shoreline and offers camping, fishing, boating, skiing, sailing, windsurfing, picnicking, hiking and equestrian trails, mountain biking, canoeing, and bird watching.
Edna Valley: The perfect ending to the perfect vacation is the area known as Edna Valley. This picturesque countryside is reminiscent of a Tuscan village with rolling vineyards, gorgeous wineries and endless bike trails. A family picnic on the expansive lawns of Edna Valley Vineyards or at the century-old school house that Baileyana Winery calls home is highly recommended.
If you are seeking a memorable family vacation or romantic couples get-away, the Discovery Route is the place to be for adventure, relaxation and some of the most unbelievable views I've ever encountered. I recommend a full week to experience everything that this area has to offer because their tagline couldn't be more true: 10 Destinations. 1 Fantastic Vacation.