About The Southern Central Coast
The Southern Central Coast
The differences between northern and southern California well and truly strike home along this stretch of the coast. Within a few miles, the towering bluffs, fogs, and slow-paced rural living of the north give way to the palm trees, expansive beaches, and high-priced luxury lifestyles typical of the south. The contrasts stem from simple geography: between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara the coastline turns a corner, becoming south-facing rather than west-facing, thereby catching the full rays of the sun and not allowing ocean fogs to fill its inland canyons.
The sheer speed and completeness of this change never fails to surprise. Head south after eating lunch in a fog-cloaked beach-side diner outside San Luis Obispo and you’ll be in Santa Barbara in time for an elegant patio dinner – and have time for a leisurely ocean dip on the way.
Unlike the Northern Central Coast, there are no mountain ranges to complicate access to the best places to visit. The fast way around is Hwy-101; un-fussily linking the region’s (mostly undistinguished) main towns – and for many miles is joined by the more exploratory Hwy-1. In its more adventurous sections, Hwy-1 also passes some tiny coastal settlements before reaching Lompoc, where you’ll discover the most comprehensively restored mission in California. The numerous pastoral villages within the valleys include Solvang, which makes a meal of its Danish origins, and Ojai, which turns up unexpected links with Indian mystics.
The region’s one essential place to visit is Santa Barbara, packed with historical and architectural interest and – in our view – summing up everything that’s good about southern California. The town also has a pleasing number of inexpensive eating-places, although accommodation costs are high. If you can tear yourself away there are lower-priced overnight options within easy reach.
Santa Barbara can be visited at any time, but be cautious if you’re touring the northern part of the region during winter, when the climate can be less than inviting.
Greyhound buses are frequent between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, and most make stops at Oxnard, Ventura and Thousand Oaks (www.greyhound.com). Slighter fewer buses run between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, taking approximately two hours. Six daily AMTRAK trains link San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles, all calling at Santa Barbara and going on to San Diego. There is also an AMTRAK bus service which carries passengers on to San Luis Obispo (www.amtrak.com).