California Highway One Discovery Route: A Road Trip Like No Other by Emma Krasov

Photography by Yuri Krasov

The California Highway One Discovery Route in San Luis Obispo County stretches along more than 101 miles of prime Pacific coastline midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The best way to explore the area is to embark on a road trip with frequent stops to absorb all the breathtaking views of the ocean, the perfect Mediterranean climate, the abundance of wildlife, and the most romantic landscapes formed by the mountainous terrain, cliffs, sandy beaches, and wind-swept cypresses.

Little coastal towns on the Discovery Route – San Simeon, Ragged Point, Cambria, Cayucos, Los Osos/Baywood Park, Avila Beach & Valley, Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley, Oceano and Nipomo – are known for their historical significance, winemaking and oyster farming, fishing and wild life preservation, arts and crafts, nature walks, and watersport activities.

The newly opened History Museum located within the Cayucos Visitors Center, tells a story of this charming little town. Stemming from a farming community, Cayucos was the hub of San Luis Obispo County commerce in the 1800s. It grew up with sailing ships and steamers, rum runners and butter boxes shipped from here to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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A dugout kayak mounted on the wall refers to the name Cayucos. It is believed to come from little fishing boats like this one, used by the Saliman and Chumash peoples who populated the Central Coast of California for millennia.

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The founder of contemporary Cayucos, Captain James Cass, arrived in California from New York in 1849 with the Gold Rush. Several years later, while working in the area, he was so impressed with the sheltered bay and the beautiful coast that he sold his farm in Sacramento and moved to Cayucos. Here he developed a seaport and built a 380-foot-long wooden pier in 1872. He also built a warehouse and his own private residence nearby.

The pier was extended to 940 feet three years later, and local dairy farmers were bringing up to 10 tons of butter in a day to the pier to be shipped up and down the coast, as well as other agricultural commodities – potatoes, wheat, barley, corn, beans, hogs, and wool.

By the 1890s, with the arrival of the train and the start of the trucking industry, Cayucos lost its significance as a seaport and after Captain Cass died in 1917, his family donated the pier to the state of California.2. DSC_0354 copy

Meticulously preserved, this wooden pier still stands today in Cayucos as well as Captain Cass’s house. In the last century, Cayucos has developed as a snowbird retreat and a major tourist destination, with the original wooden pier as a major attraction in town. The town is also known for its historic murals – one of them depicting Captain Cass’s odyssey.

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Among the residents of the Discovery Route there are many artists. In Cayucos, Kiki Kornreich of Kornreich Design Associates, wears exquisite jewelry made with found beach glass, and she is the founder of the annual Cayucos Sea Glass Festival.

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In the tiniest town of Harmony (population 18 according to the road sign) founded in 1869 as a dairy community, and deserted by the majority of its dwellers by mid-20th century, there are at least two thriving art studios – a pottery and Harmony Glassworks. The owner, glass artist Eric Dandurand is proud to be a glassblower and finds the medium fascinating – same as so many visitors and admirers of his work.

One of the major attractions along the Discovery Route is the iconic Hearst Castle National and California Historical Landmark near San Simeon village.

Imagined by the legendary newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, and built by a notorious female architect Julia Morgan in the years between 1919 and 1947, the grand estate remains unfinished, yet magnificent, adorned with countless pieces of art brought from Europe and Asia, and open to the public on a variety of themed tours.

The Hearst Castle skilled tour guides never fail to encourage their listeners to imagine themselves as the guests of the house, invited for a night of partying with Hollywood stars and other celebrities.

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Every tour includes a visit to the indoor pool sparkling with 24K gold tiles, giving the guides an opportunity to quip that if usually “not all that glitters is gold” here it is!

Not far from the Castle a must see colony of endlessly entertaining elephant seals resides in the vicinity of Ragged Point.

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To help these gorgeous (in their own way) animals and the rest of the coastal wildlife survive, Stewardship Travel – a unique program providing tourists with opportunities to learn, connect, and contribute to the safety of the environment – was recently implemented in San Luis Obispo County.

The program activities vary from planting native flowers, contributing to a historic lighthouse, or becoming a “citizen scientist” at a nature center to taking part in a beach cleanup. A Stewardship Cleanup Kit, which can be pick up at a Visitor’s Center, includes a certified compostable BioBag, a doggy MuttMitt, a pair of lightweight plastic gloves, a golf pencil, and a Beach Cleanup Checklist with a slew of the usual suspects to mark upon removal from the beach: cigarette butts, cans and bottles, caps, cups, six-pack rings, rubber flip flops, clothes, paper, nets and fishing gear, plastic bags and utensils, Styrofoam, food wrappers, etc. – the all-too-familiar offenders of the California coast. The Stewardship Travel motto is, “Stay. Play. Connect. Care.”

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There are many places to stay along the Discovery Route. A beautiful mermaid sculpture marks entrance to the Pier View Suites in Cayucos. Opened in 2008, and owned and operated as a family business, this premier boutique hotel is located mere steps from the historic pier, and offers panoramic coastal views from every suite’s private balcony, stunning sunsets, and fresh ocean air.

In the morning, “Suite Service” breakfast can be delivered from the downstairs Top Dog Coffeehouse & Café offering fresh micro-roasted coffee, espresso drinks, lose leaf teas, fresh-baked bagels, muffins, scones, crumb cakes, and cookies.

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For a small unincorporated town Cayucos is rather well supplemented with dining establishments. Schooners Restaurant, first opened in 1993, remains a go-to nightly spot. Decorated with a nautical theme reminiscent of the early Central Coast history, sailors and fishermen, Schooners has unobstructed ocean views from the upstairs bar, heated seating on the patio, and cozy ambiance in the main dining room. Schooners menu of seafood and steak dinners prepared by Chef Beto Gonzalez usually starts with classic cocktails and a signature appetizer of fried calamari popular with the locals and tourists alike.

Café della Via – a classic Italian restaurant and wine bar offers Italian cuisine paired with award winning Central Coast and rare find wines. House-made bruschetta, an array of pasta dishes, and substantial and delicious main courses are thoroughly enjoyed by regulars coming in big friends-and-family groups, and vacationing couples.

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In another Discovery Route little town, Cambria, peppered with art galleries and antique shops, there is a famous Linn’s Restaurant, which began as a farm fruit stand and over time has grown into a favorite destination for locals and visitors alike. The historical establishment serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with fresh local fruit, vegetables and Hearst Ranch grass-fed beef. Lunch at Linn’s can be quite hearty, with a char-broiled burger, chicken pot pie, and of course the famed house specialty – Olallieberry pie.

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10 unique destinations of California Highway One Discovery Route are described here:

For more information see Cayucos Visitor Guide

To learn more about historical and cultural attractions along California Highway One Discovery Route, visit: