Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer at the California Central Coast: Get Your Tan On!

Kayaking in Ventura Harbor
Say summer and you automatically think about being outside. Who stays indoors except for cranky people and vampires? The California Central Coast is prime outdoor territory for summer fun as this stretch of coastline from Ventura to Monterey is ripe with plenty to do. From tide-pooling, surfing, hiking and biking, to a romantic stroll as the Pacific tickles your feet, here are some suggestions to get out, get some sun and uncover the coast!

My wife over looking Potato Harbor on Santa Cruz Island
Perhaps the best playground for outdoor fun is to visit the Channel Islands National Park ( These islands, just off the coast of Santa Barbara, are great day trips and get you back to pristine California as it was hundreds of years ago. Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Rosa islands are best accessed from Ventura Harbor. All three islands have indigenous plants and animals, such as and the smallest fox you’ve ever seen, the Channel Islands Fox, and over 140 other species found no where else on earth. You can camp overnight, or spend a day or half-day roaming the place on moderate hikes with a trained naturalist. Island Packers is the official concessionaire and they do a great job of getting people to and from the islands. WATCH my 2 Minute Travel video shot on Santa Cruz Island here:

Guided kayaking tours of the Channel Islands by folks like Blue Sky Wilderness ( gets you up close to the volcanic rock and sea caves on the islands, including Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world, located at Santa Cruz Island. Picnic on the island and explore parts few people have walked on. Though the waters are cooler, you can also snorkel off all three islands and immerse yourself near the kelp forests. You’ll spot the California State Fish, the Garibaldi, see sheepshead, and other cool sea life. Or if you dive, the islands are great spots to scuba. I usually dive around Anacapa and the backside of Santa Cruz. There are sea lions, dolphins, crabs and everything else under the sea. Use the Peace Boat ( my favorite dive boat, which departs from Ventura Harbor. They are professional and best of all, after a long day of diving you can warm up in their on-board hot tub while eating ice cream! Of course, you can always kayak within the confines of any of the harbors, like Ventura, Santa Barbara and Monterey for a more sedate experience.

The Channel Island Fox
Aside from the Channel Islands, here are other great Summer suggestions:

The bike trails that hug the Central Coast are inspiring. The Waterfront in Santa Barbara is one of the best. You can rent a bike or surrey and leisurely follow the ocean down to the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, which passes the Santa Barbara Zoo, beach volleyball nets and languid palm trees. It’s flat, fun and you won’t break much of a sweat. In San Luis Obispo, the best spot for hiking, walking and biking is MontaƱa de Oro Park: 8,000 acres of coastal bluffs and coves to mountainous shrub-covered hills to lush valley’s of dense eucalyptus groves. It’s beautiful and truly a gem on the Central Coast. (  


Carmel City Beach
The white sand beach at Carmel City Beach is immensely popular and within walking distance of downtown Carmel ( The views north are to Pebble Beach, and south you can see Point Lobos, another great hiking park. Walk, bring the dog and relax, then head back to Carmel for lunch, or wine tasting in Carmel Valley. Leadbetter Beach is one of the best beaches in Santa Barbara because it has a large grassy area with picnic tables, some shade, restroom facilities and outdoor grills. Plus you’re a short drive to State Street, Santa Barbara's main drag for shopping, outdoor dining and the SB vibe. Moonstone Beach in Cambria has long been popular due its more rugged coastline and handicap accessible boardwalk which runs the length of the low bluffs. There is also beach access, restaurants are close by, and restroom facilities are located at both ends of the beach. Plus you can find, yes, moonstones. You might also see otters.

My whale watching boat leaving Morro Bay
Whale watching in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Morro Bay can be an awesome experience and these spots have reasonably good chances of getting pretty close to humpback and blue whales. There are numerous boats to take you around, either by sail, on a catamaran or on a traditional fishing boat. Having seen whales up close, it’s an experience you don’t want to miss. Of course, no one can promise you a whale sighting, but if nothing else, you’re floating on the Pacific, and that ain’t too bad!

Or, if you’re the more adventurous type, the Bella Monterey Bay ( is a great sailing boat which holds only 6 people and tours the bay and shoreline of Monterey. This is not for the faint of heart as this baby sails, which means it can get choppy on the open ocean and you will have to gingerly navigate your way around the vessel, depending on the wind, but you’ll have a blast.

Renting a surry along Santa Barbara's coastline
On Board Nautical in Morro Bay ( is for those who just need a relaxing ride on the water without spilling their cocktail. Chef-prepared foods and live entertainment on this classic 1960s yacht means you can kick back as you cruise inside Morro Bay gently and slowly, staying within the confines of the protected bay. For other great information about the Central Coast, check out all 4 of my travel books, in paperack and as a download on Kindle:


  1. If you are looking for summer fun for girls ages 7 to 14, consider Summer at Santa Catalina! We're an old-fashioned summer camp with both daytime and sleepaway campers for 2, 3, or 5-week sessions. Our girls visit Carmel City Beach, hike Point Lobos, learn marine biology, draw, sing, paint, act onstage, play sports, ride horses, dive, swim, and more! Find out all about it here:

  2. Wow, thanks for the traveling tips. My wife and I have been aching to go back to Santa Barbara for a trip soon...we used to go there a lot before we had kids, but now it can get a bit pricey to take the whole family. Do you have any suggestions for cheap family friendly hotels? Last time we were there we stayed at The Sandman Inn ( on State. It was very budget friendly and we really enjoyed it, but we like to try new places so would definitely enjoy the suggestions! Also, great restaurant reviews. My wife and I will have to check out the Santa Barbara restaurants you suggested...always looking for new favorites!