California’s Central Coast is filled with many family-owned boutique wineries and they also have some beautiful beaches! It makes for an easy weekend getaway, being only about a 2-3 hour scenic drive from Los Angeles.

While there are numerous small beach towns in California, these are definitely worth putting on the itinerary for your next California road trip!

Grover Beach

Monarch Grove Winery
180 Highway 1
Grover Beach, CA 93433
Cost: $10 Deluxe Tasting (complimentary w/purchase)

My first stop was Monarch Grove Winery, located in Grover Beach. Sharing the same parking lot as the Amtrak Train Station (good to know if you want to take the Coast Starlight Train and make some wine tasting stops along the way!), this small tasting room offers delicious wines made from locally sourced grapes. They offer a Flight of Six ($6) or a Deluxe Tasting that includes 7 wines with chocolate, cheese & crackers ($10).

I enjoyed their Monarch Nectar, an Orange Muscato they refer to as their “patio sipper” and it would be absolutely perfect on a warm summer night! Their hibiscus sparkling wine (Monarch Bubbles) will be another favorite of mine this summer. I also enjoyed their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, She Said Red (a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cab Franc) and both a regular and Port version of their He Said Red, which is a blend of Petite Sirah, Malbec, and Zinfandel.

A plate of cheese and crackers alongside a glass of Chardonnay at Monarch Grove Winery

Monarch Butterfly Grove
400 S Dolliver St
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Cost: FREE

Just a few blocks down the road from the wine tasting room is the Monarch Butterfly Grove. This small area, filled with Eucalyptus trees, attracts thousands of monarch butterflies each year. You can walk amongst the trees in this reserve and observe the monarchs as they cluster together in the treetops. It looks like autumn and as if the leaves were changing colors, but those orange leaves are actually the butterflies!

The grove is open during the monarchs’ migration period from late October to the end of February. Although there was a much smaller population this year (approximately 5,000 monarchs versus the usual 15,000), it was still very impressive to see.

Collage of Monarch Butterfly Grove, including the trailer shop, Welcome Sign, monarch painting, and orange monarch in the treetops

From the Butterfly Grove, you can walk along the trails to the North Beach Campground or down to the beach area. I enjoyed a short walk along the trails and the picturesque beach.

Collage of campgrounds, walking trail, and field of bright pink flowers near Monarch Butterfly Grove
Collage of Pismo Beach coastline and swing hanging from a tree on the beach.

Arroyo Grande

Peacock Cellars
1543 Los Berros Road
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
Cost: $15 Wine Tasting (complimentary w/purchase)

The winemaker at Monarch Grove recommended Peacock Cellars, so I headed there to check them out. This award-winning winery focuses on producing small quantities of exceptional wines. Not only do they grow most of their own grapes, but they also are known for growing high-quality tomatoes and other produce.

Their tasting room and farm stand, where they sell their wines, produce, fresh baked goods, homemade jams, and other gifts, is situated within the grounds of one of their vineyards. With a patio overlooking the vines, it makes for a lovely place to spend an afternoon with a glass of wine and some friends enjoying coastal California’s warm and sunny days!

Collage of Risky Reb wine bottle and glass, truck on the grounds of Peacock Cellars vineyards, items for sale at the winery shop

Vineyards and Wine Tasting Room for Peacock Cellars

Avila Beach

Kraken Coffee Company
310 Front St.
Avila Beach, CA 93424
Cost: $11 (Latte + Ham & Cheese Croissant)

The next morning, I drove a little north to Avila Beach and found a great craft coffee shop.  Kraken Coffee Company offers friendly service, good coffee and pastries, and an stunning view!

Collage including Kraken Coffee Shop interior octopus wall mural , coffee bar counter, Ham Cheese Croissant alongside Latte cup

Avila Beach & Pier

As it was still a little early, there weren’t any crowds yet, and I meandered along the beachfront and pier for a short while. There were a few morning dog walkers enjoying the warm sun and calm waters.

Water flowing under the Avila Pier

Avila Pier, Avila Beach, a couple walking their dog on Avila Beach

The promenade is lined with stores and restaurants that were just starting to wake up. I wandered through a couple of the stores just to see what they had. While they are the expected touristy products, I found them to be a little nicer and slightly more upscale than your usual souvenir shops, filled with beautiful clothes, summer hats, and fun, beachy home décor.

Storefronts along Avila Beach Promenade

Alapay Cellars Wine Tasting Room
415 First Street
Avila Beach, CA 93424
Cost: $10 Wine Tasting (complimentary w purchase)

I was one of the first guests to Alapay’s Wine Tasting Room this morning, and as such got to chat quite a bit with one of the owners, Scott Remmenga.

Scott and his wife Rebecca have been making wine for over 18 years and started this winery in 2001. They produce small quantities (only ~5,000 cases a year) that are only available in their wine tasting room and to their club members. Their award-winning wines are all made with grapes from local, Central California vineyards.

While I was enjoying their wines, Scott regaled me with some history of the area. One of the stories I found most interesting was how the downtown Avila Beach area had been razed and rebuilt between 1998 and 2000 after an underground oil spill was discovered. Apparently, the clay pipes that ran under the city had been leaking since the 1940s! As a result of the renovation, many of the homes and business were reconstructed, lending to the “fresher and newer” appearance I felt while walking through the city that morning.

The wines at Alapay were quite beautiful and I really enjoyed everything I tried. Their tasting consisted of a Grand Cuvee Sparkling Wine, a Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, their Rebekah (a blend of Lagrein, Petit Syrah and Syrah grapes), and their 12:01 Cinsault, so named because it’s “the perfect red wine for any time after noon!”

Collage of exterior of Alapay Cellars Wine Tasting Room, Glasses and bottles of wines from the tasting room

Pismo Beach – Shell Beach

Dinosaur Caves Park
2701 Price St.
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Cost: FREE

After the wine tasting, I headed over to Shell Beach to see the Dinosaur Caves Park.

Now, don’t get too excited, there aren’t actually dinosaurs there. The name comes from 1940s-50s era 50-foot plaster Brontosaurus that was built as a tourist attraction to lure drivers from the Pacific Coast Highway to a souvenir, lapidary, and bait shop. At the tail of the dinosaur was a sea cave visitors could explore. And, although the 50-foot dinosaur no longer exists (having been dismantled in the early 1960s), the name for the area remains.

While the park itself was your basic, city park with a playground and some benches, the views along the walkway were gorgeous! A walking path ran the length of the bluff allowing you stunning views of the water and coastline.

Pathway to bluffs overlooking ocean at Dinosaur Caves Park in Pismo Beach CA

Bluffs coastline at Dinosaur Caves Park in Pismo Beach CA

Collage of rocky coastline and grassy area with picnic tables and Gazebo at Dinosaur Caves Park in Pismo Beach CA

Zorros Café & Cantina
927 Shell Beach Road
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Cost: $14 (chowder & enchilada)

Pismo Beach was once known as the “Clam Capital of the World” and is still famous for its clams and award-winning clam chowder. While browsing one of the shops earlier that morning, I asked the shopkeeper for a recommendation of the best clam chowder in the area and she enthusiastically suggested Zorros Café & Cantina. Although a Mexican restaurant, they do have excellent clam chowder! They offered great food, a fun atmosphere, and excellent service. I ordered a bowl of the clam chowder and a shrimp enchilada. Both were extremely delicious and it was a perfect lunch!

Bowl of Clam Chowder, front door signs for Zorros Cafe and Cantina, plate of shrimp enchilada

Pismo Beach – Downtown Pismo Beach

The original Pismo Beach Pier was built in 1924 and has been renovated numerous times over the past 90+ years to keep it in tip-top condition. The streets along the pier and downtown area all have that iconic small-beach-town feel with surf shops, old school diners hyping their chowder, and lots of souvenir shops selling everything from sunblock to key chains to homemade soaps.

Pismo Beach Pier on a sunny day.

Collage of restaurants, sidewalks and murals in Pismo Beach, CA

Sans Liege Wine Tasting Room
870 Price Street
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Cost: $15 wine tasting (complimentary w purchase)

Right in the heart of Pismo Beach is the Sans Liege Wine Tasting Room. This wonderful boutique winery celebrates the local grapes in the central coast and has tasting rooms both in Pismo Beach and Paso Robles’ Tin City area.

Once again I got lucky and entered the tasting room during a lull in the afternoon, so enjoyed a delightful one-on-one conversation with their server, Jessica who told me all about their wines, the winemaker and their influences. She also shared with me a local’s view of the city, what it was like to live there and even recommended the Old West Cinnamon Shop for a fun treat just down the road that she used to enjoy visiting with her grandfather!

In addition to the taste of the wines, another thing I found interesting was their label artwork. Influenced both by German Expressionism and Dante’s Inferno, their labels are a representation of their wines: a nuanced mash-up nodding to a classic heritage and modern-day independence.

While I enjoyed all of the wines I tried, I especially liked their 2016 Groundwork Syrah. I found it to be a little bit sweeter than usual but still carried a big flavor.

Sans Leige Wine Tasting Room sitting area with couch and wine tasting bar area in Pismo Beach CA

Old West Cinnamon Rolls
861 Dolliver St.
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Cost: $7

On Jessica’s advice, I did stop at Old West Cinnamon Rolls before heading home. This vintage bakery serves up their old school cinnamon rolls alongside espressos and smoothies. They are delicious, warm, sticky, gooey treats that make you feel like a kid again!

Large cinnamon roll slathered in cream cheese frosting.

My Central Coast Hotel

Hampton Inn & Suites Pismo Beach/Arroyo Grande
1400 W Branch St
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
Cost: $100

I found this hotel perfect for a one-night stay (although truthfully I might choose something more along the ocean if I was staying multiple nights). As usual with the Hampton Inn & Suites, they offered a clean, spacious room with a peek-a-boo view of the ocean, plus a morning breakfast buffet and coffee available all day. They also had ample parking and very easy access to freeway. It was perfect for a one-night stay.

Hotel room with two queen-sized beds.

Budget for California’s Central Coast: $210

Here is how the budget worked out for the trip:

Budget Details for Trip to California's Central Coast

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Avila Beach and Pier, Avila California      Avila Beach Pier and Dinosaur Caves Park Walkway overlooking ocean      Wine glass and bottle from Alapay Cellars Wine Tasting Room

About Cynthia Graner

I’m always looking to travel, but don’t always have a lot of time or money, so started exploring ways to take more trips for 2 Days & (mostly) under $200 at a time!

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