Perfect weather, beautiful buildings, great bars and restaurants, and activities for all tastes and budgets make Santa Barbara a great place to live (as the locals will proudly tell you) and a must-see place for visitors to Southern California. Check out the Spanish Mission church first then just see where the day takes you.
Santa Cruz has marched to its own beat since long before the Beat Generation. It’s counterculture central, a touchy-feely, new-agey city famous for its leftie-liberal politics and live-and-let-live ideology – except when it comes to dogs (rarely allowed off-leash), parking (meters run seven days a week) and Republicans (allegedly shot on sight).
San Luis Obispo
Almost midway between LA and San Francisco, at the junction of Hwys 101 and 1, San Luis Obispo is a popular overnight stop for road trippers. With no must-see attractions, SLO might not seem to warrant much of your time. Even so, this low-key town has an enviably high quality of life – in fact, it has been named America’s happiest city.
With borderline fanatical devotion to its canine citizens, quaint Carmel has the well-manicured feel of a country club. Watch the parade of behatted ladies toting fancy-label shopping bags to lunch and dapper gents driving top-down convertibles along Ocean Ave, the village’s slow-mo main drag.
In northern San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is the heart of a historic agricultural region where grapes are now the biggest money-making crop. Scores of wineries along Hwy 46 produce a brave new world of more-than-respectable bottles. The Mediterranean climate is yielding another bounty too: olive oil.
My God, cap'n, we’ve hit a windmill! Which can only mean one thing in Wine Country: Solvang, a Danish village founded in 1911 on what was once a 19th-century Spanish-colonial mission and later a Mexican rancho land grant. This Santa Ynez Valley town holds tight to its Danish heritage, or at least stereotypical images thereof.
Best known as the birthplace of John Steinbeck and nicknamed the ‘Salad Bowl of the World,’ Salinas is a working-class agricultural center with down-and-out streets. It makes a thought-provoking contrast with the affluence of the Monterey Peninsula, a fact of life that helped shape Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden.
Founded as a tranquil Methodist summer retreat in 1875, PG maintained its quaint, holier-than-thou attitude well into the 20th century. The selling of liquor was illegal up until 1969, making it California’s last ‘dry’ town. Today, leafy streets are lined by stately Victorian homes and a charming, compact downtown orbits Lighthouse Ave.