California3California’s central coast bursts with intriguing sights for adventurers between San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

The abundance of fresh food, hometown enthusiasm and sustainable ways of doing things rivals vast views. Well, almost.

Those views? Crashing waves and rocky coasts. Curvy roads with steep drop-offs, broad expanses of green hills, the gentle kind rolling forever.

Sandy beaches, surfer waves, mountains to the side.  Enormous industrial farms, and vineyards like quilt patterns.

 

Interject the Hearst Castle near San Simeon.

California2Opulence here means 38 bedrooms in the main house, 14th-17th century Mediterranean art and ancient Egyptian sculpture.

Choose from five tours.

The mix of big views across terraces, pools, gardens and sculpture and close-up views of art and furnishings lured me to stay forever, the mood I suspect of his glamorous guests in the 1920s.

I recommend back-to-back tours because the furnishings in 14 sitting rooms and 18 bedrooms in just one of three guesthouses are so compelling.

Here’s what I’m wearing next time, if I’m lucky enough to return for an autumn evening Hearst Castle tour: the black lace dress my mother wore to parties in 1928 in New York City.

Hug coast on Highway 1

California5Easy it is to alternate big and famous experiences with hadn’t-heard-about-it good times along this central California route. Highway 1 hugs the coast and 101 cuts inland through the farms.

Pismo is a casual beach town with surfers riding big waves, and mountains overlooking the seven-mile beach.

I chose a morning at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for an icon along this California Coast, and it lived up to its reputation.

The Bay is the focus, an enormous marine habitat with tide pools and an undersea canyon as deep as the Grand Canyon

Viewing spaces pop out of walls and squirm into tanks, huge windows give views better than an IMAX, touch tanks and web cams got me close to creatures, short films here and there give deeper sights and the wave wall let me feel like a little sea urchin.

California4Here’s how that works: every 30 seconds a wave crashes over Aquarium visitors choosing to stand under the acrylic ceiling.

Strangers together count backwards from 30 and then holler when the water crashes.

B&B in little cities

Tucked in the splendor of cliffs and crashing waves, canyons and gardens are little communities. Pacific Grove, population 15,000, has a dozen B&Bs mostly on the Bay. I’m holding the memory of a yellow Victorian 7 Gables Inn in case I return.

Carmel looks like it has as many boutiques, galleries, courtyards and restaurants as residents—population 3,700.