Why the Fall is the Best Time to Visit California’s Central Coast

Living in Southern California wasn’t always a vacation. I worked in retail management for the majority of my 7 years in California and that meant my phone was attached to my hand even when I wasn’t clocked in. But there was one place in California that I could always go and good news for me, service wasn’t really the greatest. (Or at least I could pretend to have bad service and usually my boss believed me.)

The central coast is a place that will always have my heart. I’ve written about Solvang, Carpintaria, El Capitan, Pismo Beach and Avila Beaches. As soon as I drove north on the 101, leaving Ventura, it was like I was entering this place where people didn’t have real jobs, no one cared what time it was, and beach life was the only life.

Uhg take me back.

I went during the winter, spring, summer and my favorite time: fall. Each year that I was on the west coast, I took a weekend trip north to get away and veg out before the chaos of the holidays began in the retail world. It was a place that I could reset and had no worries.

The beach in the fall
I grew up in a New England beach town my whole life. When I was 23 and moved to Los Angeles the beaches just were not the same. They were packed. You had to fight for parking and a spot on the beach. Going to the beach ended up being more of a project than fun. The central coast beaches are smaller, less crowed, and way more townie than anything you will find in Orange County or Los Angeles. I love it. Small shops, seafood restaurants and beach side bars… just a few of my favorite things. It felt just like home.

Closest you can get to fall foliage
Okay, you’re right. Last year we found Oak Glen, CA and that was a little piece of fall in Southern California but not like in Avila Beach. One of my favorite places in Avila is the Avila Valley Barn. They have amazing fresh fruits and veggies, homemade baked goods, Mexican corn on the cob, tractor rides, a corn maze and animals throughout the property.

Take advantage of your fall wardrobe
My first fall in California I went pumpkin picking on a not so crisp October afternoon. I was so excited to do some fall activities that I dressed up in my knee-high boots and sweater to get into the fall spirit… and I wanted to die. By the end of the day I had run to the car to switch into my flip flops and threw my sweater around my waist and just wore the tank top that I had under my top layer. The weather north of Santa Barbara is completely different then the hot fall weather in southern California.

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CA to CT Road Trip… Days 1 and 2

Well friends, a lot has changed since we last spoke. This summer has been noting short of a rollercoaster ride. For starters I moved! Yes, I left sunny California to be with the people I care about the most… my family and friends. Secondly, I moved alone. That’s right, I definitely entered back into a season of life I am not sure I was really ready for, but I did and I absolutely made the most of my single summer. Third, my sister, best friend (both named Michelle), and I took an epic cross country road trip at the beginning of the summer and I haven’t stopped since. (oh and I’m saying things like epic now… insert eye rolling emoji here.)

Michelle and Michelle flew out to Los Angeles on a Friday night. They passed out on my couch for a few hours and on Saturday morning we started our journey home. We made a few stops along the way, ate a lot of food, and even threw in an old school sleep over night while we recovered from a crazy night out in Nashville.

Friend Michelle (as I will have to refer to her since they have the same middle name also…) and I made a pact back in freshman year of high school that after graduation, or when we became millionaires, whichever came first, we would take a cross country road trip. Well we graduated and this little thing called college got in the way. Ironically, that’s the same thing that got in the way of being millionaires so currently we are 0 for 0. So when I decided I was going to move home and I wanted to make a road trip out of it, I knew exactly who to call!

Sister Michelle has an awesome job as a night Labor and Delivery nurse that gives her amazing flexibility and well, my new roomie wasn’t about to miss out. So we packed up my little Nissan Sentra and headed back home.

Day 1 Los Angeles to Albuquerque, New Mexico

Day one had one mission: get as far out of California as you can! No but in all seriousness I was absolutely prepared for our first day of driving through the southwest to be one of the more boring days. We took Route 40 straight across and there’s not too much between here and well… Nashville. Or so I thought.

Friend Michelle is a crazy diligent researcher.. for literally everything we do. So she had found a gas station (yes, gas station) off of Route 66 that we just HAD to stop at. We got off in Needles, CA just before we entered into Arizona to get gas and head up into Old Route 66. Just before we got to this famous gas station we were #blessed to find the amazing town of Oatman, AZ.

Let me paint the picture for you. We had been driving for about 15 miles with nothing around us and barely any cars coming from the opposite direction. Literally the most exciting thing we were seeing were the rock formations people had left along the side of the road. But then we saw a sign that said donkey crossing. We noticed it and laughed as we pulled up to a cute small little old western town, which had wild donkeys everywhere. It was the most absurd thing we had seen. People were just walking around this little town, in and out of the shops, on this one single dirt road, with wild donkeys wandering right next to them. We stopped and talked to one of the shop owners who told us there are about 15 donkeys that come down from the mountains every day to be fed by tourists passing through town. Now keep in mind, when I say town I mean this one road that is about two football fields long. Max. It was amazing.

After we got over the shock of the donkey welcome to Arizona we got out and walked around a little. There’s really not much to Oatman, we only spent about 10 minutes there but it was good to get out of the car and take some photos of the old buildings.

From Oatman it was still a while until we got to our first stop in Albuquerque and we got into New Mexico after dark. New Mexico actually has quite a bit of things we wanted to check out like a teepee village, White Sands National Monument, and Carlsbad Caverns.

 

Day 2: Albuquerque to Ft. Smith, Arkansas

So day two we left New Mexico, and headed through the panhandle of Texas, through Oklahoma and into the first town in Arkansas. Just outside of Amarillo we stopped at Cadillac Ranch, which previously all I knew of this was there were a lot of country bars named after it. What I didn’t know was it is an amazingly cool piece of art in the middle of Texas. Remember this from last year? We had stopped just outside of Vegas in awe of these amazing neon colored rocks? Think the same thing but it’s actual cars in the ground. I don’t think you’re actually supposed to spray paint them but there are paint cans everywhere and of course, Friend Michelle got a can from some other visitors and made our stay known. It was really crazy to see these old cars in the middle of a field and what years and years of paint and weather had done to them. Lucky for us it was just off of Route 40 and we hopped back on and headed into Oklahoma.

**Just a little warning, fill up in Amarillo. There’s not much of anything between Amarillo, TX and the Oklahoma boarder. Very little gas stations, fast food, exits or even radio stations so be prepared. And while you’re at it, grab some coffee to keep you awake.

We headed through Oklahoma and stopped in OKC at a great brewery. OKC is such a cute little city right in the heart of cow country, it was a perfect place to make a stop and grab a bite to eat and a beer. It actually has a pretty good craft brewery scene so we stopped at Twisted Spike Brewing Company and it was amazing. A good selection of beers from smooth and light to heavy and hoppy. Parking isn’t the best here so be on the lookout for street parking. We did have to go a little out of our way to get here, but navigating the OKC highways were pretty easy and it was just off of an exit.

From here we ended out night in Arkansas and let me tell you, this little gem of a town was amazing to wake up to, but more on that on Friday.

Whale Watching off the Newport Beach Coast

Summer is just around the corner and my favorite part of summer is being able to be out on the water. Now I’m not a big beach girl. All that sand, getting everywhere, I’m not a fan. But a boat. A boat I can do. My best friend has a boat that we usually bring out onto the lake and go tubing. Or sometimes we will take the ferry over to Catalina and spend the day in the sun. Either way, on a boat, or on an island, I am a happy girl.

Back in March we took advantage of the annual migration of the California Grey Whales and took a whale watching tour out of Newport Beach, CA. Best. Day. Ever. We saw sea lions, and a pod of dolphins and best of all, we followed a group of five grey whales up the coast. It was absolutely amazing.

We were so lucky to pull out of Newport Harbor and right away catch a glimpse of a spout from a whale in the distance. The boat started following along and slowly four more whales popped up in different areas around the boat. It was incredible.

The two and a half hours out on the water were so wonderful that I would recommend it to anyone visiting Orange County. I love that we did our whale watching out of Newport Beach because the Balboa Peninsula is so cute, has such a great pier, and the cutest “fun zone.” Mid-December through mid-April are supposed to be the best time of year to see the whales migrating along the coast but there are opportunities all year to see the am

azing creatures.

 

Weekend in Pismo Beach

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Way back, what feels like 3 centuries ago, in early November, we spent the weekend up in Pismo Beach, California. It’s a small beach town along the central coast. The central coast is super near and dear to both of our hearts, and I don’t really know if I can put into words why. For Chris, the central coast is somewhere his family went every summer as he was growing up. For me, there is this nostalgic feeling I get every time I travel north of Santa Barbara. The little towns are just so quaint and they make me want to just sit at a coffee shop, not think about any worries and read a good book.

This trip was a little like that. When we head up north we definitely make sure to stop at a few of our favorite spots. I figured I’d take the time to tell you guys all about some of my top places to visit when I am in the Pismo Beach area.

Where to Stay

Pismo Beach Lighthouse Suites

When we head up to Pismo we usually go with Chris’s family. So with his parents, us, and his two sisters, that is 6 adults who need a hotel rooms. These suites are perfect for us. They come with two bedrooms, one king sized bed and two queens, and best of all: two bathrooms. Yes ladies and gents, two bathrooms is a highlight for any hotel in my book. Especially with four women getting ready. There is also a pretty good complimentary breakfast with great waffles. What I love about staying here is that it is set up high on a cliff, with amazing views of the Pacific, and you can take your coffee and walk down to the beach and head over to the Pismo Beach Pier. And honestly what better way of waking up in the morning besides a walk with coffee on the beach.

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Where to Eat and Drink

Cracked Crab

Definitely you have to put in your name early if you have somewhere to be, but totally worth the wait if you have the night to spend here! We had a show to catch so we couldn’t relax with a drink and appetizer and had to kind of rush through dinner but it was delicious. Chris had their amazing snow crab dinner and I filled up on the Blacked Scallop Carbanara. Both were amazing!

Solvang Copenhagen Sausage Garden

For the past few years when we go to Solvang we have noticed the Solvang Copenhagen Sausage Garden right along Copenhagen Drive but have never stopped. It looks like a cute little bier garden in Europe. We split a bratwurst and it was the perfect size to tie us over before our dinner. And of coarse, we had to have some beer while we were there.

Dos Carlitos

For dinner we ended up in the cute little town of San Yanez at Dos Carlitos, a little Mexican restaurant. Their margaritas were amazing and I loved their wine selection. Their portions were huge, so everyone had plenty of food to bring home for lunch the next day.

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What to Do

Pismo Beach Pier

This year was the first time I took the walk from our hotel, along the beach to the Pismo Pier. It was a perfect morning. I loved getting a cup of coffee at the end of our buffet breakfast and walking down the beach to the pier where we were able to walk in and out of all of the little stores and check out all of the “PISMO BEACH CA” sweatshirts that tourists pick up.

Avila Beach Barn

This is probably my favorite part of the entire trip. I love any type of farmers market, and when you throw one inside of a barn, yes please! Not to mention this place has some of the best Mexican corn I’ve had. It was so spicy I thought my lips were going to fall off. The Avila Beach Barn has farm animals, amazing baked goods, and a corn maze that took us 20 minutes to get out of. Every time we leave the barn we leave with bags full of fresh fruits and vegetables and we even allow ourselves to get one or two snacks.

Avila Beach Pier

This last trip we didn’t head over to Avila Beach Pier, but it is definitely one of my favorite places to go while visiting the central coast. Remember that pier in the TV show the OC? That is what it totally reminds me of. Such a cute place to stop and take a little swing on their huge swing set.

dsc01290 dsc01265  dsc01189dsc01223 dsc01200 Going to the central coast is one of the things I look forward to the most during the fall, but really there is no time of year that the central coast is bad. I’ve gone in the winter and you just need a few extra layers to bundle up. The summer, is obviously beautiful with the beach towns and perfect weather. And the fall.. well need I say more?

Day Trip to Carpinteria

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I think I am still recovering a little from our weekend. Monday was Chris’s 31 birthday, so we celebrated all weekend. The highlight of the weekend (for the non-birthday girl) was Saturday we spent the day in Carpinteria, CA. About 10 miles south of Santa Barbara is the little beachside town of Carpinteria. It’s a cute little artisan town just off of the 101 freeway full of mom & pop shops & restaurants that are just steps from the beach. Continue reading