California’s Central Coast according to most definitions stretches from Monterey Bay in the North down to the town of Lompoc in the South. This part of the Californian coast belongs to the tourist highlights of the state thanks to its steep escarpments and sceneries well worth seeing.
South of Monterey, the famous 17-Mile-Drive begins which already touches some of these highlights. For many motorists, it actually takes more than an hour to go the only ten miles long road because there are numerous points that invite travelers to stop, take a walk or take pictures.
The most famous attraction of this route is Lone Cypress. The tree is estimated to be some 250 years old, but the special things about it is its secluded location on a rock overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The cypress can be found in countless pictures and serves as the hallmark of the Pebble Beach Company. This company owns the most interesting section of the 17-Mile-Drive, which is why visitors have to pay a fee of about 10 dollars to take the trip.
The road then leads to Pebble Beach, which is not only the venue of a famous PGA Golf tournament each February, but primarily a private community with many noble mansions, mostly hidden behind tall hedgerows. One of the owners of the Pebble Beach Company is the movie director and actor Clint Eastwood, who was also mayor of Carmel-by-the Sea from 1986 to 1988, a town with some 4000 souls right south of Pebble Beach.
Carmel has been considered an artists’ colony for more than 100 years, in which visual arts have found their home as well as performing arts. The basis for this was laid by the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, when the town offered affordable apartments to all artists from the destroyed city. Famous authors like Upton Sinclair or Mary Austin and many others accepted the offer in the following years. From 1907 on, the town could enjoy stage plays and in the 40s, a Shakespeare Festival was founded in Carmel. This tradition is continued to this day with about ten annual performances in various theatres. Among the artists finding a home in the town was also Ansel Adams, famous photographer of the American West, who lived here from 1962 to his death in 1984. Furthermore, Carmel has gained some notoriety for the intensive efforts to maintain its small-town atmosphere. In this regards, it is for example prohibited to cut trees in order to build homes and neon signs, street lights and parking meters are not allowed in the town.
Folowing the so-called Pacific Coast Highway further to the South, one arrives after a few miles at Point Lobos State Reserve, a protective area with hiking trails directly at the ocean and excellent opportunities for scuba diving. In the vicinity, there is another sanctuary with a sea otter colony. Another highlight of the Central Coast follows shortly thereafter, the dramatic coast section of Big Sur with its spectacular observation points. Continuously travelling through sparsely populated regions near Los Padres National Forests, which contains some protected areas for endangered species, the next town of note is San Simeon. Here, visitors will find Hearst Castle, a stately mansion built by a newspaper magnate in 1919 with no less than 56 bedrooms and 61 bathrooms, an airstrip and a private zoo. The estate, which also has a collection of art on display, is open for visitors.
The southern terminus of the Central Coast is the area around San Luis Obispo, one of California’s oldest cities with today some 44,000 inhabitants, located at the foothills of some moderately high mountains of volcanic origin. The town of Pismo Beach at the coast is another destination popular with tourists because of its easily accessible beach and the Pacific scenery. The small city hosts a well-known classic cars event each year in June. Pismo Beach is a town with a long tradition in shell fishing.
Apart from its significance for tourism, the Central Coast is a major agricultural area. Lettuce, strawberries and artichokes are some of the products cultivated here in large quantitites. The most important city for agriculture in the region is the self-proclaimed “Salad Bowl of America”, the city of Salinas northeast of Monterey with about 148,000 inhabitants. Some 80% of lettuce on the American market comes from the city and the region. In addition, flowers, wine and other vegetables and fruits are cultivated here in significant quantities. Salinas is the birthplace of the author John Steinbeck, to whom a museum in Oldtown is dedicated, the National Steinbeck Center. Furthermore, the city has been hosting the California Rodeo since 1911.