Do you mean San Luis Obispo? Many people travel along the coast with 2 night stays like in Cambria and Monterey. Take your time for the stretch between Cambria and Monterey. That already easily can take all day with the stops and visits. It's just a 45 minutes drive between SLO and Cambria but of course you also can stay SLO instead Cambria but it's not along the coast.
SLO is a college town and has an active downtown college scene.
Cambria is a quieter town. Its downtown is just east of Highway 1 -- a friend of mine loves the Cambria Pines Lodge. There is also a beach, called Moonstone Beach, that has many accomodations lining the road. There is a wooden boardwalk along the beach which makes for a lovely evening or early morning walk.
Cambria is our favorite town in that area!
We go there every summer.
It is scenic and has nice restaurants and cute shops!
If you're planning more than a 1 night stop in each location along the coast, then you might want a more central location to base yourself for seeing the sights. If so, then San Luis Obispo or Morro Bay would be good choices. If not, then Pismo Beach or Cambria are the two most recommended stops for the first night with Monterey, Carmel or Pacific Grove being recommended for the second night.
Pismo Beach is your classic California beach town with a wide stretch of sandy beach, funky downtown, walkable pier, ATV riding out in the dunes, bi-plane rides, sky diving. Lots to do here.
San Luis Obispo has already been described in Post #2
Morro Bay not only has a wide stretch of sandy beach, but a thriving marina/bay where the fishing boats come in and unload their catch of the day. There's a nice embarcardero along the waterfront with shops and pleasant eateries that overlook the water and Morro Rock.
Cambria is a small seaside town nestled in a pine forest with adorable shops filled with gifts & art work. Cambria boasts the prettiest beach in the area. From Leffingwell Landing off Moonstone Beach Drive, you can spy otters floating in the surf close to shore or walk along the wooden path while enjoying the beautiful views.
Monterey is a semi large coastal town big on tourism. It has a much more urban feel to it and doesn't offer much in the way of charm. But Monterey is where you'll find the most budget friendly hotel options, if that matters to you.
Carmel by the Sea is similar to Cambria in that they're both quaint, charming towns nestled among pine trees next to the sea. However, Carmel offers even more charm with all the storybook architecture, B&B lodgings and THE prettiest beach in all of California, IMO.
Pacific Grove is sandwiched in between Monterey and Carmel, is less touristy than its neighbors, has a dramatic rocky shoreline and rec trail where you can walk for miles while enjoying the beautiful view. PG's streets are narrow harking back to its early days when it was a Methodist colony and people walked in to get to their vacation home or retreat. PG has a great deal of Victorian architecture and some of the larger homes have been converted into lovely B&B's. You can actually walk into Monterey's famed Cannery Row from many lodgings with Pacific Grove. And that lovely walk along the rec trail makes a stay there worthwhile.
Cambria would be very nice for a stop. There are several Inns along Moonstone Beach Drive that we like to stay in. The Fireside Inn, Pelican Cove Inn and Blue Whale Inn are all right across the street from the ocean.
If you want to stay somewhere that is directly oceanfront, there is the Best Western Cavalier Resort in San Simeon that has spacious grounds, an outdoor pool and jacuzzi and firepits. Enjoy your time at the coast! :)
thanks so much these are really helpful! Where would you recommend for a spot of whale watching?
Whale watching involves getting on a boat for at least 2-4 hours out at sea. The Monterey Bay area would be a good place to do this.
Just to clarify the answer to your original question about basing yourself in one place to see Cambria, San Luis Obispo & Monterey:
San Luis Obispo and Monterey aren't really close enough to each other to base yourself in one and see the others.
That;s why 2 nights are suggested to break up the drive and maximize your sightseeing time.
With due respect, Kibblesmom's has given and gives excellent advice for travelers on the Central Coast, however I (and I bet Mr Toy would) disagree that Monterey does not have much to offer in the way of charm.
Monterey was the first capital of California. It can be considered the birthplace of the state of California, as it was where the U.S. laid claim to California after the 1846 Battle of Monterey, during the Mexican-American War. California's first public building, first official port, first public library, first public school, first theater are located in Monterey.
While Cannery Row caters a bit too much to the commercial side of tourism, it is a historical testament of the rise and fall of the sardine fishery in California, which was colorfully documented by John Steinbeck in his books Cannery Row, East of Eden and of Mice and Men. The world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is located on Cannery Row.
Monterey's Wharf is a bit touristy too, but hey that's charm. Even the sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters and raccoons greet the tourists. The coastal trail is perfect for a bike ride along Monterey's beautiful coast, and aren't there paddle boats for rent in El Estero?
Now, Seaside, that place lacks charm, but it is next to the ocean.
With all due respect, history and charm are not the same thing.