Though San Luis Obispo (SLO) definitely does not have the same luxury factor as destinations further down the highway, you’d be remiss not to spend at least one night in the heart of the Central Coast, as the miles of winding highway that stretch from Santa Barbara to Big Sur are home to one charming, classically Californian small town after the next. The Granada Hotel & Bistro is going to be your best bet to check into; the property is part of a new wave of boutique hotels bringing fresh energy to the region’s often weather-worn motels and mom-and-pop joints.
Located in the heart of downtown SLO, the hotel is also an ideal jumping-off point for exploring the region. Start by circling back down south to Pismo Beach to watch surfers tear through the chilly waters, and work your way through a mountain of ocean-fresh seafood at local favorite Cracked Crab. Or, head inland to Paso Robles for a day of wining and dining. After checking out of your hotel, take the whole day to work your way up the highway toward Big Sur, stopping in villages like Cambria and San Simeon—home to the opulent Hearst Castle.