Hikes on California’s Central Coast
The Central Coast possesses some of the most scenic hiking in California, especially for those who enjoy ocean views. Numerous small parks protect the area’s green spaces and many are free to the public.
Hiking California’s Central Coast
Los Padres National Forest is the major protective body on the Central Coast, preserving mountain ranges that span across Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties. The highest peak in the national forest, Mount Pinos, rises to 8,831 feet. Twenty miles to the south is the tallest waterfall, Rose Valley Falls.
An Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required to access some trails in the approximately two million acre of land protected by Los Padres National Forest. Adventure Passes for Los Padres National Forest are valid for other national forests in Southern California as well, like Angeles National Forest, Cleveland National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest. Passes may be purchased within the park and at various local retailers. Those without a pass may still enjoy several free entry points that are located outside the national forest boundary. An “America the Beautiful” National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass can also be used in lieu of an adventure pass.
Most of the trails listed below do not require any pass or permit. San Luis Obispo is a particularly great area for hikers, with a high number of free and scenic trails. While it is inland from the ocean, Pinnacles National Park is also included in this region. Take a trip to the Central Coast today!
Central Coast Hiking
This collection of trails in the Central Coast region of California between Monterey County and Ventura County lists hikes from west to east and north to south. The table may also be sorted alphabetically or by distance to help you pick your next hike. Each trail links to its own report complete with photos, GPS maps, elevation profiles, directions, and all the other information needed to locate and enjoy these hikes.
|005||High Peaks - Balconies Cave Loop|
This big loop ventures between the east and west sides of Pinnacles National Park, crossing through the High Peaks and Balconies Cave.
|010||High Peaks - Condor Gulch Loop|
This loop forges a route through the High Peaks in Pinnacles National Park to offer panoramic views on an incredible trek.
|5.3 - 6 miles|
|013||Bear Gulch Reservoir|
This out and back hike takes a fun course through talus caves to reach a reservoir on the east side of Pinnacles National Park.
|017||Ridge Trail - Panorama Trail - Bluff Trail Loop|
This loop in Andrew Molera State Park crosses a coastal ridge, bluff, and beach that are packed with amazing Big Sur views.
|020||Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View|
This out and back trek is like two hikes in one, reaching a waterfall in a canyon of redwoods and a vista point overlooking the Big Sur River Valley.
|022||Nature Trail - River Path Loop|
This easy loop explores woodlands along the Big Sur River and a redwood grove that includes the unique and impressive Proboscis Tree.
|025||Big Sur River Gorge|
This off-trail hike ventures up the Big Sur River on a water-wading boulder-hopping adventure to a crystal clear pool that’s a gorgeous Big Sur swimming hole.
This short walk reaches an absolutely stunning beach that's a classic feature of the Big Sur landscape.
|0.2 miles (or more)|
This out and back hike visits a tunnel-accessed cove and a secluded beach along the scenic coast of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
This out and back hike in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Parkheads inland up McWay Creek past a picnic area in a redwood grove to a lovely little waterfall.
This out and back hike in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park looks out on a stunning Big Sur waterfall that pours 80 feet right on to the beach.
|057||Hare Creek Trail, Limekiln Trail, and Falls Trail|
This out and back hike in Limekiln State Park explores a trio of trails along lovely streams in redwood-lined canyons, reaching Limekiln Falls and historic lime kilns.
|060||Pacific Valley Bluff Trail|
This short out and back hike extends from Highway One to an ocean bluff with fantastic views of the Big Sur Coast.
|063||Sand Dollar Beach|
This short hike to Big Sur's longest beach passes two scenic overlooks on the way to the sand.
|0.5 miles (or more)|
|065||Jade Cove and Plaskett Rock Point|
This loop across ocean bluff visits a prominent peninsula and a small cove.
This hike into Silver Peak Wilderness starts with bold ocean views and crosses redwood groves to reach Upper Cruickshank Camp at a junction with Buckeye Trail, 2.5 miles from Highway One.
|5 - 9.25 miles|
1,150 - 1,925 feet
This hike reaches incredible ocean vistas and trail camps in the Silver Peak Wilderness. Connect Cruickshank Trail and Buckeye Trail for an excellent shuttle hike of 8.25 miles or more.
|6.5 - 9.25 miles|
1,450 - 1,925 feet
|080||Salmon Creek Falls|
This out and back hike visits a fine 120-foot waterfall near the start of Salmon Creek Trail.
This out and back hike ventures up the coast from the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery to Piedras Blancas Light Station.
|3.2 - 4.2 miles|
|085||Moonstone Beach Boardwalk|
This out and back hike crosses a boardwalk along a charming Cambria beach in Hearst San Simeon State Park.
|086||Bluff Trail (in Fiscalini Ranch Preserve)|
This easy stroll crosses beautiful undeveloped coastline at the center of Cambria.
|1.85 - 1.9 miles|
50 - 80 feet
This gradual lollipop loop in Harmony Headlands State Park crosses a coastal valley to reach picturesque ocean bluffs on the rugged coast between Cayucos and Cambria.
This semi-loop bags one of the highest peaks in San Luis Obispo County.
|095||Morro Rock via Morro Strand Trail|
This level stroll starts from Cloisters Park and crosses Morro Strand State Beach to reach Morro Rock.
|1 - 3.5 miles|
This out and back hike in Morro Bay State Park summits of one of the Nine Sisters with 360-degree views over Morro Bay.
This easy out and back hike reaches a short rise between Black Hill and Cerro Cabrillo in Morro Bay State Park.
This tough out and back hike summits the highest mountain in Morro Bay State Park, a 911-foot member of the Nine Sisters.
This loop explores a short hill in Morro Bay State Park just east of Morro Estuary with an easy-to-reach ocean overlook.
|122||Chumash & Crespi Trails Loop|
This hike in Morro Bay State Park visits an oak grove and bay views by combining Chumash Trail, Crespi Trail, and Hutash Trail.
|125||Eagle Rock Nature Trail|
This loop climbs to Eagle Rock Viewpoint in El Chorro Regional Park for an overview of the valley between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay.
|130||Elfin Forest Natural Reserve|
This easy boardwalk loop explores a pygmy forest on the edge of Morro Bay.
|135||Morro Dunes Ecological Reserve|
This lollipop loop serves up panoramic views over Morro Bay as it climbs from Los Osos to Montaña de Oro State Park.
|140||Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve|
This short hikes explores a pygmy forest of coast live oaks, providing a shady level stroll on overlapping loops.
|0.75 - 1.5 miles|
|145||Hazard Canyon Reef|
This short hike in Montaña de Oro State Park descends an oceanfront ravine to a rocky shoreline graced with engaging tide pools.
|150||Hazard Peak Trail|
This out and back hike in Montaña de Oro State Park ascends coastal ridges to a 1,076-foot summit with panoramic views that include a dynamic perspective of Morro Bay.
|155||Hazard Peak - Islay Creek Loop|
This Montaña de Oro State Park loop continues beyond Hazard Peak deeper into the Irish Hills before circling back to the coast on Islay Creek Trail.
|160||Islay Creek Trail|
This easy out and back hike in Montaña de Oro State Park follows a wide trail up a coastal canyon flanked by thousand-foot peaks, passing a small waterfall to reach an abandoned barn.
|164||Reservoir Flats Trail|
This loop delivers fine ocean and canyon views as it explores the bottom of Islay Creek Canyon in Montaña de Oro State Park.
This out and back hike reaches a panoramic summit that looks down over Montaña de Oro State Park.
This out and back hike summits a 1,347-foot peak with panoramic views over Montaña de Oro State Park.
|180||Bluff Trail (in Montaña de Oro State Park)|
This out and back hike of around three miles tours tide pools, beaches, and impressive cliffs along a picturesque coastline.
|1 - 5 miles|
90 -140 feet
|182||Rattlesnake Flats Trail – Badger Trail – Bluff Trail Loop|
This loop offers a twist on the Bluff Trail, going along and just above the coast of Montaña de Oro State Park.
|188||Coon Creek Trail|
This out and back hike ventures up a coastal canyon at the south end of Montaña de Oro State Park.
|190||Point Buchon Trail|
This short scenic loop or longer out-and-back hike explores the beautiful coastline south of Montaña de Oro State Park.
|1.33 - 6.8 miles|
|192||East Cuesta Ridge|
This wide dirt road offers out and back hikes to the tops of Mount Lowe and Lopez Canyon Trail, offering ocean views over San Luis Obispo and inland views over an evergreen wilderness.
|8.4 - 10.2 miles|
1,015 - 1,075 feet
|193||Cuesta Ridge Botanical Area|
This out and back hike crosses a ridge in the Santa Lucia Mountains with panoramic views over San Luis Obispo, ascending to a grove of Sargent cypress in a botanical area in Los Padres National Forest.
|195||Stenner Creek Trail to The Eucs|
This out and back hike goes up Stenner Creek Canyon past a small waterfall and views of Bishop Peak to a collection of freeride bike trails called the Eucs.
|196||Stenner Creek Trail – Red Dog Trail – Poly Canyon Road Loop|
This loop goes beyond the Eucs atop Stenner Creek Trail to explore grass-covered slopes at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
|200||Poly Canyon Design Village|
This lollipop loop hike visits an architectural village designed by Cal Poly students at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
|208||Felsman Loop Trail|
This loop crosses oak, sagebrush, and grass-covered slopes around the base of Bishop Peak, providing excellent views of that notable rocky summit and its San Luis Obispo surroundings.
This out and back hike summits the tallest of the Nine Sisters for excellent views over San Luis Obispo.
|220||Reservoir Canyon Trail|
This steep hike passes a waterfall and a collection of junk sculptures en route to a treeless summit overlooking San Luis Obispo.
|230||Lemon Grove Trail|
This easy loop visits a historic lemon grove on the eastern slopes of Cerro San Luis.
|240||Cerro San Luis|
This hike summits one of the Nine Sisters just west of downtown San Luis Obispo.
|4 - 5 miles|
This spur off the trail up Cerro San Luis leads to a large white "M" installed halfway up the east side of the mountain.
|255||Cerro San Luis from Laguna Lake Park|
This out and back hike summits one of the Nine Sisters just west of downtown San Luis Obispo.
|260||Sydney Street Trail to Murray Hill (Unnamed Hill)|
This out and back hike climbs a steep rugged trail to a stone seating area at a panoramic summit.
This hike tours a flattened mountaintop in the city of San Luis Obispo that hosts panoramic views of the surroundings.
|270||South Hills Ridge Trail|
This out and back hike visits the top of a cluster of hills near downtown San Luis Obispo, offering fine views over the city and surroundings.
|280||Morro View in the Irish Hills|
This out and back hike in Irish Hills Natural Reserve delivers panoramic views over Los Osos Valley and the full chain of Morros.
|290||Froom Creek Trail Loop in the Irish Hills|
This loop explores a canyon on the east side of the Irish Hills before ascending to a nice view over Laguna Lake, Cerro San Luis, and Bishop Peak.
|295||Old Prospector Trail Loop in the Irish Hills|
This lollipop loop hike ventures up a rugged ravine off Froom Canyon to the ruins of an old mine.
|3.4 - 4.4 miles|
This out and back hike summits San Luis Obispo's easternmost Morro.
|308||Johnson Ranch - Irish Hills Connector Trail|
This scenic point-to-point hike connects Johnson Ranch Open Space with Irish Hills Natural Reserve.
|5 - 10 miles|
|310||Johnson Ranch Loop|
This loop explores rolling hills in a grassy open space just south of San Luis Obispo.
|2.5 - 3.7 miles|
|315||Point San Luis Lighthouse via Pecho Coast Trail|
This docent-led hike crosses scenic coastal bluffs to reach the historic lighthouse on Point San Luis.
|320||Bob Jones Bike Trail|
This easy round trip hike or ride follows San Luis Obispo Creek to Avila Beach.
|330||Sycamore Crest Trail|
This out and back hike ascends the north slope of Ontario Hill to a scenic ocean view perch.
|1.75 - 3.25 miles|
|340||Shell Beach Bluff Trail - Ontario Ridge Trail|
This loop explores the coast between Shell Beach and Avila Beach, on and below a 700-foot ridge.
This short out and back hike descends to a natural rock bridge at the end of a headland east of Avila Beach.
|370||Hi Mountain Trail|
This short trail goes through many phases as it explores the Santa Lucia Mountains east of Arroyo Grande and combines with part of Hi Mountain Road to form a loop.
|380||Oso Flaco Lake Trail|
This hike takes a boardwalk over a coastal lake and across sand dunes to an out-of-the-way beach.
|2 miles or more|
This short out and back hike visits an 80-foot tall fern-lined waterfall.
|550||Gaviota Pass Overlook Loop|
This loop tours scenic ridges in Gaviota State Park to arrive at a soaring overlook above the Gaviota Tunnel.
This loop mounts a 2,458-foot summit two miles from the Pacific and then descends Trespass Trail to explore the wilds of the Santa Ynez Mountains.
|570||Gaviota Hot Springs|
This short hike visits a warm hot springs along the trail to Gaviota Peak.
|580||Tunnel View and Trespass Trails Loop|
This loop steals views over the 101 Freeway and the Gaviota Tunnel from Gaviota State Park.
|590||Gaviota Wind Caves|
This out and back hike just off the 101 Freeway in Gaviota State Park visits wind-carved caves with great ocean views.
|595||Nature Trail in El Capitán State Beach|
This loop explores a lush sycamore grove bordering El Capitán Creek to approach the rocky shore at the end of El Capitán Point.
This out and back hike delivers views of Lake Cachuma as it climbs the Santa Ynez mountains to a saddle overlooking the Pacific.
This easy hike visits the scenic ruins of an estate home built atop the mountains behind Santa Barbara.
|620||Chumash Painted Cave|
This very short trail looks in on Native American rock art in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
This short out and back hike visits a unique rock formation with amazing views over Santa Barbara and the Pacific.
|640||Inspiration Point from San Roque Road|
This out and back hike up the western side of Jesusita Trail reaches a panoramic perch in the Santa Ynez Mountains overlooking Santa Barbara.
|642||Inspiration Point from Tunnel Road|
This out and back hike combines Tunnel Trail and Jesusita Trail to ascend Mission Canyon to a sweeping viewpoint that looks down over Santa Barbara and up into the Santa Ynez Mountains.
This out and back hike crosses a lush canyon to a beautiful waterfall on the edge of Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara.
This partial loop climbs to a panoramic summit in Los Padres National Forest overlooking Montecito and Santa Barbara.
This hike uses four trails to form a loop to a vista point in the Santa Ynez Mountains behind Montecito.
This easy lollipop loop crosses charming stone bridges over San Ysidro Creek to explore a lush oak forest that is flooded by nasturtiums in the spring.
|680||Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park|
This level out and back hike explores El Estuaro, a vital ecosystem for shorebirds.
|690||Carpinteria Bluffs Trail to Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary Overlook|
This short hike goes from Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve to a viewing area above a harbor seal rookery, offering beach access and beautiful oceanfront hiking.
|1 - 2 miles|
25 - 100 feet
|800||Sespe Creek to Willett Hot Springs|
This out and back hike follows Sespe Creek to a relaxing hot springs.
|810||Rose Valley Falls|
This out and back hike leads to the lower tier of a lovely two-tier 300-foot waterfall.
This loop explores the creek and forest on a nature trail around a 70-site campground in Los Padres National Forest.
|830||Ocean's Edge and River's Edge Trails Loop|
This level loop in Emma Wood State Beach borders the Pacific Ocean, the Ventura River, and an estuary flocked by seabirds.
|840||La Jolla Canyon Loop|
This hike explores Point Mugu State Park on the west end of the Santa Monica Mountains, offering incredible ocean views.
This out and back hike from La Jolla Canyon to the 1,266-foot summit features superb ocean and canyon views.
|860||La Jolla Canyon Falls|
This out and back hike visits a short seasonal waterfall in Point Mugu State Park.
|870||Scenic and Overlook Trails Loop|
This loop takes in tremendous ocean views above Big Sycamore Canyon in Point Mugu State Park.
|2.7 - 3.5 miles|
450 to 550 feet
This out and back hike visits a remote grotto in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
This loop summits the tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.
This 1-mile addition to the Sandstone Peak loop adds extra views to the hike.
|910||Angel Vista via Rosewood Trail|
This out and back hike is the most direct route to a panoramic viewpoint overlooking the Conejo Valley.
|920||Angel Vista via West Los Robles Trail|
This out and back hike reaches an overlook on the north side of the Santa Monica mountains overlooking Thousand Oaks.
This out and back hike follows a paved trail to the top of a small, round hill in Thousand Oaks with views across the Conejo Valley into the surrounding mountains.
|930||Paradise Falls in Wildwood Park|
This loop visits a 40-foot waterfall in the open spaces of Thousand Oaks.
To add extra mileage and views to a visit to Paradise Falls in Thousand Oaks, consider placing Lizard Rock on your itinerary.
This hike climbs to a 2,715-foot summit in Rocky Peak Park in the Santa Susana Mountains between Chatsworth and Simi Valley.
|955||China Flat & Simi Peak|
This hike ventures up rugged ridges to a peaceful oak savanna and a trail to the highest point in the Simi Hills, sporting 360-degree views of surrounding mountain ranges.
|5.45 - 6.2 miles|
|960||Cave of Munits and Castle Peak|
This action-packed two-attraction loop crosses through an impressive cave to climb to a rocky peak with views over the San Fernando Valley.