The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most picturesque drives in the United States, especially the 100-mile section—referred to as the Highway 1 Discovery Route—that passes through San Luis Obispo County (known locally as SLO Cal). The drive winds along the coast of California, passing two historic lighthouses, five piers, 13 state parks, countless coastal vineyards, and, most important, some wonderful pickleball courts. The trip from San Luis Obispo to Cambria can be completed in less than an hour if you’re in a hurry, but this three-day road trip along the PCH offers the chance to slow down, soak up the scenery, and spend plenty of time on the court.
Start in San Luis Obispo, where SLO and Steady is the motto. Although there are no hotels with on-site pickleball courts within the SLO city limits, Hotel San Luis Obispo (hotel-slo.com; rates start at $399) could be the perfect home base while you’re in town, featuring 78 luxurious rooms and suites that showcase stunning views of the mountains and hotel gardens. The property’s rooftop terrace overlooks the streets of downtown, acting as an alfresco yoga studio in the morning and a chic hangout—complete with a bocce ball court—by night, while the full-service Sol Spa is a sanctuary offering sumptuous massages. And the hotel’s outdoor lap pool provides perfect cross-training or recovery post-pickleball.
The Madonna Inn, just off the downtown stretch, has whimsical accommodations ranging from kitschy to opulent for guests of this enigmatic resort (madonnainn.com; rates start at $219). Each of the 110 rooms has its own theme: Options include rock-waterfall showers, private lookout towers, and tiger-print carpeting, and the hotel’s signature hot-pink hue can be seen in the Gold Rush Steak House’s rounded booths, in the hotel’s famous pink cake, and even on its on-site tennis courts.
San Luis Obispo is home to celebrated online store Pacific Pickleball (pacificpickleball.com), where, despite its not having a brick-and-mortar storefront, owner Roar Berg-Johansen offers in-person demos of his inventory for anyone located in or visiting California’s Central Coast. Schedule a meetup with Berg-Johansen to demo the store’s paddles and balls at a local court, or take a 10-minute drive from downtown to use your own gear for a game with friends at French Park, where the SLO Pickleball Club (slopickleball.org) holds its round-robin-style tournaments. You can drop in at most of the park’s seven pickleball courts from the time it opens at 8 a.m. to dusk every day. Located five miles from downtown, the more petite Meadow Park boasts three courts among its tree-dotted acres just outside town.
No trip to SLO is complete without a visit to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (missionsanluisobispo.org) or a stroll down Bubblegum Alley, where you can “stick” to the decades-long tradition by adding your gum to the walls in the 700 block of Higuera Street. Even when the temperature dips below the 50s in winter, patio dining is the only way to go while in SLO. Dine on fare made with locally sourced ingredients creekside at Novo Restaurant and Lounge (novorestaurant.com)—rated “Best Outdoor Dining” 17 years in a row and “Best San Luis Obispo Restaurant 2021” by New Times SLO—or pair fresh-caught rockfish tacos with regional wines at Luna Red (lunaredslo.com; entrees $9-$63) to toast SLO-ly on the vibrant patio of this locally loved happy hour spot (happy hour is 3 to 6 p.m., Sunday-Thursday).
The trip from the metropolitan streets of San Luis Obispo to the quaint coastal nature trails of Morro Bay takes just 15 minutes, so there’s plenty of time for a quick detour through the hills to play the courts at Templeton Tennis Ranch (ttrtennis.com). The ranch is a large pickleball facility with eight permanent lighted courts, four of which are fully enclosed. The courts are available to anyone for a day fee of $10 a person for a two-hour reservation (loaner paddles available) and are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. week-days and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends. There are six courts at Del Mar Park in Morro Bay, where concrete picnic tables and rolling hills provide ample room to relax between games.
It’s a short drive from the courts to the pet-friendly patio at Three Stacks and A Rock Brewing Company (threestacksandarockbrewing.com; average entrée $10), where favorite post-game snacks include blistered shishito peppers and pub chips with a tasting flight of Three Stacks’ top brews; those with bigger appetites can feast on flatbread or grilled sausage on a locally baked bun paired with the brewery’s popular Marine Layer Hazy IPA. (At press time, the brewery was temporarily closed for a planned move to a new location on Embarcadero in 2022).
For a different paddle experience in Morro Bay, navigate a kayak among
the Grassy Bar Oyster Company beds and follow with a tasting experience from Edna Valley’s Center of Effort (centerofeffortwine.com), or peek below the surface on a semisubmersible boat excursion with Morro Bay Whale Watching’s Sub Sea Tour (morrobaywhalewatching.com; rates start at $20). Fall asleep to the sounds of the sea at the Inn at Morro Bay (innatmorrobay.com; rates start at $114), located inside Morro Bay State Park. This newly renovated inn opened in 1957 and features 98 guest rooms, some with fireplaces, private decks, and bay views, and it’s just a short drive from Morro Strand State Beach, where evening strolls in the sand can extend three miles alongside impressive Morro Rock.
The stretch of highway between Morro Bay and Cambria is a beautiful drive on the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, so plan to spend much more than the 30 minutes it takes to cover this stunning route. Take exit 284 for a quick stopover or lunch along the sandy beachesof Cayucos. The Cayucos Pier is known for fishing, but it’s also a great spot for observing marine life while snacking on smoked shrimp or smoked black-bean-patty tacos from Ruddell’s Smokehouse (smokerjim.com; average entrée $15) or the famous baked treats from Brown Butter Cookie Company (brownbuttercookies.com; $15 for a dozen) before getting back on the road.
The sight of pine trees and coastline marks your arrival in Cambria, where experienced players can join the Cambria Pickleball by the Sea (cambriapickleballclub.shutterfly.com) group on any of the six courts at Old Cambria Grammar School (which also hosts a free new-players’ clinic every Friday at 9 a.m.). The surfer-chic accommodations at Cambria Beach Lodge at Moonstone Beach (cambriabeachlodge.com; rates start at $209) provide the perfect respite for wrapping up the trip.
This reimagined roadside hotel offers complimentary bikes for exploring the quaint streets of Cambria, where local pickleball players are quick to point you to Linn’s Easy As Pie Cafe (linnsfruitbin.com) to sample a slice of the famous olallieberry pie ($6). Or recover from your time on the court with a deeply restorative yoga class at Tula Yoga (tula4you.com); private sessions are available. Many visitors come to Cambria to check out the glitzy digs at nearby Hearst Castle, but some of the most opulent views are found at sunset along the two-mile trail on the bluffs overlooking Moonstone Beach.