Between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the four hundred or so miles of the Central Coast are home to a few modestly sized cities and lined by clean, sandy beaches and dramatic stretches of cliffs and capes. Of the various highlights, Big Sur is one of the most rugged and beautiful stretches of coastline in the world, Santa Barbara is a wealthy resort full of old and new money, and Santa Cruz is a coastal town with multiple identities. In between, languorous San Luis Obispo makes a good base for visiting Hearst Castle, the hilltop palace of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Almost all of the towns grew up around the original Spanish Catholic missions, many of which feature their original architecture – Monterey, 120 miles south of San Francisco, was California’s capital under Spain and Mexico, and briefly the state capital in 1850.

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