South of Pismo Beach, California’s coastal highways again diverge. Hwy-1 cuts off west through the still-agricultural areas around sleepy Guadalupe (pop. 7,080), where produce stands sell cabbages, broccoli, and leafy green vegetables fresh from the fields. The town itself feels miles away from modern California, with a four-block Main Street lined by Mexican cafés, bars, banks, and grocery stores.

If you opt to follow US-101, shopping malls and tract-house suburbs fill the inland valleys through rapidly suburbanizing Santa Maria. Among barbecue aficionados, the Santa Maria region is famous for its thick cuts of salsa-slathered barbecued beef. These can best be sampled at Jocko’s (125 N. Thompson Ave., 805/929-3686, Sun.-Thurs. 8am-10pm, Fri.-Sat. 8am-11pm) in Nipomo, east of US-101 at the Tefft Street exit. Great steaks and mouthwateringly moist, inch-thick barbecued pork chops highlight the no-frills Jocko’s menu. The meats are not soaked in sauces, but simply cooked over smoky oak charcoal.

Map of Pacific Coast through California's Central Coast.
Map of Pacific Coast through California’s Central Coast.