Though not very significant in the bustling California of today, this is truly the heartland of the state. El Camino Real was the path that connected the chain of missions built by the Spanish fathers, the utmost outreach of the Spanish empire, where western civilization was first planted in the far west.
Seven of the 21 missions are located in this region, including the extensively restored Mission La Purisima Concepcion, and Mission San Antonio, the only other surviving mission outside an urban area. There is also the only Spanish-Mexican townscape remaining in the state, San Juan Bautista.
The landscapes here are mostly rural, with irrigated row crops in the rich valley bottoms, flanked by vineyards on the low slopes. Beyond lie classic California scenes of rolling hills, golden in summer, dotted with round live oaks. There are no large cities with suburban sprawl, people here mostly live close to the land, and Spanish is still widely spoken.
Beyond the hills and valleys lie rugged mountain ranges, wild and almost uninhabited, protected in Los Padres National Forest and Pinnacles National Park. In the far southeast corner lies Carrizo Plain National Monument, home to endangered species and in certain years vast wildflower blooms.