San Simeon Visitor Guide
San Simeon is the home to Hearst Castle and the gateway to Coast Highway 1 into Big Sur. Your experience begins at the edge of NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and is sandwiched between Highway 1, a National Scenic Byway, and the Pacific Whale Trail, the grey whale migration route from the feeding grounds of Alaska to the breeding grounds of Baja California. World Famous Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument sits atop “The Enchanted Hill” with a magnificent 115–room main house, guesthouses, pools, 8 acres of cultivated gardens, with a world class art collection.
Hearst Castle – La Cuesta Encantada, or The Enchanted Hill offers six tours. Piedras Blancas Light Station – Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery -This special Stewardship Activity will lead visitors to a new understanding of the Northern Elephant Seal that migrates thousands of miles twice each year, from the open oceans to a land-based rookery, where it breeds, births, molts, and rests between trips. Coastal Discovery Center – Learn and experience Stewardship Travel at The Coastal Discovery Center, which offers interactive exhibits and education programs for all ages, highlighting the cultural and natural history of Old San Simeon, California State Parks, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Become a citizen scientist and help collect water samples for research offered on most Saturdays. Hike the magnificent San Simeon Cove, Point & Pier. On your your Highway 1 road trip, you’ll be amazed to see the Hearst Ranch Zebras!
Being slightly inland means higher average temps than much of the rest of our county. Winter temps can rarely have extremes from low 40s to low 80s, but average temps are in the 60s and 70s. Summers see most days with temps in the 70s and low 80s. The warmest month is September; the coldest is December. Average annual rainfall is about 18 inches with February being the wettest month. Humidity here is in the 65% to 75% range.
Mostly sunny days make for great wine-tasting and equally great biking and hiking, so pack your sunscreen, sturdy hiking shoes, bike shorts, and if you bring nothing else, download a wine map, print it out, and tuck it into your pocket. While summer dresses, tank tops and shorts work well for daytimes, light outerwear is suggested for the cooler evenings.
The stunning natural beauty of San Simeon Cove; the enchantment of a hilltop castle – what a beautiful way to start the day! Less than an hour’s drive up Highway One from the city of San Luis Obispo lie two of best reasons to visit the Central Coast – both at the same spot: the sparkling seaside cove at San Simeon Point, and the hilltop house that Hearst built.The cove has plenty of parking just left of the highway. The trail leading out to the point is a magical walk along a wooded path on the bluffs above the beach. Lacy moss dangles from the trees and a backward look for the point’s end reveals the sparkling cove and breathtaking views of rock formations carved by the sea. To the right of the highway lies the entrance to the castle, where tours of the famous castle, rich with art, exotic animals, and astonishing views happen daily.
The very small town of San Simeon (population 443) sits on either side of Highway One, just about two miles south of the entrance to the castle. Hotels and restaurants dot the frontage roads on either side of the highway in this true “gateway” town to the Hearst Castle. Fishing, hiking, and bird-watching are favorite attractions here, with some of the best whale-watching on the Central Coast. These waters are also home to a sea otter preserve, a rookery for elephant seals, and just a couple of miles north, the historic Piedras Blancas Light Station. San Simeon began to develop as a settlement in 1852 when a whaling station was established at the natural harbor at San Simeon Point. While today, the annual migration of the majestic Grey Whale is an inspiring and coveted observation, back then, they provided a living for the humans who hunted them. Around this industry, a community sprang up to support it, including a blacksmith shop, a bar, and a barbershop. The one-room schoolhouse their children attended has been preserved in its location near the Point, as has their general store, first built in 1860. Purchased by Manual Sebastian in 1914, this historic building that doubled as a post office, has been moved twice, for the last time in 1945. Today, it’s still open for business at the Point, and is still owned by members of the Sebastian family.
Senator George Hearst built the wharf at San Simeon Cove that his son, William Randolph, would later use to receive the art and building materials shipped in from Europe for his castle. The warehouses he built to house these precious materials were designed by architect Julia Morgan in the Mission revival-style. They look more like mansions than warehouses and haven’t changed in 75 years. Impossibly romantic, rich with history, and given to outdoor excursions, this is a great place for couples, but may be not be the ideal choice for families with small children. Ragged Point is located just 15 miles north of San Simeon’s Hearst Castle, and is the gateway to Big Sur. Here is where you can witness spectacular vistas to the Pacific Ocean, sea life includes whales, dolphins and elephant seals, and drive the most filmed scenic roadway in the world. Ragged Point is comprised of the privately owned Ragged Point Inn where travelers are welcomed with patio dining, a gas station, hotel, wedding facility, hiking trail. Plus you can take a break in one of the many well-placed lounge chairs, take in the view and enjoy an espresso from the coffee bar. Towering high above the Pacific Ocean atop 400 foot sheer cliffs, Ragged Point offers one of the finest ocean vistas in the world, often called the “Million Dollar View”. This is one of the few places as you enter Big Sur where you can enjoy a trail down the face of a cliff, to witness the largest waterfall in the area.
Getaway to ‘Ah-Ha’ Moments!
As you plan your rural road trip, add an hour or two of fun volunteer time to your day, or schedule a travel adventure to a natural, cultural or historic site. Whether you are an active doer, learner or donor there are plenty of dynamic opportunities to choose from:
Active Doers: Get involved, create unique memories, and engage with locals through beach cleanups that protect wildlife, and trail restoration to preserve natural habitats.
Active Learners: Expand your knowledge about eco systems, natural preserves, wildlife and the local heritage through citizen science programs, docent led hikes and historic tours.
Active Donors: Make a difference on vacation through charitable donation opportunities that protect wildlife, habitats, and cultural heritage sites.
Check out these Stewardship Travel Activities in San Simeon:
Coastal Discovery & Stewardship – FREE Ocean Giants Film at Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle – San Simeon, State Historical Monument
Hands-On Citizen Science Programs at San Simeon Cove
Coastal Discovery Center at San Simeon Bay
San Simeon State Park & WR Hearst Memorial Beach Clean-Up
Elephant Seals Docent Talks
Piedras Blancas Light Station Historical Tours