Want to travel deeper? Follow our all-new History & Heritage Trail
History buffs, start your engines. Introducing the Highway 1 Discovery Route’s History & Heritage Trail, designed for travelers who want to dig deep on their travels.
Step back in time by exploring landmarks that shaped Central Coast history, including train depots, ports, ranchos ― even a jail! This free guide includes well-known historic places, as well as those that are “hidden in plain sight,” or more obscure. Preserved schoolhouses, townsites and homes show how early SLO County residents once lived, from adobes to castles.
Ready to get back to coastal California’s roots? Visit these spots along the trail to experience Highway 1 as it was, once upon a time. (And remember to find many more on the History & Heritage Trail page.)
Hearst Castle, San Simeon
Overlooking the Pacific coastline and acres of ranch land, this hilltop estate welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Once the private home of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, it opened as a California State Park in 1958. During its heyday, Hearst’s “enchanted hill” hosted luminaries like Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Buster Keaton and Winston Churchill.
A great patron of art and design, Hearst invited architect Julia Morgan to build his 90,000-square-foot, Mediterranean-style home. It includes 56 bedrooms, a library, movie theater, formal dining room, tennis courts, guest cottages, and two stunning swimming pools. (A Lady Gaga music video and Stanley Kubrick both filmed beside the Neptune Pool.) The home is preserved as Hearst left it, including his vast collection of art and antiquities from around the world.
Visitors to Hearst Castle can embark on any number of tours to experience the property. For starters, though, we recommend the “Grand Rooms” tour, which explores the large rooms of the main house.
Nitt Witt Ridge, Cambria
Sometimes called “the anti-Hearst Castle,” Nitt Witt Ridge is a hillside estate of a completely different sort. In 1945, an artist named Art Beal built his rambling home almost entirely out of found objects. Notable materials include beer cans, toilet seats, car parts and even remnants of tile from Hearst Castle, where Beal worked briefly. Abalone shells also decorate much of the grounds.
Beal’s eccentricity attracted a cult following, and by the 1970s he had even been featured on television. Held together with baking powder (for cement) and flour (for sand), Nitt Witt Ridge became a pilgrimage site in its own right, and was inducted as a California State Landmark in 1981. Today, the property belongs to new owners who welcome visitors and preserve its humor, history and folksy appeal.
LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: Beal installed a toilet on the roof of Nitt Witt Ridge, as well as two “his-and-hers” toilets in a bathroom inside.
The Cass House, Cayucos
Born in England, Captain James Cass came to California in search of gold, but wound up working in trade and shipping instead. Settling in Cayucos in 1867, he built a Victorian-style home on the original Rancho Moro Y Cayucos Mexican Land Grant. With its materials sourced from San Francisco and abroad, the home would become an elegant social hub for the burgeoning town.
Cayucos’s prosperity resulted directly from Cass’s vision and expertise. He saw opportunities for a port and the shipment of hides, beef, fresh water, lumber and cheese. As such, he built the Cayucos Pier to ship and receive goods and passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Over time, he also built a wharf and warehouse called Cass’s Landing with his partner, Captain John Ingals.
With the advent of the railroad and trucking in San Luis Obispo County, Cass’s pier closed as a commercial port in 1920. The pier and the Cass residence remain, though, and invite visitors to experience the way Cayucos used to be. One of the tastier local historic sites, the Cass House now hosts a fine restaurant, inn, wedding venue and bakery.
LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: Some believe the ghost of Captain Cass roams the Cass House. People claim to have heard music coming from the music room…when no instruments or people are there.
Point San Luis Lighthouse, Avila Beach
Standing watch over Point San Luis since 1890, this lighthouse is now under the auspices of the U.S. Coast Guard. With its Vega VLB 44-2.5 light, the lighthouse remains a beacon for vessels as far as 17 miles offshore.
A prolific architect of the 19th century, Paul J. Pelz designed this and many other lightstations. In fact, his design for Point San Luis is identical to two others: one near Humboldt and another near San Diego. Sadly, Point San Luis is the only lighthouse of that blueprint that remains.
Today, visitors can access the remote lighthouse by hiking along the coastline, kayaking into a nearby inlet, or taking a shuttle. The lighthouse offers tours by reservation, and is available for rental as a unique event venue.
LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: Architect Paul J. Penz was also the primary architect for the United States Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
The Hoosegow Jailhouse, Arroyo Grande
You’d never know from looking at it: this unassuming Arroyo Grande building was once the town pokey.
Built around 1910 for the County Constable, this itty-bitty jailhouse now sits in a small public park overlooking the city. Made of eight-inch concrete walls, the jail comprises just one room with three tiny, high windows and an iron door.
The Hoosegow doesn’t open to the public, but the park has a picnic table and interpretive plaque for the curious.
LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: The term “hoosegow” is a riff on the Spanish word juzgado, referring to a place where justice is served.
Oceano Train Depot & Museum, Oceano
Sleepy, seaside Oceano once hosted a bustling hub of activity in its Southern Pacific Railroad depot. Built in 1904, this building saw all manner of communication and cargo, from mail and telegraphs to passengers and freight.
With the dawn of the modern era, trains and telegraphs faded in significance and eventually the depot closed in 1973. But no one disputes its early importance: this station was critical to the development of southern SLO County.
Today, the Oceano Depot has been restored by a brigade of volunteers and now houses a museum and community center. Inside, artifacts, photos and vintage railroad equipment delight train enthusiasts from far and wide. And outside, don’t miss the 1940s vintage Southern Pacific boxcar or 1907 wooden caboose.
LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: The current Oceano Depot wasn’t actually the first to be built. The original depot was erected in 1896 and burned in a devastating fire in 1903.
Rancho Nipomo & Dana Adobe, Nipomo
In 1828, Captain William Dana married Maria Josefa Carrillo (daughter of the Mexican Alta California governor) before settling Rancho Nipomo. The Mexican land grant spread east and west of El Camino Real, the road that connected the 21 California missions. With 38,000 acres of fertile land, Rancho Nipomo offered plenty of room for Captain Dana’s 16 children. (Five additional Dana children died as infants.)
From 1839 to 1851, Dana built an adobe home of his own design on the property. It served as an important waypoint for travelers and as a supplier of goods like candles, soap, textiles, and more. Today, it stands much the same as it did then, with a panoramic view of the Nipomo Foothills. The Dana Adobe is named in the National Register of Historic Places and as a California Historical Landmark. Additionally, it serves as a cultural center, art gallery, and 130-acre park.
LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: The name “Nipomo” is derived from the Chumash word nepomah, which means “the foot of the hills.”