Ever wonder why we call it the Highway 1 “Discovery” Route?
Simple: This stretch of 101 miles through coastal San Luis Obispo County begs to be discovered.
Along its twists and turns, every inch of Highway 1’s untouched shoreline contains vast worlds to explore. Each step through quiet forests, historic landmarks, and charming towns leads to wonder. And every bite and sip uncovers agricultural riches to share.
Ready to expand your horizons on a trip through Highway 1 Discovery Route Country? Try one of these attractions to deep-dive into this precious, pristine corner of the world.
In 1919, Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst broke ground on what would become a 90,000-square-foot hilltop estate overlooking ranchlands and the Pacific Ocean. During its heyday, his “Enchanted Hill” welcomed high society friends, colleagues and diplomats, including Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Winston Churchill. They indulged in lavish parties, splashed in Hearst’s outrageous indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and watched films in his private cinema. The mood? Festive. The setting? Unmatched.
Today, visitors can experience for themselves the grandeur of Hearst’s once-private home. Walk where Hearst and his guests once walked. Witness room upon room of arts and antiquities that he collected from across the world, including some that predate the Egyptian pyramids. Stroll among lush gardens and classical sculptures that surround Mr. Hearst’s impressive Mediterranean-style home. Hearst Castle offers multiple tours, including those of the estate’s grand rooms, guest cottages and kitchen, and upstairs suites of the Casa Grande.
Looking to go even deeper? Try an evening tour, in which docents wear 1930s attire and walk the property answering questions. Holiday twilight tours show the estate decked-out in lights and greenery for the season. For folks interested in art and architecture, two tours address those subjects directly, including the “Designing The Dream” tour, which highlights architect Julia Morgan’s process and long working relationship with Hearst. And one of the newest tours, “Hearst and Hollywood,” delves into Mr. Hearst’s close ties with cinema celebrities, as well as the estate’s appeal to modern personalities like Lady Gaga (who filmed her music video “G.U.Y.” on the estate).
Don’t miss: The Hearst Castle Visitor Center, where you’ll find an IMAX theater screening a film about Hearst’s estate, as well as interpretive displays and a bookstore featuring works about Hearst, Julia Morgan, and others.
While Hearst Castle showcases the achievements of mankind, the nearby Coastal Discovery Center (CDC) focuses on the glories of nature. A collaboration between the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and California State Parks, the CDC celebrates where the sand and sea meet.
Family- and group-friendly, the CDC embraces the natural and cultural heritage of this special stretch of coastline. Interpretive displays and exhibits inside the center feature the habitats of marine wildlife, the whaling history of San Simeon Bay, the signs of a healthy watershed, and more. There’s even a replica of a Delta submarine used to discover remains from the area’s recorded 1,276 shipwrecks!
The CDC also brings visitors right into the action with citizen science programs that encourage hands-on learning and data contribution. Guided tours include opportunities to collect and observe plankton, experience Old San Simeon, beachcomb with marine biologists, and more.
Don’t miss: The Junior Ranger Adventure program, which sends children on an educational scavenger hunt throughout San Simeon to obtain their Junior Ranger badge.
When it comes to charm, there’s no place like Cambria. What better way to discover this quaint seaside hamlet than by taking a walking tour of its historic landmarks?
The Cambria Historical Society offers a self-guided tour of 28 notable sites in Cambria’s historic East Village, spanning less than one mile. Learn about this coastal town’s strong Azorean/Portuguese immigrant history, its whaling families, and how a simple fence-line dispute in 1911 ended with a shotgun murder in front of Mozzi’s Saloon (which is still in operation today).
Pick up a guide at the Guthrie/Bianchini House at 2251 Center Street, a historic home that now serves as the Cambria Historical Museum.
Don’t miss: The tiny Santa Rosa Chapel and Cemetery, where Bing Crosby attended mass while visiting William Randolph Hearst in San Simeon. Built in 1850, the chapel is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The quaint setting of Avila Beach masks how treacherous the waters of San Luis Bay can be. In the days before satellite and radio, this light station guided and saved the lives of countless seafarers. Today, it’s still in operation under the U.S. Coast Guard, and welcomes visitors to tour its grounds, with stunning coastal views at every angle.
Architecture fans will enjoy the prairie Victorian/Gothic style of the two-storey lighthouse, designed by Paul J. Pelz, chief draftsman for the United States Lighthouse Board. One of three stations in California built from identical plans, the station at Point San Luis is the only one intact today.
To witness this historic landmark in operation and learn about the life and duties of a light keeper, visitors can ride in on the dedicated trolley, kayak from Whalers Beach, or hike with Pecho Coast Trail Guides.
Don’t miss: Blinks from the Vega VLB 44-2.5 light, which still shines brightly enough to be visible from 17 miles away at night.
In 1904, the Oceano Train Depot held a significant role in building the infrastructure of south San Luis Obispo County. The turn-of-the-century building served as a hub for all train and telegraph traffic, as well as mail distribution.
Though the depot retired in 1973, a band of train buffs and volunteers restored the building practically to its original condition. Today it serves as both a museum dedicated to the history of the railroad in Oceano and to the surrounding community. Exhibits include special railroad equipment and tools, as well as a caboose from the Salt Lake Railway and a Southern Pacific Boxcar. Other displays commemorate Oceano’s fallen soldiers who served in World War II and remembrances of the Oceano School. Events like Model Railroad Days in January showcase spectacular model railways from local train-aholics.
Don’t miss: Artifacts from Oceano’s Dunites, a group of mystics and artists that once claimed squatter’s rights to inhabit the Oceano dunes. Famous visitors to the camp include photographer Ansel Adams, composer John Cage, and John Steinbeck.