Why San Simeon might be the mightiest mile in California
Sunning elephant seals, a hilltop castle and a historic lighthouse await…
Good things do come in small sizes. Even though San Simeon is less than a mile long, it still packs quite a punch. Every year, the tiny village along Highway 1 lures loads of travelers from around the world to explore its Central California charm. One of the biggest draws is clearly Hearst Castle, but there are awesome hidden gems throughout the area to discover as well. Sunning elephant seals, inspiring folk art, and a historic light station are just a few of San Simeon’s coolest spots.
One of the oldest members of the California State Park System, San Simeon State Park remains a California favorite thanks to its incredible views and 115-plus state-of-the-art campsites. There’s an excellent 3.3-mile trail that weaves you through the San Simeon Natural Preserve and the Washburn Campground offers plenty of scenic overlooks and interpretive signs. The park also offers views of the majestic elephant seals at the Elephant Seal Rookery, which is a can’t-miss for the entire family. Elephant Seals are visible year-round, however the best times to visit are late January, late April, and late October. San Simeon State Park is also home to the 13.7-acre Pa-nu Cultural Preserve, a significant archeological site. Pa-nu has been dated to 3,833 BCU, and has given researchers a unique look at ancient technology, food, and social life.
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
Humans aren’t the only ones drawn to the climate and beauty of California’s Central Coast; eleplant seals can be found basking in the sun on some of the beaches. The best place to see these quirky creatures interacting with one another is at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. A boardwalk lets you get close to the action, while still giving the seals the space they need. Pro tip: The best times to visit the rookery are in late January, late April, and late October, although the viewing area is open for spotting a variety of coastal wildlife year around.
Fiscalini Ranch Preserve offers an experience you can’t find anywhere else. This ranch-turned-nature preserve, bisected by Highway 1, offers, hands down, one of the best views on the coast. Take a stroll down the gorgeous Fiscalini Trail with views of the ocean the entire time, and enjoy some of the best California has to offer. During your walk, you will encounter wildlife and colorful vegetation as far as your eyes can see. The walk is easy and accessible. In addition to the great views, you’ll come across sea lions and sea otters in their natural habitat, as well as other wildlife. Fiscalini Ranch is also pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry friends along. Be sure to time your visit during the sunset for a sight you won’t forget!
Sebastian’s Cafe and Hearst Ranch Winery Tasting Room
Perfect for a bite to eat after visiting Hearst Castle, Sebastian’s is an enduring local favorite, offering a seemingly endless amount of delicious meals. It’s located in an 1850s-era general store, which adds to the quirky and casual vibe. Enjoy lunch outside with incredible ocean views, or sit in the cafe and admire Hearst Ranch and Castle photographs and memorabilia. On Saturdays, Sebastian’s offers live music and wood-fired oven pizzas from 3:30 to 7 PM. The cafe also serves as the tasting room for a local winery, Hearst Ranch. They offer tons of different varieties of wine, from Tempranillos and Malbecs to rosés and Chardonnays, and the old-school copper-topped bar adds an authentic, vintage feel to the experience.
No trip along Highway 1 is complete without a stop at Hearst Castle. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst used his fortune to build a home on the beautiful California coast, and it’s one of the most opulent, ornate houses in the country. The home, which he called “La Cuesta Encantada” (“The Enchanted Hill”), contains 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, and a movie theater… and that’s just what’s inside. Outside, he had 127 acres of gardens, the world’s largest private zoo (zebras descended from the ones at the zoo still roam the grounds), and pools that are insanely breathtaking. Take a tour of the estate and grounds and hear about how Hearst entertained Hollywood glitterati and political elites. There are several tour options; make sure to call in advance to reserve your spots. And definitely don’t forget your camera!
William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach
Just minutes away from the town of San Simeon off Highway 1, Willam Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach is the perfect place for some fun in the sun! Whether you’re looking to hike, swim, fish, or just want a day to finish your book on the beach, William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach offers plenty of ways to enjoy a visit. With over 20 picnic sites and plenty of parking, it’s hassle-free as well. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a kayak and explore the ocean around the beach!
Take a walk through the beautiful Piedras Blancas area as you make your way to the majestic Piedras Blancas Light Station. Just past Hearst Castle, this hidden gem is a must-see for wildlife enthusiasts. View hundreds of adorable elephant seals. 1,600 pups were born here last year! Gray whales, humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, and bottlenose dolphins can frequently be spotted from here as well. A lot of work has been done to restore natural plants and wildlife to this stretch of coast, which lends a special beauty to the landscape.
As your trip through the California coastline comes to a close, end your journey on a high note by visiting the incredible Piedras Blancas Light Station, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Get a glimpse into the vital role lighthouses played in the growth of the United States with an insightful and fascinating tour of the lighthouse, as well as access to gorgeous coastline views. Guided tours, which meet at the nearby historic Piedras Blancas Motel building, are offered on select mornings and are absolutely worth taking. Be sure to also check out the cute gift shop before you hit the road again.
San Simeon is a special place all its own. Not even Los Angeles or San Francisco can offer the castles, coastal scenery, wine-tasting, elephant seals, and inspiring folk art of nearby Cambria. And this area is only along one mile of coast and only 2 miles from Hearst Castle. This hidden gem of a destination is the pinnacle of Big Sur beauty, and will make for an adventure that will have you dreaming of California’s Central Coast for years to come.