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Come experience the rich history of San Simeon and William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach. Old San Simeon above the cove offers a wealth of activities for the outdoor enthusiast, the foodie, or the vista-hunter. Old San Simeon is built on the shoreline known for its whaling in the 1800s. While walking in Old San Simeon, stroll to the 800-foot San Simeon Pier to fish, watch for wildlife, or take in a sunset. The pier overlooks William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, a protected area that offers picnic tables, barbecue grill stands and restrooms. Wildlife is abundant in the area with frequent sightings of sea otters, elephant seals, seabirds and migrating humpback whales. For lunch, grab a burger and beer at Sebastian’s Cafe, or wine tasting next door at award-winning Hearst Ranch Winery, just a stone’s throw from the beach. Looking for a hike? The easy-moderate San Simeon Bay Trail takes you through coastal forests and out to secluded vistas.
While in San Simeon, experience the grandeur of Hearst Castle. In its heyday, Hearst Castle hosted celebrities―from Charlie Chaplin to Greta Garbo―as well as journalists, entrepreneurs and politicians like Calvin Coolidge and Winston Churchill. And now? You. Careful preservation of this lavish hilltop estate affords a view into the life and times of its owner, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. The castle was designed by groundbreaking architect Julia Morgan and built between 1919 and 1947, Hearst called it “La Cuesta Encantada,” Spanish for “The Enchanted Hill.” Today, the 127-acre complex welcomes visitors to explore its main building, three guest houses, gardens, fountains, pools and artwork, and artifacts as a California State Park. Hearst Castle hosts a variety of tours (some of which are ADA-accessible), including a Grand Rooms Tour, Upstairs Suites Tour, Cottages & Kitchens Tour, and Evening Tours (spring and fall only). Tours depart and return from the Hearst Castle Visitor Center, where guests can enjoy dining options, gift shops, an art gallery, a free exhibition on the extraordinary life of William Randolph Hearst, and a five-story IMAX theater showing the film “Hearst Castle – Building the Dream.”
San Simeon boasts the largest free viewing area of Elephant Seals in California. One of the most entertaining attractions, the Elephant Seal Rookery is where pods of northern elephant seals come ashore to mate, give birth, molt and rest. One of the most exciting times at the rookery? December, when bulls fight for proximity and attention from females, as well as the end of January when birthing season peaks. Docents with Piedras Blancas Friends of the Elephant Seal are regularly on-hand to answer questions about the fascinating life cycle of the elephant seal, and interpretive signs give insight into the rookery and its inhabitants. For more information, a visitor’s center and gift shop are located eight miles south at Plaza del Cavalier in San Simeon.
Visit one of the best lighthouse tours in California at Piedras Blancas Lightstation. Tour this landmark lightstation, a remnant from the days when this stretch of coast was critical to the region’s economy. Named after the white rocks that threatened the safety of passing ships, Piedras Blancas is a historic park with a lightstation overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and a non-profit organization dedicated to its preservation. Part of the California Coastal National Monument and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Piedras Blancas is also a wildlife sanctuary where seabirds, elephant seals and humpback whales can be viewed when in season.
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