Staying dry at the Castle
Cambria and San Simeon are two small seaside villages located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along the California State Route 1. San Simeon is best known as the home of the world renowned Hearst Castle. This hilltop mansion was built by William Randolph Hearst in the early 20th century and is a popular tourist attraction. I have been there many times and have taken 4 different tours of this grand estate. Each tour gives you the choice of which part of the 165 room manor you want to see including the outside gardens, terraces, and walkways.
The appeal of Hearst Castle for me is when you get to walk outside and admire the beautiful coastline below and beyond. I always daydream on what it must have been like to live there or to be privileged enough to be invited up for a visit.
Featured on most of the tours is the beautiful 104 foot long sparkling Neptune pool which is adorned by an imported Roman Temple. Every time I am standing near it I fight an urge to run and jump in! I imagine myself floating on my back with the sun on my face, reveling in the beauty of the crystal blue water plus the gorgeous tiles, the statues, and columns that are strategically placed about.
Then reality hits and my fantasy is interrupted by the thought of security pulling me out of the pool by my soaking wet clothes, dragging me out in front of everyone, and then throwing my humiliated self on the next bus down the hill. I think it is best to stay dry and keep out of the pool.
No worries about jumping in the pool on this trip as we didn’t visit the Castle and, instead, focused on the beauty of the region with a stopover to see the seals.
Another must see are the elephant seals at the rockery near Piedras Blancas Light Station. More than 7,000 elephant seals live there and it is open daily for viewing from the bluffs. The viewing area is north and south of a nice sized parking lot that is about 4 miles north from the Hearst Castle entrance. From this viewpoint, you get plenty close to marvel at the thousands of seals lining the beach. Don’t try to get any closer as these seals are protected by the Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
You can visit the seals any time during the year but the seals are sparse during March, August, September, and October. The best time is when the mothers give birth in winter and you get to see the little pups from birth to infants.
We were lucky enough to be there when the seals were still infants and the beach was filled wall to wall with females as well as the larger males. The males hung out nearby and once in awhile you saw a male to male clash, but most of the time it was peaceful with the pups content to just hang out by their mothers side.
There are places to camp in the area as well as hiking, biking, surfing, sightseeing and more. The breathtaking coastline is worth the drive and it’s ripe with photo opportunities.
Farther up the coast sits one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth in my opinion, Big Sur. Big Sur is a captivating drive that takes you around bluffs that overlook some of the most picturesque areas of the California coastline. The road clings very close to the slopes at certain points and if you are squimish don’t look down! Multiple vista points allow you to get out of your car to admire the amazing view. Do not take this drive without a camera!
San Simeon Pier
Back to San Simeon, we took a stroll on their local pier. Though small, the pier still gives you a nice view of the coast and of Hearst Castle which sits grandly on the hill above. An elephant seal was hanging out just below the pier and a ranger was making sure nobody got too close. When the seals feel threatened, they can become quite aggressive. Frankly, I don’t want a 6,000 pound elephant seal mad at me so I gladly kept my distance.
Because this part of California is not overly populated and San Simeon itself has only 500 residents, your stroll on the pier is usually with just a few other people.
We were lucky enough to be able to stay at a house in town even though we spent most of our time 10 miles up the coast in San Simeon. We did visit the town to grab a bite to eat and check out the small village of shops and restaurants where you will find unique treasures from this community of artists, designers, and craftspeople. Cambria’s population as of 2010 is just over 6,000 so it is much larger than San Simeon.
Nevertheless, Cambria’s coast is just as pretty and undeveloped as the towns further north.
As with San Simeon, Cambria is your perfect getaway to unwind, relax, or be romantic. Both places are the type of vacation you would choose to relieve stress and mellow out for awhile. On the other hand, don’t chill out too much because Staycations California also recommends the above mentioned Hearst Castle tour, viewing the seals, whale watching when in season, or a beautiful drive up the coast.
We have two last recommendations to make sure your vacation is relaxing and stress free; don’t get too close to the elephant seals and whatever you do, stay out of the Neptune Pool!!
Photos: Lily D and Debbie Colwell
A sunset from the car. Stayed this bright for over a half an hour.