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See the Hearst Castle and Elephant Seals in San Simeon

Incredible wildlife, stunning scenery and fascinating history await along California Hwy. 1.

If a stroll along a beach to watch elephant seals in the morning and a drive through a zebra herd to tour a castle sounds like a fantasy, think again. In San Simeon, Calif., this is just another day on a perfect weekend getaway.

Located on the southern edge of the Big Sur Scenic Drive, just an hour from the famous Bixby Creek Bridge, San Simeon is a serene and family friendly small town nestled along the Pacific coast. It’s also the home of the stunning Hearst Castle, built by the media tycoon William Randolph Hearst from 1919-1947, to fulfill a lifelong dream to build an estate that echoed those he had seen during his travels in Europe. He left in 1947 because of poor health, with the blueprints of architect Julia Morgan not yet completed.

The castle itself is worthy of an all-day excursion. Slated to re-open in early 2022, this incredible 165-room home and its accompanying grounds are covered by 12 different tours. As of 2022, you must reserve your tours in advance online. After you park, you will ride a shuttle up to the castle where you will start your tour. A visitor favorite? The pools, which are stunning but are only for viewing, not swimming, and can be visited at the end of every tour.

Elephant seals quarreling over territory at the San Simeon Seal Rockery
Elephant seals quarreling over territory at the San Simeon Seal Rockery (Photo: Courtesy Highway 1 Discovery Route)

For an action-packed stroll, head to the Boucher Trail at Piedras Blancas. This flat trail will bring you past one of the most accessible elephant seal colonies in the world where docents from the Friends of the Elephant Seal Society will help you learn more about these massive creatures. The seals are visible on the beach year-round, but January, April and October are the peak times to see them.

Keep walking down the 4-mile round-trip trail to see the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Year-round tours of the beautiful lighthouse are available, but advanced reservations are recommended.

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse near San Simeon
Piedras Blancas Lighthouse near San Simeon (Photo: Courtesy Highway 1 Discovery Route)

Or, for a more challenging hike, head north to Ragged Point where the 0.8-mile Black Swift Falls Trail will bring you to a black sand beach featuring a gorgeous waterfall. The trail may be short, but it’s made mostly of steps that descend a slippery, 300-foot cliff so hike with caution. You can extend your hike with other connecting trails in the area.

Hikers on the Black Swift Fall Trail near San Simeon
Hikers on the Black Swift Fall Trail near San Simeon (Photo: Courtesy Highway 1 Discovery Route)

For lunch stop at the Ragged Point Inn where you can grab a sandwich, burger or milkshake and take in seasonal live music on summer days. From here, it’s just a 20-minute drive to Bixby Creek Bridge, the iconic viewpoint along Big Sur where you can see the 80-foot-high McWay Falls pouring into the ocean.

After a morning spent hiking, head to Hearst Ranch Winery where you can sip on local wines while enjoying views of the bay and the Hearst Castle in the distance. As you drive Hwy. 1 to the winery, keep your eyes peeled for herds of wild zebras and elk mingling, these creatures leftover from Hearst’s zoo that was once the largest private zoo in the world. Order food to accompany your wine at the weekend food truck or pick up some charcuterie from the cold case for a picnic. Like many places in San Simeon, dogs are welcome. Don’t forget to take your pup to the off-leash San Simeon Cove Beach for a sunset stroll afterwards.

Zebra herd near the Hearst Ranch Winery in San Simeon
Zebra herd near the Hearst Ranch Winery in San Simeon (Photo: Courtesy Highway 1 Discovery Route)

Don’t miss Cavalier Coastal Kitchen in San Simeon for a relaxing meal. It serves fresh seafood, like mouthwatering salmon, with views on the water, and you can end the meal at the fire pits, toasting marshmallows for s’mores.

When it’s time for bed, check into one of San Simeon’s many oceanfront properties and fall asleep to the sound of the tides.


Learn more at VisitSanSimeonCA.com.