San Simeon Visitor Guide
The stunning natural beauty of San Simeon Cove; the enchantment of a hilltop castle – what a beautiful way to start the day! Less than an hour’s drive up Highway One from the city of San Luis Obispo lie two of best reasons to visit the Central Coast – both at the same spot: the sparkling seaside cove at San Simeon Point, and the hilltop house that Hearst built.The cove has plenty of parking just left of the highway. The trail leading out to the point is a magical walk along a wooded path on the bluffs above the beach. Lacy moss dangles from the trees and a backward look for the point’s end reveals the sparkling cove and breathtaking views of rock formations carved by the sea. To the right of the highway lies the entrance to the castle, where tours of the famous castle, rich with art, exotic animals, and astonishing views happen daily.
The very small town of San Simeon (population 443) sits on either side of Highway One, just about two miles south of the entrance to the castle. Hotels and restaurants dot the frontage roads on either side of the highway in this true “gateway” town to the Hearst Castle. Fishing, hiking, and bird-watching are favorite attractions here, with some of the best whale-watching on the Central Coast. These waters are also home to a sea otter preserve, a rookery for elephant seals, and just a couple of miles north, the historic Piedras Blancas Light Station. San Simeon began to develop as a settlement in 1852 when a whaling station was established at the natural harbor at San Simeon Point. While today, the annual migration of the majestic Grey Whale is an inspiring and coveted observation, back then, they provided a living for the humans who hunted them. Around this industry, a community sprang up to support it, including a blacksmith shop, a bar, and a barbershop. The one-room schoolhouse their children attended has been preserved in its location near the Point, as has their general store, first built in 1860. Purchased by Manual Sebastian in 1914, this historic building that doubled as a post office, has been moved twice, for the last time in 1945. Today, it’s still open for business at the Point, and is still owned by members of the Sebastian family.
Senator George Hearst built the wharf at San Simeon Cove that his son, William Randolph, would later use to receive the art and building materials shipped in from Europe for his castle. The warehouses he built to house these precious materials were designed by architect Julia Morgan in the Mission revival-style. They look more like mansions than warehouses and haven’t changed in 75 years. Impossibly romantic, rich with history, and given to outdoor excursions, this is a great place for couples, but may be not be the ideal choice for families with small children. Ragged Point is located just 15 miles north of San Simeon’s Hearst Castle, and is the gateway to Big Sur. Here is where you can witness spectacular vistas to the Pacific Ocean, sea life includes whales, dolphins and elephant seals, and drive the most filmed scenic roadway in the world. Ragged Point is comprised of the privately owned Ragged Point Inn where travelers are welcomed with patio dining, a gas station, hotel, wedding facility, hiking trail. Plus you can take a break in one of the many well-placed lounge chairs, take in the view and enjoy an espresso from the coffee bar. Towering high above the Pacific Ocean atop 400 foot sheer cliffs, Ragged Point offers one of the finest ocean vistas in the world, often called the “Million Dollar View”. This is one of the few places as you enter Big Sur where you can enjoy a trail down the face of a cliff, to witness the largest waterfall in the area.
Average daily temps for San Simeon are high-30s to low-60s in the winter, and mid-50s to high 70s in the summer. Morning fog is predictable and consistent, especially during the summer months. There is no distinct rainy season with about 18 inches falling every year on average.
Though heavy arctic parkas will not be needed here, a warm coat or jacket and lots of layers for peeling away are recommended. If you visit the castle, weather conditions at sea level will sometimes be much different from what you’ll find at the top of the hill. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, comfortable shoes, binoculars, and a great book – or better yet, purchase one of the many biographies of Hearst at the gift shop.