An insider’s guide to everything you need to know about San Simeon’s main attractions.
Get a glimpse of San Simeon’s northern elephant seals at just south of Point Piedras Blancas, located six miles north of Hearst Castle. The Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery offers the best viewing location along scenic Highway 1. There is abundant parking, easy access on viewing boardwalks, and it’s all free! Look for docents in blue jackets who can answer questions and provide interesting information about these unusual animals.
Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
One of California’s most architecturally interesting lighthouses, the Piedras Blancas Light Station, built in 1875, is a standing beacon of the California coastline’s rich maritime history. Take in eye-popping ocean views during guided tours, where you can learn about the area’s natural and cultural history and wildlife on the mainland, the offshore rocks, and in the ocean.
Coastal Discovery Center at San Simeon Bay
Boost your “ocean literacy” at the free Coastal Discovery Center, while enjoying fun activities, such as spotting marine life from the San Simeon Pier. You can also check out exhibits which highlight the history of San Simeon and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Grab a family adventure pack and explore the park.
Beach Combing and Bird Watching
San Simeon beaches provide a fantastic place to see birds, including pelicans, gulls, and shorebirds. Be sure to download the SeaPhoto App, which includes more than 1,600 photos of marine life, some with detailed ecological information about California’s protected ocean and coastal waters stretching from Cambria and San Simeon to the Farallon Islands.
The Whale Trail
San Simeon boasts an official Whale Trail viewing site on Highway 1 three miles south of Hearst . The best times to spot whales is when the wind and sea is calm, such as in the early morning and an hour or so before sunset. Gray whales travel close to shore from December through May. Humpback whales, dolphins and other marine mammals are abundant from June through November.
Just Steps From The Beach
San Simeon offers a diverse selection of hotels with ocean views at different price points. All are just a short walk to San Simeon’s rugged coastline and pristine beaches. Take advantage of seasonal discounts and/or packages throughout the year.
Rooms With the Best Views
Relax in a Secluded Cove
Pack up your posse and head to William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, the sunniest spot in San Simeon. This beautiful secluded beach boasts a protected cove perfect for sunning, beachcombing and kayaking. Bring a picnic or walk over to the Sebastian’s Café for a delicious burger and glass of Hearst Ranch wine.
Kayak San Simeon Bay
Get out on the water by kayaking San Simeon Cove, directly across Highway 1 from Hearst Castle. After a brief instructional lesson on the beach you and your guide will paddle the clear waters for great views of sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions and maybe even dolphins! Guided tours take 2-3 hours, or you can rent your own and paddle at your own pace.
Catch & Relief
The most serene spot for angling is the San Simeon Pier, a breathtaking location that has allows fishing without a license. If the fish aren’t biting, check out the marine birds and sea life such as otters and seals. Walk to the end of the pier for fantastic views of San Simeon Bay and Hearst Castle.
San Simeon’s coastal trails offer incredible views. Don’t miss the Washburn Trail at Hearst San Simeon State Park. It’s a three-mile round trip hike through a variety of habitats, with great opportunities for bird and wildlife watching. The Jungle Trail starts at Vista Del Mar Avenue and proceeds south along the coastal bluff, with access to pristine tide pools at low tide. San Simeon’s newest hiking trail, the Boucher Trail, starts at the elephant seal parking lot and heads north to the Piedras Blancas Light Station (3 miles round trip).
San Simeon’s Zebras
You may catch a glimpse of zebras on the east side of Highway 1 just south of San Simeon. Another herd can be seen north of Hearst Castle near old San Simeon. Rumor has it that today’s zebra herd is made up of descendants from escapees of W.R. Hearst’s own private zoo.
Set sail in San Simeon to explore an entirely different side of the town. Boating and kayaking are popular among locals and tourists, and there’s no better way to see the sights than to head out onto the water. Whether launching your recreational boat or kayak, there are two spots to shove off from:
- Launching Watercraft
Leffingwell Landing Boat Ramp in Cambria and William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach are the best spots to launch your small boat or kayak. Surf conditions can change rapidly, so launch with caution.
- Motorized Watercraft
Motorized watercraft are not permitted in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, including the coastal waters of San Simeon and Cambria.