Coastal Discovery Center (CDC) at San Simeon Bay is an educational foundation that explores the natural world in and around San Simeon. This collaboration between the Monterey Bay National Sanctuary and California State Parks provides exhibits and programming free to the public year-round.
Coastal Discovery Center is located at the base of San Simeon Pier at William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach, across Highway 1 from Hearst Castle. Based where Hearst’s expansive warehouses once stood, Coastal Discovery Center is grounded in San Simeon history and offers contextualized information about thriving air and sea life around the area. With Elephant Seal Rookeries and Piedras Blancas Lighthouse just minutes away, the Coastal Discovery Center highlights both natural and man-made coastal wonders.
Discovery Center Exhibits
History of San Simeon Bay
Coastal Discovery Center has an interactive, touch-screen exhibit that details the history of San Simeon Bay and its importance throughout the centuries. By exploring the customs of indigenous people, the role of a now-lost 19th century whaling station, and the beginnings of Hearst Castle, visitors are taken through 10,000 years of history.
Wildlife of San Simeon
Coastal Discovery Center offers detailed information about the thriving sea bird communities around San Simeon Bay and beyond. Visitors can watch gulls, cormorants, pipers, pelicans and more around San Simeon Bay, and Coastal Discovery Center provides education about their feeding and nesting habits to ensure their health and well-being.
Coastal Discovery Central is between two large elephant seal rookeries to the north and to the south. It’s not unusual to see one of these enormous seals on the beach at San Simeon Bay as well! Learn to differentiate calls of the males, females, and pups as they gather en masse throughout the winter months.
Sea otters can be found all along the Central Coast of California, including around San Simeon and Hearst Memorial State Beach. Coastal Discovery Center highlights fun facts about these playful mammals most often be seen swimming near the surf or laying on their backs snacking on crabs, urchins, and the many other sea creatures that make up their extensive diets.
Tide pools are fascinating ecosystems unto themselves and Coast Discovery Center has information for visitors to learn all about them. Tide pools are shallow pools of seawater found along the coast, and sea grasses, urchins, crabs, fish, and more thrive in them. Near Coast Discovery Center, tide pools are smaller than elsewhere along the coast due to the sandiness of the cove, but they provide a compact overview of the ecosystems around.
Plankton Under a Microscope
Another fascinating way to explore life found around Coastal Discovery Center is by examining plankton! These microscopic organisms are crucial components in the ecosystem even though they’re so tiny that they’re invisible to the naked eye. At Coast Discovery Center, guests can make slides of sea water droplets and explore the teeming life within under a microscope.
Rainbow Trout Watershed
Watersheds are also crucial to the health of a broad ecosystem because they provide the movement of fresh water from higher land down through to coastal areas, thereby providing both water and nutrient exchange along the way. Coastal Discovery Center helps visitors learn all about the local watershed that is important to fish, like rainbow trout, throughout the course of their life cycles.
The Delta Sub & Shipwrecks
Through the deeper sea exploration of the Delta Submarine, Coastal Discovery Center has intriguing information about farther-flung structures. Learn all about the extinct underwater Davidson volcano and over a thousand shipwrecks off California shores, including a vessel that was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine off the coast of nearby Cambria.
Visiting the Coastal Discovery Center
Coastal Discovery Center is San Simeon is the perfect place to stop off during a coastal road trip, either for a quick break or for a longer exploration. Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11am to 5pm, Coastal Discovery Center is conveniently located across from Hearst Castle on Highway 1. There’s elevated parking next to the Center with pier access, and there are plenty of picnic tables and public restrooms. Sebastian’s General Store is a quick walk from the Discovery Center, perfect for grabbing an impromptu picnic or a snack for hungry kids. Once inside Coastal Discovery Center, visitors can choose from a variety of tours. Self-guided tours include a Junior Ranger Adventure Program along the San Simeon Pier, for which binoculars and wildlife guides can be checked out from the Center. Volunteer-lead tours should be reserved in advance and are well worth it! They include learning about plankton science, exploring old San Simeon, a beach exploration, and marine mammal identification.
Operating the Coastal Discovery Center
Coastal Discovery Center is operated collaboratively by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and California State Parks. Together, the award-winning programming at the Coastal Discovery Center earned the “Sea to Shining Sea: Excellence in Interpretation and Education Award” in 2016 from the National Office of Marine Sanctuaries.
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