Explore the Coastal Discovery Trail Along Highway 1


The new Coastal Discovery Trail is a curated collection of activities that highlights nature, history and local experts. Make the most of your travels to the Central Coast by using the resources and links below to find the best beaches, outdoor activities, historic sites, wildlife viewing locations and more in San Simeon and along Highway 1.

Best Wildlife Viewing and Inspiring Views

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Over 25,000 elephant seals arrive at the Piedras Blancas Rookery along Highway 1 every year to breed, birth, molt and enjoy the San Simeon sunshine. The rookery is easily accessible, free and open to the public daily. Enjoy the fun antics of the elephant seals as they perform mating rituals, spar, raise their pups and head back out to sea. While elephant seals can be seen at the rookery year-round, the best times of year to spot these marine mammals are October through May with the big show during January and February.



Elephant Seal

Whale Trail Viewing Sites

San Simeon hosts two whale trail viewing sites on the Central Coast. Located at the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort and San Simeon Bay Pier, the viewpoints provide spectacular views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary home to 34 species of marine mammals. Search for the blows of gray whales, orcas, humpbacks and blue whales along with seals and sea lions perched on rocks and sea otters hunting for food in kelp. It is important to respect all wildlife in their habitat and enjoy the fascinating creatures from a safe distance.

Whale Trail

Best Beaches for Solo, Family and Dog Days

William R. Hearst Memorial Beach

Whether you are looking to swim, fish, boat, kayak, sunbathe or picnic, William R. Hearst Memorial Beach is the perfect destination for all recreational beach activities. Not to mention you can bring your pup along for the fun! The wide-open stretch of sand and San Simeon Bay Pier provide the perfect playground to enjoy a day on the coast. Please keep your furry friend on-leash, unless signage notes otherwise.

Hearst Beach

Best Ocean Walks, Hikes and Wildlife Viewing Trails

Black Swift Falls Trail

Don’t let the 0.8-mile round trip fool you, the Black Swift Falls Trail is a fun challenge. Venture down a 300 ft cliff to a private black sand beach where a waterfall from the mountains meets the ocean. At the top of the trail, soak in scenic views of the Big Sur coastline and vast Pacific Ocean. Reward yourself with lunch and a drink at Ragged Point Inn post-hike.

Pacific Valley Bluff Trail

A mile north of Sand Dollar Beach in Big Sur you will find the trailhead for the Pacific Valley Bluff Trail. Follow the flat path along the coastline for an easy hike with succulents and wildflowers, coastal views and a sandy dune. The family-friendly and dog-friendly trail is perfect for your next outdoor adventure.

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Bluff Trail

Explore Cambria’s coastline on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Trail. The easy one-mile loop includes benches to observe wildlife (bring binoculars along to look for sea life), take in the coastal views and enjoy the salty air. The family-friendly, pet-friendly hike is bound to make good memories. 

Best Sites, Discovery Centers and Activities for Stewardship Travelers

Piedras Blancas Light Station

Perched on the rugged coastline of San Simeon, the Piedras Blancas Light Station built in 1875 stands strong against the horizon. The light station once protected sea goers from the cliffs on their journey along the Pacific Coast and is still in operation today. The iconic light station on Highway 1 is a California Coastal National Monument, Outstanding Natural Area and historic park.


Coastal Discovery Center at San Simeon Bay

Learn more about the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary through interactive exhibits at the Coastal Discovery Center showcasing the incredible ecosystem on the Central Coast. The goal of the discovery center is to preserve and protect while educating the public. Free to all visitors, the automated games, murals and other interactive exhibits help us to better understand the land and sea that make up our coastline.


For more information on the Coastal Discovery Trail and an interactive map, please visit Highway 1 Discovery Route’s Coastal Discovery Trail.

Features and Amenities
  • Beaches
  • Free Things To Do
  • Hikes, Guided Walks & Boardwalks
  • History & Culture
  • Kid Friendly
  • Must-See Spot
  • Outdoor Activities & State Parks