San Simeon Pier has been a key part in the history of San Simeon itself, of Heart Castle, and of the commerce and industry that helped build the Central Coast. Located in the heart of “The Cove” of Hearst State Park Beach, it was historically the focal point for trade in and around San Simeon. Today, San Simeon Pier is a favorite for fishing, for whale watching, and for taking in the beautiful sights around the Cove and beyond.

History of San Simeon Pier

San Simeon Pier predates the construction of Hearst Castle. During the mid-1800s, trade and commerce flourished along the Central Coast for the local whaling, shipping, kelp farming, mercury mining, and lumber industries. Completed in 1878, San Simeon Pier was built along with a large warehouse and an 18 room Victorian ranch house to the east of current day San Simeon. The original San Simeon Pier stretched about 750 feet in length into the ocean where steamships would dock about three times per week to load up on produce from Cambria to be sent south to Los Angeles or north to San Francisco. Locally harvested seaweed was also traded from San Simon Pier, while schooner ships of cattle would offload into the ocean with cowboys ready to swim ashore with the heard.

To ease the transportation of goods – particularly larger items – steel tracks and wheeled platforms were built from the original San Simeon Pier. These became essential during the construction of Hearst Castle due to the sheer volume of materials needed, but the tracks also helped move the goods needed to stock the local merchandise store, Sebastian’s.

As San Simeon began to grow, and as William Randolph Hearst turned his attentions to building the hilltop castle he originally called ‘La Cuesta Encantada,’ Hearst’s role in developing San Simeon grew. His vision was massive and so too were his material needs, resulting in the planting of eucalyptus and pine trees along San Simeon point in 1890 in anticipation of needing to replace pier pilings. That need, however, never materialized as transportation around the region shifted to be increasingly by land. The last commercial steamer, the Aurelia, to unload at San Simeon Pier was in 1916. However, when the tide is low, we can still see remnants of the old Pier.

San Simeon Pier Today

The San Simeon Pier we see today was built in 1957 by San Luis Obispo County exclusively for recreational purposes. No longer a necessary part of maritime transportation, San Simeon Pier is instead a hub for fishing, for whale watching, and for enjoying the sea life that abounds in the Pacific Ocean.

Located a few hundred yards south of the original San Simeon Pier, today’s Pier is also quite a bit longer. In 1969, storm damage required extensive repair work during which San Luis Obispo County took the opportunity to add an additional 300 feet. The extension lengthened San Simeon Pier to a total of 850 feet, which positioned it as the 25th longest pier in California.

In 1971, the California State Department of Parks & Recreation took over operation and maintenance of the San Simeon Pier as part of the Hearst Memorial. San Simeon Pier remains one of the select historic piers along Highway 1, valued for their historic and cultural importance to California development.

Because San Simeon Pier is located within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, or the MBNMS, it is part of a protected coastline vital to research and education. The Coastal Discovery Center, located at the base of San Simeon Pier, is operated collaboratively by MBMNS and California State Parks. Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11am to 5pm, the Center encourages visitors to pick up binoculars and wildlife guides before walking along the Pier to view sea life and maritime birds. Be sure to check out interpretive signs along the Pier to learn more about the history of San Simeon Bay and the local sea life. The Coastal Discovery Center has elevated parking for easy Pier access, picnic tables, and public restrooms, making it a family-friendly stop for visitors of San Simeon. It’s also a bit of San Simeon history because it’s housed in a former Hearst warehouse!

San Simeon Pier Fishing

Fishing enthusiasts, rejoice: there is no fishing license needed to fish from San Simeon Pier! Multiple cleaning stations and benches along the Pier make for a fun, convenient day of fishing. San Simeon Pier affords saltwater fishing year round with options for pier fishing, surf fishing, and creek fishing. Be sure to check out San Simeon tide information, and learn all about boat and kayak launching.

Family fishing

Whale Watching from San Simeon Pier

Whale watching from San Simeon Pier is another favorite and exciting experience! Humpback whales have been known to feed directly under the Pier, drawing crowds in awe of their sheer size. The best time to whale watch in San Simeon is in the fall when they migrate through the area.

Speaking of massive sea mammals, don’t be surprised to see elephant seals along the shores of San Simeon near the Pier! These enormous creatures can be found in clusters up and down the coast, including the famous rookery just south of the Pier, and it’s not unusual for a few to haul out of the surf onto the sands of the Cove. Be sure to give them plenty of space to maintain their peace and tranquility.

Whale Watching from the Pier

Things to See near the Pier

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is one of the most visited destinations along the Central Coast and is the jewel of San Simeon’s crown. Located directly across Highway 1 from San Simeon Pier, visiting William Randolph Hearst’s ‘La Cuesta Encantada’ is an awe-inspiring experience. Architect Julia Morgan made Hearst’s extravagant vision come to life with everything from 17th century tapestries to the stunning azure Roman pool. Hearst Castle’s Visitor Center, located at the base of the hill, has exhibits, food, a gift shop, and a museum for visitors to explore before trekking up for one of twelve tours, including those that are ADA accessible. The Hearst Castle Theater in the Visitor’s Center regularly shows “Building the Dream,” a film produced exclusively for the theater and shown on its 5-story screen.

Zebras of San Simeon

If all of that is not a decadent enough, be ready to spy San Simeon zebras on your way to or from Hearst Castle. That’s right – zebras! Hearst imported zebras for his private zoo, which eventually lead to several escaping and reproducing in the wild. Today, it’s common to see clusters of zebras grazing happily alongside Hearst cattle on the sweeping hillsides of San Simeon.

Zebras Hearst Castle

Hearst Ranch Winery

The Hearst Ranch Winery is a favorite among Central Coast visitors, serving up both wines and views that are stunning. Open daily from 11am to 4pm, the Hearst Ranch Winery is located across from Sebastian’s General Store along the cliffside of San Simeon beach. This former Hearst warehouse has been transformed to a beautiful winery that is both welcoming and relaxing, with dog- friendly outdoor tables, a farm-to-table food truck, and sweeping views of San Simeon Bay. It’s the perfect way to relax after taking in the sites along San Simeon Pier.

San Simeon Hearst Ranch Winery Wine Tasting

Sebastian’s General Store

Located just across the street from Hearst Ranch Winery is a piece of San Simeon history: Sebastian’s General Store. Dating from the 1870s, the General Store has served as a shop, a livery stable, and a post office serving local whalers, fishermen, ranchers, miners, kelp farmers, lumbermen, vaqueros, and lighthouse keepers through the years. Although it retains the name of Pete Sebastian, the last of the Sebastian family to own it, it’s now owned by the Hearst Corporation. Sebastian’s recently reopened after extensive renovations to bring it back to its historic glory and it now serves snacks, groceries, and more to tourists, campers, and locals.

San Simeon Sebastian's General Store

Pacific Schoolhouse

The one room schoolhouse nestled between Sebastian’s and Highway 1 might be small but it’s impossible to miss. Local children attended the Pacific Schoolhouse from 1881 through to 1950 before being bussed to larger district schools elsewhere. In fact, William Randolph Hearst and Pete Sebastian both attended the Pacific Schoolhouse, firming up its place in San Simeon lore. Today, it serves as a memory of past times and visitors often marvel at the calm it exudes as horses graze peacefully around it.

Pacific Schoolhouse San Simeon

Hike San Simeon

Just walking distance from San Simeon Pier, the San Simeon Point trail provides ways to more fully explore the area on foot. Leading up the cliffs from the sandy beach and into the trees, hikers love the varied flora and fauna along San Simeon Point Trail. Follow it to dramatic craggy cliffs, or skim along the tree line towards beautiful vistas. Bring binoculars because there’s a good chance you’ll spot an elephant seal rookery or two!

Hiking in San Simeon, CA
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