Hearst Castle has reopened. Make it the starting point for a unique road trip on Highway 1
California’s iconic Hearst Castle has reopened for the first time in two years – and it’s the perfect place to start a road trip along the San Luis Obispo County stretch of Highway 1.
Located in San Simeon, about four hours from Los Angeles and 45 minutes from San Luis Obispo proper, the opulent century-old Hearst Castle is a popular tourist attraction, but after visiting it my goal was to find some hidden gems in nearby towns like Cambria and Avila Beach. From seaweed picking to visiting a shipwreck, these activities make for a unique road trip on Highway 1.
How to get there
San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport is the closest airport to the castle; Alaska Airlines offers nonstop flights between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and SBP.
If you can’t find a flight to SBP, I’d recommend Burbank over the bigger and hectic LAX. I did the road trip with a friend with a car in LA, but Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise have rentals at the airport. Also consider a service like Turo or Zipcar. It takes about four hours to drive from Burbank to Cambria.
Cambria, Hearst Castle and Kelp
Cambria is a charming seaside village with less than 6,000 inhabitants. The beaches and scenery alone are worth it, and there are also many great restaurants, wineries, and unique outdoor activities.
For lodging, Cambria Beach Lodge is a great mid-range option. Located directly across from Moonstone Beach, the hotel has an old-school beach vibe, with ocean-inspired decor all around — even the floors are sun-bleached. One of the hotel’s best features is its rooftop terrace, which offers stunning views of the ocean sunsets.
Hearst Castle is 10 minutes away by car. The castle and surrounding guesthouses, which span over 90,000 square feet, can only be explored on tours ($30 to $100, hearstcastle.org). There are a number of options, each focusing on a different section of the huge estate. Options include tours of the upstairs suites, cottages, and kitchen, as well as the new Julia Morgan tour. The first certified female architect in California, Morgan played a key role in the design of the castle. The tour focuses on his extraordinary career and personal life.
The upstairs suite tour allows guests to see the rooms used by William Randolph Hearst and its parade of famous visitors, including Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin. It also features the extraordinary Hearst Libraries and the huge indoor Roman pool is a work of art.
After visiting Hearst Castle, Hearst Ranch Winery, which overlooks beautiful San Simeon Bay, has an outdoor patio that’s the perfect place to enjoy wine and charcuterie. The wines are all sustainably grown in the winery’s vineyards in Paso Robles.
Animal lovers will probably want to stop at Piedras Blancas Rookery, which claims to be the world’s only free elephant seal rookery open to the public 365 days a year.
One of the unique experiences of the trip was an algae foraging adventure with Kelpful. This small, woman-owned cooperative sustainably harvests seaweed and uses it to make everything from bath salts to condiments.
Foraging is a fun and hands-on way to learn about this unique process. Kelpful guides take guests to a spot on the coast considered a local secret and explain how to identify and sustainably harvest a variety of local wild seaweed. A mesh bag and scissors are provided so you can take your harvested seaweed home. At the end of the excursion, the guides provide a packet of information on each species of seaweed, how to dry and process them at home, and a list of recipes so you can try making something on your own. same.
Another hidden gem is Tula Yoga, a small company that offers private yoga sessions in nature. The “nature bath” excursion led by Terri Harrington was unlike any yoga class I had ever taken, consisting of an easy hike with frequent stops to meditate, perform basic yoga moves and slow down to appreciate the nature. As you walk through the forest, you will collect flowers, stones, leaves, and anything that grows in abundance. At the end of the hike, the group comes together to create a design using what each member has gathered.
Dining in Cambria is excellent, especially the seafood. Moonstone Bar & Grill was perfect for our first night in Cambria, and Robin’s was a worthy splurge for our last meal before heading to Avila Beach. The mocequa, a Brazilian seafood stew, is highly recommended even if it looks like you can’t go wrong.
Cayucos, a wreck and a smoothie
Depending on traffic, it takes 45 minutes to an hour to reach Avila Beach. Along the way is Cayucos; it is worth stopping for a few hours in this small coastal town.
Hidden Kitchen is hands down one of the best brunches in California. It’s nearly impossible to choose just one dish, and I noticed that many customers ordered a variety of sweet and savory dishes to share, so we sampled everything. Hidden Kitchen is also known for their amazing superfood smoothies, so be sure to check out the options.
Although difficult to find, the Cayucos wreck is a fun stop for adventurers.
In July 2017, a commercial fishing vessel left the port of Morro Bay southeast of Cayucos and ran aground in Estero Bluffs State Park. Today, the ship is near the shore.
The easiest way to find the wreckage is to plug the following coordinates into your GPS: 35°26’58.1″N, 120°55’05.5″W. This will take you to a small dirt parking lot. From there, a dirt road leads to a viewpoint on the cliff. It’s a great sight, but there’s also the option to walk down to shore for a closer look at the ship.
Please note: there is no path to the shore; getting to the beach involves scrambling over rocks and finding a creative route, so be careful and watch your every step.
Avila Beach, animals, hot springs and wine
Avila Beach is a beautiful unincorporated community on San Luis Obispo Bay. Because Avila Beach is so small (population is less than 2,000), many of the following destinations are technically located in San Luis Obispo.
Set on 125 acres of meadows and forests, Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa is a calm and peaceful respite from city life. In addition to its full-service spa, the resort features the Oasis Waterfall Lagoon, a private space with cool, naturally heated mineral spring water. The lagoon is available for hire by the hour and can accommodate up to 20 people.
Avila Valley Barn is a family farm and a local favorite – and it’s easy to see why. Explore the bakery and shop, feed the farm animals, or take a wagon or pony ride. It’s easy to spend several hours on the farm, but if you’re pressed for time, be sure to have lunch at the on-site Chicken Shack & Smoke House. You can’t go wrong with a fried chicken sandwich or a salad.
You can admire the beautiful landscapes of the region from land and water. The Bob Jones trail is paved and a great bike ride. Sycamore Springs offers bike rentals, and of course there’s also the option to walk the trail. If you love all things aquatic, Avila Beach Paddlesports offers single kayaks, tandem kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for rent. Ask the friendly staff how to make the most of your time at sea. They’ll tell you the best places to spot otters and seals, and how to navigate to the historic Point San Luis Lighthouse.
There are also a number of excellent wineries in the region. Both Biddle Ranch Vineyard and Saucelito Canyon Tasting Room offer great wine tasting in a beautiful setting, but a unique experience can be found at Sinor-LaVallee. The tasting room has a “Shuck Shack”, visitors can learn how to shuck fresh local oysters.
Always hungry? Do yourself a favor and dine at Blue Moon Over Avila, a beachfront bistro specializing in European (particularly French) cuisine.
Arroyo Grande, Nipomo and a return flight
Between Cambria and the airport, there are two stops with sites to visit to complete your road trip.
The first is Arroyo Grande, home to a historic swing bridge. The monument was originally built in 1875; it spans 171 feet and hangs 40 feet above the Arroyo Grande stream. The bridge itself is a quick stop, but Arroyo Grande has a number of fun shops and cafes on its main street, so it’s the perfect place to stretch your legs and grab some caffeine before hitting the road. road.
A 10-minute drive from Arroyo Grande is Nipomo, where you can visit the Luffa farm. There aren’t too many opportunities to explore a farm that grows sponges, and you’ll see exactly how luffas are grown in greenhouses and harvested from gourds on ancient vines.
It’s the perfect conclusion to a Highway 1 road trip full of hidden gems.