San Simeon, California, and its primary attraction, Hearst Castle, are synonymous. As I mentioned two weeks ago when writing about the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort, San Simeon only has a few residents, several stores and almost a dozen motels. The town's main purpose is to accommodate the visitors who visit William Randolph Hearst’s massive estate.

But there is more to the San Simeon area than its most famous point of interest. That’s not to say that Hearst Castle isn’t worth visiting – far from it. It’s truly an architectural and design marvel in every sense, and its views are worth the trip alone.  Yet, I discovered several other places that make a Central Coast trip memorable.

I would also include the towns of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo in this itinerary, and I would recommend heading to Paso Robles for its food and wine. But on this trip, I didn’t go to these towns.  For the places I visited, here are three places you’ll likely enjoy if you come to California’s Central Coast.

Hearst Castle

You cannot visit this area and avoid seeing it perched on a high ridge of the Santa Lucia mountains.  Its history is fascinating and rich; it’s no wonder people worldwide have heard of this legendary estate.  William Randolph Hearst was a businessman and newspaper publisher whose family camped in this area. 

After he and his mother traveled around Europe for a year, he was much later inspired to create his residence in the same grand style as European palaces.  Architect Julia Morgan brought his vision to life despite countless setbacks and the tearing down of structures. Finally, Hearst Castle opened in 1919, but it took another 28 years to be completed.  Hollywood celebrities and other luminaries were frequent visitors, and Hearst often hosted parties and other functions for his famous acquaintances.

On our tour, we only saw the top-floor suites and rooms, such as the main library, study and conference room. But each of these was decorated in a stunning, elaborate style, much like a museum or royal residence. We also saw the renowned outdoor Neptune pool and the interior pool with its intricate tile work.

Piedras Blancas Rookery and Moonstone Beach

Much of the Central Coast has rugged shorelines that are not meant for a day at the beach. There are few sandy beaches, and most of the time, the water is too cold to wade in, let alone swim. But it seems that half the time, some wildlife takes up space on those beaches. That’s the case with elephant seals.

At Piedras Blancas, these massive animals return from the ocean depths to beaches like this and have their offspring. This is after they’ve visited in the previous fall to mate. What makes this place worth visiting is the bluff, where visitors can safely observe the seals and not worry about an unexpected close encounter. I have been to other wilderness observation areas like this, and those places don’t have that safeguard.

Moonstone Beach is closer to the town of Cambria, which got its name from the shiny white rocks that populate the beach. A long half-mile winding boardwalk stretches along a bluff, where you see pelicans, other seabirds, and a sandy shore filled with large pieces of driftwood.


The main town along this area of the Central Coast, Cambria, is nestled in a valley and was established as a quicksilver mining center. Before then, it was a settlement for native tribes, particularly the Chumash. The town’s residents benefited from Hearst Castle's establishment, providing much-needed construction jobs.  It also was a rescue point for a ship that was destroyed by Japanese submarines during World War II, with all of the crew surviving thanks to the locals’ pitching in to help in the rescue.

Today, Cambria is a primary tourism center for the area, with more motels, shops and businesses than San Simeon and established town limits. As we learned in its historical society center, many of the buildings from its mid- to late nineteenth-century boom time remain. A good share of the motels were across from Moonstone Beach, with dramatic ocean views. As much as I enjoyed my stay at the Cavalier in San Simeon, I would love to stay here if I return. 

For dining, I already mentioned Robin’s last week, and this would be the first place I’d recommend going for lunch, dinner or brunch. I would also go to Linn’s bakery. They served up olallieberry treats, just like in my hometown, Watsonville.