One of the most popular stops along Highway 1, the opulent estate of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst overlooks the village of San Simeon. Architect Julia Morgan designed the hilltop castle in the early-to-mid 20th century. During its fabled heyday, this property played host to everyone from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to movie stars such as Cary Grant.
After a two-year closure, the Hearst Castle reopened in May 2022, just in time for Morgan’s 150th birthday anniversary. To celebrate, the castle added a new two-hour Julia Morgan tour, which includes rarely seen areas of the property that showcase her extraordinary work. First-timers should also check out the Grand Rooms tour, which highlights the extraordinary social rooms of Hearst’s 115-room main house, Casa Grande. The property is also home to numerous guest houses, two pools, and an incredible art collection, including Italian Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova’s marble Venus Italica, displayed in the castle’s Assembly Room. The surrounding landscape was also once one of the world’s largest private zoos. Today you can still see zebras, left to roam freely following the zoo’s slow dismantling in the mid-20th century, grazing along Highway 1’s hillside pastures.
Tiny Old San Simeon is home to a fishing pier that provides sunset vistas and overlooks William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, which was once used as a port for receiving Hearst’s vast collection of antiquities. Stop to sunbathe on its white sand beach, or bring your own kayak or stand-up paddleboard and take advantage of Simeon Cove’s calm waters. The beach’s north end is brimming with tide pools full of sea stars, barnacles, and turban snails.
This charming seaside village offers a mix of antique stores, art galleries, and boutique shops like STASH Local Goods, which is filled with locally made souvenirs such as milk-chocolate-covered gummy bears and Cambria key charms.
Just a mile north of downtown is Covell’s Clydesdales, a private 2,000 acre ranch that’s home to roughly 100 free-roaming Clydesdale horses. Ride on horseback through open pastures and pine forest, or opt for a property tour aboard the ranch’s open-air trailer, with the Clydesdales meandering nearby.
Central Coast Outdoors runs guided half- and full-day bicycling excursions along the Pacific Coast, and the mostly level ride offers fabulous views. For beachcombing, don’t miss Moonstone Beach, where smooth, wave-worn rocks and sea-glass come in a variety of colors. The boardwalk in town is a perfect perch for whale spotting.
Estero Bluffs State Park
Along with coastal salt marshes, low bluffs, and more than four miles of coastline, Estero Bluffs State Park is home to tidepools brimming with colorful sea anemones, urchins, and snails. Local seaweed purveyor Marley Family Seaweeds leads private foraging tours for edible marine algae within the park.
With its historic pier and a downtown filled with antique stores and boutique surf shops, Cayucos is a favorite place to kick back and take it easy. The town sports a sort-of Old Western charm, and when locals aren’t dining on pub pretzels or salmon caesar salads at one of the locally owned restaurants and bars, they’re heading to Cayucos State Beach in the center of town to picnic and surf, often with their leashed dogs in tow. To let your pup run free, head to Toro Creek Dog Beach, which starts at the south end of Cayucos (between the northern and southern sections of Morro Strand State Beach) and extends straight into Morro Bay.