Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in San Simeon, CA

  • Published 2022/08/04

San Simeon, a census-designated community in the SLO CAL region, is the ideal location for exploration, relaxation, and quality time all year round.

It sits on the Pacific Coast of San Luis Obispo County, California, about 230 miles from San Francisco and Los Angeles.

San Simeon features striking coastal cliffs, expansive panoramic views of the ocean, and tons of hidden treasures!

This place is one of Central Coast’s most stunning villages.

Visitors can enjoy a range of things to do, tours to take, and places to see.

Check out this list of the best things to do in San Simeon!

Take a Tour of the Hearst Castle

Exterior of the Hearst Castle

Abbie Warnock-Matthews /

San Simeon’s centerpiece is probably the majestic Hearst Castle, a unique historic home and museum you’ve never seen before.

From 1919 to 1947, the magnate William Randolph Hearst built the castle on an inherited ranchland overlooking San Simeon.

Architect Julia Morgan designed the castle, also known as La Cuesta Encantada or “The Enchanted Hill.”

By 1947, this dream estate had three luxurious guesthouses, 127-acre manicured grounds, pools, fountains, and a twin-tower main structure.

Gothic-style interior of Hearst Castle

Paul R. Jones /

Initially intended to be a family home, the castle accommodated notable visitors, including Hollywood stars Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable.

Even notable politicians like Winston Churchill and Calvin Coolidge dropped by the castle.

The Hearst Castle opened to the public in 1958.

You can join tours taking you through more than two decades of construction, art history, memories of guests, stunning landscapes, and many more.

Hearst Castle is a California State Park, a California Historic Landmark, and a National Historic Landmark.

It also attracts around 750,000 visitors each year.

Neptune pool of the Hearst Castle

Stefano Politi Markovina /

Hike the Boucher Trail at Piedras Blancas

San Simeon offers an extensive assortment of exquisite natural spots.

Visitors can see and appreciate them through hiking along its rolling hills, rugged cliffs, and blue waters.

Take the four-mile round trip along Boucher Trail at Piedras Blancas and find two of the most popular spots in San Simeon.

The trail begins from the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery on Highway 1.

Hikers can glimpse the elephant seals far from the crowds in this secluded trail that follows along the coastal cliffs.

Continue further for views of the bluffs and turquoise blue waters until you reach the historic Piedras Blancas Light Station.

Although the path is family-friendly, you can’t bring dogs on the trail.

With a wide variety of hikes and diverse landscapes, people of every age and hiking experience can enjoy the Boucher Trail at Piedras Blancas.

See Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Ocean waves crashing to the seals at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

randy andy /

Visit San Simeon’s shores to get a close-up look at one of the beautiful marine mammals you’ll rarely see any day, elephant seals!

The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is the world’s only elephant seal rookery with easy and free access, open every day of the year.

The low bluff provides the ideal vantage point to observe the elephant seals while taking a break from driving.

Daytime view of Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Tupungato /

The peak season is from October through May, with breeding and birthing occurring in January through February.

During this period, more than 15,000 of these fantastic creatures crowd the shoreline.

To enhance your viewing experience, find a docent from the Friends of the Elephant Seal, a non-profit group devoted to educating individuals about elephant seals.

Besides elephant seals, they can also teach you about other marine animals along California’s Central Coast.

You can find them at the viewing areas to answer your questions.

Just search for the blue jackets!

Spend the afternoon at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery!

A cute elephant seal at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Michael Kaercher /

Enjoy Wine with a View at Hearst Ranch Winery

The Hearst Ranch Winery has produced award-winning wines from award-winning grapes from the Saunders Vineyard.

This place is a 350-acre vineyard located a few miles from the foggy hills of San Simeon.

The San Simeon tasting room of the Hearst Ranch Winery is a must-see location, on the edge of a beautiful bay, across the famous Hearst Castle.

Jim Saunders and Steve Hearst combined their visions for historic preservation and sustainable agriculture.

They also used their creativity, ethics, and experience to bring the Hearst Ranch Winery to life.

It’s the perfect setting to visit while traveling down the Pacific Coast Highway.

You can find the winery inside a cliffside structure with high ceilings, lots of seating, and an adjoining food truck.

Vineyard tours are available upon request if you want to learn more about their wines and the winemaking process.

Explore the Hearst Ranch Winery!

Ride a Bike along the Ragged Point Route

Go to San Simeon, and you’ll discover a biker’s paradise!

Designed for cyclists, the Ragged Point Route passes along the historic Highway 1, one of the West Coast’s most famous coastal routes.

Ride your bike from San Simeon to Ragged Point and back to see all of San Simeon’s top sights.

This 37-mile journey will take you past famous landmarks, challenging slopes, and incredible views.

Check out the historical sites in San Simeon and Ragged Point, such as the Hearst Castle and the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.

It’s no surprise that San Simeon hosts several major international cycling races.

Its strategic location halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, gives you miles of picturesque roads and the ocean on one side and mountains on the other.

Bike all day along the Ragged Point Route!

Visit the Piedras Blancas Light Station

Exterior of the Piedras Blancas Light Station

Bill Florence /

The Piedras Blancas Light Station overlooks the Pacific Ocean’s edge between Ragged Point and San Simeon.

The Light Station is a California Coastal National Monument, an Outstanding Natural Area, and a Marine Reserve.

You can find it in the southernmost region of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Built in 1875, this historical monument warned seafarers of the rocky and treacherous shoreline.

View of Piedras Blancas Light Station's entryway

HTurner /

The distinct white boulders sailors used to help them find the shores gave rise to the name “Piedras Blancas,” which means “white rocks” in Spanish.

The Piedras Blancas Light Station still operates today.

Likewise, it offers year-round tours of both the grounds and the lighthouse.

Spiral stairs in Piedras Blancas Light Station

HTurner /

Learn about Marine Life at the Coastal Discovery Center

The Coastal Discovery Center is the ideal starting point to learn about marine life in San Simeon.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and California State Parks established this research and education center.

The Coastal Discovery Center, open to the public for free, allows visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the sanctuary.

Discover ways to protect it for future generations.

Among the various things at the center are murals, automated games, and interactive exhibits.

These exhibits feature the History of San Simeon Bay, the Wildlife of San Simeon, the Delta Submarine Ocean Exploration, Plankton Ocean Exploration, and Delta Submarine Ocean Exploration.

The Coastal Discovery Center is at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, so pay a visit whenever you go to the beach!

Find Zebras along Highway 1

Scenic view along Highway 1

Chintla /

Although it may seem unlikely, a herd of zebras lives in the coastal community of San Simeon!

Hearst Castle once housed the biggest private zoo in the world.

The erstwhile Hearst Garden of Comparative Zoology contained antelopes, chimpanzees, giraffes, grizzly bears, camels, kangaroos, leopards, tigers, and more.

However, Hearst’s financial troubles led to the demolition of the zoo in 1937.

Hearst had to donate the animals or sell them to zoos and wildlife preserves.

However, the zebras remained in San Simeon, for some reason.

As you drive along Highway 1, keep an eye out for black and white stripes on the grasslands below Hearst Castle.

The best place to see them is to pull over on the highway’s northbound side and stand close to the Hearst Ranch’s fence.

Keep your distance from the road.

There’s no particular season when you’re more likely to see zebras.

However, people have observed that the herd tends to gather on the southernmost part of the ranch during the spring.

Watch Kitesurfers and Windsurfers at Arroyo Laguna Beach

Arroyo Laguna Beach is a popular place for kiteboarding and windsurfing.

This beach is two miles from San Simeon Cove and five miles from lodging establishments.

Enjoy easy access to the ocean, and watch people play in the waters.

The beach is at the estuary of Oak Knoll Creek.

It’s also one of the beaches under the management of Hearst San Simeon State Park.

Arroyo Laguna’s winds can reach up to 40mph, making it a playground for outdoor enthusiasts!

You’ll see dozens of bright kites soaring across the ocean’s surface on a windy day.

The beach may close down some sections from December to April during the elephant seal breeding season.

Book a Stay at the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort

Splurge on an authentic Central Coast experience at the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort, on a beachside cliff with views of the Pacific Ocean.

The hotel is an excellent home base for touring San Simeon three miles from Hearst Castle.

It’s near local beaches and other tourist attractions, including nearby areas such as the charming seaside community of Cambria and the wineries of Paso Robles.

Their warm and welcoming accommodations also provide an ideal rest stop for weary travelers passing through San Simeon.

Their onsite restaurant, the Cavalier Coastal Kitchen, serves prime Hearst Ranch Beef, freshly caught seafood, and balanced servings of classic favorites.

Choose among 90 beachfront rooms and enjoy the rest of the amenities, including outdoor heated pools, oceanfront fire pits, a fitness center, complete spa services, and more.

Indulge yourself at the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort!

Spend a Day at William R. Hearst Memorial Beach

Aerial view of William R. Hearst Memorial Beach

randy andy /

The beaches of San Simeon are some of the most gorgeous in California.

The William R. Hearst Memorial Beach is a local favorite that offers breathtaking views, gentle sand, and miles of leisurely strolling.

View form William R. Hearst Memorial Beach's pier

randy andy /

Day use access features 24 picnic areas, 150 car parks, barbecue grill stands, water faucets, and restrooms for your convenience.

Spend a full day at the beach with many recreational activities, including boating, fishing, picnicking, kayaking, swimming, and sunbathing.

The San Simeon pier, erected in 1958, permits fishing without a license but with limits.

Bask in the sun at the William R. Hearst Memorial Beach!

People at William R. Hearst Memorial Beach

randy andy /

Go Whale Watching on the Whale Trail

The Central Coast has abundant opportunities for whale watching.

You can also spot dolphins, seagulls, seals, sea otters, and other creatures playing near the shore.

The Whale Trail group has chosen the top 100 whale watching locations along the West Coast to maximize wildlife viewing.

San Luis Obispo County is tenth on the list!

San Simeon alone is home to two Whale Trail sites: the San Simeon Bay Pier and the Cavalier Resort.

The Whale Trail signages stand at the San Simeon Bay Pier of the William Randolph Hearst State Beach and on the boardwalk beside the Cavalier Resort on Hearst Drive.

Minke whales frequent these locations, along with gray whales, harbor seals, California sea lions, and sea otters.

On several occasions, humpback whales, spied harbor porpoises, orcas, and Pacific white-sided dolphins also pass through.

If you’re lucky, you might see a gray whale migrating south in October and back north between February and May.

You can spot the other species all year long, especially during summer when they’re most active.

See marine wildlife at the Whale Trail!

Grab Dinner at El Chorlito Mexican Restaurant

Refuel at El Chorlito Mexican Restaurant, one of San Simeon’s enduring local favorites, after a day of touring and exploration.

El Chorlito has more than 40 years of experience with expertise in creating top-notch Mexican cuisine.

Don’t miss out on their homemade and fresh vegetarian salsa, lamb shanks in a light tomato sauce, and their famous “Margaritas De Vino.”

Take in the surroundings whether you prefer indoor dining or outdoor patio seating.

The El Chorlito Mexican Restaurant features a charming and rustic atmosphere.

Cacti and a beach view also enhance this ambiance.

View the Ocean from San Simeon Point

Scenic view from San Simeon Point

randy andy /

You can see San Simeon Point from Highway 1.

It’s the extended end of a crescent-shaped coastline known as San Simeon Cove.

You can reach the point through the San Simeon Point Trail, an excellent trail through woodlands on the hillsides above the beach.

Start the 2.5-mile round trip hike from the William R. Hearst Memorial Beach, then head right.

Climb towards the canopy of trees with lacy moss dangling from cedars, eucalyptus, and pines that line the path.

Take a backward glance at the beautiful San Simeon Cove at the end of the half-mile stretch.

You’ll see stunning views of rocky formations sculpted by the ocean.

When you reach San Simeon Point, take a moment to unwind, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the spectacular view of the coastline.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Set up Camp at San Simeon Creek Campground

San Simeon is home to two camping grounds, the San Simeon Creek Campground and the Washburn Primitive Campground.

The San Simeon Creek Campground spans 541 acres offering various terrains from serene beaches to towering pine forests.

Likewise, it has 115 camping areas for tents or RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Each campsite at San Simeon Creek Campground has a picnic table and a fire ring.

No hookups are available, but there are water spigots across the campground.

Some recreational activities you can do are picnicking, fishing, hiking, surfing, bird and whale watching, and walking along the San Simeon Trail.

On the other hand, you can access the Washburn Primitive Campground from the San Simeon Creek Campground entryway.

It is about a mile away from the beach, on a hill facing the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

You can find this place in Cambria, California, seven minutes from San Simeon.

Final Thoughts

It’s safe to say that San Simeon is one of the most stunning places you’ll ever see.

Visit San Simeon if you enjoy exploring the outdoors and wildlife in a coastal environment.

As the Gateway to Big Sur, San Simeon gives you a sneak peek of what to expect further down the road, with its unmatched beauty, serene setting, and varied landscapes.

Prepare to get swept away by the best things to do in San Simeon!

© All rights reserved.