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Hearst San Simeon State Park

In 1850 Missourian Mr. George Hearst joined many other western hopefuls as they headed west to chase the elusive dream and lure of finding gold in California. George Hearst was one of the lucky ones as he made his fortune with the success of the Comstock, Homestake, Ontario, and Anaconda mines. Mr. Hearst took his mining riches, acquired a large plot of land and began to build a vast ranch complete with his estate.

Hearst San Simeon State Park

William Randolph Hearst inherited his father’s land in 1919 and purchased additional surrounding land growing the property from 40,000 acres to 250,000. Hearst set to work with architect Julia Morgan to design an elaborate retreat, La Cuesta Encantada, or Enchanted Hill. This retreat is now more commonly known as Hearst Castle and features 165 rooms and 123 acres of walkways, pools, gardens, and terraces.

This Hearst estate is now included in 20 miles of protected central coastal California known as the Hearst San Simeon State Park. This park is one of the oldest state parks in all of California. Hearst San Simeon State Park promises gorgeous bluffs to take in the views of the rocky seashore, opportunities to meet with it’s popular residents, the elephant seals, and many coastal beaches to explore. Here you can hike a rocky trail, camp at one of the established campgrounds, fish off the pier, surf the waves, and more. While you are adventuring you have the unique opportunity to take in the vast history of the mining days of the Gold Rush Era.

Want to learn more? Here is your complete guide to Hearst San Simeon State Park. 

Hiking 

There are some wonderful ways to explore the coastal beauty of the area. My favorite way to explore is always on foot. Here are some great hikes to try located in and around Hearst San Simeon State Park. They range from easy to moderate in difficulty and all promise great views of the area. 

  • San Simeon Trail: This moderate rated hike is just about 3 miles in length. The trail begins right off of the Pacific Coast Highway and brings you past the Washburn Campground in one lovely loop. Be prepared to get wet as the beach portion goes right between surf and bluffs. 
  • Junge Ranch Trail: This short and easy trail is a great one for the whole family. The length is just two miles as it brings you along the bluff with endless views of the ocean. 
  • Moonstone Beach Trail: Who doesn’t love a classic beach boardwalk trail? The length is two miles in total as you walk along cool rock formations along the beach. It is an easy stroll for the entire family.

Camping

Do you want to fully immerse yourself in Hearst San Simeon State Park? Camping is the best way to completely connect with nature. San Simeon Creek Campground is quite large with 115 campsites that are available for both tent camping and recreational vehicles. This campground is located right off of the San Simeon Trail and a wonderful place to surf, beachcomb, and whale watch. Amenities include flush toilets, showers, fire rings, picnic tables, and a dump station. The maximum length for an RV is 35 feet. 

Another camping option is the primitive Washburn Campground. The smaller campground is located on a secluded plateau about a mile inland from the shore. From your tent you will be promised gorgeous views of the Santa Lucia mountains as well as views of the Pacific Ocean. In order to reach the Washburn campground you must enter from the San Simeon Creek Campground entrance station and proceed down towards the waterfront. Each campsite has a fire pit and picnic table as well as access to shower facilities. 

At both campgrounds there is a two vehicle maximum per campsite and trailers do count as a vehicle.

Make It A Weekend Getaway 

There are many nearby attractions to discover around Hearst San Simeon State Park. Why not stay the weekend and make it a weekend getaway staycation? 

First stop, of course, is Hearst Castle. William Randolph Hearst started to build his massive family estate, perched on a bluff overlooking the village of San Simeon in 1919. He finished his homestead complex in 1947 which included a twin-towered main home building, three guesthouses for visiting family and friends, plus over 123 acres of gorgeous terraced gardens, detailed fountains, and luxurious pools. Today you can choose to either wander the gardens or purchase a guided tour option. Tour options to choose from include The Grand Room Tour, Upstairs Suites Tour, Cottages and Kitchen Tour, or the Julia Morgan Tour which dives into a deeper look into the life of architect Julia Morgan, the “woman behind the masterpiece”. 

While walking the beach you will enjoy visiting the San Simeon Pier which extends 850 feet over the ocean waters. Located in the shelter beach of San Simeon Bay is this popular boardwalk. You can fish, have a picnic, or explore the idyllic surrounding beach. The Piedras Blancas Lighthouse is a historic landmark built in the 19th century. You can opt to join a guided tour to learn about the history of this lighthouse which officially went into use on February 15, 1875. There is also an interpretive trail that gives you the best views of the resident elephant seals. 

Want to see more elephant seals? Visit the Elephant Seal Boardwalk located in Hearst San Simeon State Park. This boardwalk is designed as the best view point to view these marine mammals from a safe distance. You can even watch the elephant seals from home with the parks Seal Cam.

The Coastal Discovery Center at San Simeon Bay is an educational and interactive museum focusing on the vast marine life in this area. You will find interactive videos and touchable exhibits to engage all ages about the importance of preservation of the coastal habits. Best part? The Coastal Discovery Center is free. 

Pro Tips

  • Keep an eye open for Zebras and other zoo animals roaming the Hearst property. These are the remaining descendants of Hearst’s private zoo.
  • Want to bring your furry friend? Dogs are allowed on the W.R. Hearst Beach, on any of the boardwalks, and in campgrounds.
  • Elephant seals are a very popular attraction in the State Park. Although you may be able to see them throughout the year, the largest populations and the most activity are during the months of late January, April, and October.  
  • You can often see gray whales from December through April as they migrate between Baja California and Alaska.
  • Swimming is a very popular activity at Hearst San Simeon State Park. To keep everyone safe wear a life jacket and only in lifeguard-protected beaches. 
  • Engage the kids with the Junior Ranger program. Visit the Campfire Center at the San Simeon Creek Campground for scheduled educational kids programs. As kids complete activities they can earn their very own Junior Ranger badge.
  • Whale watching, biking, and surfing are also popular activities in the area.
  • Keep yourself sun protected and lather on that sunscreen! Another way to stay protected is to seek shade during peak hours of 10 a.m.–4 p.m. 

Visitor Centers

Hearst Castle Visitor Center
700 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, CA 93452

Coastal Discovery Center
CA-1 & Slo San Simeon Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452

Friends of the Elephant Seal Visitor Center & Gift Shop
Plaza Del Cavalier, 250 San Simeon Ave., Suite 3B, San Simeon, CA 93452

Where To Stay

Ragged Point Inn: 19019 Highway One, San Simeon, CA 93452 – Overlooking the Big Sur Coast, guests can enjoy a relaxing stay with gourmet dining, and pass waterfalls along the trail that drops down to a private beach.

Cavalier Oceanfront Resort: 9415 Hearst Dr, San Simeon, CA 93452 – A casual oceanfront hotel just a few miles from Hearst Castle, with easy access to explore all Hearst San Simeon State Park has to offer. Just down the street is the Friends of the Elephant Seal Visitor Center and Gift Shop.

Coast Riders Inn: 9450 Castillo Drive, San Simeon, CA 93452 – Just a three minute walk to the beach, this roadside hotel is newly updated with cute, modern rooms.

Fogcatcher Inn: 6400 Moonstone Beach Drive, Cambria, CA 93428 – A charming oceanfront hotel just steps from Moonstone Beach and a short drive to Hearst Castle. Guests will love the boutique rooms with fireplaces, and it’s pet friendly.

There you have it. The history, the exploring, and the elephant seals of Hearst San Simeon State Park. As always be sure to keep Leave No Trace principles and have fun. 

Happy adventures! 


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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus