The tail end of my road trip covers 3 places that were recommended to me: Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo and the Santa Monica Pier. As I made my way to these 3 final stops, I was lucky enough to also cross paths with elephant seals, wine at Hearst's ranch and some great sights (Hot harbor surfer cops as well as the scenic views pictured below):
As I ventured toward San Luis Obispo, a beautiful 3 hour drive south of Big Sur, I planned a stop at Hearst Castle in San Simeon along the way. 2 simple signs on Highway One persuaded me to add a couple more destinations to my trip. The first sign that grabbed my attention was just north of Hearst Castle and mentioned elephant seals. To be honest, I had never heard of such a thing. Did these seals have trunks and tusks? Or were they simply elephants with flippers? I needed to find out.
As I searched high and low for this attraction, I heard some loud noises and noticed a packed parking area. I pulled over and walked down a short path to a beach filled with these giant creatures. As it turns out, they look more like seals...and I'm just not sure where or why the elephant part comes in. If I were asked to name them, I'd call them "Drunk Seals" as sleeping and wrestling is all they seemed capable of doing. These fighter drunks entertained me for a good half hour as they wrestled and rolled on one another in and out of the water.
As I attempted to get myself back on track and over to Hearst Castle, a second sign jumped out at me. This sign informed me that Hearst also had a ranch. I realized I was absolutely starving and quickly pulled into a parking lot on the west side of highway 1 (The other side of Hearst Castle). I enjoyed a delicious and affordable lunch (grass-fed beef), and a glass of "Lone Tree" Cab Franc, right on the ranch.
When I arrived to Hearst Castle, I stood in line to purchase tickets. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $12 for children aged 5-12. There was a list of tours to choose from (The Grand Rooms, The Upstairs Suites, kitchen and Cottages and an Evening Tour). I chose the Grand Rooms Tour as it is advertised as the best choice for 1st time visitors. The tour begins with a viewing of "Hearst Castle- Building a Dream" on a 5 story screen, which provides a biography on William Randolph Hearst and the history of the castle.
It may be a good idea to order tickets ahead of time off of their website. Because I neglected do this, had to wait 2 hours before I could take the tour. The castle itself is located 5 miles up a hill, so to get there, you have to take a shuttle. It is your ticket time that gets you on the appropriate bus.
When I finally got onto a shuttle, I was thrilled to learn that information about "the enchanted hill" and the castle would be narrated throughout the drive by Canada's own, Alex Trebek! As you ride up to the castle, Alex points out some beautiful coast line sights and old animal enclosures that used to be a part of Hearst's zoo on the hill.
Alex: These animals can still be seen roaming the property from the time of the zoo.
Me: What are zebras?
I didn't see any.
When we arrived at the top, we were greeted by a guide who could probably beat Alex in a round of Final Jeopardy. She showed us around the grounds that once hosted Charlie Chaplin and Franklin Roosevelt. To sum it up, I learned that Hearst was quite particular and cared a great deal about formal dinners, art, design, landscape and Heinz ketchup.
The tour of the castle made me think that money really just might buy happiness. Because of my shuttle difficulties, the castle was my third and final stop before reaching San Luis Obispo. If you have time, Morro Bay and Pismo Beach are 2 other places I would have loved to check out.
When I got to San Luis Obispo, I stayed at the San Luis Creek Lodge. This hotel was so charming and located very close to downtown restuarants and shopping. The hotel staff were very knowledgeable about the city and nearby wineries, hiking trails and markets. They were also incredibly helpful with directions. A stay here includes a delicious breakfast and they even had free movie rentals and popcorn ready for their guests.
I spent the afternoon walking along the creekside and stopping into shops in the downtown core. My favourite stop was The Just Looking Gallery as the work of a Canadian artist, Steve Thomas, caught my attention. His work concentrates on the Central Coast of California and I'd buy it all if I could.
I ordered a delicious pizza for dinner at Novo Resturant and was able to sit on a light-strung patio overlooking the creek. I also checked out Creekside Brewing (delicious) and Powell's Sweet Shop -- Each employee seriously knew their stuff about candy (delicious). I also went to Luis Wine Bar (delicious), and Bubblegum Alley, which is "estimated that nearly two million pieces of gum adorn the 70-foot-long alleyway off Higuera Street " (gross... but great, but gross).
I spent my free breakfast the next morning thinking about how I should have left myself more time in the trip for San Luis Obispo. Sad to be on my last day's drive back to L.A., I stopped at a beach in Malibu and the Santa Monica Pier (Sights of the hot surfer cops did cheer me up).
This was one of the best trips of my life and it definitely wasn't long enough. If you've ever done this road trip, please feel free to add some ideas, stops, tips or tricks in the comment section for others to see.
My name is Sara and I love finding new things to do in a new city. This website is an attempt to share the things that excite me in a new place through stories, photos, lists, travel tips and tricks.