Southern California

San Simeon Hotels and Things to Do While in Town from Hearst Castle to the Bay

Local writer and outdoor enthusiast, Mary Charlebois, shares her favorite San Simeon hotels and tips on things to do while you're in town.

The sun rises over Pine Mountain. A dense layer of fog veils the end of San Simeon Pier. It’s mesmerizing as the fog retreats, and the beach comes to life. Gulls glide over thermals, then perch on wood pilings. Their penetrating calls will wake nearby campers.

Along California’s Central Coast, in San Simeon, a historic lighthouse keeps her vigil. The Pacific rises and falls with the tide. Immense waves crash against the headlands. Elephant seals bark and jostle for a spot on the beach. Some leave the seashore, swimming out to forage. Whales are feeding just offshore. Otters laze and feed in kelp beds. A squadron of pelicans flies formation just inches above the water.

On the hills and valleys to the east, zebras and cattle herd together. An occasional Elk joins the crowd. Sambar and Coastal Deer with Barbary Sheep graze on new vegetation. Crows are masters of thermal currents.

On California’s Central Coast, the micro-town of San Simeon is the former home of publishing giant William Randolph Hearst; a marine sanctuary; Coastal Discovery Center, and the wild Pacific.

San Simeon: Where Nature Thrives

Photo courtesy of Mary Charlebois

Nature is the star in San Simeon, putting on a constant show of waves and wildlife. It’s never the same performance. Conditions can change from hour to hour. High tides conceal beaches that were just visible. Sub-tides reveal areas usually covered by water. Nature thrives in the ocean, tide pools, beaches, headlands, and air.

This is just a taste of what to expect during a visit to San Simeon. Below, we dive into more things to do in San Simeon and where to stay when you come into town. Don’t forget–bring a camera.

Hotels in San Simeon

30 Hotels
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Soaking, Sun, and Waves

1/4

Hot tubs are part of coastal life. An evening soak as the sun goes down is a must. When stormy weather keeps you indoors, watch it blow by from a tub of hot water with a bottle of local vino. Cavalier Oceanfront Resort offers spacious ocean view rooms with fireplaces, hot tubs, and balconies. Each evening on the Pacific overlook, a bonfire is set just before sunset. Bring your favorite libation and sip the sundown. A whale watching platform with ‘spyglasses’ is ideally situated for viewing the breathtaking giants when they happen to be passing. Overlooking the Pacific, play a game of chess with pieces the size of a four-year-old. Cavalier has a restaurant serving BL&D. Local seafood and beef are menu favorites.

Cavalier Oceanfront Resort

San Simeon, 3.5 miles to Hearst Castle
8.6 Excellent (2712 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.2 / 10
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A Toasty Night In

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Pelican Inn and Suites is across the road from Moonstone Beach, a popular beachcomber’s walk. Hot tubs, decks, balconies, and an outdoor pool make sunsets an occasion. In-room fireplaces make a “let’s stay in” night toasty. A full breakfast is served that includes Mimosas. Rooms and suites with ocean views make leaving the room challenging. Pelican Inn is restoring the riparian area that meanders through the property. The gardens are made up of native plants and hand-crafted benches for unwinding.

Pelican Inn & Suites

Top rated
8.9 Excellent (2301 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.4 / 10
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Stroll The Bay

Fishhook-shaped San Simeon Bay is captivating at any time of day. It’s located in William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, on Hwy 1, in the hamlet of San Simeon. Take a walk along the beach for beachcombing or explore tidepools during low tides.

Discover The Coast

At the Coastal Discovery Center, docents lead you through tidepools and beachcombing. Well-curated exhibits illuminate the whaling station that once prospered here. The center shows the connection between land and sea while highlighting the culture and natural history of the region. You can check out binoculars and a wildlife guide for strolling the beach or walking the pier. Numerous programs are offered for children at this family-friendly facility.

The Coastal Discovery Center is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and California State Parks. The Discovery Center is free and opens all year.

Fish The Pier

Now you see it, now you don’t. 850 foot San Simeon Pier is covered in fog at times. Walk to the end and absorb the salt air, wildlife, and waves. Bring a pole, some bait, and throw in a line, you might catch dinner. This is a public fishing pier; no fishing license is required.

Commune with Seals

At Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, the residents are big, loud, and sometimes comical. Elephant Seals, Mirounga angustirostris, claim more than six miles of San Simeon beach as their rookery. Peak populations are from December to March, but some seals remain year-round. Parking is available, and the viewing area is open all year.

Go to the Light

Piedras Blancas Light Station was established in 1875. Long before then, offshore white rocks (piedras blancas) were used by mariners for safe navigation. Today, the light station is part of Piedras Blancas Light Station Outstanding Natural Area and California Coastal National Monument. The tower and some support buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Take the tour and bring a picnic to enjoy while observing the elephant seals.

Cruise The Castle

Hearst Castle, once the home of publishing giant, William Randolph Hearst, is an American castle and a California State Park. Tour the mansion and gardens for a glimpse of how Hearst and his celebrity guests decompressed from life in L.A. during the first half of the 20th-century. Extravagant is a mild way of describing the exquisite estate. It’s filled with art and antiques from around the world. The mansion offered all the modern features of the period including indoor and outdoor pools and a full-sized theater for screening a guest’s latest box office hit.

Hikes Hill, Valleys, and the Coast

Hiking gives access to the diverse terrain of the region. San Simeon hiking trails cover coastal bluffs, beaches, rolling hills and valleys; Monterey Pine woodlands; Pacific seascapes, and panoramic vistas. You’ll find a wide variety, from flat paved trails to those with steep elevations and challenging paths. Find your style trail on SLO Hike.com.

Sip & Taste

Sebastian’s General Store was built in 1852 to serve the whaling trade and has been in operation since. Housed here you’ll find Hearst Winery tasting room, Sebastian’s Café, and the micro-sized post office, where you can send a free postcard to yourself. Chef Ian McPhee uses Hearst Ranch grass-fed beef for the best burgers on the Central Coast. The food here is a taste of San Simeon; superior quality served casually. In the store, you’ll find Hearst Ranch beef, Hearst Ranch Wines, and Hearst Ranch Olive Oil. A wine tasting and burger on the deck is a great place to chat with other travelers and locals.

Sea Chest Oyster Bar, on Moonstone Beach, is worth the wait. The line starts before the doors open at 5:30 PM. It’s more like a party than a queue of hungry diners waiting for a seafood feast. The quality of the food is exceptional (go for the Oyster Stew), and the preparation is flawless.

When You Go

San Simeon is on the Central California coast. It’s a Mediterranean climate, mild and sunny but might be foggy on summer mornings. Plan for wind. Sea breezes can quickly turn to gusts. Many a hat has been sacrificed to the north wind.

Winter brings rain and those dramatic waves we want to capture with our cameras. Evenings are chilly, ideal for a fireplace and hot tub. Wear layers, the weather can change suddenly throughout the day.
Crowds are bigger in summer, but never huge. In winter you can embrace your inner-recluse. You may find you are the only people on the lighthouse tour, or at the Elephant seal rookery.

Feature image courtesy of the author, Mary Charlebois