Stay a night in each town, if you can, experience local seafood and inns, book a tour or evening spa and enjoy a slice of California’s varied, expansive coast.
Famous for the huge volcanic Morro Rock that looms over the harbor, Morro Bay is a bustling seaside village that has plenty of activities for kids of all ages. Most of the Morro Bay peninsula is Morro Bay State Park, an important wildlife refuge for the area. Extensive, pristine wetlands attract a variety of birds. The bayside Heron Rookery Natural Preserve in the park is a nesting area for herons, egrets and cormorants, giving birdwatchers a noisy and exuberant show. Sea lions and otters frolic in the harbor among the fishing boats. The Museum of Natural History has interactive learning exhibits on the environmental habitats of the area as well as local Native American culture. The lively and colorful Embarcadero rims the harbor, framing great views of Morro Rock between restaurants, galleries and boutiques along the promenade.
Step back in time in Cayucos, the quintessential California beach town. Off the tourist-beaten path and tucked against gentle Estero Bay between Morro Bay and Cambria, visitors fall in love with the laid-back, casual charm of Cayucos. Western-style saloons, restaurants and antique stores line stoplight-less Ocean Avenue, along with a number of charming beachfront inns and hotels. The broad beach with easy swells draws budding surfers and playful families during the day and may be dotted with bonfires after dark. Great views of the area coastline can be seen from the pier, a popular spot for socializing and fishing day or night.
Although located just a stone’s throw from the ocean, the town of Cambria is nestled in towering Monterey pines and feels like a bohemian mountain village. An eclectic mix of boutiques, galleries and bistros line the main street through this charming town, giving visitors ample places to wander and browse an afternoon away.
In the mid-1800s, Cambria was a boom town, mining and exporting quicksilver as well as having thriving lumber, whaling and agriculture industries. The construction of nearby Hearst Castle from 1919 to 1947 brought an influx of workers and new residents to the area. Cambria survived the Great Depression of the 1930s by supplying materials and labor for Hearst Castle.
Nature lovers will find a marine paradise at Moonstone Beach, so named for the shiny moonstone pebbles found in the sand. A new boardwalk lets visitors observe tide pools, home to urchins, mussels, limpets, barnacles and periwinkle snails. Keep an eye offshore to spot gray whales, humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions and otters.
San Simeon is famous for being the home of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Designed by Julia Morgan, the palatial estate was under near-constant construction from 1919 until 1947. Hearst filled his castle with priceless European architectural elements, art and antiques to make his creation “a museum of the best things that I can secure.” With 56 bedrooms and 61 bathrooms, Hearst Castle became a major social destination for the celebrities of the day. Hollywood stars, political figures and sports legends journeyed to San Simeon to enjoy the views, play tennis and golf, or swim in the Neptune Pool, then called the “most sumptuous swimming pool on earth.” In addition to a private zoo, many exotic animals like zebras, camels, llamas and giraffes once roamed free on the 90,000 oceanfront acres, and a few of their wild descendants still roam the property today.
The California State Park Service now operates the castle and estate. A variety of tours are available, including evening candlelight tours. Tickets should be reserved in advance to guarantee entry. There are numerous hotels just outside the estate for visitors.