California Dreaming: Cambria, San Simeon, Big Sur

23 June 2014

Welcome back to the California coast! We’re picking up with breakfast at Cass House on day three, and though it’s not as much of a production as dinner, it is similarly delicious and exquisitely presented! The lavender and rosebud tea, made from plants on the property, was really light and lovely.


Before we got back on the road, we moseyed down the Cayucos boardwalk a bit and happened upon this adorable urban farmhouse. I was ready to move in!!



Enough house hunting – our first order of business for the day was driving about twenty minutes up the coast to Cambria, a quaint little seaside town that reminded me of Maine – it smelled like the ocean and pine trees!


Sunset Magazine had recommended the East West Ranch hike (also known as Fiscalini Ranch Preserve), and we’re happy to vouch for that recommendation. It’s an easy one mile loop, but so beautiful!



More otters and seals playing just off shore! We even saw a seal pup nursing – so cool.



With that beautiful start to our day under our belts, we headed just a smidge farther up the road to San Simeon and Hearst Castle. Before we could even turn into the visitors’ center, the wonders began – zebras grazing by the side of the road! They were as casual as could be, and happily mixed with the cattle.


William Randolph Hearst, the owner of Hearst Castle, kept what was at one time the world’s largest private zoo, and though most of the animals (including giraffes, elephants, and polar bears!) had been donated to public zoos, the zebras still roam free!


Hearst Castle itself is one of the few attractions we actually paid for on this trip – most of the rest of our entertainment was provided for free by nature. In this case, John and I both agreed that the fee was worth it. Hearst wanted his house to feel like a European cathedral, and he went to great lengths to piece together whole ceilings and other architectural details from churches and monasteries overseas, so it was really neat to see. We chose the “Grand Rooms” tour, which was an hour, and also included entrance to the grounds. Not a bad view :)


While you did get a good feel for the property, I wished the tour had been much longer – compared to the Biltmore Estate, which we’ve also recently toured, the “Grand Rooms” experience seemed pretty restrictive, as you only visit about four rooms.


Highlights included the jaw-dropping pool, all the beautiful citrus trees, and the movie theater where Hearst and his guests would watch films every night! All fifty seats were velvet chaise lounges that looked extremely comfortable.


After a quick backtrack for lunch in Cambria, we headed a few minutes up the coast to the elephant seal colony at Piedra Blancas. There was quite a crowd gathered at the pull-off, and for good reason – there was quite a crowd of elephant seals! To be honest, they were not the most comely things, between the molting, grunting, and fighting. We only stayed a few minutes, but I did like these guys:


San Simeon was our last stop before one of our longer chunks of driving. The good thing about this trip, though, is that the drive is part of the adventure! We were on a really classic stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, and yes, it is just as rugged and breathtaking and hairpin-y as it looks. And scary – there are very few guardrails! There are, however, plenty of scenic pull-offs, and we helped ourselves to many of them.



Mostly, we were SO incredibly thankful for the weather we had on day three – clear as far as the eye can see! It can be really foggy along the PCH, so we didn’t take this for granted.

While we had plans to make a few stops along the way, we ended up only doing two (mostly because we missed the other trailheads – oops). Up first was McWay Falls, possibly the most iconic PCH view.



A waterfall on the beach?? I mean, come on. Just stunning. This stop was a bit crowded (with good reason, of course), which made our next step even more pleasant in comparison – Partington Cove!


I loved the Partington Cove hike because even though it was just a mile long, you passed through so many different environments. From the road, you hike about a mile down a fairly steep and dry canyon.



At the bottom, the path narrows through Big Sur redwoods, then passes through a 60-foot tunnel before opening into a rocky and secluded cove. A nice family offered to take our picture :)


This was the first side of the cove, where we sat for awhile just soaking in the beauty, an hour or two before sunset.


And this was the second side, which had some pretty impressive waves (not that you can tell from this photo, though):



Okay, people, hang with me here! I know this is an epic day, but we’re almost done. After we hoofed it back up the hill (past the pretty cascade above!), we hopped back in the car for the short drive to our spot for the night, Glen Oaks Big Sur.


We were really lucky with all of our accommodations, but I think Glen Oaks might have been John’s favorite – or at least it was tied for first place with day four’s accommodations. Our home away from home was an adorable little cabin tucked in amongst towering redwoods. It had a fire pit right outside our door and a fireplace inside, as well as heated bathroom floors and a s’mores kit! This definitely wasn’t your standard campground cabin.


The Glen Oaks property was incredibly beautiful – quiet, green, ancient-feeling. The Big Sur River ran between the cabins, and we even saw a mama skunk and three baby skunks walk along the riverbank as we relaxed before dinner!





We finished the day with dinner reservations at the woodsy Big Sur Bakery, which we had heard a ton about. It didn’t disappoint. Wood fired pizza and a delicious arugula salad by candlelight were exactly what we were in the mood for at the end of an adventurous day. Like the rest of Big Sur, the Bakery and Glen Oaks were such a neat juxtaposition of humble surroundings and artisanal style. A magical place, and without a doubt a must-do on the Pacific Coast Highway!

Up next: Monterey and Carmel!

Day one: Malibu, Ojai, Montecito
Day two: Santa Barbara, Montana de Oro, Cayucos

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June 23, 2014 3:17 pm

We live in the Bay Area, and we’ve made many trips down the PCH, but I haven’t been to Hearst Castle yet (it always seems so far away). After seeing your post I’m definitely bumping that up my priority list for THIS summer. Thanks for sharing :)

June 23, 2014 6:42 pm

Hey, don’t be apologizing for the length of your posts — we’re just lucky you’re willing to write it all down for us and share. Cool waterfall! Cool zebas! Cool elephant seals! Cool cabin! Cool seals! Cool otters!

June 24, 2014 2:50 pm

This post! It’s my favorite thus far – wow! Thanks for sharing your incredible trip with us all!

July 1, 2014 12:00 pm

Loving all of these vacation spots for a road trip through California! I always find it fascinating how diverse of a landscape California is – it’s just gorgeous!

PS: your festive drink stirrers were featured on 100 Layer Cake today!