Hankering for a road trip up scenic Hwy. 1, but heard the road is closed? Yes, the highway is closed north of Salmon Creek Falls, 7.5 miles north of Ragged Point, just below the site of a mudslide that covered the highway at Mud Creek. It’s not expected to reopen until late summer 2018, but the stretch of coast from San Simeon to Ragged Point and Salmon Creek offers a taste of the full Hwy. 1 experience, with dramatic vistas, elephant seals, otters and Hearst Castle. Here are just few of this gorgeous area’s highlights, news and springtime events.
Stop at Ragged Point Inn and Resort, on a 350-foot cliff about 16 miles north of Hearst Castle, to gaze at the stunning Big Sur coastline that stretches to the north. Dine in the glass-walled restaurant or garden-rimmed patio, taste wines, grab an espresso or pick up a sandwich to go. You can also hike along a trail from the 350-foot bluff top down toward the beach. 19019 Hwy. 1, Ragged Point, about 20 miles north of San Simeon, 805/927-4502 hotel, 805/927-5708 restaurant, raggedpointinn.com.
PIEDRAS BLANCAS ELEPHANT SEAL ROOKERY
About 22,000 elephant seals (at last count) haul out on beaches near Point Piedras Blancas every year. They typically arrive in November and December to give birth and mate. By early March, all adult seals and most sub-adults and juveniles have returned to sea. The weaned pups (weaners) remain, exploring their beach environment and using stored fat to grow. “This age is as cute as elephant seals get,” says Michele Roest, founder and principal of Science and Environmental Education Development (SEED). By mid-April, females begin to arrive for the spring molt.
In late April to early May, the beaches are packed with females that haul out for a 30- to 45-day “catastrophic” molt—they shed all the fur on their skin and grow an entirely new coat. For spectacular views of the beach scenes below, hike the bluff-top Boucher Trail (3.8 miles round-trip). Elephant Seal Vista Point, 4.5 miles north of Hearst Castle. Friends of the Elephant Seals Visitor Center, 250 San Simeon Ave., San Simeon, 805/924-1628, elephantseal.org.
WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST MEMORIAL STATE BEACH
On the ocean side of Hwy. 1 across from Hearst Castle, this scenic beach with a pier on San Simeon Bay is a fantastic place to hang out for a few hours or a day. Be sure to pop into the Coastal Discovery Center at the beach and check out its new outdoor Whaling History exhibit. Continue on the frontage road near the beach entrance to explore Old San Simeon, formerly an 1800s whaling village, where you can pick up lunch at Sebastian’s Café and sample wines at the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting room. This spring, the winery partners with Sea for Yourself Kayak Outfitters to offer a kayak, wine and lunch package. Call 805/467-2241 for details. 750 Hearst Castle Rd., San Simeon.
Officially called Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, the magnificent 127-acre Hearst Castle perches on a hilltop overlooking San Simeon Bay. Even if you don’t have time to join a tour via a 20-mile tram ride up the hill, you can browse the museum exhibits and view an IMAX film about William Randolph Hearst’s life in the visitor center. 750 Hearst Castle Rd., 800/444-4445, 518/218-5078, hearstcastle.org.
HUNGRY FOR MORE? Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Bridge has reopened, and Hwy. 1 along the Big Sur coast is open all the way from Carmel and Big Sur down to the tiny town of Gorda. After your San Simeon and Ragged Point adventures, you can explore Cambria and connect to Paso Robles and Hwy. 101 via Hwy. 46 West.
A new realigned section of Hwy. 1, above, stretches three miles, from the Arroyo de la Cruz Bridge near San Simeon to Point Piedras Blancas. The project, initially conceived in 2000, moved the road farther inland, away from beaches that seals had begun to frequent regularly. The new road offers great views and wide bike lanes. Left, visitors flock to see elephant seals near Point Piedras Blancas.
This story was originally published in the spring 2018 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.