Should you visit San Simeon, California on your California coast road trip? Yes, you should!
San Simeon is a small town in San Luis Obispo County so you can easily drive through it when you’re either heading northbound or southbound on Highway 1. (We suggest visiting the gorgeous Big Sur along the way!)
This area is known for Hearst Castle, a beautiful estate on top of San Simeon’s hillside. Yet, there are plenty of fun things to do here, such as seeing elephant seals, visiting a lighthouse, hanging out on the beach, and more.
If you’re interested in San Simeon, continue reading this San Simeon day trip guide. We’re including helpful tips on how to get there, attractions to visit, and where to stay.
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How to Get to San Simeon, California
San Simeon is along the central coastline on Highway 1 between San Franciso and Los Angeles. The two mid-size cities closest to San Simeon are Monterey and San Luis Obispo.
From Monterey to San Simeon
Drive your car along Highway 1 South for 94 miles. Without stopping, it’ll take 2 hours and 20 minutes. Click here for driving directions.
From San Luis Obispo to San Simeon
The easiest way to get to San Simeon from San Luis Obispo is to take Highway 1 North for 42 miles. It’ll take 45 minutes to get there. Click for driving directions.
From San Francisco to San Simeon
San Simeon is 240 miles away from San Francisco. You’ll need at least 3 hours 45 minutes to drive one way. Since the distance is far, you’ll want to stay overnight in San Simeon to enjoy the California road trip.
The best way to get here is by taking 101 South for 200 miles, taking 46 West, and then heading to Highway 1 North. Click to see the driving directions.
From Los Angeles to San Simeon
San Simeon is 230 miles from Los Angeles and will take 4-hours to drive. It’s best to stay in San Simeon for the evening since it’s a long drive.
Take 101 North to 154 West and then get back on 101 North to 1 North. Click here for more details on the directions.
How Long Do You Need for a San Simeon Day Trip?
It’s recommended to spend a half day to a full day in San Simeon, depending on your time.
Even if you have only a few hours, it’s worth the visit to San Simeon.
Map of San Simeon Attractions
Things to Do in San Simeon for a Day Trip
1. Take a tour of Hearst Castle.
San Simeon’s famous attraction is Hearst Castle.
William Randolph Hearst, a well-known newspaper publisher, built this gorgeous estate on top of a hill between 1919 to 1947. With the help of Julia Morgan, the architect, they created multiple buildings and guesthouses, with the largest main building called Casa Grande.
Hearst Castle hosted many parties with celebrities and high-profile guests. Everyone stayed overnight at the estate surrounded by rare artifacts, paintings, artwork, sculptures, and even unique ceilings.
As of 1957, Hearst Castle is a part of the California State Park where visitors take a 1-hour tour of the estate. The tour is required and includes a round-trip bus ride from the ticket area to the estate and a tour guide.
Note: During your ride, you may see a handful of zebras grazing on the grass with the cows.
There are 9 tours to take, such as Grand Rooms, Upstairs Suites, Cottages and Kitchen, Julia Morgan, Designing the Dream, Art of San Simeon, Hearst and Hollywood, Holiday Twilight, and Evening Tour.
The Grand Room is a recommended tour to take for first-time visitors. The tour includes 40+ people so it is large, yet you go through the main rooms such as the Assembly, Billiards, Theater, Neptune Pool (the featured photo of this post), and Roman Pool.
Otherwise, any of the other tours provide greater insights into Hearst Castle’s history. The groups are smaller so you can ask more questions to the tour guide.
We recently took the Upstairs Tours and had a fantastic time. We had the chance to see two libraries with beautiful decor of Greek vases and first-edition books. Our tour guide gave us a sneak peek of the kitchen even though it wasn’t a part of the tour.
Once you’re done with the tour, consider watching the 45-minute documentary, Hearst Castle – Building the Dream, in the theater. It’s free with admission.
Tips: Wear walking shoes. Bottled water is allowed on the tour.
Address: 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
Admission Cost: $30 for Adults, $15 for Children for most tours. Specialty tours are $35-$100 for Adults and $20-$100 for Children.
It’s recommended to buy the tickets ahead of time so you can your preferred time slot. Buy tickets here. Otherwise, you can buy them on the day of your visit.
If you want to do more than 1 tour, you’ll need to buy them separately.
2. Visit the William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach/Hearst State Beach.
Right across from the Hearst Castle is the William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach/Hearst State Beach. It’s a good spot to rest after your visit from Hearst Castle.
There is a beach to relax and swim in. Take a walk along the pier for another view of the ocean. You can also have a picnic here.
For adventurous visitors, there is a 4-mile round trip San Simeon Point hiking trail.
Address: 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
3. Awe at the Elephant Seals at the Elephant Seal Vista Point.
One of the coolest spots in San Simeon is seeing tons of northern elephant seals lying on the beach and playing at Elephant Seal Vista Point.
Elephant seals are large seals where the males have long noses that look like an elephant. These seals are HUGE – males can weigh up to 5,000 pounds, females 900-1,800 pounds.
This vista point has a well-maintained walking path with signage that has fun facts about these animals. There are two areas to check out the elephant seals – far left and far right (when entering the parking lot). The far right section tends to have more.
You can visit this spot at any time throughout the year. Each month varies with the elephant seal lifecycle. January and February have the most births so you’ll see many pups on the beach. We visited in July and November and noticed the difference in weight for these seals.
You’ll love seeing them living a good life of sleeping, relaxing, and doing seal stuff. You may see the adult males fighting with each other.
Depending on the time of your visit, volunteers walk around, greet the visitors, and provide a wealth of knowledge about the seals. Feel free to ask them any questions.
Tip: This area is super windy. Wear a light jacket if you get cold.
If you want to further support the elephant seals, check out the Elephant Seals Visitor Center (250 San Simeon Avenue, Suite 5A, San Simeon) for information and to buy souvenirs.
Address: Along Highway 1 (5.2 miles away from Hearst Castle, 2 miles from Piedras Blancas Light Station). There are many signs along Highway 1 leading up to the vista point so you won’t miss it.
4. Visit Piedras Blancas Light Station.
Who loves visiting lighthouses?
Piedras Blancas Light Station was built in 1875 and the lighthouse was 100 feet tall. Due to the earthquakes over the years, the lighthouse received damage. It’s been recently restored and is shorter than before at 70 feet tall.
In the past, the lighthouse helped sailors navigate the ocean.
To learn more about the lighthouse and its history, take a 2-hour tour. Since the light station is not opened every day, you must check the schedule and book your tour in advance.
We didn’t have a chance to visit this place as the day of our San Simeon visit did not coincide with the opening dates. We hope to visit this place in the future!
Address: 15950 Cabrillo Hwy, San Simeon, CA 93452
Admission Cost: $10 Adults, $5 Children (6-17 years), Free under 5 years old. Buy tickets here.
5. Explore the cute town of Cambria.
Cambria is the neighboring town of San Simeon and you can easily drive through it along Highway 1.
Main Street is fun to walk through with modern and Victorian historic buildings. There are boutique shops and restaurants.
We recommend trying Robin’s Restaurant for delicious Asian and South American fusion cuisine. We recommend trying Robin’s Restaurant for delicious Asian and South American fusion cuisine. We tried Moqueca (Brazillian seafood stew), misoyaki butterfish, and truffle fries.
Other stops include Moonstone Beach and Fiscalini Ranch Reserve for walking trails.
Cambria also has places to stay overnight if you’re interested. Find the perfect accommodations in Cambria here.
Address: Along Highway 1 – About 9 miles (13 minutes) from central San Simeon
6. Visit Ragged Point.
About 15 miles away (20 minutes) from San Simeon is Ragged Point. It’s a small town that people stop by along their way to or from Big Sur.
Here, you can order food, buy snacks and gifts, and refuel your car’s gas tank. (Just know that the gas is higher than the other nearby towns). Staying overnight at the Ragged Point Inn & Resort is also another option.
For the hikers, consider taking the .75-mile round trip hiking trail, Ragged Point Trail which leads to the ocean and small beach. The hike is slightly steep so you’ll need to trek down slowly. It can be muddy, so do not attempt it if it’s raining.
Check out our Ragged Point Trail guide here.
Address: 19019 CA-1, Ragged Point, CA 93452
Where to Stay in San Simeon, California
If you decide to stay overnight at San Simeon, there are a few motels and hotels to consider. Many are only 4.5 miles away from Hearst Castle so they’re conveniently located.
Here are some San Simeon accommodations to check out based on high reviews:
- Quality Inn San Simeon (Check out our opinion below)
- Morgan Hotel San Simeon
- Cavalier Oceanfront Resort
We stayed one night at the Quality Inn San Simeon. It’s an older place, yet we had a pleasant stay.
We had a corner room so it was a HUGE size. There was so much space. It had a king room with a view of the courtyard. The room also included a desk, mini fridge, mini bar counter, bathroom, and a fireplace. (The fireplace is lovely to warm up the room during a cold evening!)
Breakfast is included in the room and is available in the dining area next to the check-in area. The offerings include eggs, sausages, make-your-own Belgium waffles, pastries, cereal, etc. It’s a decent spread. Plus, having breakfast here will save you money.
In the afternoon, the check-in area has coffee, tea, and cookies for guests.
Free parking is available. At check-in, the hotel asks for the car license plate number and car model.
The cost was higher probably due to the summertime travel. We paid a total of $180.
Final Thoughts on a San Simeon Stopover
Your one day in San Simeon will go by quickly! Hope you’re inspired to visit this small town when traveling along California’s Pacific coastline. Feel free to stop by any vista points along the way in San Simeon and enjoy the views.
If you need ideas on other places to visit along Highway 1, check out the blog posts:
- San Luis Obispo Weekend Itinerary
- Hike Mount Madonna in San Luis Obispo
- Hike Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo
- Pismo Beach in 1 Day
- Visit Oceano Sand Dunes near Pismo Beach