Scenic Drive: California Central Coast

media photos-2Thinking about hitting the road with the top down? But wait. The stretch of Highway 1 after Lucia is closed until September 2018. Is there a scenic detour? You bet! So don’t cancel your plans to make the classic road trip from northern to southern California. Just do it in sections. Once I decided that, I headed south on Highway 101 to Paso Robles, turning west on Highway 46, passing hilltop winery estates, rows of dewy-green vineyards, arriving at the Pacific in time for dinner. Planning went like a breeze. A week later, I was eye-to-eye with the pounding surf.

For my first long drive of the year, Cambria became my home base to sample the outdoor thrills from Cayucos to Ragged Point. Each coastal town has a unique character with plenty of restaurants, shops and events to round out a four-day trip.

map
CALIFORNIA: Cambria, San Simeon, Cayucos

Plan Your Trip. Consider renting a convertible. Costco members know how easy it is to get into a cool set of wheels. Check out the inventory for Avis, Hertz, Budget and Enterprise at Costco Car Rentals.untitled-1

Wildflowers are everywhere in April and May. The bluffs at Piedras Blancas Light Station are bright with yellow yarrow, seaside poppies and pink dune daisies.

Spring is also prime time for wildlife viewing. Head outdoors during dawn, dusk and the incoming tides when birds, fish, and mammals are active. Look for churning water, diving birds, shiny dolphin backs, seals and otters in bays and on open water. 

Gray whales migrate from the winter calving lagoons in Mexico up the coast to summer feeding grounds in the Arctic, traveling close to shore. Watch for heart-shaped blows. Humpbacks are the most acrobatic and breech and flap their tails. Blue whales can be spotted from June to October wherever krill is abundant. Orcas roam the coast in pods, hunting gray whale pups and seals.

 Sea otters hang out in the kelp beds. To keep from drifting, they wrap themselves in kelp and spend hours grooming to keep their fur waterproof. Harbor seals congregate on protected beaches to give birth and nurse their young. Elephant seals haul out on beaches and molt in spring. At the very least, don’t head home without a walk on the Piedras Blancas Rookery boardwalk. You haven’t lived until you’ve looked into the coal-black eyes of an elephant seal.

Learn More. Watch National Geographic videos and get tips from Ocean Today. Learn about Orcas on a PBS Nature video. Human garbage is one the greatest threats to wildlife. You can pick up Stewardship Traveler Clean-up Kits at in Cayucos and Cambria at the local chambers of commerce and visitor centers. 

 On The Road with Jo on YouTube is an entertaining romp through the coastal towns. The Highway 1 Discovery Route itineraries cover wildlife viewing, coastal trails, wine region, bike routes, and beaches. Love kayaking? Kayaks rentals and tours are available in San Simeon at William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach. Sign up with Kayak Cambria, or call 800.717.5225 to set up a guided tour of San Simeon Cove and the Moonstone kelp forest. 

View the events calendar. The Cambria Wildflower Show is held April 29 to 30. The Paso Robles Wine Festival is May 18 to 21. Check highway conditions. Highway 1 is closed due to a mud slide, until November 2018, states a news release. Caltrans, or Caltrans Highway Information Network 800.427.7623, provides updates.

DAY 1   Getting there. Cambria

MORNING, AFTERNOON
Drive to Cambria and check into the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage for the weekend.
media photos-11 The Piedras Blancas light keeper’s house was sold to a local in the 1960s for $1. The new owner cut the house in fours, moved it and carpenters reassembled it. It looks the same as it did in historic photos at Piedras Blancas Light Station. Now a rental, the three-bedroom house sits in a prime spot a half-block from Moonstone Beach boardwalk. Mid-week rates are about what you’d pay for a hotel.

Getting There
Cambria Map
Lodging
Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage
270 Chatham Lane, Cambria, CA
800.927.6163

EVENING
Have dinner at a seaside restaurant.
media photos-17The house is a stone’s throw from the Sea Chest on Moonstone Beach Dr. The oyster bar and dining room open at 5:30 p.m. but a line begins forming at 5 p.m. Avoid the first rush and arrive for the unofficial second seating around 6:45 p.m. Best place to watch the sunset. Bring cash, at least $50 per person due to the no-credit card policy. Don’t miss this gem.

Restaurant
Sea Chest
6216 Moonstone Beach Dr., Cambria, CA
805.927.4514

DAY 2   San Simeon

MORNING
Tour Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.
San Simeon-117 Tours are offered Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday at 9:45 a.m. The groups meet at the former Piedras Blancas Motel 1.5 miles north of the light station. After the tour, walk the half-mile trail to admire the wildflowers and wave action around the sea stacks, the iconic white rocks; piedras blancas in Spanish. Learn more. 

Sight
Piedras Blancas Lighthouse Tours
San Simeon, CA 93452
805.927.7361 or piedrasblancastours@gmail.com

LUNCH
Have lunch at Sebastian’s in Old San Simeon Village.
Across the highway from the castle is the hot spot for burgers made with Hearst Ranch beef. Steve Hearst often pops over for a burger. The general store, built in 1852, was once the center of this rural community. Remnants from those days include the post office, barn wood siding and copper bar top. Sebastian’s is also the tasting room for Hearst Ranch Winery, known for its cuvée blends. Afterward, walk down to the Discovery Center and out to the end of the San Simeon Pier.

Restaurant
Sebastian’s General Store and Cafe
Hearst Ranch Winery
442 SLO San Simeon Rd., San Simeon, CA 93452
805.927.3307 or 805.927.4100

AFTERNOON
Tour Hearst Castle.
media photos-3 Ride the tram to the Hearst’s sprawling hilltop estate to tour the 115-room main house, guest houses, pools, and eight-acre garden. William Randolph Hearst built a private retreat to house his art collection: souvenirs from several round-the-world trips. He also brought in a menagerie of exotic animals. Back on Highway 1, look for the Hearst Ranch zebras grazing alongside the cattle.

Sight
Hearst Castle
750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
800.444.4445 tour reservations

DAY 3   San Simeon. Cambria. Cayucos

MORNING
Watch the elephant seals.
San Simeon-47 The elephant seals have been coming to Piedras Blancas since 1990. Today more than 20,000 elephant seals migrate thousands of miles to this secluded sandy beach twice a year. From late March to around the first of May, juveniles and mothers (returning from their short, post-pupping migration) arrive on the beach for a month of molting. The seals are often inches from the boardwalk.

Sight
Piedras Blancas Rookery
Friends of the Elephant Seals
4 miles north of Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA 93452
805.924.1628

 

LUNCH
Have lunch in the village of Cambria.
media photos-5Usually a longtime resident is at the desk to give you the local scoop on the best places for lunch. You can also get a Stewardship Traveler Clean-up Kit and help keep the beaches pristine and safe for marine life. Also ask for the guide to Cambria Area Trails and Parks. Trailheads are often tucked away in residential areas and difficult to find.

Information
Cambria Visitors Center and Chamber of Commerce
767 Main St., Cambria, CA 93428
805-927-3624

AFTERNOON
Browse the shops and art galleries.
Cambria-1 I can’t tell you the last time saw the sign: Working Artist; and actually saw someone with a paintbrush. Patrick Dennis creates compelling art. During my visit, he etched through layers of moody, smoky colors. I bought four mini oil paintings and lingered, watching him work and petting Bella the St. Bernard sprawled at my feet. His ocean landscapes are posted on Facebook: workingartiststudio.

Shop
Patrick Gallery
815 Main Street #C, Cambria, CA 93428
805.909.9522 or patrickgallery@yahoo.com

DAY 4   Cambria, Cayucos

MORNING
Pack a lunch and hike Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.  
Cambria-4 The Ranch has eight entrances to trails that meander through 437 acres of protected forest, riparian habitat, and grasslands. The residents of Cambria held bake sales and fundraisers to save the dairy and cattle ranch from developers. Even the MidState Bank pitched in by donating a creekside property. Artists built the donor benches and no two are alike. What a place to sit with a journal and compose Lines From a Bench! On the bluff trail I felt inspired, if not to write or paint, at least to admire the Pacific’s ever-changing mood.

Sports & Recreation
Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
Cambria, CA
805.927.2856 or ffrpcambria@sbcglobal.net
Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve map

AFTERNOON
Taste award-winning wine on the Pacific Coast Wine Trail.
Moonstone Cellars offers a wide variety of wine to taste, from Grenache to full bodied Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, from crisp Sauvignon Blanc to dry Riesling. The winemaker Todd Clift is a member of the Pacific Coast Wine Trail and is often on hand to answer questions. The tasting room just off Main Street in the West Village of Cambria near Sheffield Street.

Shop
Moonstone Cellars
Pacific Coast Wine Trail
812 Cornwall Street, Cambria, CA 93428
805.927.9466

LATE AFTERNOON
Drive to Cayucos. Whale watch from the Cayucos pier.
Tail Fluke on dive. Humpback Whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, lu In spring gray whales migrate from Baja California to Alaska’s feeding grounds. Dusk is the optimal time for sightings. The new interpretive sign at the end of the pier is an official spot on the Whale Trail. When the ocean is calm, you can spot tail flukes and dorsal fins. Big splashes may indicate a whale has just breached. Notice the shape of whale blows: gray whales are heart-shaped; humpbacks tall and rounded; blue whale blows are tall and shaped like a champagne flute. An orca’s triangular triangular dorsal fin on the male stand as tall as six feet.

Sports & Recreation
Cayucos Pier. Whale Trail viewing site
10 Cayucos Dr., Cayucos, CA 93430

DINNER
Have dinner at Schooner’s. 
media photos-10 After sunset have dinner at Schooner’s. The menu has everyone’s ocean favorites. The chef piles crab, scallops, clams, shrimp and cod in the spicy cioppino. I had the sesame crusted ahi and wasabi mashed potatoes, but would come back for the Alaskan king crab legs and the lobster tail. They also feature Paso Robles wine.

Restaurant
Schooner’s Wharf
171 N. Ocean Ave., Cayucos, CA 93430
805.995.3883

DAY 5   Heading home. Paso Robles

AFTERNOON
Shop for Paso Robles wine.
Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.21.37 AM Discover the wineries at the forefront of central coast wine making. As you head east along Hwy. 46, turn left at Vineyard Dr. In seven miles you’ll come to Whalebone Vineyard. Workers unearthed whalebones when planting the vines. At the tasting bar, try the Rhone blends. The 2014 blend has Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah with flavors of raspberry and black pepper. Other award-winning wineries—Justin and Adelaide—are nearby and worth a visit.

Shop
Whalebone Vineyard
8325 Vineyard Dr., Paso Robles, CA 93446
805.239.9020
Justin Vineyards and Winery
11680 Chimney Rock Rd, Paso Robles, CA 93446
805.238.6932
Adelaida Vineyards and Winery
5805 Adelaida Rd., Paso Robles, CA 93446
800.676.1232

—text and photography by Donna Peck. Whale & landscape photography courtesy of Discovery Route Highway 1, Miata photo courtesy of Mazda USA.


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