California Highway 1 Stories: Hearst Castle and Elephant Seals

Hello everyone. It’s now time for Part III of our Highway 1 long weekend road trip. If you guys haven’t gotten a chance to follow along on our Highway 1 Roadtrip stories, start here then continue here, and come back to enjoy Part III!

A famous (or infamous) stop along the Highway 1 is Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle was built by William Randolph Hearst, as an alternative to a tent up on the hill where he used to camp as a child, and his vision went just a little bit overboard. It took about 28 years to build and it’s most recent claim to fame is being featured in Lady Gaga’s music video G.U.Y.

It took us about an hour to drive there from Paso Robles, the drive itself is so beautiful, through green hills (courtesy of California’s recent rainfall) and sudden sightings of the ocean as you get closer to the coast!

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There are so many breathtaking spots along Highway 1 to stop at, so I suggest you drive with plenty of time on your hands, because you will definitely want to stop. Time moves, and should move, slowly here, it’s not a drive for the rushed.

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We reached the Hearst Castle Visitor Center in good time for our tour, so we got to watch a short film about William H. (not Citizen Kane) and the story behind Hearst Castle. It was very interesting, and definitely worth a watch if you make the trip up there.

The only way to go to the actual castle is through a tour, and so we booked the most popular “Grand Rooms Tour” ($25 per person). Unless you plan to spend the entire day at Hearst Castle, I recommend booking only this tour, because the gardens and the views are the most stunning aspect, and the best way to enjoy your time here is to walk around the grounds without an annoying tour guide and even more annoying tourists. Pro Tip : On the bus to the castle, sit on the right side for best castle views, and on the left side down from the castle for best castle and ranch views.

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This would be so ideal for a picnic..but no food allowed

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Found a beautiful door!

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And another one!

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Just one of his “smaller” guest houses

The interior is frankly bewildering. Our tour guide described Mr. Hearst as a benevolent recycler, buying heirlooms, tapestries, art and artifacts from the “garage sales” of Europe’s flailing nobility after World War I. However, everything is just jumbled into rooms with no reason or purpose, to the point where it is mildly offensive (like church pews in the dining room), and really only an ostentatious show of what money can buy. My tip is to treat the house tour as one of a poorly designed museum, and admire all the curios inside while ignoring the actual surroundings.

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This was supposed to be a game room..

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The Roman Pool is simply stunning however

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The Hearst Castle grounds house a fully functioning ranch

Hearst Castle is named a “Castle” but it is not a fairytale castle by any means. I was slightly disappointed, because the word castle leads me to expect delicious romance, and aesthetic grandeur, but Hearst Castle fails on both counts. (My favorite castle to date is of course Neuschwanstein, where poor mad King Ludwig delivered a healthy dose of tragic romance). However, where it fails in grace and authenticity, Hearst Castle makes up for in beautiful views and predictably good weather. I would still recommend a visit, albeit with low expectations.

After our somewhat exhausting (exhausting because of a slightly terrifying guide and fellow tourists who kept straying off the path and touching things that said “Do not Touch”, and this was just the adults) visit to Hearst Castle, we took advantage of being in San Simeon and headed to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals rookery. This is definitely a MUST SEE on any Highway 1 drive (between December – March), because it’s so entertaining to watch them in their natural habitat. And a bonus – you get to see the adorable little pups! My favorite thing about the elephant seals was that they love to “conserve energy” while on land, which is a perfect excuse to be lazy. However, during our half hour fascinated observation, we did see one mother seal get very aggressive and scare a bunch of other seals away. They also make the funniest sounds, sure to get a chuckle out of anyone.

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Elephant Seals Conserving Energy

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Mama Seal and baby Seals

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A squirrel posed for us, because we were paying too much attention to the seals

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They really blend into the beach

Sadly, after hanging out with the elephant seals for a bit, we had to head back home. We couldn’t bear to part with Highway 1 just yet however, and so we luckily made a surprise discovery of the little town of Cayucos, California. We were led to Cayucos by a roadside ad for Brown Butter Cookie Company, which was perfectly placed to give both our hearts and stomachs the desire to say yes. They give you samples of their famous brown butter and sea salt cookie when you enter the shop, but I loved their chocolate chunk cookie the best! In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was the best chocolate chunk cookie I’ve ever eaten!

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They have good coffee too!

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Well placed bench to enjoy your cookies

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Cayucos Pier, classic California

We then saw an ad for an Open House, and decided to go see it. It was the most adorable mint colored house with a gorgeous deck and stunning views, and the sweetest owners. I hope the house passes to good people, it was just full of love and cosiness and deserved to be loved in return. Yes, I was very tempted to immediately move to Cayucos and buy the house, but Andrew is a bit more sensible, so we drove on south, back home to San Diego.

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My current dream house

They say that money cannot buy happiness, and I add that money cannot buy taste either. We set off in the morning to visit a castle only to find that it was full of priceless objects and an obscene show of money, but luckily ended it by visiting this charming little house, full of love and good conversation, and that funny little emotion we all chase after called happiness.

 

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