Reviews of bucket-list-worthy things to do all over the world

Up PCH: from Morro Bay to Monterey

Part Two: Cambria and San Simeon

It was evening when we arrived in Cambria. We checked into our bed and breakfast, Sea Otter Inn, just across quiet, two-lane Moonstone Beach Drive from rocky Moonstone Beach.

There were a number of attractive small hotels and bed and breakfasts along Moonstone Beach Drive, but only one restaurant, so we drove into town where we stumbled on Linn’s Restaurant. The upscale restaurant with high ceilings served us garlic bread with olallieberry jam on the side before our enjoyable meals. I wondered whether the building had had a life before it became Linn’s Restaurant as it reminded me of a bank. Our server told us that, before it was converted into a restaurant, the building had been a pawnshop; the building housing the art gallery next door had once been a bank. Looking around the classy wood and glass-paneled restaurant, it was nearly impossible to imagine it as a pawnshop.

After a satisfying dinner, we pulled on our winter coats and strolled Moonstone Beach where the foggy sky darkened into night without an obvious sunset. Back at our bed and breakfast, we sat by our gas fireplace (conveniently controlled by a thermostat on the wall) and shared the Danish Waffle (two long, cigar-shaped pastries sandwiching a layer of white cream and raspberry filling) that I had bought in Solvang. We savored the sugary, crispy coated, light flaky pastry and sweet filling. It was just as wonderful as the Trip Advisor reviewer had described.

The next morning, we satisfied our hunger with fresh fruit, yogurt, muffins, pastries and hard-boiled eggs, selections from the continental breakfast that was included with our stay. We then explored Moonstone Beach where we spotted seals resting on the beautiful weathered rocks, and we examined the tide pools filled with sea anemones, hermit crabs, sea snails, and the occasional starfish or crab.
I searched the pretty, polished stones on Moonstone Beach, but didn’t find any moonstones.
We had a full day ahead of us, so we checked out of Sea Otter Inn and jumped back on PCH heading to Hearst Castle. Two days earlier, before leaving Los Angeles, I had checked the online ticket availability for tours of Hearst Castle. Very few of the multiple tours each hour were sold out on the Monday that we planned to visit, and so I decided not to purchase tickets in advance to give us greater flexibility on when we would arrive in San Simeon.

When we entered the Hearst Castle Visitor Center’s packed parking lot just after 10AM and saw the multiple tour buses, I began to wonder whether I’d made a mistake by not pre-purchasing our tickets. A sign by the information desk confirmed that I had; the next available tour time was two hours later! We went to the ticket windows hoping that someone had made a last minute cancellation. A friendly employee told us that there were two tickets left on a Grand Rooms Tour that departed “right now;” otherwise, the next available tickets for two people were, in fact, two hours later (single tickets were available earlier). We purchased the two tickets ($25 each for adults) that he had offered and immediately joined the queue for the next bus up the hill.

Our full bus climbed toward the castle as narration by Alex Trebeck filled us in on some of the history of Hearst Castle. Mist blew in the gentle breeze adding a spooky ambience to our first views of the castle, really a mansion rather than a castle.
Before we were allowed into the castle, our tour guide warned us not to touch “anything that looked pretty” and to step only on the gray-carpeted areas. During our time inside the castle, a security officer in each room made sure that we complied with these instructions. The officers were frequently called into action as distracted tour guests stepped out of bounds or fell behind the group. Unfortunately, the officers’ scolding took away from the air of elegance on the tour. I wondered whether a gentle, polite, “Sir, please follow your fellow guests to the next room,” would have been more appropriate, especially for first-time offenders, than the firm-toned, “Keep up with your group!”

Inside the castle, we checked out the mosaic tilework, carvings, sculptures, rugs, and tapestries. We visited four rooms; the first, the Assembly Room (living room), with its elaborate carvings and hidden doors was the most impressive to me.
The Refectory (dining room), with its table set for a meal was also interesting, and it was fun to learn that Hearst liked to have his condiments in their original containers, rather than fancy serving dishes, and to use paper napkins, rather than elegant cloth napkins, at his dinner table.
The last room that we toured was Heart’s movie theater, where our tour guide narrated home movie clips of Hearst and his family and guests enjoying the castle; it was a nice glimpse into what it was like to visit the castle in Hearst’s time.

After the 45-minute guided tour, we were allowed to explore the castle grounds on our own. We wandered the grounds, enjoying the ubiquitous flowers, the exteriors of the guest cottages, and the marble sculptures that were so perfectly white that it was hard to believe that they were from Hearst’s time rather than today. We took in views of the ocean and examined an exterior wall of the castle that was never finished because Hearst ran out of money. By the sparkling Neptune Pool, we spent a few moments sitting in comfy lounge chairs and imagining that we were overnight guests at Hearst Castle.
In reality, we had reservations that night at a hotel in Monterey, and so, once we’d had our fill of the castle grounds, we went to Roman Pool (the indoor pool) where a tour bus picked us up and took us back to the visitor center.

We hopped back on PCH, but stopped about four miles north of Hearst Castle to check out the Elephant Seal Vista Point. From June through November, male elephant seals can be seen resting on the beach and vocalizing as they spar and play in the ocean (Females are present from December through May. Mating occurs from December through February, and babies can be seen from mid-December through early February). Through my binoculars, I could see the sharp teeth of the male elephant seals sparing in the water. Other elephant seals, some with the long proboscises seen in adults, rested on the beach, occasionally tossing sand onto their backs with their flippers.
After a few minutes of watching the stinky, but fascinating, elephant seals, we hopped back on PCH to enjoy our drive through Big Sur.

I did this in July 2012 in California, USA.

Jen (California, USA)

Other posts from this trip:

Part One: Los Angeles to Morro Bay
Part Three: Big Sur
Part Four: Monterey