Author: Jill Weinlein
Date of Trip: June 2016
The minute you get out of your car in a parking lot just above Hearst Castle in San Simeon, a loud guttural croaking sound can be heard on the beach. Next, an unpleasant odor wafts towards you, especially if the wind is blowing a certain way. It’s a unique sound and smell that can only come from elephant seals.
Spending eight to ten months a year in the open ocean, these unique mammals dive 1000 to 5800 feet deep for periods of fifteen minutes to two hours to feed. Twice a year and especially in June, hundreds of Northern male elephant seals beach themselves on the sand near the water’s edge. They have travelled 15,000 to 20,000 miles to wait for the females to join them. During the summer they molt on the beach, develop skills and get stronger. By December, the Pacific Ocean and beach in this area becomes quite a bloody show with males battling for dominance and establishing harems. Females start giving birth through February. In the Spring, they wean their pups and leave them to get food, while the pups build muscles and skills in the tide pools.
It’s fascinating to see and learn about these large marine mammals. The best viewing spots are on the wooden boardwalks between Arroyo Laguna and the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. There is a parking lot, visitor center and roving docents educating visitors about these unique marine animals.
This elephant seal sighting is about 30 minutes North of San Luis Obispo. It’s about 10 minutes from the quaint beachside community, Cambria and midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Cambria is filled with art galleries, antique shops and some pretty good restaurants. With the average temperature around 72 degrees, it’s a great stop for an overnight for those traveling up Highway 1 to Big Sur, Carmel and Monterey.
Before or after seeing the elephant seals, visit a ‘castle in the sky.’ In 1919, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst hired San Francisco architect Julia Morgan to build a massive hillside mansion filled with valuable art and antique furniture for elaborate dinner parties and festive week long celebrity parties. The California State Parks took the property over and allows the public to purchase a ticket for a tour of the grounds, indoor Roman column elaborate pool, cottages, bedrooms, great rooms and tennis courts. Daytime tours are about two hours. Visitors depart from the Visitor Center by bus and take a 15 minute ride up to the top of the hill. Keep an eye out for herds or zebras and cattle roaming the pastures below.
The area has a row of one and two story motels across the street from the beach. Driftwood is scattered on the sand near tide pools to explore. Every now and then, semiprecious Moonstones can be found in this area. Start at the Moonstone Beach State Parklands and walk along the wooden boardwalk pathways leading along the low cliffs with steps down to the dark sand beach. This area is also known for sea otter, sea birds and dolphin sightings.
The New England seaside Sea Chest restaurant is across from Moonstone Beach and an ideal spot to watch the sunset and enjoy a cocktail and dinner. The soup is average here, however the restaurant is known for its fresh halibut and salmon dishes. . Sea Chest 6217 Moonstone Beach Drive, Cambria (805)927-4514. The Black Cat – 1602 Main Street, Cambira (805)927-1600.
Walk from East to West Village
An easy stroll through the historical town of Cambria is ideal during meal time, because of the variety of pleasing dining options. Breakfast pastries are available at a few bakeries, yet Linn’s of Cambria is very popular for breakfast or lunch. They have counter and sit down service. Be sure to order the zucchini and pecan bread, olallieberry cream puffs made daily from fresh picked berries at a nearby farm. It’s a local and tourist hangout since 1989. 2277 Main Street, Cambria (805)927-0371.
Located behind Linn’s is a charming 1877 home on a side street that makes giant gourmet sandwiches big enough to share with two people. They come with crisp tortilla chips. Sit inside or out on one of the garden patios. 4286 Bridge St. Cambria (805)927-2890.
Another dinner option on Main Street is The Black Cat restaurant. Chef/Owner Deborah Scarborough prepares innovative dishes and lists a wine pairing recommendation with entree options. The menu offers Rack of lamb, Mahi-Mahi, pasta and steaks. There are a few vegetarian dishes too.
Hike in Cambria
While in town take the Rodeo Grounds Road through East Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. Stay on the dirt path and away from the poison oak. Walk through a large meadow and along a dirt path near a slow stream leading out to the beach.
It’s a kick-back type of locale with friendly people, excellent culinary choices and views of elephant seals that will fascinate all members in the family.