Road Trip To Hearst Castle & More
We recently took a new Mazda CX-9 on a road trip! It was an adventure getting there. Mud slides, road closures, heavy storms through out California. Took a lot longer than planned too. But we were comfortable and safe in the CX-9. Our trip included travel around the cities of San Simeon and Cambria and on the ‘must see’ list were Hearst Castle, the Elephant Seal Beach Sanctuary and NitWit Ridge. We saw a lot more and had a fantastic time. I hadn’t been up there for almost 20 years and the kids had never been. I love taking them on fun trips around California and making it educational is always an added bonus.
The drive was about 200 miles but with the storm that hit California all week we took it easy and gave ourselves plenty of time to get there and my friend and I took turns driving. We had fire trucks passing us on the freeway, a ton of car accidents on the road and even saw a car go off the side of the highway. It was definitely crazy weather for California.
We had an awesome navigation system in the Mazda CX-9 plus Serius radio with a ton of stations to choose from. We didn’t always agree but co-pilot had control of the radio.
Seals, The Beach & A Castle
When we got there we checked into the Silver Surf Motel, unloaded the car and went to the Elephant Seal Sanctuary (we visited here a few times). The motel had the cheapest rates in the area, was right by the beach and a few restaurants nearby. The peak of the season for the elephant seals is February so we were there in time to see a lot of them on the beach and a few males fighting. It was quiet wet outside and out umbrellas blew inside out but we made the best of it and enjoyed the sites. I love the backup camera on the Mazda! The parking lot was huge puddles and potholes from the rain and we had to navigate through it and around the other cars. We saw a few of these ‘Cow Art’ pieces too around the city. Not sure the name of them but they were interesting. I love the details, like the sand stars and barnacles on the legs.
View from the hotel. Looks like we could drive straight into the ocean. The car got wet, muddy and dirty and still looked great! If you drink wine you must drive up the coast to san Luis Obispo. They have a ton of wineries to visit. Next day we took a tour of Hearst Castle. They have four regular tours plus a nighttime tour to choose from and the tickets can be purchased in advance online. Parking is free and tickets are picked up inside the Hearst Castle Visitor Center. Inside there is a 30 minute movie about Hearst Castle and how it came about, gift shops and restaurants. After that we boarded a bus to go five miles up the hill to the castle. The weather was cloudy and a little cold but the rain held off and we had a fantastic time exploring the grounds and inside the main buildings. Beyond the clouds is the beach. Statues were everywhere on the grounds and inside. The whole place was amazing. Fascinating architecture and art. There was so much to see. I could easily have spent a few more hours there but the kids were going through it at a quicker pace. The outdoor pool, Neptune Pool, was being repaired and was drained but we saw the indoor pool. Above it is the tennis courts.
The outdoor walls, staircases and planters even had statues, decorations and more.Group photo of the four of us outside the main building at Hearst Castle. We ate lunch in Cambria at Linn’s (famous for their pies) and dinner at Big Sur Restaurant. All of the diners in Cambria are small, non-chain restaurants, mostly family-owned. Same with the gift shops and ice cream parlors.
The next day we went to the beach and explored. The tide was coming in and the waves were crazy from the storms. It was amazing to see that some beaches had no elephant seals at all and others had hundreds of them. I wasn’t sure what made the seals stay on certain beaches.Kids in the sand while the water was ebbing out.We drove back to the Elephant Seal Sanctuary and took the path the opposite way (day before we went left, this time we went to the right) and we hiked to the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. Tours are given at 9:45 am on Wednesdays and Sundays in the summer. We missed out on a tour but still had a fun 3-mile hike. I love how well the car navigated in these cities where I didn’t know the streets or how to get anywhere and the roads were a bit crazy.
That evening we had dinner at Robin’s Restaurant. The building, like most in Cambria, is an old house. The menu is a mix of all types of cuisines. They consider themselves a ‘handcrafted global cuisine’ and they aren’t kidding. I would love to go back there for their Sunday brunch. Their menu is a mix of Indian food, like naan and curry dishes, seafood dishes, kid-friendly, like pizza, and even Thai food. The prices weren’t cheap but the food was amazing and service spectacular. They have outdoor dining on a small patio too. Robin’s compensated us a free appetizer for dining here. I picked the cheese platter that included nuts, cheese, breads, fruit and local honey. My son ordered a Iced Mocha Float that included a fresh rose petal. The adults ordered the Cioppino, a seafood soup and the kids ordered pizza. Fresh bread was also served for everyone.
There was a line to get in as we were leaving. If you plan to dine here it is a good idea to make reservations. Cambria seems to have an abundance of ice cream shops too. Some service homemade fudge and trinkets too. The hills surrounding Hearst Castle have cattle on them from a ranch the castle runs and the hills in San Simeon and Cambria have more ranches. It is said that the Hearst Castle herds also have zebras in them, from when the castle once had a zoo (and the zebras were released). I looked the whole time we were there and never saw a single zebra. Water run off coming down the hills. California isn’t used to so much rain so a lot of it was running directly to the sea.
Historic Landmarks In Cambria
Cambria had a ton of small stores for shopping. Clothing, art, even a yarn shop. This one, Gallery of Wearable Art (GOWA) was once a house, built in 1880.
Up in the hills is a one-of-a-kind house, called Nitt Witt Ridge. It was built by Arthur “Art” Harold Beal (now deceased) over 50 years and is now owned by Michael O’Malley. For a $10 donation you can get a tour of the house and outside grounds. You won’t find this attraction on all the tour maps, since it is not a favorite among the locals, but it is worth the money and time. Beal took items from the dump and around town to build his house. It is upcycling and recycling before it was in and the arches and walkways are very unique.
Most of the house is built out of wood, rocks and stone, old beer bottles and tires. It is said that Beal carved the whole thing out of the mountainside with a shovel. Staircase with abalone shells. Nitt Witt Ridge was a maze or rooms with random toilets in odd places, including one on a rooftop. We really enjoyed O’Malley’s tour and hope he is able to maintain this landmark historic attraction for generations to come.
On the way home we pulled over at Peachy Canyon Winery just so I could sit in this chair. Check one thing off my bucket list. The drive back was a lot of traffic and more rain but the Mazda got us in comfort. Did I mention how roomy this car is? We enjoyed the scenic drive and hope to go back up there again soon.