San Luis Obispo County
By Pam Adkisson and Donna Polizzi
When I left Hearst Castle, I went from sublime elegance, to the charming and chubby beasts that are elephant seals. I made a stop at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal rookery on Highway 1, seven miles north of San Simeon. I had no idea that Elephant seals grow to 16-20 feet in length and weigh between 6800 and 8800 pounds each. They live eighty percent of their lives in the ocean and can live up to 22 years. If you haven’t seen it yourself, it’s difficult to describe the comical way that these massive marine mammals traverse the beach. I can only portray it as Jell-O in an earthquake.
Just a short trip up the scenic Central coast, north of Morro Bay, Cambria and Cayucos, San Simeon is the stunning ocean southern gateway to the Monterey Peninsula, which is rich in history!
Prehistorically inhabited by the Chumash people, the first Europeans to settle in the immediate area near the bay of San Simeon were Portuguese shore whalers around 1864. In 1869, a wharf was built near the point for their whaling station. A small community grew near the 1869 wharf, but the waves near the wharf were too high, and the wharf was abandoned. In 1878, Hearst built a new wharf, and the small community moved near the new wharf. A general store (later Sebastian’s Store) was built near the Clark wharf, and then relocated near the 1878 wharf. Shore whaling continued on the point until the mid-1890s. It ceased for a short time, started up again in 1897, and continued to about 1908 when it ceased for good.
In addition to San Simeon being home to the large northern elephant seal rookery, the most famous tourist attraction by far is Hearst Castle, built by William Randolph Hearst in the early 20th century, which accounts for the stunning contrast during my most recent visit. Definitely a must for your Scenic Coast “to-do” list.