With acres of nature preserves and one of America's most famous homes, San Simeon State Park makes an excellent destination if you're visiting California. Established in 1932, the 3,400-acre park is one of the oldest in the California state park system. From touring a castle to hiking along San Simeon Creek, there's plenty to do at the park. For those who don't want to squeeze everything into one day, consider making a reservation at the park's campground.
Location and Fees
San Simeon State Park, also known as Hearst San Simeon State Park, is on California's central coast. The park, on Highway 1, is 35 miles north of the city of San Luis Obispo. If you're planning on visiting Hearst Castle, head to the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument Visitor Center, 5 miles north of the main area of San Simeon State Park. While there is a fee to visit Hearst Castle and to camp, there is no day use charge to enter other areas of the park.
In 1919, a newspaper mogul began construction on a hilltop for his new home. Thirty years later, the 115-room Hearst Castle was complete. Tours of the castle begin at the visitor center; it's recommended you make a reservation to avoid waiting around for your tour time. Three different tours highlight different portions of the castle, and each lasts 45 minutes. After your appointed tour, you can schedule another tour or you can explore the 8-acre garden, grounds and pools until the park closes. Because the tour requires stair-climbing and walks up hills, it is not recommended for the physically challenged.
Within the main area of San Simeon State Park, visitors can take the 3.5-mile hike along San Simeon Creek. The trail features signs explaining the habitat of the San Simeon Natural Preserve and includes a boardwalk over a marshy area. Following the creek, the trail remains relatively flat; along the way you may see pond turtles, egrets and red-legged frogs.
Two other preserves are within the park. The 40-acre Santa Rosa Creek Preserve includes wetlands and forested areas and provides habitat for the tidewater goby, an endangered fish native to California. The Pa-Nu Cultural Preserve features an archaeological site dated to over 5,800 years ago. In addition to the preserves, you can wander over to the beach to surf, look for treasure in the sand or watch the ocean for whales.
The main area of San Simeon State Park offers two campgrounds: San Simeon Creek Campground and Washburn Campground. San Simeon campground is ideal for tents, campers and RVs, while Washburn Campground is only for tent camping. Although San Simeon has more services, such as showers and RV hookups, the Washburn sites have views of the ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains. From late spring to fall, all campsites must be reserved through Reserve America. The rest of the year you can be more spontaneous since half the sites are available first come, first served.