Rugged and Regal: San Luis Obispo County’s North Coast
San Luis Obispo County, CA - Windswept vistas as far as the eye can see. The scent of sea spray and the warmth of the sun. Delectable, locally-sourced dishes and wines made from grapes grown just minutes away. It can only be one place: Wine Coast Country.
Considering the myriad charms of San Luis Obispo County’s north coast, it comes as no surprise that newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst chose this corner of the world to call home. Hearst Castle - a masterpiece of the Spanish Revival designed by architect Julia Morgan and built in the early 20th century outside the coastal village of San Simeon - is officially named "La Cuesta Encantada" or "The Enchanted Hill" for obvious reasons. From its perch high in the Santa Lucia Mountains, the castle once welcomed the glitterati of early Hollywood, including Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and James Stewart. Today, the 90,000 square-foot estate opens its doors to 7 million visitors each year as a state park - the third most-visited historic home in America - and is maintained in the opulent style of the 1920s and 30s, housing the vast treasures of Hearst’s international travels.
Traveling north from Hearst’s enchanted hill via scenic Highway 1 is a treat all by itself. In fact, the six-miles between San Simeon and Ragged Point comprise the most-filmed stretch of highway for car commercials in the world! With its inimitable views of the Pacific Ocean to one side and lush grasslands to the other, it’s no wonder millions of motorists consider this part of the world the crème de la crème of scenic drives.
Those grasslands are home to Hearst Ranch, the largest working cattle ranch in the state of California. In fact, the native grasses are what make Hearst Ranch beef special. Grass-fed and grass-finished since 1865, Hearst Ranch’s sustainably-produced beef is prepared and served in some of the finest restaurants the world over. And thanks to a conservation easement through the efforts of the California Rangeland Trust, the American Land Conservancy and the State of California, the historic working landscape at the ranch will be preserved forever, guaranteeing a delicious - and sustainable - future.
Beef is just one part of the Hearst Ranch legacy. Now, the ranch purveys pork, lamb, poultry, olive oil, and even wine. The Hearst Ranch Winery tasting room is located in San Simeon’s historic Seabastian’s General Store, across from the Hearst Castle Visitors’ Center. Sebastian’s is an integral part of the north coast’s history, constructed in 1852 at the peak of the whaling industry and providing goods and services to whalers, fishermen, miners and neighboring ranches. Today, is still serves as a general store and café that features Hearst Ranch meats as well as Hearst Ranch wines, made from sustainably-farmed Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and late harvest Zinfandel grapes.
Just north of San Simeon, it’s apparent that Wine Coast Country hosts holiday-makers of every sort...and species! Each year, migratory elephant seals make their way to the beaches north of San Simeon, and the famed Elephant Seal Rookery provides some of the most breathtaking free entertainment available on the Central Coast. The elephant seals lounge in the sun, vie for the attention of a mate, squabble, occasionally fight, and eventually bear their young - all in the open for visitors to see. Each season offers a wonderful "wildlife theater" as the give birth, breed, molt and rest.
North of the rookery lies the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, built in 1875 in response to numerous shipwrecks of cargo and whaling ships along the jagged, rocky coastline. The lighthouse - named after the point’s white rock outcroppings -still serves as a beacon today, and has been featured in the classic sci-fi film The Monster of Piedras Blancas as well as the Sandra Bullock movie Murder By Numbers. Group tours are available throughout the week, and the light station houses a small museum of local maritime history and a gift shop.
About 15 miles north, outdoor enthusiasts flock to "the Point," as the locals call Ragged Point, where the scenery is as good as the kite boarding, cycling, kayaking and hiking to be had there. While Ragged Point is considered the gateway to beautiful Big Sur, its cliff-top views, quiet beaches, and outdoor activities make it a destination in its own right. Built atop land that was once part of the Hearst Ranch, the Ragged Point Inn was established in 1961 by Wiley Ramey and his wife Mildred, who found Ragged Point’s rugged natural beauty irresistible.
Wine Coast Country represents the San Luis Obispo County Business Improvement District, whose mission is to promote increased occupancy in the 730+ lodging properties that are a part of the CBID constituency. www.WineCoastCountry.compromotes tourism to San Luis Obispo County’s distinct unincorporated areas, including Avila Beach, Cambria, Cayucos, Los Osos, Nipomo, Oceano, San Simeon, and unincorporated San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, and Morro Bay.
For more information, call Cheryl Cuming at (805) 547-CBID (547-2243) or log onto www.WineCoastCountry.com.