Next morning, we headed north along Highway 1, stopping to marvel at the “town” of Harmony (population 18) and the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, a beach crowded with bus-sized monsters and their offspring.
We then checked into the Cavalier Oceanfront RESORT in San Simeon with its sweeping views over the Pacific. It’s ideally situated for a visit to the top attraction in these parts, the magnificent and opulent, yet eccentric Hearst Castle. Built on a 1,600ft hilltop between 1919 and 1947 by publishing billionaire William Randolph Hearst, it is a staggering monument to unlimited spending power and unrestrained ambition (see below left).
Roaring Twenties and 1930s, Hearst would fly in Hollywood stars and political heavyweights to his private airstrip, then ferry them by car up the steep road he’d had constructed to his own personal Eden. There, guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, the Marx Brothers, Churchill and President Coolidge would dine, watch the latest movies in a private cinema, play tennis, swim in the dazzling pools and admire Hearst’s private zoo.
Now owned by the state, it is one of California’s must-see sights, but San Luis Obispo County. has so much more to offer – just don’t expect anything to happen in a hurry. As the local motto says, life is too beautiful to rush.