Sipping in San Simeon
History, wine, and nature on the Central Coast
Photos and story by Adam Nuñez
California’s Central Coast Highway 1 boasts some of the greatest sights in the entire country. Numerous idyllic beaches and forested mountains lay sprawled along this road with stopping points like Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Cambria. Travelers from far and wide flock to these destinations for the world-class wine and food. Wine enthusiasts, or really anyone who enjoys wine tasting and beautiful views, won’t want to miss a very special tasting room just 10 minutes north of Cambria. It’s the Hearst Ranch Winery in San Simeon located right on the William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach. It’s an ideal place for wine tasting or sharing a bottle with friends and family while soaking up the beach views directly in front of you. And by directly, I mean only about 20 yards from your comfy umbrella chair.
The Hearst Ranch Winery serves an array of crisp white to deep red wines that they rotate every few months. And the service will definitely impress. Cheese, crackers, and other charcuterie items are sold every day. Other food is available Friday through Sunday afternoons, courtesy of the Cruiser Food Truck. Visitors can also purchase delicious sandwiches from Sebastian’s General Store, open daily. The store was built way back in 1852, during the peak of the whaling industry. It’s actually the oldest store building along the north coast of San Luis Obispo County. The tasting room also welcomes children and dogs, which are allowed on the outside beach-facing patio.
The Hearst Ranch Winery has a special story. It’s a partnership between the Hearst family and Jim and Debby Saunders. Around 1994, Jim and Debby had been selling berries and juices under their company name. They attended a charity event hosted by the Hearst Corporation and got a ticket for a day at the Castle with the great-grandson of William Randolf Hearst, Steve Hearst. It was there that Jim and Steve’s friendship and partnership began. Fast-forward to 2010, when the Saunders family started Hearst Ranch Winery at Sebastian’s General Store. Then, in 2019, they purchased the ocean-front property, where today you can sit, sip, and partake in fine wine and lovely views.
While enjoying some wine and food, you’ll notice the beach lies comfortably in a bay with the pier to your left (east) and a forested peninsula to your right (west). There is an easy-to-follow flat trail on the peninsula with sweeping views of the bay. Drive or walk a quarter mile toward the pier to a parking lot to access the beach, pier, and trail. During the fall season, you can sometimes spot up-close views of migrating humpback whales. San Simeon lies in the southernmost region of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which stretches nearly 280 miles northward to San Francisco. This is some of the most pristine ocean water in the entire country — ideal for viewing wildlife. It’s quite common to observe sea otters nestled in kelp forests near the pier or along the peninsula trail. You can also watch sea lions bask in the sun along the peninsula’s small beaches.
To access this trail, simply walk along the beach toward the forested peninsula, and you can’t miss the wide trail on your right leading up into the trees. The trail is about 4 miles in total, but you can meander at your leisure and turn around at any point. The views are spectacular the entire way. The air carries a sweet earthy scent of ocean spray and mature Eucalyptus trees. There are also many Monterey Cypresses, which are iconic in this region. Bring a blanket, snacks, and some wine for a perfect picnic. You can gaze back toward the calm bay, up toward Hearst Castle on the mountaintop, or out into the depths of the Pacific Ocean. You can even bring your dogs (as long as they are leashed).
Of course, we can’t mention San Simeon without recognizing its most famous landmark: Hearst Castle, the crown jewel of California’s Central Coast. And rightfully so. From 1919 to 1947, newspaper magnate William Hearst worked with genius architect Julia Morgan to design this masterpiece home with stunning ocean and mountain vistas. Along with the main Castle (a.k.a. “La Casa Grande”) there are three side villas, two swimming pools, rose gardens, a tennis court, an indoor movie theater, and world-class art throughout the property. Visitors come from all around the world to visit this architectural triumph. It’s definitely worth a visit.
And after a morning tour of the Castle, what better activity than visiting a wine tasting room by the sea? It’s located just a stone’s throw away from the Castle’s Visitor Center. You could spend a full day exploring history, wine, and nature. Don’t miss an amazing day at the Hearst Ranch Winery in San Simeon.
To learn more about their Paso Robles winery location, events, memberships, and more, visit hearstranchwinery.com. The tasting room is located at 442 SLO San Simeon Rd., San Simeon, and is open from 11 am to 4 pm.