Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hearst Castle

Consider a trip along Hwy 1 to Hearst Castle on a 3-4 day weekend. Leave Edwards for a 5 hour (300 mi) drive to San Simeon and take one of the 4 tour options. Tour 1 (The Experience Tour) is $18 and lasts 1:45 + includes an IMAX film (worth the cost). If you don't show up early in the morning, buy tickets on their website or call 800-444-4445 because tours book up quickly. And because its extremely hard to gauge what time you'll arrive in San Simeon, plan ahead and arrive early. There's plenty in the visitor center to occupy you for an hour. W.H. Hearst's castle boasts a collection of mismatched antiquities and a couple of fabulous pools - the most famous being the Neptune Pool.

Consider spending the night at Vandenberg AFB (93 mi south). If in summer, Vandenberg has a beach and makes a fine launching point for your weekend's activities. Ask for the "Sideways" room when you book at lodging. This is a specially themed room, of course themed after the movie filmed nearby. Staying in San Simeon is impractical and hotels/B&Bs elsewhere in the area are expensive. For a special weekend, try the Cass House Inn in Cayucos, CA. This small town was recently showcased in Budget Travel's article on the top 10 small towns in America. It appeared first in the spread - but Elizabeth claims the 10 were listed in alphabetical order not by "precedence." There isn't much in Cayucos except a few antique dealers, a handful of fun restaurants, a pier and surfing lessons! While in Cayucos, pick up a few tasty treats at the Brown Butter Cookie Co., owned by two sisters who are such caring people. Their cookies have sea salt on top, which is quite tasty. The best place in Cayucos to pick up a picnic lunch is at the Old Cayucos Bakery & Deli. Picnic at San Simeon State Park (30 mins north, at the pier, of at the butterfly grove - next)

If you're visiting the mid-central CA coast between about December and February, stop into the Pismo Beach Monarch Grove. You'll see tens of thousands of butterflies just hanging around. A 5 minute walking path leads through a small Eucalyptus grove and docents are sometimes on hand to answer questions. Elizabeth and I visited on a Sunday and the docents were making their weekly butterfly count. Using a giant net, they caught hundreds of butterflies, put them in brown paper bags and marked each one with a marker before releasing.

Recommended itinerary: Drive to Vandenberg and spend the night. Get up and drive to the butterfly grove for a 30 min stop. Then drive further north to Cayucos. Visit the cookie place and pick up a picnic lunch at the Old Cayucos. Stroll thru town. Continue north to the San Simeon State Park and picnic on the tables there. End the day with a tour of Hearst Castle. On day 2, drop back south and visit the Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo wineries.

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