Highway 1's time-honored destinations await year-round
Cruise back in time as you traverse Highway 1 along the scenic SLO CAL coast. From illuminating lighthouse tours to Hearst's famous castle overlooking the Pacific, the region's rich history is revealed with every ebb and flow of the tide. Sure, the whaling ships and Dune-dwelling poets may be long gone, but they've left behind something far more valuable than whale oil or abalone. Each piece of SLO CAL's historical tapestry adds fresh perspective to your experience today.
Traverse the History and Heritage Trail
Get lost in time and love every moment of it. The History and Heritage Trail offers up a useful interactive map detailing landmarks along Highway 1 designed to bring visitors face to face with SLO CAL's remarkable coastal roots. You'll discover bygone relics as you step into someone else's shoes: Perhaps a brave lighthouse keeper living on a rocky point, a Native Californian fishing with generations of inherited knowledge, or a visionary clipper ship captain looking out to sea off a newly built pier.
Knock-knock: Historic Houses
If these walls could talk! Discover the old-time abodes of coastal SLO CAL and the explore the fascinating stories hidden beneath the floorboards
The Guthrie Bianchini House in Cambria
Get a historical view of Cambria on two feet when you visit one of Cambria's oldest homes, the Guthrie-Bianchini House. Built in 1870 by Thomas Clendinen, it is now the home of the Cambria Historical Museum. The stately old building sits on the corner of Burton Drive and Center Street in Cambria's East Village, the perfect place to while away an afternoon window shopping. The original house, a small "salt box," was sold in 1882 to Benjamin Franklin (rumored to be a relative of that Benjamin Franklin). From the Historical Society, you can embark on your own walking tour of Cambria, a quiet seaside town with a rich history dating back to the 1860s. You'll visit 26 historic structures along your way, including the old cemetery, a Chinese Temple, the mid-1800s Santa Rosa Chapel, the old jailhouse, and more.
Check it out: The best part? All this history can be enjoyed from the street, free of charge. Visit the Historical Society for more information.
The Price House in Pismo Beach
Talk about an incredible wedding present. The John Price House, also known as the Price Anniversary House, is the oldest structure in Pismo Beach—and perhaps the most romantic. In 1893, not long before they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, John Michael Price, the founder of Pismo Beach, and his wife Andrea, moved into their new two-story redwood home. The two-story Victorian boasts a gable roof, decorative wooden porch and rustic windmill. You'll fall in love at first sight!
Check it out: Feel free to stop by and view the house anytime (visitors do not have access inside the home at this time, but are welcome to walk the grounds).
Paulding History House in Arroyo Grande
First, you'll admire the stunning oak tree in the front yard, believed to be 250 years old. It kind of makes the home—built in 1889—look new! The first resident medical doctor in Arroyo Grande, Dr. Edwin Paulding, lived in this home after settling in the area circa 1882. He soon married Clara Edwards, and the couple were overjoyed to deliver their daughter, Ruth—right there in old home place. The story comes full circle, as Ruth—a beloved teacher in the Arroyo Grande community—passed at the age of 93 in the same house that she was born in.
Check it out: Docents are available to answer your questions at the Paulding House by appointment. The house is also open to the public the first Saturday of the month from noon to 3 p.m. Call 805-473-3231 for more information.
Cass House in Cayucos
Kick back in SLO CAL's original coastal hangout. The Captain James Cass House, located in downtown Cayucos, has been many things to many people. The house was built between 1867 and 1875, when Cayucos had little to offer—thus, the dwelling became the social center of the community throughout the late 1800s. At that time, the town boasted a single storefront (owned by Captain Cass), a warehouse, one private dwelling and the now historic pier (all of the building materials were transported by ship along the coast from San Francisco). Now, the house is still buzzing, believe it or not. With a restored inn, restaurant and bakery, the old captain's quarters are as lively as ever.
Check it out: The Cass House Bakery is open Thursday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and the restaurant will be open for community nights each Monday beginning March 2020. For more information, or to book a room, contact Cass House directly.
Nitt Witt Ridge in Cambria
The home that whimsy built: Nitt Witt Ridge is more than just a house. It's an artistic statement that will cause folks to pause in wonderment for decades to come! Once the home of reclusive artist Arthur “Art” Harold Beal, who bought his hillside lot in 1928, this real-life Pee Wee's Playhouse is an ode to one man's creative spirit. The artist spent the better part of 50 years carving out the terraces with only a pick and shovel (you could say he was creating his own “castle on the hill”). Located on 2.5 acres, some parts of the dwelling are said to be sourced from Hearst Castle, where the artist reportedly worked for a time. Other common building materials include beer cans, abalone shells, concrete, washer drums, car rims, tile, car parts, and old stoves. Now the house sands as a monument to the zanier side of life.
Check it out: You are welcome to visit this unique home today with a suggested donation of $10 per person (includes a 40-minute tour).
Spooner House at Montana de Oro State Park
A farmhouse with a coastal view? Only in SLO CAL! The Rancho Cañada de los Osos y Pecho y Islay (a 34,000-acre Mexican land grant) encompasses an important chunk of SLO CAL's scenic coastline. It also represents the region's robust agricultural roots, as you'll soon understand. The property passed through several hands—until 1892—when Alden Spooner Jr. built his ranch house overlooking the sea in 1892, He and his three sons planted grains and beans, operated a dairy, and raised cattle, sheep, goats and pigs on “Spooner Ranch.” During the 1920s and 30s, the family also leased ocean terrace land to Japanese pea farmers. Except for the highest slopes, every acre visible from the ranch house was under cultivation. There's no more crops to speak of, but the house still offers unmatched ocean views!
Gateway to SLO CAL History
With its verdant agricultural land and important place in early California rancho history, Nipomo and Oceano are not only considered the “southern gateway to SLO CAL.” These communities are largely untouched by time. Retrace the early Californians' steps through this unique landscape, rife with dunelife, ranch-land and surprising relics.
Dana Adobe Cultural Center
Re-live the rancho lifestyle. Before the Dana Adobe became a historical monument, it was a home occupied by the Dana family between 1839 until 1900. The thirteen-room adobe was built by Captain William Goodwin Dana in 1840. Now known as the Dana Cultural Center, the Adobe is open to the public and is dedicated to the history, heritage, culture, and ecology of the early 19th century Rancho Era in California. The Adobe is a must-see for folks interested in early California history, Rancho history, and Spanish colonial and Mexican history in California. Fun fact: The Rancho was also an important stopping point along El Camino Real stagecoach route, and even served as the mail exchange point for gold rush hopefuls on their way to untold riches. Or, so they hoped!
Check it out: Explore the Dana Adobe with a self-guided tour. The visitor center is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with tours available Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and by appointment.
The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes
Like sand through the hourglass: The Guadalupe-Nipomo dune complex—which stretches through the coastal communities of Guadalupe, Nipomo, Pismo Beach and Oceano—is the largest remaining dune complex south of San Francisco and second largest in the state of California. SLO CAL visitors love driving ATVS along the dunes, one of the only places in California that allows offroad vehicles to rev up right along the water. However, these mesmerizing dunes also contain fascinating stories, if you'll only listen to the sound of the wind.
The first known inhabitants were Native Americans of the Chumash tribe, who lived off the bounty of the sea. In 1923, the epic movie “The Ten Commandments,” directed by Cecil B. DeMille, was filmed on the Dunes—and, at the end of production, the massive sets used to reproduce “ancient Egypt” were dismantled and buried on the site to prevent reuse. As of 2013, they remain buried there, although a massive Sphinx head was discovered as of late!
From the 1920s until the 1940s, a group of mystics, nudists, artists, writers, and hermits known as the "Dunites" inhabited the Dunes. They regarded the Dunes as a center of creative energy and published a magazine called "The Dune Forum." At the same time, oil companies had started buying up Dune land, and in 1948, oil was discovered in the Dunes.
A slew of these diverse artifacts are now on display at The Dunes Visitor Center, which also offers educational programs and special events throughout the year. The mystery remains, and perhaps that is why so many flock to the Dunes today. Some artifacts—like many of those classic movie set pieces—will only be revealed as time marches on, causing the sands to shift and move beneath our feet.
Check it out: The Guadalupe Dunes Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is $7 for adults and $6 for seniors. Kids enter free of charge.
Oceano Train Depot
I think you can, I think you can: Chug into the historic Oceano Train Depot, a must-see for train enthusiasts of all ages. Built in 1904, the Depot was once one of the most important buildings in south SLO CAL, and it remains a fascinating reminder of how we traveled and communicated back in the day. You're in for a remarkable sight: the building has been restored to its turn-of-the-century glory, showcasing artifacts from the railroad and historical photos and artifacts from the surrounding community, including old post office boxes, coffee grinders, a jukebox, and railroad equipment. Of course, railroad buffs and former workers love to tell their stories of working on the railroad and even give instructions on how to use the specialized equipment. Kind of crazy to think that, at one time, all passenger, freight, telegraph, and mail service passed in and around the Depot! Wonder what they'd have thought about E-mail.
Check it out: Take a self-guided tour of the Historic Oceano Train Depot, open on Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m.
Home improvement, taken to a new level: With its extravagant collection of antiquities, stunning architecture, Grecian pools, manicured grounds and sun-dappled terraces, Hearst Castle is truly is the jewel of the SLO CAL Coast, welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Once the home (and constant “work in progress”) of businessman William Randolph Hearst, this hilltop estate awed and entertained the luminaries of his time. Winston Churchill, Hedda Hopper, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin all stayed and played on his “Enchanted Hill.” Today, it stands much as it did during his lifetime, comprising 90,000 square feet and Hearst’s world-class art collection—including a real Egyptian Sarcophagus! Sure, it's humanly impossible to explore all of Hearst Castle in a single day, but that's the beauty of this world-famous landmark. Every time you return to SLO CAL's coast, you'll have a fresh opportunity to explore a different corner of these opulent grounds. Tip: Keep an eye out for zebras as you make the drive along Highway 1, and be sure to stop in at Sebastian's General Store and Old San Simeon Village, where you can get a bite to eat or wine taste at the adjacent Hearst Ranch Winery Tasting Room. Hearst would approve of such a decadent road stop!
Check it out: Tour Hearst Castle year-round by visiting the website or calling the information line. You'll explore different portions of the estate with the Grand Rooms, Upstairs Suites, Cottages & Kitchen, and Designing the Dream tours. Want to stay for more? Check the calendar for special and seasonal events, including a Hearst and Hollywood Tour, Holiday Twilight Tour and private tours.
Light the way, walk the plank
See the SLO CAL Coast in a new light with these illuminating lighthouses and historic piers. Keep an eye out for seals, otters, seabirds and surfers!
Point San Luis Lighthouse
I can see clearly now: As ship travel increased in the mid-19th century, so, unfortunately, did shipwrecks. In 1877, Congressman Romaldo Pacheco brought a bill before Congress to build a lighthouse that would protect passing ships. The Port San Luis Lighthouse opened in 1890 with a French Fresnel lens that could be seen 20 miles away. Today, the lighthouse still stands, and docents lead historic tours there for casual visitors and lighthouse fanatics alike.
Piedras Blancas Light Station
Look through a new lens: Built in 1875, the Piedras Blancas Light Station sought to protect ships passing by San Simeon from wrecking on the rocky shoreline. The lighthouse once stood 100 feet tall thanks to the glass cupola over the Fresnel lens. Today, that lens is displayed next to the Veterans Memorial hall in Cambria, reducing the light station’s height to 70 feet. Still, the historic building remains an important and fascinating site for both the connoisseur and the curious. Book a tour of the property, taking in the sights and sounds of the ocean crashing below.
More to see: Elephant Seals make their migration to the San Simeon coast each year and they are always entertaining to observe. Good thing The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery lets visitors see elephant seals up close and in their element! Find these magnificent marine mammals on the beach, just off Highway 1. The rookery is easily accessible, free, and open to the public, year-round.
Surfers and fishing enthusiasts flock to the Cayucos Pier, known for is laid back vibe.
History: Before Captain James Cass landed in Cayucos in 1867, the town already had a sea-centric history with the Chumash people. In fact, the name “Cayucos” translates roughly as kayaks or canoes. But with Cass’s arrival from the East Coast, the Cayucos coastline became a player in international trade. Don’t miss Captain Cass’s home, which still stands today and houses a cozy bakery with a view.
More to do: Nosh on sugary morsels courtesy of Brown Butter Cookie Company while antique shopping along the main drag, grab some fish tacos at Ruddell's Smokehouse or cast a line off the pier and see if you get lucky.
San Simeon Bay Pier
Surrounded by untouched natural beauty, you'll soon see what Hearst saw in this majestic coastline.
History: In 1878, California State Senator George Hearst built a wharf to transport goods to and from his 40,000-acre rancho. That wharf would later receive antiquities from all over the world to fill the spectacular home of his son, newspaperman William Randolph Hearst. That wharf no longer remains, but a new pier was built in 1957 at Hearst Memorial State Beach as a recreational fishing pier. Today, the structure stands against the picturesque backdrop of San Simeon Bay, and continues to invite recreational fishing.
Sea-life in action: In the fall, visitors to this stunning pier are treated to up-close glimpses of migrating humpback whales feeding just off the coast. The area is also home to a sea otter preserve and part of a colony of 15,000 elephant seals that stretches to neighboring Cambria. Rent a kyak and see these critters up close.
Harford Pier / Port San Luis Pier
Wave hello to surfers, waders, whales and other sea life at the Harford/Port San Luis Pier. Also room for dinner and a drink with an epic view.
History: In the late 19th century, Harford’s Pier (now called Port San Luis Pier) managed import and export from across the globe. Harford also built “The People’s Wharf” near where the Avila Beach Pier stands today, which received cargo and passenger ships. Both of these piers connected with Harford’s light gauge railroad, which took passengers and goods between Avila Beach and San Luis Obispo. Today, the Bob Jones Bike Trail follows the shape of Harford’s railroad.
Get going: A bike ride along the Bob Jones Trail from See Canyon to Avila Beach is a lovely way to spend a SLO CAL afternoon. Pack a picnic and pedal your way to the sand. You can also savor fresh seafood at Old Port Inn, nestled at the end of the Harford Pier.
Avila Beach Pier
Located near wine tasting rooms, restaurants and hot springs, the Avila Beach Pier is a springboard for coastal pleasures galore.
History: In 1908, the County of San Luis Obispo built the 1,685-foot Avila Beach Pier, about the same time the Avila Beach Breakwater was built to protect Harford Pier. (Fun fact: Engineers blasted parts of Morro Rock to build the Avila Beach Breakwater.) The pier served as an important wharf for fishing and passengers, with several hoists and a large warehouse.
Taste this: Stop for wine tasting in Avila Beach, home to several awesome tasting rooms mere steps from the pier.
Cal Poly Pier
In 1914, between the Harford and Avila Beach Piers, the Pacific Coast Railway Co. built a pier for commercial shipping, later leased by Union Oil Co (Unocal). Both Harford and the Pacific Railway Pier shipped enough oil to make Port San Luis the largest crude oil shipping port on the globe. But not for long: as standard gauge railroads took over, the need for the piers and narrow gauge railroad disappeared. In 1941, Unocal bought the Pacific Railway Pier, which became critical to supplying the U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet throughout World War II. The pier stayed important for oil transportation until it’s destroyed in a storm in March, 1983. Unocal replaced the wooden pier with a concrete and steel pier, in the same footprint, and gifted the pier to Cal Poly University in 2001. Today, it’s called the Cal Poly Pier, dedicated as an educational marine research facility for the University.
Villages of yesteryear
From a quaint one-room schoolhouse to a storybook dairy farm with a tiny population, these coastal townsites are all about old-time charm
Santa Manuela Schoolhouse
Your kids will think you're crazy! Show the younger generation just how their ancestors went to school. Originally built in 1901, the Santa Manuela Schoolhouse, located in the historic village of Arroyo Grande, is a hands-on museum for historical exploration and learning. Restored to its original state, the one-room school is supplied with student’s chairs, historical books, maps, blackboards and photographs that you're free to take a ganger at. Believe it or not, but the schoolhouse was actually used up until as recently as 1957 in its original location (which now just so happens to be below the water of nearby Lake Lopez). Nearby, you'll find an ancient swinging footbridge constructed in early 1875 by the Short family, whose land was divided by the Arroyo Grande Creek. The bridge, which you can walk across today, spans a total length of 171 feet and is suspended 40 feet above the creek. It is now owned and maintained by the City of Arroyo Grande and is the only one of its kind open to the public in California. It's a little shaky at first, but you'll get the hang of it. Keep an eye out for roaming chickens who call the village home!
From schoolhouse to the jailhouse
What's worse than a pop test? Landing yourself in the jailhouse! While in Arroyo Grande, don't forget to stop by The Hoosegow Jailhouse, another tiny one-room structure over-looking downtown Arroyo Grande from Le Point Street. Check out the preserved historical site, surrounded by a small park maintained by the City of Arroyo Grande known as “Hoosegow Park.”
Harmony Dairy Town
Say hello to the cows and the glassblowers (a.k.a. the only residents). Known for its teeny-tiny population of 18, Harmony boasts a big heart and an even bigger heritage. For nearly five decades, the quaint village served as the epicenter of SLO CAL’s booming dairy industry. Later, the town transformed into a quirky artist’s haven. Wander through the glassworks shop to find handblown pieces created right before your eyes. You'll find a fabulous photo opportunity at Harmony’s famous chapel and minuscule post office. Don't forget to look down: flecks of sea glass shine as along the cobblestone path.
Don't miss it: Located between San Simeon’s Hearst Castle and Paso Robles’ celebrated wine region, Harmony is a fascinating detour. Keep your eyes peeled for the “population 18 sign” just off Highway 1 and don't blink!
Old Edna Valley Townsite
Swirling into the mist: Chardonnay and pinot noir were famously first planted in Edna Valley by Spanish Missionaries in the early 1800s. Now, you can explore that delicious wine (and the history) with a stroll through the vines. Located adjacent to the Sextant Winery tasting room, the Old Edna Townsite (founded in the 1840s) is a charming vintage village complete with refurbished structures to explore. Throughout the valley and nearby Arroyo Grande Valley, you’ll also find farm stands that harken back to the days before wine became the hot “new” thing.
Taste the past in a glass: Want to know more about SLO CAL's wine history? Check out ongoing exhibits courtesy of the Wine History Project, which aims to further exploration of how wine has impacted the region throughout the decades. Explore more SLO COAST tasting rooms here.