We left behind our friend’s family at Foxen Vineyard, and continued our way north, having already had a fantastic few days in Channel Islands and the wineries around Solvang.
After a little highway driving, we were now following the scenic beauty of the Pacific Coast. I still find it amazing that there is still so much wilderness here. We stopped a little early to enjoy the sunset from one of the many beaches along the coast, curious about the giant tepee structures we could see on the beach. Just like San Francisco, as the sun started to get lower in the horizon, the temperatures quickly started falling.
Thankfully we had the comfort of our mobile home to enjoy the views, while James worked on his meal for us. We camped in the Hearst San Simeon State Park, which was just up the hill from this beach. It was a good decision to enjoy dinner down by the beach before retiring for the night back up in the hills.
Thankfully we were partially organised and had organised our entrance tickets to visit Hearst Castle a few days prior. We were in one of the first tours of the day, so thankfully it wasn’t far from our campsite from last night. The early morning fog was thick, and the day felt cold and miserable. After checking in to the tourist office, we joined our scheduled tour and caught the tourist shuttle up to the mansion, high above the coast. As we ascended, along the beautiful private road that wends up through the hills, we escaped the marine layer, and were bathed in glorious sunshine again.
The owner, William Hearst, was an exceptionally wealthy man, and had enjoyed European architecture and history. So, when it came time for him to build his dream mansion, he chopped and melded various European styles to create this one of a kind castle.
We were lucky that they were just filling up the Neptune Pool, which had sat empty for the two years prior. I could just imagine the parties held down by this truly splendid and opulent pool – the tour went to great detail about the difficulties for the architect to just keep this pool fed with water, as well as the authentic sculptures and facias used for the surrounding pavilions.
Walking around the surrounding gardens, with their rich assortment of statues and other adornments, was an absolute treat. We could see the spires of the castle through gaps in the trees, and were surprised at the scale.
When we finally got our first unobstructed view, it was a whole other experience. It felt like I was standing in front of a Catholic Church. But, at the same time, it didn’t. There was an incredible mixture of design elements here, and it was undeniably un-American.
Stepping inside was even more extreme, with giant collections of tapestries, religious icons – and even the ornate wooden ceiling – brought across from various Europe countries. I won’t lie, it was impressive, and for a while I forgot that I was in California. There were countless rooms for entertaining, each with different themes. It reminded me a little of Peles Castle in Romania, with all the different styles and themes mixed together – just on a much smaller scale than the Romanian royalty’s castle.
Following the tour of the interior, we were free to wander through the gardens again, and it was easy to see what made this man want to build his mansion in this location.
The last stop before returning back down the hill to the tourist centre was the truly cavernous indoor pool. I almost think I’ve seen smaller Olympic pools than this. Again, it had its own style of decoration, with vivid blue and gold tiles.
It was not hard to imagine the kinds of parties that would go on up here with the rich and famous, far from any prying eyes, free to be as wild as they wished.
Carrying on our path along the Pacific Coast, we came across the giant Elephant Seal reservation and stopped to gawk and gaze as these bizarre creatures. The way they wriggled and shuffled on the land was mesmerising. Their enormous blubbery bodies rippled in waves, and the exertion of shuffling that much weight clearly showed, with them stopping for a rest after each of the laboured movements.
The sounds they made were truly unlike I was expecting, sounding like a deep clicking/banging sound, almost percussive. There was plenty of posturing by the enormous males, followed by them entering what almost looked like a semi-catatonic state. This was interrupted after prolonged periods with enormous gusts of breath, sending sand billowing out.
It was mesmerising to watch all the activity and drama happening down below.
The driving along the coast got a little more serious once we properly entered the Big Sur National Park. The roads got a little tighter, with some corners feeling tight in our 10m long bus. That was until I saw buses and trucks belt around them without any appearance of concern.
There were several beautiful views of the coast as we continued our drive northward, but nothing compared to McWay Falls. I’ve seen dozen of photos, though seeing it for the first time with my own eyes was a revelation. It felt like a scene from a fantasy movie, with an impossible melding of different and amazing features, all crammed into this one tiny cove.
Other than the amazing waterfall, which just feels out of place, the vivid contrast between the churning whitewash, the rich turquoise that faded to royal blue, and the clean yellow sand was almost too much. Then there were the rocky outcrops, dotted with improbable trees, looking more like bonsais than something occurring naturally.
The outlook (and the car park/road) were crowded and busy, even on a Wednesday afternoon, but I was able to tune it all out and just drink this view in, watching as wave after wave crashed on the shore, then slowly dragged the whitewash back down before it surging back up again and again. Photos don’t, and can’t, do it justice. It was truly one of the most beautiful coves that I’ve seen. Just seeing the pictures again brings back a sense of serenity and perfection.
I think I’ve devoted enough words to what is surely the highlight of the Big Sur coastline, though that’s not to say that it was the sole attraction to be enjoyed. We spent the night in another one of the many national parks in the area, surrounded by giant redwoods, and rolling golden hills that are starting to feel so familiar.
The next morning the anticipation of views continued around each every corner. The last of our ‘big ticket’ stops was at Bixby Creek Bridge, which wasn’t so easy to see as we drove north, other than the sudden disaster of cars blocking the highway, much to the irritation of the non-tourists.
Garden of Eden
After a seafood lunch in Moss Landing (though without paddling with the Sea Otters this time), we made a detour into the Santa Cruz hinterlands for a dip in the waters in the Garden of Eden. We could see the steady stream of people in swimwear leaving the area, but it was hard to see exactly where to go. A small trail took down to a train line, which we followed for a period. To much surprise, the train line is actually still in use, though thankfully we had more than enough time to get out of the way of the slowly approaching train.
It was a steep scramble down to the water, over a combination of a dusty path interspersed with boulders and tree roots. The sun was now low enough that we were in complete shade, which explained why we were seeing so many making their way back to the car park. Undeterred, we stripped down to our swimwear and jumped into the unfortunately cold water. It’d been a hot and sweaty day, so the dig was refreshing – if coming a little too late in the afternoon to have had peak enjoyment. Even with the others in the area, it was supremely relaxing, and a great way to have ended the journey.
Now we just had the challenge of emptying the van’s dirty water tanks – which was not quite as easy as Gunter’s little 20L portable system. But, it was worth it to have had the freedom to go and stay where we pleased. The van might have been a little excessive in size, but I think we all agreed it was another unforgettable motorhome journey.