During our recent trip to the Highway 1 Discovery Route along the Central California Coast, we stopped at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery that’s about 6 miles up the coast from Hearst Castle. As it turns out, January is peak birthing season, so we saw lots of pups. The docent (the volunteers are there every day) pointed out one female who was acting as if she were ready to give birth. How exciting.
I was so determined to get a photo that would make National Geographic beg for my private number, that I stood in the rain for about an hour, squinting through my lens at the seal as she flopped about trying to get comfortable. Watching her trying to find a comfy pose gave me flashbacks to my own birthing experiences, and I sadly saw the resemblance between me and a large “come on already, let’s get this over with” elephant seal.
Eventually she fell asleep. I checked back in with the docent, who said it could take anywhere from an hour to 24 for her to give birth. I guess she wasn’t imminent enough to comply with my schedule. Dang it anyway.
I didn’t have any childhood memories of seeing the elephant seals during family travels, but I discovered that the seals didn’t start coming to the rookery until 1990, which explains why (I was a full-grown A-Dult by the 90s). Now you can see them year-round.
And this was my first trip to Hearst too, odd as that seems for someone who’s lived most of her life in California. Coming in January was perfect, as there were no lines at all. I especially liked the exhibit at the visitor’s center. Lots of pictures and history. I love history, and actually have my BA in Medieval European History. My dad said it qualified me for government work (that was the early 80s).We were THIS close to seeing an elephant seal pup being born. Click To Tweet
Besides our visit to Covell’s Clydesdales (click to read about it and see the pictures), we also went on quite a few walks – Moonstone Beach and Boardwalk, Fiscalini Preserve, downtown Cambria, and Harmony Headlands. Our hotel was El Colibri, which sits in a quiet spot right at the start of Moonstone Beach. For pics of my sister planking on a Fiscalini bench in the pouring rain, read her post about our multi-generational travel experience.
When you go to Cambria, try any of the restaurants we ate at – Linn’s, Indigo Moon, Robin’s, Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill, and Black Cat Bistro. All of them were fantastic, and had lots of choices for vegetarians. Really, really friendly staff too. Really. I also suspect that sweet potato fries are the official food of the Central Coast. This is a good thing.
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Alexandra Williams, MA
Where do you go and what can you do when you have three generations, four days to travel, and a goal to achieve at least 10,000 steps per day? Let me rephrase that: what place meets the needs of middle-aged twins who want “active travel” options, a 19 year old who is game for whatever as long as heavy exertion is not required, and a mom/ grandma who needs to make decisions based on safety?
Click on all images to see the captions.
When Alexandra and I, both baby boomers, were offered the opportunity to head up the Highway 1 Discovery Route, we were all over it like elephant seals on sand! Wait, did I just compare ourselves to large, rotund animals? Moving on. (But first, we would like to thank, acknowledge, and disclose that our trip was sponsored by CA Highway 1 DiscoveryRoute (highway1discoveryroute.com). Local businesses and organizations teamed up to promote the many options the area offers and we were the lucky bloggers chosen to get spoiled.)
Turns out the Cambria/ Harmony/ San Simeon area (best known for Hearst Castle) is the ideal vacation destination for multigenerational travel. Even better, winter is an ideal time to visit this accessible section of central California. Crowds are down; prices are low; and the number of things to do and see is sky high. Seriously, I had thought of the area as “sleepy” but we could have spent a week and still not have exhausted the options. I might have started fighting with Alexandra after a week together. Willing to find out though!
Why fight when you can find Harmony? Home of 18 residents and the Harmony Glassworks Studio, this tiny “city” is worth checking out. Don’t blink or you’ll miss the exit. Whether you want to try glassblowing, shop for handmade gifts, or wait in the car while the crazy middle-aged sisters brave the rain to get some pictures, you’ll be glad you ventured here. Skin is waterproof, so bring on the wet!
A quick tour and interview of the Harmony Glassworks
New experiences and nature spark the brain. Great for our mom, who wants to retain her memory and cognitive skills. She loves to travel, though can no longer do so alone. Catching the elephant seals in winter is perfect as that’s when the pups are just born, so the rookery is chock full of new seal families. Super accessible and interesting for all ages. And we almost saw a seal give birth.
Walking and healthy foods enhance health. Say, that sounds good to all of us, including my 19 year old nephew. He was keen on the high quality restaurants and varied food choices. He fully embraced the antiquing, beachcombing, and massage at the El Colibri Spa and Inn, where we stayed.
Rain and mist (finally!) create gorgeous vistas and ideal hike conditions. For me this meant heading to the Harmony Headlands Trail, a 4-mile walk through meadows and rolling hills to get to rugged coastline.
My sister, mom, and nephew headed to Hearst Castle meantime. Hot tip to you baby boomers who bring a parent along — walking sticks will really help with steps, castle climbing, slippery streets, and strolls along the Moonstone Beach boardwalk.
Originally, I was scheduled to kayak with Cubby of Kayak Outfitters. But when the words “tricky” and “high surf advisory” came into the discussion, I decided to return in fall for this adventure. Apparently fall is the best time to paddle out. So that’s when you can count me in. Yes, I plan to return as I enjoyed the area so much and have other hiking trails to check out.
Visiting Covell’s Clydesdale Horse Ranch is another insider tip for those of you who want to step back in time when the land was pristine and undeveloped. You can read more about this unique, historic, and privately held ranch dedicated to conservation in this post my sister wrote. Great photos too!: Hidden Gem in Central California. Again, the set up appealed to all four of us, and the owner was very sweet and accommodating of our varied needs and interests. I am not normally a horse person (they scare me, ok?!). But seeing the Clydesdales up close was a once-in-a-lifetime, inspiring experience. What may appeal to some of you even more is getting access to this private and vast property. Being able to perambulate and drive through more than a thousand acres of “original” California coastal land is the tour to take advantage of while you can.
Another travel tip Alexandra and I figured out is that we can work in some hikes and walks while the generation above and below take a nap, fondle their smart phones in the hotel room, and get spa treatments. With the Fiscalini Preserve just a mile from our hotel, we braved the elements and had the coastline to ourselves.
What’s left to say? If you want to start your day with beauty (see above) and end it with more beauty (see and sea below), then get yourself and family to Highway 1 in Central California. For sure in winter. Then again, who wants to meet me there in fall? We can double kayak and take a hike!
ACTION: Have you been to Cambria and the surrounding area? If so, what is one of your fondest memories? Comment below. Or lay some emoticons on us.
Photo credits: Photos of me taken by not me, aka Alexandra. Photos that look professional also taken by Alexandra. Photos that look pretty darn good for an amateur with little clue about lighting taken by me! If you really want to know who took what, click on the images and all captions reveal themselves.
When the tourism bureau booked the tour for us, we weren’t quite sure if it was a place where you ride the horses, ride a wagon behind the horses, pet them in a stable, or view them behind a fence. Turns out it’s none of these – it’s something way better.
We got a personal tour from Ralph, the owner of the approximately 2,000 acre ranch that stretches from the ocean to the mountains, and has over 80 (if I am remembering correctly) Clydesdales who roam the property. They aren’t exactly wild, nor are they tame – they are beautiful creatures with names who will happily come up to you (while you stay safely in the vehicle), let you pet them, sniff the vehicle hoping for hay, then wander off to roll in the grass or scratch their chests on a fence post.
Just a few bits of info about Covell’s:
The house Ralph lives in was built in 1860. When you take the tour, you’ll get a full history of the house, the horses, the property, the personalities of the various owners, stewards and visitors, and the legacy he is continuing forward. Along with the history, you’ll get quite a few entertaining anecdotes too, as Ralph is quite the raconteur.
Experts told Ralph he could take a portion of his ranch, turn it into 46 buildable parcels of land, and make a fortune. Something along the lines of $30 million. His reaction? He turned it into a nature conservation easement to protect it for future generations. The views will make you cry, they are so astounding, from pine forests to rolling pastures (and “rolling” really is the correct word). I swear you can almost see all the way to San Simeon.
When I went to Hearst Castle, I kept wishing I could walk instead of taking the tour bus, as the views were begging for me to photograph them. Even with a fast shutter speed, I was still frustrated, as the glare from the bus windows was a problem. But as soon as we got out on our first hillside stop at Covell’s, I got my wish. But better. I could have fit my whole family for a portrait onto one of the branches of the oak tree that my son climbed. I could zoom out for ocean and mountain landscapes, or zoom in for pine cone close-ups, and take my time.
Horses!!!! These are champion Clydesdales, and it is obvious as soon as you see them. The horses know the sound of Ralph’s truck and come up to it when he arrives. Roll your windows down and keep your camera ready, as they will stick their heads in to check you out. I know nothing about horses, but for pure aesthetics and wonderment, these are the best (my favorite was Debutante, due to her freckles). And once Ralph tells you their stories you’ll be even more impressed. I took a quick 3-minute video that you’ll want to see (follow me on Periscope while you’re at it)
For various reasons, Covell’s Clydesdales isn’t easy to find on social media (and the website is temporarily down), but that just makes it easier for YOU to have it to yourself, because we know the secret to making a booking. You can call Ralph directly at (805) 927-3398 or follow the Highway 1 Discovery Route link. Once the website is back up, you can go to CovellsClydesdales.com too. Or email CovellsClydesdales@mac.com. A bit more work than a few computer clicks, yet that won’t deter you travel and nature lovers, right?
by Alexandra Williams, MA
Our visit to Covell’s Clydesdales was supported by California Highway 1 Discovery Route. We did a four-day inter-generational tour of some of Highway 1’s most stunning and accessible coastal towns in Central California. Contact them for suggested itineraries and all the other travel info that will make your trip as fun as ours was.