Visiting And Exploring Hearst Castle, Wine Tasting & The Seaside Town Of Cayucos
I knew immediately that I would like this place.
After parking – for free – in a beach parking lot overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a pier, I turned around and noticed a building sporting an old boat with the words SCHOONER’S spread across the hull.
It looked just like the type of place that’s disappearing in California beach towns, classic bars overflowing with character being kicked to the curb by some upscale operation opened by a renowned chef with $20 “bites” and $15 cocktails.
I was in Cayucos on the Central California coast, a five-block town stuck in time located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco just off Highway 1. Yes, the famous Pacific Coast Highway. It is here where that the scenic drive really begins; the landmark Hearst Castle is just 30 minutes to the north.
In two days, PubClub.com associate Rick and myself would see a lot of this area, but hardly all of it, for there is a lot here other than what initially meets the eye. Here’s a rundown of our activities, starting with our colorful hotel hostess.
But first, be sure and watch this video on how to properly pronounce Cayucos.
And now, onto the places we stayed, ate and visited during our three days and two nights along the Highway 1 Discovery Route.
Our Accommodations: The Inn On The Beach B&B
Our introduction to the people of Cayucos was through a gregarious woman at the check-in desk. “Hi, I’m Suzie,” she announced, and proceed to tell us she had put a bottle of wine in our room (this is standard for all guests), then proceeded to grab another bottle “just in case you need it,” then invited us to the hotel’s nightly social hour (5-6 p.m.) with, you guessed it, more wine.
She then announced she would be cooking some snacks to be served during the social hour (these turned out be gourmet appetizers, by the way). When another guest came out of his room to inquire about borrowing a pen, Suzie asked if he needed any wine. When he said he was okay she said, “well how about beer!?” This was clearly a woman I could get along with, and not just in Cayucos but anywhere.
As far as the room, it was as large as an apartment with two king-sized beds, two cozy chairs by a fireplace, a small desk, a Jazuzzi bathtub and – most impressively – a deck overlooking the Cayucos Pier. We had arrived at sunset so we quickly opened one of those bottles of wine and watched the bright yellow sun slowly darken sink behind the pier, a perfect “welcome to Cayucos” moment. (Too bad I was with Rick and not, say, Miss Indy Australia Casey!).
The Meals: Schooner’s Wharf Bar & Restaurant, Caas House Grill, Robin’s Restaurant, Sebastian Brother’s General Store & Sea Shanty Breakfast
I was right. I thought I would like Schooner’s Wharf and I did – even before I walked into it.
The entrance reminded me of one of those “fun Florida” type of places – at the wood-framed entrance there’s wooden sculptures of salty pirates and an old sea captain, a water wheel and a swing. Upstairs there’s a patio overlooking ocean but we opted to eat inside the small bar because it reminded us of a pirate ship. We gorged ourselves for lunch on its excellent chowder, thick fried steak calamari (delicious, and I don’t necessarily like calamari) a juicy burger, a loaded steak sandwich and good onion rings.
On another day, we had lunch at another casual spot with as much character as the flavor has food, Sebastian Brothers General Store. This is located across Highway 1 from Hearst Castle, which you can see standing grandly on a far hill. We pulled up to the dirt parking lot and parked in front of a sign that stated “Warning. Horses May Bite.” About the only bite we experienced was several of them into the huge burgers and crispy onion rings. You sit outside on picnic tables and once finished, just step inside to buy a stamp from the one-window old West-style post office and taste wines from the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting room.
For dinner, we went about as upscale as Cayucos gets, the excellent Grill At Cass House. It’s an appropriate name, for it utilizes a wood-fired grill to make most of its food. Everything we had from that grill – chicken and steak skewers and especially the shrimp – was so delicious I can still taste it while writing this post. The pizza comes out of a wood-fired brick oven and it, too, was fantastic, tho frankly I was so overwhelmed by the skewers my taste buds did not give it due justice. This is kind of a covered outdoors place and the night we were there, a local musician was entertaining us singing and playing the guitar.
Another night, we made the 20-minute drive to Cambria (and were kicking ourselves we did not explore this cute town earlier in the day) at Robin’s Restaurant. Consistently voted one of the best restaurants in the area, it has a varied menu with Asian and Indian touches. I had a chicken stirfry with noodles, a dish that’s been on the menu for close to 30 years. It’s called Robin’s Chow and let me put it this way – you don’t want to rush through this meal. Outstanding. For an appetizer, another signature dish is the Crispy Vietnamese Spring Rolls.
Not that we needed breakfast after eating like this for two days, but I love local breakfast spots and the Sea Shanty in Cayucos filled us up; I went for one of its two signature dishes, the Cayucos Breakfast (scrambled eggs with biscuits, gravy and Swiss sausage). The other dish is Shae’s Sorry Mess (Swiss sausage, mushrooms bell peppers, onions, salsa and cheese). The Swiss sausage is flat-out delicious and comes from a local and long-time butcher shop in nearby San Luis Obispo.
The Saloon: Old Cayucos Tavern
PubClub can’t go into an old town – one that was on the original Pony Express route – and not stop into a place with a sign that says “Saloon” over the door. And so we wound up saddling up to the bar when I encountered a lively and somewhat salty young girl who had just finished her shift and had moved from behind the bar to in front of it.
Lauren proved to be at least as entertaining as Suzi, tho in a more raw kind of way. When I inquired as to the origin of the town of Cayucos, she said it was named after the Indian canoes that once dominated the area. When I said someone else mentioned it means “small boat” in the Indian language, she popped out “what the #$%@ do you think a canoe is after all!?!?”
This is a beer drinking and whiskey joint with characters like Lauren.
Sweet Stop: The Famous Butter Brown Cookie Company, Cayucos
This former deli started by two sisters (one of whom now owns The Grill at Cass House) became nationally famous for its sea salt cookie, a melt-in-your-mouth shortbread morsel with a touch of sea salt. I can’t vouch for how good the cookie is because I don’t eat sweets, but they must be good because it took Rick a full five minutes to say something after eating one. The store has been featured in the New York Times and other publications and the day we were there, they were preparing to make 9,000 cookies the next day. Nine thousand cookies in a single day!
Wine Tasting At Harmony Winery & Hearst Ranch Winers Tasting Room
Just over the hill on Highway 46 is the vast wine growing region of Paso Robles. But you don’t have to go there to do your wine tasting.
As I mentioned earlier, you can taste wines from the Hearst Ranch Winery right across from the castle. A few miles to the south off Highway 1 is the “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” town/village/dot-on-the-map spot of Harmony. This rustic Harmony Cellars wine tasting room makes you want to put on your cowboy hat, kick up your boots on one of he outdoor decks and sip wines while watching the cows graze below you. Have some of its excellent wines – my favorites were the 2015 Tempranillo and the 2015 Grandpa Barlogio Zinfandel – and stay here here until, well, the cows came home.
Hearst Castle Tour
By far and without a doubt, the primary tourist attraction in this area is Hearst Castle. This magnificent structure sits atop a huge hill overlooking the entire area and looks like a fairytale castle from the road.
You ride a bus up a steep and curvy road to get to the house (or houses, really); from there you take a one-hour guided tour through several of the rooms in the main house. You start in a stately room where host William Randolph Hearst would hold evening cocktail parties for his high-end guests, tho he did not drink himself.
The tour was good, of course, but what I enjoyed the most was being able to roam the grounds afterward. The views looking down to the ocean are stunning and you’re surrounded by big gardens, that stately mansion towering into the blue sky and a design that’s classic Greek. It truly makes you feel as if you’re in the Mediterranean.
Click here for a full review, photos and video of the Hearst Castle Tour.
Seeing Nature At The Elephant Seal Rookery
After Hearst Castle, we headed four miles north to a gorgeous part of the coastline with rocks poking out from the seabed near the shore. Most people don’t stop here for the scenery, tho; they stop to watch the elephant seals. When we were there, which was December, they were doing nothing but sleeping on the beach. Not unlike a few tourists on other California beaches. This is their down time but at other times they are in the water catching fish and also fighting for territory and mating partners on the narrow strip of sand. Regardless of their activity or lack thereof, this is a beautiful place to pause and soak in the Central California scene.
• Highway 1 Discovery Route