Hiking, Sightseeing, Wine Tasting on the North Coast

A portion of Ragged Point’s Black Swift Falls trail. At 400 feet, Black Swift Falls is the tallest waterfall on the Big Sur coast.

Nothing will get your blood flowing and your heart pumping like a stimulating hike and there are a number of good ones along the North Coast.  You can combine a hike this with some sightseeing and a bit of wine tasting along the way.
Starting at San Simeon State Park just south of Heart Castle is the entrance and parking area for the San Simeon Natural Preserve Washburn Day-Use area. Walk inland east to the trailhead that will take you past a seasonal wetland and onto a boardwalk with viewing sites. From here a 3.3 mile trail encircles the Preserve and Washburn Campground with scenic overlooks, rest-stop benches, and interpretive panels with wildlife information. Some, but not all, of this trail is wheelchair accessible. You can rest and watch the shorebirds running on the sand across the highway at San Simeon State Beach.
Head up to the old town of San Simeon located across the road from the entrance to Hearst Castle. Stop in at William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach to walk out on the pier or visit the Coastal Discovery Center.
Sebastian's Store in old San Simeon was built in 1852 and has been in continuous operation since. It is now a State Historical Landmark. The general store has served whalers, ranchers, builders, fishermen, miners, politicians, and Hollywood stars. The tasting room for Hearst Ranch Winery is located in the store and they also serve café style meals featuring Hearst grass-fed beef.  Close to the general store is a one-room schoolhouse, the Pacific School, which was built in 1870. William Randolph Hearst Jr. and his friends attended this school.
North of San Simeon is the lighthouse named for Point Piedras Blancas. There are docent walking tours of the lighthouse on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Tours start one and a half miles north of the station at the old Piedras Blancas Motel at 9:45am and cost $10.00.
South of the lighthouse on beaches below, elephant seals have established a rookery. Friends of the Elephant Seals have docents on hand at the site to answers questions about the seals every day from 10am-4pm during breeding season and on weekends and holidays at other times. Seals are viewed on the beaches from a boardwalk bluff above. Parking and entrance are free.
Continuing north on Highway 1, you come to Ragged Point and the southern section of Big Sur. Here there is an Inn, a restaurant, an outdoor café, a gas station, and a hiking trail. You can walk the easy path through a grove of Monterey Cypress out to the end of the point to see the spectacular views of the Big Sur coast.
Hardy individuals often opt to hike down the foot trail to the private beach. This descent takes you past Black Swift Falls, the tallest waterfall on the Big Sur Coast. The falls are sparse in summer, but flow abundantly in springtime falling 400 feet to the sea. The name “Black Swift” is derived from an endangered bird that nests on steep cliffs near coastal waterfalls. When the water is running, the trail becomes slippery so caution is advised. While the hike down Ragged Point Trail is beautiful, visitors should keep in mind that it is an arduous climb back up.
Across from the Inn is the entrance to the Ragged Point Fire Road Trail. This is a well-maintained fire road and the hike is an uphill adventure with good views all the way to the top. At the halfway point is an overlook showcasing the ocean and surrounding hills. The trail ends at a T intersection where you turn around to descend.
Salmon Creek Trail is 3.6 miles up Highway 1 from Ragged Point and is one of the most popular hiking trails in this southern section. It is four to six and half miles long depending on how far you want to go and is moderate to difficult. There are good views of the ocean all along the way. Turn-around spots might be at Spruce Camp that sits alongside Spruce Creek, or you can cross the creek and continue along Salmon Creek to Estrella Camp.
The little town of Gorda Springs By the Sea has a café, gas station, and the Gorda Springs Resort if you are inclined to stay overnight. The views are fantastic especially at sunset.
Willow Creek Trail is 1.1 miles north of Gorda and starts off of Willow Creek Road. This trail is 3.6 miles long and brings you through huge redwood forests and along a rocky creek. It is a moderately difficult hike through areas that are overgrown and rutted in places. Eventually you come to a well maintained trail through the redwoods, oaks, and Douglas firs. There is an old homestead in this area that you can access from a fork in the trail and here you can rest alongside the creek in the shade of the trees.
Another loop type trail is the 1.5 mile Jade Cove Trail located 3.3 miles north of Gorda at the “Jade Cove Beach Recreation Area” sign. This flat path takes you out to the coast with a steep path down to the water. Here gem seekers hunt for pieces of jade. If you decide to collect be sure to check first about rock collecting regulations.
The Jade Cove Bluff Trail connects to the easy Pacific Valley Trail in the north. Accessing it from Highway 1 across from the Pacific Valley Ranger Station you cross a broad grassy area and come out on cliffs high above the ocean.
A nice hike through towering redwoods is available at Limekiln Trail that takes you along several creeks and by a waterfall. The historic lime kiln is still on this site. This is an easy hike of two to three miles out and back with an elevation gain of about 150 feet. There is also a small rocky beach on the west side of the highway.
You can end your hiking tour of the southern Big Sur with a stop in Lucia for a bite to eat at the little roadside restaurant on the west side of the highway. Sit outside and enjoy the view, or head back to the town of Cambria and stop in at a variety of tasting rooms to sample the wines of the Central Coast.
By Ruth Ann Angus
Wine Tasting Stops on the North Coast
Gorda and Lucia
Highway 1
Southern Big Sur
At the Cafes in those towns
San Simeon
Hearst Ranch Winery Tasting Room
442 SLO San Simeon Road
Sebastian’s Store
Old San Simeon, CA
Across Highway 1 from entrance to Hearst Castle
Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Red Cuvee, White Cuvee and Barrel Select Cuvee Blends
Open daily 11am-5pm
Cambria East Village
4056 Burton Drive
Wine & gourmet food tasting, unique gifts and gift baskets
Open every day
Cambria West Village
Black Hand Cellars
766 Main Street Suite B
Boutique winery specializing in Syrah, Grenache, and blends
Open 11am-5pm daily
Cambria Wine Shop
788-A Main Street
Specializing in sweet wines, local boutique wines, and imports
Open Sun–Thurs  11am-5:30pm, Fri-Sat 11am to 7pm
Madeline’s Restaurant & Wine Shop
788-B Main Street
Offers wines from small production boutique wineries of Central Coast
Open daily 11am-5pm
Moonstone Cellars
801 Main Street corner of Main & Sheffield
Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc & Gewurtztraminer
Open daily 11am-5pm