Wednesday, November 19, 2014

San Simeon State Park and Coastal Travels South, CA

During our two weeks staying at this state park, we travel up and down the coast until we start to feel like residents ourselves. We love being able to spend as much time as we want in one spot unlike so many vacationers who must adhere to a schedule.
Morro Bay and Morro Rock
Morro Bay quickly becomes our favourite place near the San Simeon State Park. It is a pretty coastal town, a working fishing village, a tourist area with hotels, shops and restaurants (all the seafood you could imagine), a sand spit seven miles long to the south, six miles of wide sandy beaches to the north, and Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic plug dome (one in a chain of 16 such plug domes). It would be easy to spend a week in this town and not run out of things to do or see. This photo of the Rock is taken from Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos where numerous waterbirds can be found.
Morro Bay looking north from Montaña de Oro State Park - the bay, the town and Morro Rock. Fortunately the generating plant is no longer in operation, but the residents don't want the stacks removed (weird, because we find them distractingly ugly). In the estuary (on the right) that feeds into Morro Bay, we see Northern Pintails, American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Mallards. This area is a migrating fly zone and for some a wintering haven.
In the bay south of Morro Rock, we can always find sea otters either floating on their backs, as this mother is with her baby stretched on top of her, or diving. They are adorable and entertaining to watch cleaning their very thick fur or scratching their heads with their flipper claws.
North of Morro Rock, the waves churn out big ones for the surfers (a shark was spotted here the day before, but that doesn't seem to deter anyone). Today, there are 20-30 of surfers braving the 55F degree (12C) water. Participants include men and women, old and young; this particular surfer is a young woman. It is on this beach heading north where we see hundreds of sand dollars washed up by the outgoing tide.
Okay, so we have tons of red-tail hawks at home. But not only is this a particularly good photo of one, but my story here is about the eucalyptus tree in which he sits. These trees are everywhere, and their odour is intoxicating. It's like being in a spice store and smelling everything at once. Monarch butterflies also migrate through this area and rest in these trees, and we see many floating around.
Montaña de Oro State Park
Where to start? This state park is a must see for anyone visiting this area. We return three times during our two weeks at San Simeon. Its rugged coastline is similar to what we see traveling around Point Lobos near Carmel, but also with a long stretch of sandy, white beach where surfers gather.
Each time we come here, we see horses on the beach. The homes just outside of the park not only have an amazing ocean view, but most of them also have horses corralled in their yard. What a life it must be - for both the residents and the horses.
Selecting photos from the hundreds we take in this park is difficult. The rocks climbing out of the ocean here amaze us, and these demonstrate to us why this park is named Montaña de Oro (Mountain of Gold), although technically the gold refers to the colour of the wildflowers that grow here.
Another example of the beautiful coastline here and the jagged rocks. Yes, rocks fascinate us, whether in the ocean or the desert.
Brad catches me resting on the rocks below while he climbs the sand dunes. I could sit and watch the waves crashing all day.
The park's sand dunes are quite high here at Hazard Reef, about 100 feet. A couple of kids are "tobagganing" on the dunes with a long board similar to a skateboard but without the wheels. They have a blast, even when they tumble head first into the sand.
San Simeon
In San Simeon, there is a beautiful, calm bay with a pier. We hike out to San Simeon Point through the beautiful scent of the eucalyptus forest. Here we see the sweeping view of this bay to the south; there are ragged cliff views to the north.
From the bluffs there is a great view of the Hearst Castle perched on the hillside above the bay and the Pacific Coast Highway. The property which is now Hearst San Simeon State Beach (where we are hiking) was once owned by William Randolph Hearst and used for shipping access while building the castle. We toured the castle at night, so didn't get to see the view of the bay from the castle, but I'll bet it's spectacular!
Pismo Beach area
Another day trip takes us south near Pismo Beach. This is the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, where ATVers ride the shore and the dunes. It's very windy today and we don't stay long, eating lunch in the truck. The sand whips across the beach, chasing us away.
Shell Beach is more rugged - no long stretches of white sand here. It's Saturday, so families are out enjoying the sun even though there is a cool breeze.
Another view of Shell Beach. A beautiful park with gorgeous gardens and a trail sits atop these bluffs. We also pass through Avila Beach, but being Saturday it is incredibly busy making parking very difficult to find so we don't stay, but I understand it has wonderful little beach shops and restaurants and the sandy beach looks calm and lovely being inside the bay (no photo).

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