A Dog's Life Camping in San Simeon


Edie is no water dog. Give her a bath, and she'll whine, her uncropped ears drooping like her wrinkled jowls. Put her in the pool, and she'll immediately paddle to the edge, climb out and hide.

But along Santa Rosa Creek Road near this Central Coast village, our 2-year-old boxer found heaven. Her tongue flapping in the wind, she played tag with the afternoon surf, dragging my poor husband--shoes, socks and all--behind her. Both ended up soaked on a cool, gray Saturday that felt more like Irish spring than California summer, but no matter; San Simeon State Park's campground was only a few minutes' drive away.

Soon all of us warmed up around a crackling fire. Edie curled up at our feet, while Erik and I settled into a game of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit with our 12-year-old son, Stefan, over steaming cups of cocoa.

By 9 p.m., exhaustion won out. We crawled into our sleeping bags and dozed off listening to the gentle rustling of Monterey pines.

During our Memorial Day weekend camping getaway to the Hearst Castle region, I occasionally found myself longing for a bed-and-breakfast, especially when a highlight of our trip involved gawking at the luxurious decor of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst's estate at San Simeon.

But it was important that we celebrate summer's unofficial start with our entire family. That meant finding some way to accommodate Edie during our three-day trip. She certainly wanted to come along, if anxious brown eyes and paws pressed firmly on her leash were any indication the Friday morning of our departure.

With the help of the Internet and advice from friendly Cambrians, we found our destination to be rich in doggy opportunities. Only our campsite at San Simeon State Park required planning far ahead. Many sites were already claimed by the time we made our reservation in January.

That part of San Simeon was rustic, no doubt about it. After our 240-mile drive from Rancho Palos Verdes, we arrived to find coin-operated showers that spewed lukewarm water, spartan washrooms with no electrical outlets, and pesky birds that ate Edie's food and the cherries I got at a farmers market in Cambria.

The campground didn't allow leashed dogs on its trails, but plenty of other recreation areas nearby did, and we took Edie along miles of picturesque coastal beaches and trails.

The overcast skies and cool temperatures left the beaches relatively empty for a holiday weekend. The result was solitude for hardier souls. While my husband and son flew a kite and Edie explored the driftwood piles, I sat on a weathered log and read.

Edie, Erik and Stefan also climbed rocky stretches of the shoreline, looking at tidal pools teeming with crabs. The best wildlife experience happened Sunday, when we discovered dozens of bellowing elephant seals on a beach a few miles north of Hearst Castle.

Dining out with Edie proved easy. Most restaurants welcome well-behaved pooches at their outdoor tables. At the Cambria Sports Bar and Grill, the waitress even brought our panting boxer a bowl of water.

"My only rule is that you don't bark at me," she teased, as Edie sniffed at her shoes.

For the grownups, she brought a couple of refreshing pints of a locally brewed pale ale. The chile relleno, burrito and quesadilla we ordered were not as memorable, but we enjoyed the two-hour stop.

What to do with a dog during our Saturday visit to Hearst Castle (officially called Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument) was more complicated. Canines are forbidden because they interfere with guard dogs, a Hearst Castle operator had told me when I called before the trip. One of us could have skipped the tour to stay with Edie, but when I called again later, another employee at the castle provided a solution: a local outfit called Tailwags Inn.

This "dog-sitting motel," in a business park off Cambria's main drag, wasn't easy to find. But a couple of U-turns and requests for directions were a small inconvenience for the angel we found in Laura Wise, Tailwags' self-described "owner, maid and chef."

We had to follow a few guidelines: We brought Edie's shot records, including proof of a Bordetella vaccination that protects against kennel cough. We also had to bring a favorite blanket or toy for Edie. She warmed to Wise right away.

When we were ready to leave for Hearst Castle, Wise recommended that we stop for breakfast at the Creekside Gardens Cafe. This Cambria restaurant had an eclectic mix of decorations (chile pepper lights, stone statues) and wonderful food. The omelets and French toast were among the most delicious we've tasted.

Full and content, we drove six miles north for the 11:10 a.m. tour of the "Enchanted Hill," as Hearst dubbed his favorite residence. We chose a tour recommended for first-time visitors because it includes a 40-minute National Geographic film depicting how Hearst's father acquired the oceanfront property and why the publisher built the 115-room castle here.

The indoor pool with dark blue tile and 22-karat gold inlay was our favorite part. We also got a chuckle from the gaudy dining room with medieval flags, rustic table and assortment of ketchup and mustard bottles. It looked like a combination of jousting arena and summer camp dining hall.

Our tour guide told us that Hearst wanted his guests, many of them Hollywood luminaries, to appreciate the hilltop site he had chosen for his castle; it was where he camped out as a youth.

Aha, I thought with some satisfaction. Maybe camping was the best way to appreciate Hearst Castle after all.


Budget for Three

San Simeon campsite, two nights: $31.50

Breakfast, Creekside Gardens: 29.00

Lunch, Cambria Sports Bar and Grill: 52.76

Tour, Hearst Castle: 35.00

Other meals, groceries: 134.40

Tailwags Inn: 10.00

Gas: 50.46

FINAL TAB: $343.12

* San Simeon State Park campground, off California 1 five miles south of Hearst Castle; telephone (805) 927-2020 and http://www.hearstcastle.org for campground and Hearst Castle information, tel. (800) 444-7275 and http://www.reserveamerica.com/usa/ca/sans for campsite reservations.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is a reporter on The Times' Metro staff.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World