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LAist Weekender: San Simeon

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All photos by Carrie Meathrell & Kevin Weis/LAist
Though it may not have the scenic majesty of Morro Bay or the woodsy seclusion of Big Sur, San Simeon State Park is one of the quiet wonders of the California seaside. Located just a few miles south of fabled Hearst Castle, San Simeon offers two campground sites (San Simeon or Washburn) where you can set up home base for a long weekend. It's a short walk to cool, lightly populated beaches where you might stumble across an entire pack of elephant seals stretching out in the sun. You can also hike several miles of trails, some of which descend into seasonal wetlands, and others that plateau on top of vast seaside vistas.

The trip up to The Castle, while pricey ($24 for an 1 1/2 hour tour, including bus ride up the mountain), is fun for California (and media) history buffs, and offers lots of great photo ops. Cambria, about two miles south of the campgrounds, has a full-service market, cute restaurants, funky galleries, and cheaper firewood than can be found in the park itself. If you're driving up from L.A. on the 101, it's also easy to make quick stops in Buellton, Solvang, or San Luis Obispo for a walk or a great lunch.

But the real trick to camping is to pack in your own food, and have some fun: grill over open flame, rough it with a camp stove, and percolate fresh coffee in the morning when you stumble out of your tent. With a case or two (or three) of beer, a couple thick steaks, a pack of cards, and some good friends, you'll have a meal AND a camping trip that can't be beat.

San Simeon State Park: Campground reservations can be made from March 15 to September 30 by calling 1-800-444-PARK, otherwise it's a first-come, first-serve situation. You can also make reservations through the website. The San Simeon site has restrooms with flush toilets and coin-operated showers, the Washburn campground has non-flush toilets. All sites have access to running water, picnic tables, and fire rings. Ask for a trail map at the ranger station; a full hike of the site can be done in about 2 hours.

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Hearst Castle: Open daily except for holidays, choose from five separate tours of the grounds and building (Tour 1 is recommended for first-timers). You can make reservations ahead of time by phone or internet, but it's not too difficult to get tickets when you arrive. The Visitor Center offers an expansive gift shop, coffee stand, and lunch spot.