Sea Cave Kayaking at William R. Hearst State Beach – San Simeon, CA


The best kayaking experiences of my life have been here. My first time ever in a kayak was on my 30th birthday, when I camped at nearby San Simeon State Park. My mom surprised me by signing me up for an early morning tour with Sea for Yourself kayak company, located inside of William R. Hearst State Beach.

This is me when I came here for the first time:

And this is me reenacting the photo 4 years later with my current love interest when I brought him here to experience the splendor of the west coast:

The beach itself is beautiful, set inside of a cove beneath Hearst Castle. The fog rolls over the hills in the morning, the water is smooth with a metallic sheen, the sand is clean, and the air is clear and peaceful. I’ve never seen a large crowd here. I mean look at this shit:

If your timing is right you’ll see gray or humpback whales in the cove during their migration. Kayak rentals are available, but I definitely recommend a tour. My first tour was during high tide, so we went out past the pier to the sea lions on the buoys, then around the bluffs to some otters hanging out in the kelp. My second tour was during low tide so we were able to kayak into the sea caves and climb around.

One of the caves requires some scrambling, with the payoff being able to see the anemones, crabs, sea stars, abalone, chiton, and all kinds of other tidepool critters. The gumboot chiton was intense:

We wore lights on our heads and ignited our childlike sense of wonder as we explored. It was downright delightful.

The second cave was named “Whale Tail” by Cubby, the owner and lead guide at Sea for Yourself, due to the shape of the interior. One end is a large, open dome with a beach (during low tide) while the other end extends out like a tail. This is the view outward from the domed cave interior:

The tour is several hours long but I feel like I could do it for eternity. Cubby is very knowledgable and helpful about spotting and identifying sea life and he places a heavy emphasis on respecting the environment. 

The Coastal Discovery Center is also located at Hearst Beach. It’s small, but has some cool stuff such as whale bones, baleen, and otter, sea lion, and elephant seal fur. All of them died naturally before unknowingly donating their bodies to science. I made sure to check into it before marveling at anything.

The baleen on the right is a chunk from a gray whale’s mouth, and the black slice on the left is one single sliver of a humpback whales’ baleen. The jar is filled with krill. RIP.

The small road off of Highway 1 leading to Hearst Beach continues on to a historic mission and Sebastian’s Store, a landmark/winery/burger and sandwich joint. Their black bean burger is my shit. I hear the other burgers are good, I wouldn’t know. Hearst Ranch is across the street and it’s supposed to be all local and high quality meat, if you’re into meat. My mom and I grabbed our bean burgers to go and picnicked at the beach.

This is one of my favorite parts of America. In one weekend I saw otters, gray whales, sea lions, harbor seals, elephant seals, brush rabbits, tidepool creatures, and a giant sea slug. The Pacific coast highway as a whole is incredible, and this section is just one of many stops where you can stop and experience the magnificence of the central west coast. Will go again. Will make many special trips. 


Hearst Beach on Trip Advisor

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Visit Cambria – Kayaking Resources

National Geographic – Pacific Coast Highway