The Cambrian

Piedras Blancas plan calls for a new campground, trail, renovated motel on Hwy. 1

State Parks plans to transform Highway 1 near Piedras Blancas

A new State Parks plan would renovate the old motel at Piedras Blancas and add a new campground, cabins and a coastal trail to a scenic stretch of Highway 1 in California.
Up Next
A new State Parks plan would renovate the old motel at Piedras Blancas and add a new campground, cabins and a coastal trail to a scenic stretch of Highway 1 in California.

A State Parks plan for a scenic stretch of Highway 1 near Piedras Blancas could one day bring a dilapidated motel and cafe back to life, along with a campground, cabins and coastal trail.

State Parks has owned the Piedras Blancas Motel & Cafe property since 2007, when the Trust for Public Lands completed a grant-funded acquisition to prevent commercial development on the prime oceanfront land. The 1950s-era motel, gas station, gift shop, latté stop and informal rough-camping sites there have been closed since before that, with the motel shutting its doors around 2005.

The first phase of the project will involve construction of a 3-mile section of the California Coastal Trail, while a second section of the trail would be added in the second phase.

The motel and campground would be revamped in the second phase of the project, said Dan Falat, superintendent of State Parks San Luis Obispo Coast District, which extends from the Monterey County line to Montaña de Oro. The café already has been restored (at a cost of $180,000), according to information that Falat provided.

He said he and his planners envision the revamped motel offering “various visitor-serving facilities within the same building,” and the combined motel-campground projects could provide a full range of overnight accommodations, “from motel and cabin-type services to tent, RV and bike camping.”

Piedras Blancas067
The State Parks has a plan for a scenic stretch of Highway 1 near Piedras Blancas, like this area south of the of the Piedras Blancas Motel, which has views of the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Joe Johnston

The project would start just south of the shuttered motel about 17 miles north of downtown Cambria. The camping area would wrap around an existing house, which Falat said is currently occupied by a park ranger.

The agency is in the process of acquiring from Caltrans land north of the motel property, between the old and new alignments of Highway 1 north of Piedras Blancas, as mandated by the Hearst Ranch Conservation Easement.

The plan

Members of the public have the rest of October to review and comment on State Parks’ plan for:

▪  A 5-acre campground with 29 campsites and 14 cabins.

▪  Two unpaved parking lots with space for a total of 80 vehicles, located north of the elephant-seal rookery. Caltrans would construct on State Parks property one unpaved trailhead parking lot for 60 vehicles at its pullout just south of Arroyo de la Cruz and another lot for 20 vehicles a half-mile north of the lighthouse road (the light station north beach access point).

▪  Vault toilets at Vista Point 3 (at the rookery) and Vista Point 4 between the rookery and the light station.

▪  A 4.5-mile section of California Coastal Trail.

▪  Refurbishing and upgrading the old motel.

Anyone wanting a digitized copy of the plan can call 805-927-2065.


“We’re not sure what the long-term timing is, or how long it would take to do it,” Falat said. “We don’t have the funding for the capital-outlay project,” currently estimated to cost $850,000 for the campground and $350,000 for the motel, “but we want to make sure we have all the boxes checked on the plan, so if we do get the funding, we’ll be ready to go.”

The campground would occupy a blufftop site south of the motel that offers spectacular ocean views. For many years, the field was privately owned and served a similar use as a rough camping area with no facilities.

The campground’s planning process was paid for by a $40,000 grant from the state Coastal Conservancy, the superintendent said.

Coastal Trail

Plans for the trail call for a meandering coastal path that would link the elephant seal viewpoint’s boardwalk at the south end with the beach at Arroyo de la Cruz to the north, crossing drainages at their narrowest point and using boardwalks in wetland areas, according to legal documents filed by State Parks.

Some of the trail, Falat said, would be on the land State Parks is acquiring from the recent Caltrans project that moved a portion of Highway 1 inland, away from the threat of ocean erosion.

Piedras Blancas077
There is a parking lot planned where the new stretch of Highway 1 meets with the old stretch north of Piedras Blancas Light Station. Joe Johnston

Caltrans has funded the $1.4 million cost of the first trail phase, a 3-mile segment from Arroyo de la Cruz to the light station’s north beach access point. It will include three bridges and three sections of boardwalk.

The 1.5-mile southerly second trail phase, estimated to cost about $1 million, will connect the light station north beach parking lot with the northerly elephant seal parking lot, often referred to as Vista Point 4. That trail portion hasn’t been funded.

Falat said the Piedras Blancas Coastal Trail would eventually “connect the elephant seal vista-point boardwalks with Arroyo de la Cruz, passing the Piedras Blancas Light Station, numerous creeks and wetlands, the motel property and pristine coastal prairie along the way.”

What’s next

According to the plan, the project “will not result in significant adverse impacts to the environment.” Public comments on the plan will be considered for possible inclusion.

Falat said the agency already has filed an application with the county for a coastal development permit.

Piedras Blancas072
The Piedras Blancas Motel, which is included in a State Parks plan for a scenic stretch of Highway 1 near Piedras Blancas that could one day bring the dilapidated motel and cafe back to life, along with a campground, cabins and coastal trail. Joe Johnston

The North Coast Advisory Council reviewed the Piedras plan in August but took no action on it, pending some expected modifications at the county level.

“There were a bunch of loose ends” in the plan, Council Chairman Ted Siegler said Oct. 10, adding that he would have expected to see the completed plan, but it hasn’t yet come back to the advisers.

Because a portion of the project has yet to be funded, no completion date has been set.

Spectacular views and rich in history: Here's a tour of the Piedras Blancas Light Station north of Cambria. The California Coastal National Monument was recently expanded to include the lighthouse.

How to comment

State Parks recently filed documents about various projects planned at Piedras Blancas, including two state Coastal Trail segments, a campground and rehabilitation of the motel and café. People, groups and agencies can comment on those “mitigated negative declaration” or MND documents through Nov. 6.

The documents are available at (and search for Piedras Blancas MND), or see a paper copy at the San Luis Obispo Coast District Office, 750 Hearst Castle Road, modular 3, San Simeon. Download an electronic copy from Google at Piedras Blancas Project MND and Appendices.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune