It was just a spur of the moment decision: I had received an offer via email with a good discount for a motel in Cambria, California. I knew that Cambria was along the central coast, near Hearst Castle, and was in an increasingly popular wine growing region. Neither my husband Ralph nor I had been to this part of the state for many years. I was intrigued with the prospect of a staycation that was within a few hours’ drive from home. Actually, it was a four-hour drive, down highway 101 and then across to the coast on CA-46 W, but it took us through beautiful countryside much of the way. The sky was blue, the fields were green due to our recent much needed rain, and the trees in the orchards were pink or white.
The seaside town of Cambria (pop. 6,000) itself is interesting. The historic East Village, along Burton Drive, is reminiscent of a New England town. It is in this part of town that you will find shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Many visitors gravitate across the major Highway 1 to the west end of town where along Moonstone Drive; there are many motels and lodges within stone’s throw of the beaches. There is also the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk, a mile and a half long boardwalk, between the drive and the ocean to enjoy.
Visitors have a wide variety of options for entertainment. Many are interested in going on one of the tours of Hearst Castle, which is only nine miles north of Cambria. Reservations (click here) are recommended. Other visitors, and that included us, want to spend time observing the elephant seals rookery—which is four miles beyond Hearst Castle—at Piedras Blancas. The parking area and trails are on a ridge alongside the Highway 1; the elephant seals are on the sandy or rocky beach just 30 feet or so below the overlooks. The population of these enormous mammals is 23,000, but they are never all there at the same time. Which group is on the beach—whether males, females, pups, or weaners—and what activities are going on—depends on the time of year. Check the Friends of the Elephant Seal’s website for schedules and more info. There are no tours, and no admission fee is collected.
Other area activities include: exploring the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve—430-acre park that separates Cambria’s East and West Villages; tide-pooling and looking for Moonstones at Leffingwell Landing State Picnic Grounds on Moonstone Beach Dr. where there are also barbecue areas, and picnic tables. Taking a tour of the some of the town’s old buildings including the Santa Rosa church, the Squibb-Darke house, the 100 year old Brambles, Santa Rosa School, and the Hoosegow. We found the “Nitwit House” (now an historical monument) quite interesting. This three-story house was built by an eccentric owner, Arthur Harold Beal, of bits of recycled trash over a 50-year period. It makes use of abalone shells, used rocks, beer cans, car parts, old stoves, washer drums and tiles. It is quite a contrast to the splendor of Hearst Castle.
Another option is to head south four miles on highway 1 to visit the artists’ studios, the wedding chapel, and shops in tiny Harmony, population 18.
We found that Cambria is more than a wide spot in the road. We spent two nights there and could easily have enjoyed staying in this piney setting on the coast for several more days.
Campground: San Simeon State Park Campground
Restaurant: Linn’s Restaurant on Main Street serves comfort food and a delicious Marionberry pie.
Motel: Pelican Inn & Suites, 6316 Moonstone Beach, Cambria, CA 93428