There are many lovely areas along California’s Central Coast,
but few are as much fun for a weekend getaway as Cambria, a small
town “where the pines meet the sea.”
The main attraction is Moonstone Beach, one of several spots
along this stretch of coast halfway between San Francisco and Los
You should see Moonstone in the late afternoon, when the low sun
is glinting on the water and spray adds a misty fog to the air. A
few surfers should be trotting to the waves while a damp dog races
back and forth along the tide line, refusing to play catch despite
his human’s best efforts.
The combination is magical and even more exciting if you find
some especially good examples of the small semiprecious stones and
bits of glass that are tumbled smooth by the ocean and thrown up on
the beach with each high tide.
Grey whales may pass through the scene as they migrate south
from late December through early February and make the reverse trip
during March and April. Seals often sun themselves on the rocks and
gigantic elephant seals use the beaches to mate and calve.
Away from the ocean, the hillsides are covered in Monterey pine
and full of wildlife so taking a hike or a scenic drive is a
pleasant way to spend a morning. But be sure to look up
occasionally, or you’ll miss the hawks wheeling through the air or
the woodpeckers hammering away on a dead tree.
Cambria’s full-time population is only about 6,500, including
the residents of outlying ranches and farms. But lots of those
people are artists, craftspeople, shopkeepers and restaurateurs so
there is an unusually broad range of places to eat and shop in its
two major commerce areas, the East and West villages.
An example: The Paper Omelette is a small specialty stationery
shop on the edge of the East Village. But its owner, Sandra Saenz,
also uses it as a studio to produce her letterpress papers and
other handmade works.
The surrounding region has many attractions too, such as
newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s striking home in San
Simeon, only six miles north of Cambria.
Several wineries are in the area and some Cambria shops, such as
Fermentations on Burton Street, feature daily tastings of the local
It would be easy to keep driving along Highway One, anticipating
the spectacular vistas of Big Sur just to the north, but now you
know what you’d be missing.
There are lots of motels and bed-and-breakfast spots in town but
the grand lady of them all is Cambria Pines Lodge, built in
The cottages and two-story buildings that make up the lodge
complex haven’t been renovated recently and the lack of
soundproofing between the rooms is particularly annoying. But all
those shortcomings fade as you walk through the lodge’s lovely
flower gardens, listening to the burble of its many fountains, and
visit its well-designed organic kitchen garden.
The lodge and six other Cambria properties are owned by
Moonstone Hotel Properties, which pays 10 percent commission to
The Brambles, 805-927-4716. The Greek owners have some of their
favorite dishes on the steak and seafood menu, but consider dinner
in the bar. The atmosphere is cozy and you’ll still be able to get
the sauteed mushrooms.
Coffee Den Roasting Co., 805-927-0670. The best coffee in town
and a barrista that, one patron declared, knows “everything about
everyone.” So there’s always a bit of a wait but it’s well worth
The Tea Cozy, 805-927-8765. The shop serves typical English
meals, including Cornish pasties, a ploughman’s lunch and a set tea
with scones, small cakes and sandwiches. No watercress,
Linn’s, 805-927-0371. The olallieberry, a blackberry-raspberry
combination developed in Oregon, grows well around Cambria and is
featured on just about every dish in this somewhat chain-like
The Cambria Chamber of Commerce has a lengthy posting of hotels,
restaurants, services and other features at cambriachamber.org.