Cambria, mid-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is a serene sweep of coastline that inspires beach combing on smooth sandy beaches, strolling on the wooden boardwalk and a close examination of rocky tide pools teeming with life. Nearby Hearst Castle could easily swallow a whole day exploring the sprawling estate and beach-side attractions.
In Part 1 we explored the Paso Robles wine tasting area near Cambria and in Part 2 we will see what Cambria itself has to offer.
Moonstone Beach, which contains a cluster of inns, is a quiet place to explore sea life, with tidal pools inhabited by a variety of crabs, snails and other sea creatures. Elephant seals can often be seen in the area, as well as whales. Birds flock to the bluffs covered with hardy wildflowers while ground squirrels are so tame they don’t even flinch from their sunbathing when people walk by. Up on the bluffs a two-mile wooden boardwalk entices early morning walkers, mostly of the retired set, out on sunny and foggy mornings alike, with hoodies zipped up and coffee cups warming hands when it’s cool. The whole area is protected within the Cambria State Marine Conservation Area and State Marine Park.
The village of Cambria is a fun place to explore, with funky art, fine jewelry, retail shops and cafes. Along Moonstone Beach there are a couple of places to eat, including the Sea Chest Oyster Bar and Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill, which has an ocean-view outdoor deck where there are no heat lamps, but blankets are provided to stave off the chill.
The renowned Hearst Castle, a chaotic blend of art and architecture that is both a National and California Historical Landmark, is just a ten minute drive north on Highway 1. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst partnered with architect Julia Morgan in 1919 to build this improbably sited castle at the top of a hill on his 250,000 acre property, where he entertained lavishly. The 165 rooms are filled with his extensive European art collection ranging from ornately carved wooden ceilings to neoclassical sculpture and large murals. Immediately surrounding the castle are of gardens, his now defunct zoo, the long Neptune Pool, the indoor Roman bath inspired pool and many outdoor sculptures. After his death in 1951 his five sons worked with the State of California to preserve the facility for all to enjoy, complete with his vast art collection. Administered by the California State Parks system it is not a park where you wander around at will. The visitor’s center, just off Highway 1, is a staging area where patrons view a video and then board buses for specific docent-led tours, each costing $25, including tours of the Grand Rooms, Upstairs Suites, Cottages and Kitchen.
On the ocean side of the highway, across from the Hearst Castle Visitor Center is the WRH Memorial State Beach, historic Sebastian’s Store & Cafe, and Hearst Ranch Winery Tasting Room, with wines crafted from Paso Robles grapes from the Saunders Vineyard. The tiny building can quickly get overwhelmed with visitors so it’s best to get there early, or better yet, visit mid-week.
Stay in Cambria
There are a variety of places to stay in Cambria, including the Cambria Inns, a collection of four distinct properties.
Couples on a romantic getaway can choose the Blue Dolphin Inn, rated #1 on Trip Advisor. The newly renovated, up-to-date, luxurious hotel provides the included breakfast in a unique way. Guests order the day before and a hot breakfast is delivered picnic style, so couples can enjoy their meal in the privacy of their room, or, if they prefer, they can take their picnic to the beach. China and cutlery are provided in the room for in-room dining, and beach chairs and beach towels are provided for seaside visits. It’s an intimate way to share breakfast but does necessitate quite a bit of packaging. For couples who want even more privacy the nearby Moonstone Cottages offers individual bungalows. Rates are $239-349 per night.
Families and friends will find the mid-scale Sand Pebbles Inn family friendly, rated #2 on Trip Advisor, where everyone can enjoy breakfast in the dining room. Board games and free movies are available to keep the kids entertained when they come in from the beach. Rates are $214-314 per night.
The best value can be found at the Castle Inn, one of the first motels built in Cambria. Someone is almost always sitting in the brightly colored Adirondack Chairs in the front, gazing at the magnificent ocean view. Rates are $144-179 per night
Cambria Inns supports the venerable Zinfandel grape with their “Zinful” Escape Package, running now through October 2013. The package contains discounted rates at the Blue Dolphin Inn or Sand Pebbles Inn, a bottle of Adelaida Cellars Zinfandel, a cheese and cracker plate, a copy of the California Directory of Fine Wines and a Wine Wrangler tour of four wineries and a deli-style lunch for two people. The cost is $483, plus tax.
The tiny hamlet of Cambria is a quiet base from which to explore the surrounding area with its plentiful wineries, historical landmarks, sandy beaches and gentle hiking trails. Cambria Inns offers a variety of accommodations to suit different styles and the “Zinful” Escape Package combines two of the best assets of the area, wine tasting and beach-front accommodations.
Moonstone Beach Drive
Cambria, CA 93428
- Blue Dolphin Inn: 800-222-9157
- Moonstone Cottages: 800-222-9157
- Sand Pebbles Inn: 800-222-9970
- Castle Inn: 805-927-8605
750 Hearst Castle Road
San Simeon, CA 93452
Paso Robles Wine Country
See list of wineries, use interactive map to build itinerary
To reach Cambria from San Francisco by car (approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes, depending on traffic):
- Take U.S. 101 South for to Paso Robles
- Take 46 West, lined with wineries and vineyards, to Cambria
- Turn right on CA 1 North
- Arrive in Cambria