Northern and Southern California get all of the attention in the Golden State — the California Central Coast is often left out of the discussion. And yet it turns out that this portion of the coast is full of small and secluded coastal towns perfect for a quiet weekend getaway.
Located 2.5 hours south of Monterey, Cambria is one such town waiting to be explored. You could easily spend a few hours walking along the beach, admiring the sea life, and watching the waves roll in. When it’s time to eat, you’ll find plenty of cozy, family-owned cafes waiting to welcome visitors.
With its relaxed vibe and serene setting, visiting Cambria is the perfect antidote to hectic weekday life.
What To Do In Cambria
In Cambria, you can stay busy exploring the town’s natural and man-made treasures, or you can simply find a spot to sit and relax while enjoying the area’s beauty. Whichever you choose, you’ll surely fall in love with Cambria.
Here’s what to do when you’re in town.
1. Relax On Moonstone Beach And Boardwalk
If you’re looking for an easy and scenic walk along the Pacific Ocean, head to the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk. This mile-long trail is the most popular destination in town, and for good reason. If you want to take a break, grab a seat on one of the many wooden benches. Keep an eye on the ocean, because you may see dolphins or whales.
Along the way, you can take the stairs down to Moonstone Beach. Look out for the tide pools to see what sea life was brought in on the last tide. It’s not unusual to see crabs, starfish, and sea anemones. Or hunt for moonstones, rocks that get their name from the way they shine in the light.
The boardwalk ends at Leffingwell Creek and Leffingwell State Park. If you can make it here at sunset, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views.
2. Explore The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
Nature lovers must set aside time to explore the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. What was once a ranch and degraded grazing area is now a 437-acre space featuring impressive biological diversity, including 150 native plants and 430 bird species.
Spend some time hiking the 8 miles of maintained trails, including the Bluff Trail with its ocean views. Or join a docent-led themed walk on geology, birds, butterflies, or wildflowers.
3. Visit The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery And Light Station
Just north of Cambria, in San Simeon, visitors can observe elephant seals and pups as they progress through the cycle of birthing, breeding, and molting. These enormous creatures can reach lengths of 16 feet and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. Each year, 17,000 elephant seals call this rookery home.
The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is open year round, but the ideal viewing times are January, April, and October. Boardwalks are available that lead to viewing stations above the beach rookery. To protect the seals, beach access is prohibited.
After visiting the rookery, head over to the Piedras Blancas Light Station. If you’d like to hike there, dirt trails connect the two sights. This historic station was first illuminated in 1875 and is still in operation today — a flash is produced every 10 seconds during the night. Tours are available throughout the week, but due to safety concerns, no one is allowed at the top of the tower.
4. Tour Hearst Castle
Just 10 miles north of Cambria is one of California’s most popular sights, Hearst Castle. Located on 250,000 acres of land, La Cuesta Encantada (more commonly known as Hearst Castle) was built between 1919 and 1947. Conceived by the publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst and designed by Julia Morgan, this elaborate mansion contains 165 rooms and an impressive art collection.
Hearst Castle and its grounds are so extensive that visitors can choose from 10 different tours of them, including the Grand Rooms, the Cottages & Kitchen, and the Art of San Simeon. The gardens can be enjoyed either before or after an organized tour. A 40-minute movie, Hearst Castle: Building the Dream, is included in the purchase of most tours and can be seen at the visitor center.
5. Head To Nitt Witt Ridge
For something completely different from Hearst Castle, drive by Nitt Witt Ridge. Reclusive artist Art Beal bought a hillside lot in 1928 and spent the next 50 years creating his own “castle on a hill.” Supposedly he worked at Hearst Castle for a while, and there are remnants of that mansion on his property. Many of the building materials are recycled items and trash. At present, it’s only possible to see this structure from the outside.
6. Sample The Local Wines
Cambria is surrounded by wineries, many of which offer tasting rooms in town. Black Hand Cellars, Cayucos Cellars, and Harmony Cellars are all small, family-owned wineries that visitors are sure to enjoy.
If you have more time, head out of town to Paso Robles, a town located a bit further inland that is home to over 200 wineries. Among the favorite Paso wineries here are Justin Vineyards, Daou Vineyards, and J. Johr.
Where To Eat In Cambria
Cambria has a nice selection of cozy and casual restaurants. But if you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, you’ll find that as well.
7. The Cafe On Bridge Street
The owner of The Cafe on Bridge Street, Guy Souther, describes his menu as the food you’d make at home if you had the time. Open just five days a week — Wednesday through Sunday — from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., this is where you’ll want to head for a really delicious lunch. Regulars rave about all the sandwiches, but the pastrami is especially popular.
8. Linn’s Restaurant
Pie lovers shouldn’t pass up Linn’s Easy As Pie Cafe. Though they serve a range of other dishes, including sandwiches and soups, it’s the pie that draws people from all over the region. They are best known for olallieberry pie, so why not take home a whole one?
9. Madeline’s Restaurant And Wine Cellar
If you enjoy wine and want a fine-dining experience, then head to Madeline’s Restaurant and Wine Cellar, open for lunch and dinner. The menu features entrees like filet mignon, veal, and fresh fish. All the wine is sourced from Central Coast wineries, including their own list of handcrafted wines. If you just want to try the wine, you can visit their tasting room, which is open every day.
10. Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill
Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill is the place for a tasty seafood dinner with an ocean view. If weather permits, grab a table on the outdoor patio. But even from the inside, you’ll get great views. Then, after dinner, cross the street to Moonstone Beach for a sunset walk on the sand.
Where To Shop In Cambria
Between walks along the beach and delicious meals, don’t forget to allow time for shopping. Downtown Cambria has plenty of charming boutiques and galleries to explore, most of which are located along Main Street.
11. Ephraim Pottery
Located in Cambria’s West Village, Ephraim Pottery sells pottery and tile, mostly crafted by local artists. This is the place to go if you’re looking for a handmade gift for someone special.
12. Cambria Nursery And Florist
Cambria Nursery and Florist is the ideal stop for gardeners. The grounds feature lovely gardens as well as several small shops. If you live in the area, you can pick up some plants or garden decor to take home. But even if you’re coming from farther away, this is a great spot to get ideas. It’s an especially fun place to visit around Christmas.
13. Spellbound Herbs
You’ll find Spellbound Herbs in one of Cambria’s oldest buildings, dating to the 1870s. Start by exploring the rooms, books, candles, potpourri, and gift items. Then stroll through the gardens, where you’ll find herbs and flowers.
14. Linn’s Gourmet Goods
If you want to take home some delicious food items, then Linn’s Gourmet Goods is the place. There’s a wide selection of jellies, jams, syrups, cooking sauces, and baking mixes. And if you loved Linn’s Easy As Pie Cafe, then you can check out their freezer section with ready-to-bake fruit and savory pies.
Where To Stay In Cambria
Cambria is full of lovely, locally owned inns ready to welcome visitors for a comfortable weekend away. Here are some of our favorites.
15. FogCatcher Inn
FogCatcher Inn can be found just across from the popular Moonstone Beach. Every room is tastefully decorated and includes a cozy fireplace. There’s a heated pool, hot tub, ocean view sundeck, and fire pit. The beautifully landscaped property includes seating areas perfect for enjoying a glass of wine.
16. Blue Dolphin Inn
After completing a major remodel, the Blue Dolphin Inn has become one of the most stylish hotels in Cambria. Request an upper-level ocean-view room for the best possible scenery, or a lower-level room to take advantage of the outdoor patio. Amenities include a Keurig coffee maker, robes and slippers, and luxury bath products. Dog-friendly rooms are available.
17. Cambria Pines Lodge
Cambria Pines Lodge is just minutes from the beach and the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. There’s an on-site restaurant that features nightly live music. Amenities include a heated pool, hot tub, and daily breakfast. The entire property is pet friendly.
What To Know Before You Go
Cambria is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. If you’re in a hurry to get there, then Highway 101 will suffice. But if time permits, enjoy the spectacular scenery along Highway 1.
The weather in Cambria is always mild, with daytime temperatures averaging 57 to 63 degrees and nighttime temperatures averaging 46 to 53 degrees. There isn’t a bad time of year to visit. Summer will be busy, so if your vacation schedule allows, try to visit in the spring or fall.
Once you discover Cambria, you’ll want to come back again and again for the reliable peace and tranquility it offers.