There was something about the name — Moonstone Beach — that had me intrigued long before I drove into the gorgeous little California Central Coast town of Cambria. Once I was there, wandering the dramatic coastline, I realized that this was a destination that more than lives up to its dreamy name.
On a sheer beauty scale, Cambria can hold its own with any of the jewels along the Pacific Coast. But the town offers something extra as well. Perhaps it’s the pearly-hued, surf-worn moonstones that can be found along the beach, or the intimate atmosphere in its inns and cafés that line the bluffs, or the wildflowers that blanket the coastline in the springtime. Whatever the allure, Moonstone Beach manages to stand out.
Located about halfway between the major cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cambria holds an enviable spot along California’s iconic Pacific Coast Highway. And, with a climate that features temperatures in the high-50s/low-60s (Fahrenheit) all year long (with an average high of 57 in March, April, and May), Cambria makes for a great visit anytime of the year, but especially during the spring.
I was hosted by the Highway 1 Road Trip for parts of my stay, but my opinions are my own.
Here are 8 reasons why Moonstone Beach is a perfect place for a spring getaway.
1. Moonstone Beach Boardwalk
Sweeping ocean views, peaceful beaches, and stellar tidepools — they’re all there along the 2-mile, out-and-back Moonstone Beach Boardwalk. Adding to the enjoyment for the whole family is the fact that the walk is rated as easy and is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers.
The boardwalk is also great for walking dogs (on a leash) and for picnickers looking for a spot for an al fresco meal. The Highway 1 Road Trip website says Moonstone Beach is known to have “some of the best tidepools on the Central Coast” and suggests that families look for crabs, anemones, urchins, and slugs.
Pro Tip: Because the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk is so easily accessible, it tends to get very busy during high tourist season. To escape some of the crowds, consider heading down to the rocky seashore on the trails that branch off the main boardwalk toward the northern end of the route.
2. Springtime Wildflowers
Spring is wildflower season all along the California Central Coast, and visitors are likely to spot lovely California poppies and purple lupine at a variety of spots. Winter rains tend to bring out the blooms, so a particularly wet winter is often followed by an exceptional showing of wildflowers.
Owing to its already colorful palette of light-blue skies, cobalt sea, and green ocean foliage, Moonstone Beach makes an extraordinarily pretty backdrop for the springtime floral explosion. Pops of yellows, pinks, purples, and reds can often be spotted in the natural landscape that borders the boardwalk, as well as in the village of Cambria and the nearby Fiscalini Ranch.
When To Visit For The Super Bloom
It’s not guaranteed, but now and then, the California Coast experiences what is known as a “super bloom” — a time when the wildflowers are at their most plentiful. April and May are said to be the best months for the super bloom.
3. Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
Located within walking distance of the village of Cambria is the spectacular oceanfront sanctuary known as the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. The 437-acre preserve, which is free and open to the public 365 days a year from dawn to dusk, offers an expanse of unspoiled nature and solitude along the California Central Coast.
The preserve is a favorite for people looking for everything from birds to sea life to wildflowers. It is home to more than 150 native plants and 430 birds. The diverse terrain takes in tidal effect zones, seasonal freshwater marshes, wetlands, and a pine forest. The preserve also features a dramatic ocean bluff with a 200-foot ridge that offers views of sea life.
In the spring, wildflowers take center stage, with yellow California buttercups and sunflowers vying for attention with purple seaside daisies and orange California poppies.
Pro Tip: Fiscalini’s Bluff Trail, an easy route of nearly 1 mile, is a good place to spot a range of wildflowers.
4. Covell’s California Clydesdale Ranch
A combination of pine forests, ocean views, pristine meadows, and a herd of 100 free-roaming Clydesdale horses awaits at Covell’s California Clydesdale Ranch located at the Cambria Pines by the Sea Ranch. Due to its intriguing mix of features, Covell’s is known as one of the most unique ranches in America.
The ranch offers trail rides on its majestic Clydesdale horses, as well as ranch tours. And springtime, with its green meadows and plentiful wildflowers, is the perfect time to take a ride through Covell’s open pastures and pine forests — all with a backdrop of ocean views.
5. Oceanpoint Ranch
With its brisk sea breezes and wide-open ocean bluffs, Cambria is a natural location for cozy and romantic inns and hotels. For a classic California Central Coast spot, check out the Oceanpoint Ranch, a resort hotel with an ideal location along Moonstone Beach.
The hotel sits on 9 seaside acres, and it optimizes its location with grounds that include fire pits, lawn games, a private beach trail, and festive string lights. Nighttime temperatures often dip into the high 40s in March, April, and May, making Oceanpoint’s fire-pit campfires the perfect spot to bundle up in a blanket and take in the springtime sea air.
The guestrooms, described as ranch-chic, live up to the surroundings, with amenities such as oceanview cabins, wood-burning fireplaces, and luxury bathrooms. The décor features bold plaids, restored vaulted ceilings, and rich leather accents, giving Oceanpoint the feel of an upscale ranch oasis.
6. Sea Chest Oyster Bar
When it comes to warm and intimate, Cambria’s restaurants and cafés more than hold their own as well. In fact, Cambria’s dining scene is known for its charming seaside village vibe.
For an evening that combines a delightful ambiance with a great ocean view and delectable seafood, head to the Cambria mainstay Sea Chest Oyster Bar. From my seat at the bar, I had a front-row view as the chef whipped up a huge assortment of seafood specialties — from oysters Rockefeller to oyster stew, and from shrimp scampi to clams linguini.
For something wonderfully decadent, I recommend the scampi and bay scallops combo — a flavorful creation of seafood, wine, butter, garlic, mushrooms, and capers.
Pro Tip: Sea Chest doesn’t take reservations but asks diners to stop by to get their name on the waiting list. For those waiting on a cool spring evening, the restaurant has a comfortable outdoor seating area where guests can watch as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean just across the street.
7. Shopping In Charming Downtown Cambria
Cambria’s picturesque downtown area is split into two distinct shopping areas: the West Village and the East Village. The two areas are located along sections of Main Street, and together they span about 1.5 miles of walkable downtown shopping.
The shops offer everything from books and candy to yarn and clothing. Antique shops are also popular in Cambria, and stores carry décor, apparel, and hard-to-find collector items. Or, for some regional cuisine and gift ideas, stop by Linn’s, a family-owned operation that includes a restaurant, a boutique, and a gourmet goods shop.
Downtown Cambria is also the site of the Friday afternoon Cambria Farmers Market at the Veterans’ Hall parking lot on Main Street — one of the best markets on the Central Coast. Cambria’s market operates year-round and springtime is sure to feature plenty of the locally-grown products that the market is known for.
8. Hearst Castle
The splendor of Hearst Castle, located high on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is a must-see attraction on any visit to the Central Coast. And at less than 10 miles north, the castle makes for a perfect day trip from Cambria.
Although gorgeous in any season, springtime is a great time to visit Hearst Castle because the rolling hills are likely to be covered in greenery and wildflowers.
Known as The Enchanted Hill (La Cuesta Encantada), the castle was a project of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. He started building the estate in 1919, and by the time he left in 1947, the complex consisted of 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways.
Today, the castle offers tours of the various rooms, pools, and gardens. Along with the chance to wander through the lavish estate, a visit to Hearst Castle offers unbeatable views of the surrounding hills and distant coastline.
Pro Tip: Tour reservations are recommended and tickets are available for purchase up to 60 days in advance on the Hearst Castle website. More information is available in 8 Tips For Touring Hearst Castle.