One of the things I absolutely love about California is the variety of places and climates at your fingertips: from the ocean to the mountains, deserts to forests, big cities to small communities, glamorous or rustic. Whatever you seek – just pick your destination, get in your car and go.
Cambria has become one of my favorite daytrips (or two-day getaways) over the last few years. Located in between Los Angeles and San Francisco (roughly a 4 hour drive from either), Cambria is a historic Central Coast town with beautiful rugged nature and the quiet and quaint atmosphere. There are breathtaking cliffs, sweet fresh ocean air, wild marine life, wineries and shopping. And you might even see a zebra in the wild!
My husband (Nick) and I have stayed in a few different Central Coast hotels & Airbnbs in the past, but this time we found a perfect spot on Moonstone Beach, where we spent a couple of nights in April while exploring Cambria.
THE HOTEL: FIRESIDE INN ON MOONSTONE BEACH
When planning our travels, I always prefer boutique hotels (or airbnb-type places) to chains. This way we get to experience and feel the vibe of each destination. A charming beachfront hotel, Fireside Inn is just this kind of place: it is lovely and quiet (it has only 46 rooms). And you can park right next to your room – it is so convenient and so American, I love it!
We had an oceanview room (#126 – it is right behind the hotel sign in the photo below) and it was perfect.
As advertised, we could see the ocean from our room’s big beautiful window (photo below – look how excited I am!) 🙂
We also had a little patio, perfect for sipping local wine, looking at the ocean and contemplating life.
[Above: a mandatory hotel room selfie, in which you can also see the fireplace].
The night we arrived (after eating the yummy welcome cookies from the friendliest front desk staff) we took a few steps toward the ocean to watch an incredible sunset.
In the morning (both mornings), we filled our plates at the complimentary hot breakfast buffet, brought food back to our room and kept enjoying the view at the little table (photo below, minus the breakfast).
After breakfast, we spent an hour walking on the oceanfront mile-long wooden boardwalk, which meanders along the coastline nature preserve and provides breathtaking views. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the little ground squirrels provided the entertainment. We saw a cute little sea otter in the waves! People often see whales here, but we didn’t on this trip. I guess we’ll just have to return soon 🙂
If you go to Cambria, you may also check out the gorgeous and more famous Fiscalini Ranch nature preserve boardwalk (just a couple of miles South of Moonstone) but Moonstone Beach is no less spectacular. And it was right outside of our hotel!
While we often spend little time in our hotel while traveling, Fireside Inn became an exception. The location was just too beautiful: we’d walk by the ocean, come back to the room, then go walk again. At night, I spent time soaking in the big bathtub with jets (not sure if every room has one, but ours did), so we didn’t even feel like venturing outside to the lovely outdoor pool & Jacuzzi (photo below).
After a nice bath, we slept with windows open, letting the sound of ocean waves lull us to sleep.
Nick & I both loved Moonstone Beach and Fireside Inn, can’t wait to return! Many thanks to Karen and the very friendly staff for making our little getaway so special!
THINGS TO DO IN CAMBRIA
Aside from admiring the natural beauty of the Moonstone Beach and relaxing at our hotel room, we spent time in town. Something to be mindful of in Cambria: most places close early. By 9pm the town is pretty much shut down. I think there is a bar or two that are open late, but that’s about it. Cambria is where you come to relax and slow down a little.
WALK AROUND THE TOWN OF CAMBRIA: ENDLESS SHOPPING & LEISURELY WALKS
The town of Cambria consists of two villages: East (the earlier settlement) and West (with Tudor-style architecture). Both have restaurants and shops of all kind. You can shop and stroll the streets all day! Parking in town is very easy, too.
[Above: East Village clock at the Cambria Historical Museum]
[Above: shopping at Soto’s True Earth grocery store]
[Above: lively colors at my favorite “everything for your kitchen” shop – A Matter Of Taste]
One of my favorite walks in town is in the East Village. In the photo below, do you see where the street ends all the way at the edge of the pine trees? When you’re tired of shopping and eating, walk to where the street ends (it actually curves) and you’ll see wooden stairs leading up into the forest. They’re quite steep and you might be out of breath as you reach the hilltop, but I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s worth it. Because you’ll be among the pines at what is technically the back part the Cambria Pines Lodge grounds, smelling the heavenly air (a mix of ocean and pines) and listening to the wind. To me, it is just wonderful.
I was so relaxed on this walk that I forgot to take photos of the pines or the stairs! Oops.
But I did take a photo at the Cambria Nursery just across the street from Cambria Pines. It is so beautiful there!
To get back to where you started the walk (near the bottom of the stairs), follow the path along the winding street all the way down. I hope my description makes sense! 🙂
WHAT TO EAT:
You won’t go hungry in Cambria. Over the years Nick & I have tried several different restaurants and cafes, and here are my favorites:
For a romantic evening with exquisite cuisine, I recommend Madeline’s (my favorite restaurant in town).
Its French-American fare is fabulous and the atmosphere is elegant without the pretense.
I took the photo below as we were leaving (we were the last patrons of the evening, well after the closing time).
For a more casual, comfort food type of a place, check out Linn’s. On this trip we only ate at their cafe/bakery section (photo below).
Make sure to taste their famous olallieberry pie. This time I tried their olallieberry cake, but I think I prefer the pie. Should have ordered both!
For cookie fans: you must pay a visit to Red Moose Cookie Company. Located in a very strange warehouse part of town, these homemade cookies are out of this world (meaning, delicious!).
There are several wine tasting rooms in Cambria, and some of them are very nice, but my favorite (by far!) is a winery called Stolo. Take a mile-long picturesque drive to their vineyard and enjoy their excellent Pinot Noir and gorgeous grounds. And you can even feed the goats!
OUTSIDE OF CAMBRIA:
There is plenty to do!!
TASTE WINE IN PASO ROBLES:
You are only 25 minutes away from the world-famous Paso Robles wine region. Check out my other blog entry about Paso at… (coming soon). 🙂
SEE THE HEARST CASTLE:
If it’s your first visit to the area, you should consider visiting the architecturally stunning Hearst Castle just a few miles North of Cambria. I don’t have any photos here as Nick & I didn’t go on this trip, but it is beautiful. The only downside is that it is full of tourists.
CHECK OUT PIEDRAS BLANCAS ELEPHANT SEAL ROOKERY:
This is a one of a kind place where you can watch hundreds of elephant seals sleep, tend to their babies and occasionally fight. It is fascinating! Here is one of the photos I took earlier this year:
VISIT THE TOWN OF HARMONY, POPULATION 18:
There are more cows in Harmony than people. It’s true!
It is delightful and there is plenty of shopping, especially if you’re into homemade pottery. There is also a winery (called Harmony Cellars) with a nice tasting room/gift shop atop a hill overlooking picture-perfect sprawling landscapes, but I really didn’t think the wine was great (but I’m a bit of a wine snob, sorry!).
SEE A ZEBRA:
If you’re driving on Highway 1 in the vicinity of the Elephant Seal rookery (North of Moonstone Beach and just south of the Hearst Castle), keep your eyes peeled as you might spot a wild zebra. They are descendants of Heart private zoo residents. A few months ago we pulled over to take this (sort of blurry!) shot:
Nick & I have been coming to Cambria for years and still find lots of new things to see and do, and revisit the places we fell in love with during our first visit. For a wealth of information, peruse the town’s official website: VisitCambriaCa.com
Have you been to this area?
What are your favorite places?
And… please let me know if you visit Cambria and use any of my recommendations – I would love to hear from you!
Thank you for reading!
[This blog was originally posted to MarinaV.com in June 2017.
Please forgive any possible re-posting glitches.
Also, very sorry we can’t move your lovely comments!
Original post can be found at: https://www.marinav.com/food-travel ]