I’ve wanted to write a travel series about the Central California for a long time, but haven’t gotten around to it because of the pandemic. Traveling, for many of us, just hasn’t been in the cards, so why write a travel article? Well, it’s long overdue.
This article is the first in a series about my beloved Central California Coast, as you may have guessed from the title. There’s just too much to do in each town within San Luis Obispo County, so only a series will do. Honestly, I could probably write a 100 Things to Do in Cambria Before You Die book because I love the coastal town so much, so I figured we’d start our journey there and move south.
I first visited Cambria, California with my dad when I was in middle school and I didn’t fully appreciate the majesty of the area at the time. We’d driven down from San Francisco and there I’d gotten a taste of my first political protest, seen my dad’s former Air Force base, and had the time of my life in the Bay Area. By the time we made it down to Cambria, though, my eye allergies that I suffered from at the time had kicked in full throttle – my eyes were itchy and I was cranky. I did have fun visiting Hearst Castle with my dad, but I remember being ready to move on from the small coastal town. Thankfully, both of my parents loved the coast and we came back to the area several more times, cementing a love for this part of California in my soul. As an adult, I’ve visited San Luis Obispo County fairly regularly, including on trips with my mom, and independent journeys for quick getaways or long, luxurious stretches when I just want to indulge. Recently, my husband fell in love with the area too, so it’s definitely on the short list every time we talk about getting away from Vegas for a weekend or longer.
From Las Vegas, Cambria is about six or seven hours away, depending on the route you take. The route to San Luis Obispo and the surrounding towns, too, becomes part of the experience for me. If I’m driving directly to Cambria, and for this article, that’s what we’ll assume, then I drive through Bakersfield using the roughly 6-6.5 hours route, with a stop for lunch. Driving through LA can make for a whole other experience, one that I’ll explore in other articles in the series.
Now for the travel guide itself, which I feel like is spilling all my best-held secrets.
I love Cambria. It’s a little slice of heaven nestled on the West Coast of California in between San Luis Obispo and San Francisco. It’s also my favorite place to just be me. Socially distanced or not, Cambria offers a relaxing getaway for solo travelers, friends, or couples. I wouldn’t necessarily peg it as a family destination – maybe save this one for an adults-only trip.
Where to Stay
If you’re going, I highly suggest springing for one of the motels/inns on Moonstone Beach and getting a room with an ocean view. The inns that dot Moonstone Beach Drive are a stone’s throw from the ocean. There’s nothing like hearing the sounds of the ocean all night and feeling your body relax into the natural rhythm of the waves. There are plenty of places to stay, but I enjoy the Fogcatcher Inn, which is always nice and clean, and is located directly across from the beach.
What to See
First off, carve out time for Moonstone Beach. This isn’t a beach like, say, Venice. This is the most chill beach you will ever experience. I love that you can pull your car right up to the side of Moonstone Beach Drive and park, and most of the time, parking is available. If you’re staying at one of the inns on Moonstone Beach Drive, though, that won’t even be an issue. There are benches strategically placed throughout the length of a one-mile boardwalk that you can use to enjoy the sunrise or sunset, take a walk or jog, or take in the beautiful scenery of the majestic Moonstone Beach. The boardwalk is lined with natural flowers, stones, trees, and wildlife, making for a sightseeing adventure all in itself.
Moonstone Beach itself is filled with driftwood and a smattering of surfers, and it gives a nice relaxed vibe any time of day. It’s a magical, mythical place to get in your daily exercise, enjoy a glass of wine with a loved one, or just take in the waves and the natural sounds of the area. It’s a beautiful, special place and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for some rest and relaxation.
Hearst Castle – Although currently closed because of the pandemic, when Hearst Castle reopens visitors can take tours through the stately mansion via advanced reservations. There are several tours you can take of the sprawling estate, making for opportunities for several different visits if you split them up between multiple trips. Tickets start at $25 for adults and $12 for children, and I think it’s worth the fee. Hearst Castle offers a ton of history and beauty and is a one-of-a-kind museum.
Where to Eat
Lilly’s Coffee House – This is hands-down, my favorite coffee and breakfast in Cambria. My husband and I discovered it on one adventure and we’ve never looked back. Their coffee is goooood, and I’m a self-proclaimed coffee expert. Their scones and other baked goods are to die for, and their regular food menu has a nice variety. Everything we’ve tried has been solid. Lilly’s Coffee makes its baked goods according to what’s available and in season, so if you try something on one trip, it may not necessarily be there again the next time you’re there. Every baked good I’ve had there, though, has been one of the best I’ve ever had. I remember this strawberry-chocolate chip scone made with fresh strawberries and semi-sweet chocolate chips that I couldn’t get out of my head for weeks. And the coffee’s out of this world!
Linn’s – Admittedly, this is the biggest game in town, but they’re so good! Linn’s of Cambria has a few eateries in Cambria, and they offer gift shops, a farm stand, preserves and pies to go, and a slew of baked goods, homestyle cooking, and wine shops. Chris and I have eaten there on a few occasions and the food delivers. I actually mentioned Linn’s brand of wine in my value wines story, because they offer a great value house wine label that comes from a nice winery in the region – a great example of buying house label wines that are quality. But the food is good and hits the spot after jogging on Moonstone Beach.
Indigo Moon – This eatery serves delectable dishes such as wild mushroom risotto with manchego cheese, steaks, salmon, and artisan cheese plates. It’s a nice night out located on the main drag next to the original cheese shop from which Indigo Moon originated.
Where to Shop
Spellbound Herbs Gift Shop & Garden – I found this gem the last time I visited Cambria, and I couldn’t believe I’d never been inside. It’s amazing! To be fair to myself, there’s SO much to do when I’m in SLO County that I can’t do it all. But this one is on my list every time I go to Cambria now, because it’s just that lovely.
Spellbound Herbs is this seemingly little shop that’s actually quite spacious with a wondrous garden attached that customers are encouraged to walk through and enjoy. The store features books, bath items, fresh potpourri, oils and perfume, and other treasures. The garden is a multi-themed experience that elicits joy at every turn. Hubby and I had a fun time exploring the different nooks and crannies and were surprised at all the thoughtful themes presented throughout the garden.
Ball & Skein & More – This knitting shop offers a nice array of yarns and needles for any project you may want to get into, with special events periodically.
Fermentations – This wine shop located on the main drag in Cambria also features wine tastings and is a wine bar, so that’s great in and of itself. But the store also stocks really cute gifts, making it worth a stop on each trip to Cambria. I scored one of my favorite pairs of sunglasses at Fermentations.
Cambria is a great place to visit. Its proximity to other towns and wineries in San Luis Obispo County makes it a great spot to hide out in for a few days and get lost in its wonders. SLO County is filled with delicious food and wine, great shopping, and fun activities. Check out the next installment in the series, publishing next week, for more intel on travel in Central California.
Oh, how I love, love, love Cambria. If you go, please do tell me. And I want to hear your Cambria must-dos if you have them!