I can say I have been to Wales. Don’t get confused. I never said I went to the country which is part of the United Kingdom.
During my last road trip along the Californian coast, I stopped by a small town named Cambria. Excited to find a town with a name not preceded by “San” or “Santa”, I started to wonder about the origin of such a spectacular word.
Then, the speckle of town surprised me once again. Cambria is the Latinized form of the Welsh word Cymru which means Wales. No wonder why the town is exalted by its old-world appeals.
The truth is I was surprised by more than the town’s name origin. I can talk nonstop about all the little details that make this town special to me. However, I don’t want to keep you awake past midnight.
I think it is better if I give you enough reasons and a detailed guide of things to do in Cambria. Well, we can always talk about the town as long as you want!
Things to Do in Cambria, California
My beloved Cambria! I have visited so many times that I lost count!
In here, I have made my best effort to show you the best things to do, see and eat in town. Plus, I have added a bonus. There are more ideas on what attraction and towns to visit in the vicinity.
Walk the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk (for awesome views)
If your time in Cambria is limited, I recommend heading to Moonstone Beach and walking a section of its boardwalk.
But, if you have time in your hands, walk the entire 1.5-mile path. You will find multiple entry points along Moonstone Beach Drive. If you want to do the entire thing, park close to the Moonstone Beach Park (sometimes known as Santa Rosa Creek Beach) and start walking.
This is the place to go if you want to have a beach to yourself. You can get crazy playing with the wild waves, spying birds nesting on the bluffs and trying to find moonstones. The crisp and clean air caresses your face while you take a look at the candy-colored cottages lining the beach.
It is a true pleasure to walk along such a beautiful stretch of coast!
The path is wheelchair accessible and pet-friendly (dogs on leash are welcome). Restrooms are available at both ends of the boardwalk.
Eating options are somehow limited in this part of town. Therefore, it is a good idea to bring a light lunch, snacks, and water. Restaurants such as Sea Chest and the Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill are located along the walk and have full menus.
Stop by the Leffingwell Landing
At the north of Moonstone Beach, you will find Leffingwell Landing, a verdant land promontory converted in a day-use area.
You can reach the spot from the boardwalk or by car. It doesn’t matter how you get here, what matter is the amazing views you will be able to enjoy. Make sure to go to the northernmost part and look at the long beach ending at the mouth of the San Simeon Creek. I just love that view!
Note: Stairs provide access to the beach. You can walk all the way to the mouth of the creek (about a mile).
Hike around the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
Moonstone Beach is a true gem of Cambria. However, the lesser known Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is a shining jewel.
I cannot get over the beauty of this place. It is an amalgamation of waves, cliffs, coves, prairies, marshes, and mountains. There is even a Monterey pine forest in the property (one of 5 remaining). I mean, how cool is that?
Now, there is a lot to see in 437 acres. If you are visiting for the first time, I recommend doing the Bluff Trail (1 mile, one way). Get prepared because the landscape is totally incredible. Do not miss the unique benches scattered around. You will see what I mean when you see one.
Those interested on the Monterey pines should hit the Forest Loop Trail. If you are into hiking, do not worry, there are more than a dozen trails on site. You can even cross CA-1 (using a bridge) and walk around the east side of the preserve.
Docent-guided walks are offered during the weekends. Check details at this page.
Access the beach through the Lampton Cliffs Country Park
This small park is located meters away from one of the entrances to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. It is a nice point to sit down, have a picnic and watch the waves crashing into the bluffs.
The beach below can be accessed through a set of stairs. This is not a place frequented by outsiders. That means you may have the beach to yourself (and a few others). Now, come during low tide. When the tide is high, the beach non-existent.
Relax at Shamel Park
Shamel Park is located next to the mouth of the Santa Rosa Creek. The park offers access to the beach and tidepools. In addition, it has a grass field, picnic facilities, benches, and restrooms. During warm months, a swimming pool is open to public use.
This is the place to set camp for the day if you do not want to be over sand. Also, the trailhead to the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk is located nearby.
Keep your eyes open for wildlife
Even animals feel relaxed in this gorgeous-looking area.
A big number of squirrels (10 to 15) come off their hiding holes to greet you while you are traversing the boardwalk. Next to the beach, harbor seals sunbathe over large rocks. They seem to be in peace with curious humans who approach them to take a better look. Otters cuddle while floating in the frigid waters. Even a hawk stands over the bluffs like he his patrolling the area a la Baywatch fashion.
The point is that you have to be observant because you do not know what creature is going to cross your path. Last time we visited, we ran into deer and rabbits.
Note: Observe wildlife from a safe distance. Never feed wild animals.
Stroll the Cambria Village
The “action” in town can be found on Main Street. Tons of shops offer the best work of artisans and artists on the area. The place feels like a street in a European country.
Old Victorian houses, with flower gardens, shelter antique shops, galleries, wineries, apothecaries and more. There is not a chain store in sight. Most of the goods sold are handmade.
The town consists of two areas, the East Village, the oldest part, and the West Village which has an Old English village vibe.
I personally prefer the East Village because it is bigger and more varied. I love visiting stores such as Among Friends, Garden Shed, Grow and Junk Girls. If you visit, do not miss walking down Burton Drive to discover several beautiful stores. For example, places like Spellbound Herbs, Oliver’s Twist, Amphora Galley and A Matter of Taste are worth a visit.
If you are interested in learning more about the past of this part of California, the Cambria Historical Museum is located in Burton Drive.
On the West Village, art galleries are waiting for you. Take a look at Melanee Sylvester, Ephraim Pottery, Artifacts and Windancer. Unique shopping opportunities are available at Teresabelle, Home Arts, Bumblebees, Granny Had One Antiques and Paws on Main. With so many places, it is difficult to decide where to go first!
Both sides of the village offer visitors a wide selection of restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops. I will get into more details below.
You will need a car to move between the two sides of the village.
Yes, you read that right. Linn’s (East Village) has become an institution because of its olallieberry (a cross of raspberry and blackberry) products. What started as a farm store has turned into a restaurant, cafe, and market right in Downtown Cambria.
All things olallieberry continue to be popular. You can find it in curds, jellies, sauces, baking mixes, and different baked goods. Having the fruit as a pie filling seems to be the way to go (if you want to try it at the moment).
But, do not worry. You do not have to be a fan of olallieberry or pie to enjoy Linn’s. They serve muffins, cobblers, oat bars and pie bases on citrus fruits, apples, peaches, pears, and plums.
I have tried the olallieberry and apple pies. I liked them but I do not feel like they were over the top spectacular. Julian’s (San Diego County) pies continue to be my all-time favorites.
You can try a slice (or two) at Linn’s Easy as Pie Cafe. Remember you can visit the full restaurant and gourmet market too.
Indulge in some wine tasting
Cambria has enough tasting rooms to make wine fans happy. This shouldn’t be a surprise since the town is located 30 miles from Paso Robles, one of California’s most famous wine regions.
The most acclaimed tasting room in town seems to be Cutruzzola. They specialize in Pinot Noirs and Rieslings. Their vineyards are located outside Cambria, very close to the sea. You can pair the wines with cheeses.
On the West Village, you will also found Black Hand Cellars, Moonstone Cellars, and Cayucos Cellars. I am partial to Cayucos Cellars since the owner has the best conversations topics you can think about.
On the East Village, you can visit Fermentations, a tasting room and a shop selling wine, gourmet foods, home decorations, and gift baskets. This place is full of fun and friendly people. I highly recommend a visit.
Visit the Nitt Witt Ridge
I couldn’t stop laughing when I stood in front of Nitt Witt Ridge. Starting in 1928, a man called Arthur Harold Beale collected junk, trash, and recycled goods to build his house. For 51 years, he used cans, bottles, tires, tiles, car parts, shells, driftwood, and even toilets to create an exuberant construction.
Today, the place can be described as abandoned (but it is still private property) and in a pretty helpless state of disrepair. Ironically, the site is registered as a Historic Site. Well, I don’t know if I can describe it as historic or not. I just know, I couldn’t stop laughing after seeing all those toilets in the roof.
Pay the place a visit and see how you react. Exact address: 881 Hillcrest Drive
Cambria may be small but its restaurants serve unbelievable delicious dishes. I hope you visit hungry because there is a lot to eat there. Here are my favorite places:
Robin’s – We have to start the restaurant list with Robin’s. It is by far the most talked about and recommended place in Cambria. They serve international fare prepared with fresh ingredients. For example, the menu includes hummus, prawn enchiladas, lamb burger and curries
Madeline’s – This is another place serving top-notch food. Think along the lines of veal chops, duck breast, and seafood gumbo. Suddenly, I felt hungry! They have a wine tasting room too.
The Sow’s Ear – It is difficult not to love this place. They serve lobster pot pie, black Angus pot roast, chicken fried steak, and crusted catfish. When can I move to the Central Coast?
Cafe on Bridge Street – Last time I visited this place, I felt like licking the plate. That tells you a lot about what kind of food is served here. It is simple but full of flavor, fulfilling fare. They offer soups, salads, sandwiches, and burgers. I am a fan of their meatloaf sandwich.
If you are looking for affordable meals, you can visit the French Corner Bakery, Sandy’s Deli and Boni’s Tacos.
Remember Linn’s is a good option for eating American fare, pie, and other baked goods.
As a touristic destination, Cambria is market in conjunction with San Simeon, an even smaller town located north. As a visitor, I understand why this works. The two places are adjacent and chances are you are going to include both of their attractions in a visit.
For the sake of completion, I am including on this guide the must-visit places in San Simeon, Cambria’s sister town.
Hearst Castle – Yeah, a visit to the Central Coast would not be complete if you do not visit Hearst Castle.
What we know today as the castle was formally named “La Cuesta Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill”) by its owner, William Randolph Hearst, a media mogul. The residence has 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, and 19 sitting rooms. The property also contains guest houses, gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, and an airfield. It used to host the world’s largest private zoo.
As you may have noticed, this place is a big deal. Visitors can access the complex by guided tour only. You have the option to chose among 4 tours. The tickets are not cheap ($25 per person) but I believe you will get value for your money. Visit at least once!
William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach – This beautiful place afford views of the San Simeon Bay and Santa Lucia Mountains. In addition, you can walk over the pier used to land the construction materials and artworks going to the castle.
Piedras Blancas (Seals and Lighthouse) – A small stretch of beach, located 5 miles north of the San Simeon Beach, is the largest elephant seal rookery in the West Coast. A large parking area and a boardwalk offer easy access to view them. January to May is pupping season, so, expect to see hundreds of them during that time. The Piedras Blancas Lighthouse is located one mile north of the rookery.
Ragged Point (25 miles north) – Those short on time can have a taste of Big Sur by driving to Ragged Point, a spot with impressive cliff vistas, a waterfall, and some hikes.
Paso Robles (30 miles east) – Wine lovers rejoice! Paso is only a couple of miles away from Cambria. Keep in mind the vineyards located west of Paso are located very close to Cambria (the estimated distance I am providing is from Downtown to Downtown). Use scenic CA-46 to reach the wine area.
Cayucos (15 miles south) – This small, almost unknown town located north of Morro Bay, is a great place to relax and meet some friendly locals. Did I mention smoked fish tacos and brown butter cookies are sold in there? That is reason enough to go! I have an entire guide with details on Things to Do in Cayucos.
Morro Bay (20 miles south) – If you want to visit a unique place, Morro Bay should be your choice. The panorama in this town is dominated by Morro Rock, an enormous volcanic plug. It is one of the most beautiful places in California. For more info, check out my article on Things to Do in Morro Bay.
Avila Beach (43 miles south) – This community located has hot springs, a wine trail, several piers, hiking trails, and a colorful center. This is one of my favorite places on the Central Coast! As you can imagine, I have written in detail about this place: Things to Do in Avila Beach
Pismo Beach (46 miles south) – This city, located south of Avila Beach, offers the opportunity to ride ATVs along sand dunes, see monarch butterflies, kiteboard, surf and kayak among caves. For more info, check out my complete guide on things to do in Pismo Beach.
How to Reach Cambria, California
Cambria is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco (about 230 miles from the two cities) in San Luis Obispo County. It is located 33 miles from the city of San Luis Obispo (head of the county), 130 miles from Santa Barbara and 100 miles from Monterey.
The closest airport is located in San Luis Obispo. If you are considering flying, the Santa Barbara airport may be a better option. Anyway, both of these airports are small. Most visitors arrive by car (since major airports are located more than 200 miles away).
Weather and Seasonality
For some reason, this part of the Central Coast does not get a lot of attention. I have visited during the summer and the beaches are virtually empty. During winter, the crowds are even thinner.
Do not let this deter you from a visit. This is a year-round destination. During the summer you can enjoy all sort of water activities and winter is ideal for hiking. There is something to do at any season.
Now, some businesses may observe shorter operating hours during winter. Always check times before heading to a particular place. On the other hand, most of the businesses in town depend on tourism. This means most places are open even during holidays.
After having visited this area more than half a dozen times, I know staying in Morro Bay (20 miles south) is cheaper than staying in Cambria. And, I am talking about substantial savings. Extend your search radius if you are heading into the budget way.
Have are your recommendations on things to do in Cambria? Have you been?
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