Getaway: Quaint, Quirky Cambria

Words by Sharon McDonnell

Words by Sharon McDonnell

For a seaside village of about 6,400 people, historic and quirky Cambria on California’s Central Coast offers up an extraordinary range of things to see and enticing places to stay and dine. Off Highway 1, a half-hour west of Paso Robles and 200 miles south of Palo Alto, it’s an ideal spot to combine with a visit to nearby Hearst Castle, which reopened in May after a two-year closure.

Sights and Shops

An artsy spirit permeates Cambria, which is featured in the book The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns in California. More than 80 galleries, shops, restaurants and cafes—many in late 19th-century clapboard cottages—pack the East Village, with streets dating back to 1866, and the newer West Village. On Moonstone Beach, dramatic rocky ocean views unfold from a mile-long boardwalk. At Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, which has 17 trails for walking and biking, landscapes range from a Monterey pine forest and towering cliffs to wetlands.

Photography: Courtesy of Highway 1 Discovery Route (also cover photo)

A meandering stroll through the East Village reveals countless eclectic discoveries. Inside an 1890 blacksmith shop, Cinnabar sells folk art, home décor and jewelry from all over the world, including metal art made from oil drums in Haiti and ivory-like jewelry crafted from the tagua nut in Ecuador. Moonstone Redwood carries one-of-a-kind furniture and sculptures made from reclaimed or burned redwood. Amphora specializes in art pottery made mostly by San Luis Obispo artisans, along with other crafts like fiber jewelry and felt hats. For whimsical gifts (think: watercolor paintings, notecards, coffee mugs and pillows of hummingbirds and flowers), wander into Among Friends. To cover more territory, consider renting an e-bike at VeloCambria or book a horseback or vehicle tour at Clovell’s Clydesdales.

Where to Stay

On the same block as Moonstone Redwood and Amphora, you’ll find The Rigdon House, an 1880 turquoise clapboard house with 14 suites and a spacious patio. During a nightly Happy Hour, wines from Paso Robles, snacks like bruschetta with bacon/caramelized onion jam and specialty cocktails are served.

Photography: Courtesy of Jonny Valiant

White Water, Cambria’s top luxury lodging located on Moonstone Beach, features Scandinavian modernist design and panoramic ocean views from picture windows in the lobby. Named on the Conde Nast Traveler’s 2021 Hot List, the property offers 25 rooms with fireplaces and the only full liquor license for Cambria beachside lodging.

Built in 1927, Cambria Pines Lodge, the town’s biggest hotel, is a rustic-style lodge on 25 acres with expansive views of hills and valleys, a full-service restaurant, a fireside lounge offering live music nightly and an outdoor heated pool. The hotel is also dog-friendly, with a private onsite dog park and two charming outdoor cocoon-like wood-and-stone huts where guests can dine with their pets. A short drive (or a 250-step wooden stairway) from the East Village, this is also where you’ll find the Cambria Christmas Market, which runs November 25 to December 23.

Where to Eat

All things olallieberry—Cambria’s famous fruit, a cross between a blackberry and raspberry—are found at Linn’s, a fine-dining restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, from wild salmon topped with olallie-berry glaze and apple chutney to olallieberry pies, bread puddings, cream puffs and cakes. A second-floor nook, plumped with pillows and overlooking vintage bikes on the wall, is a choice place to sit. The Linn family, who opened a farmstand in 1979, followed by their restaurant in 1989, also own the casual Linn’s Easy As Pie Café, which serves pies of all kinds, and Linn’s Gourmet Goods, a specialty foods and kitchenware shop, which, of course, sells olallieberry jams, sauces, syrups and frozen pies.

Photography: Courtesy of Highway 1 Discovery Route

Open for lunch and dinner, Robin’s, whose owner is Singapore-born, has been a local favorite since opening in 1985. Along with a charming garden setting with mosaic-bedecked tables and a restored adobe house, you’ll find global fare like a Brazilian seafood coconut milk stew, Thai green coconut curry and rogan josh, an Indian lamb curry with almonds, tomatoes and yogurt. The Sow’s Ear, a dinner-only restaurant in an old cottage, has served specialties like lobster pot pie, fisherman’s stew and a house mac and cheese in two fireside rooms since 1986. Check out the ceramic pig figurines by the dozen in the window.

An 1877 dark-red farmhouse with front and back patios, Café on Bridge Street has won county-wide acclaim for its overstuffed hot sandwiches ranging from hot pastrami to a beef, blue cheese and mushroom melt. At Creekside Gardens, try Danish ball-shaped pancakes called abelskivers in its delightful patio.

The BIG Attraction: Hearst Castle

Nothing could be more of a contrast to Cambria’s folksy charm than William Randolph Hearst’s lavish European-inspired fantasy in San Simeon, located just six miles north. Spanning 68,500 square feet with 115 rooms, the legendary estate is known for its opulent twin-towered main building, sumptuous guesthouses, extraordinary art collection (25,000 artifacts) and acres of terraced gardens, fountains and pools. Yes, those are zebras you spot grazing during the 15-minute narrated tour bus ride up to the hilltop estate (Hearst once owned the nation’s largest private zoo with a menagerie that included grizzly bears, lions, orangutans and an elephant). The historic hilltop castle offers a variety of themed tours like Grand Rooms, Upstairs Suites (including the media mogul’s bedroom), Cottages & Kitchen and Architecture/Design. Staff dress in 1930s period attire for special evening tours in spring and fall.

For a perfect lunch afterward, order the cheese, charcuterie and olive plate with a wine tasting at Hearst Ranch Winery, just downhill from the Castle. Here, at this beautiful coastal tasting room, shaded by umbrellas, enjoy a final toast to a quaint seaside town and its extravagant neighbor.