Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cambria, CA: A Coastal Traveller's Delight

Over 20 years ago, on a drive up the coast, I left a piece of my soul on the bluff of Cambria. We had only passed through, stopped for a picnic, and continued driving, but those moments overlooking the ocean clung to my heart, beckoning my return. The breathtaking view was even more stunning than my memory when I stepped out of my car, 20-plus years later, and inhaled the glory of pines and sea.

Cambria is an extraordinary small town, settled in a small nook between forested mountains and a jagged, rocky coastline. With approximately 7,000 residents, the town doesn’t promise to be anything but quaint, enjoyable, and welcoming to out-of-towners. Gift shops, eateries, wine bars, a Victorian Tea House, and one lone beer bar ramble along the main drag, which is segmented into a West Village and an East Village. Such simplicity is a rare find; a vacation town that loves being a vacation town, and accommodates guests so. A long strip of inns stretches out on Moonstone Beach Drive, where the ocean bluff is a simple walk across the road.

squirrelOn the bluff, a 2-mile length of boardwalk, with stairs down to the beach and generous viewing decks greet visitors. The stunning view from any deck goes on for miles, and in the evening hours, one can see the lighthouse up the coast, still serving on the peninsula. Walking upon the boardwalk, arm in arm, listening to the roaring ocean, breathing in the aroma of salt, pines, and the wildflowers that abound along the bluff, we were greeted with other smiling couples, also walking arm in arm. Serenity engulfed us, and no words need be said, as the spectacular views and gentle breezes released us from the world beyond Cambria, and reminded us the world we are graced with is truly awesome. Numerous benches are placed along the bluff, lining the boardwalk, inhabited by peaceful couples enjoying the sunset and cuddling close.

Moonstone Beach BarWith a promising mixture of spectacular views and fresh seafood, Cambria delights visitors with delicious restaurant options. The Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill and The Sea Chest are the two options most recommended by locals for seafood. One must arrive early, very early, for seating at either one, or call ahead for reservations. To determine which restaurant was the best, we found asking locals to be a daunting task, as they all have their favorites. But these were the only choices that everyone could agree upon for views and seafood.

Charlie Red PoetLocals all recommended dining at Madeline’s in town overall. Serving French cuisine, Madeline’s exceeded our expectations. Trolling the wine tasting rooms and cute gift shops, we met fun, interesting people. Charlie, the owner of Red Poet Winery, set up a tasting for us of not only delicious wines and fabulous local olive oils, but entertained us with facts about the town and some of the people who reside and visit. He shared that after Memorial Day, prices for the Inns triple until September, as well as the weeks between Christmas and New Years Day, and again on the week of Valentine’s Day. The town simply shuts down during the month of January, as most merchants take that month for vacation. Charlie recommended visiting in October, as the Indian Summers are so pleasant, prices are low, and the town is lively. Lelie at Black Hand Winery also served up a great wine tasting for us, shared her favorite dinner recipe, recommended other eateries and fun spots to visit, and was highly informative about wine in general.

Hearst CastleA trip up to Hearst Castle seemed in order, as it is only minutes away. For anyone who has not visited the spectacular home of William Hearst, you don’t know what you are missing. For anyone who has been, the draw to return is strong, and the numerous tours all offer different perspectives of the enormous grounds and multiple residences. Intricate details abound throughout the estate, hidden among the incredible statues, breathtakingly enormous architecture, and opulent furnishings.

The merchants, servers, and townspeople in Cambria have created a welcoming tourist town that doesn’t feel at all touristy. They are pleased to have out-of-towners visit, and look forward to serving us. Most seem to love what they do, and love their little town. Beyond the breathtaking views, the serenity that abounds everywhere one goes, and the array of entertaining ways to spend one’s time, the warmth we received from all of the locals created a sense of feeling welcome.


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