I am very excited to share our next guest contributor, Emily McNamara. She is from our neck of the woods in Northern California and will be sharing more about the central coast of California where she called home and explored. You can find more of her adventures @em_mcnamara!
Hello everyone! I’m Emily McNamara, a travel photographer, and California native. I grew up in Northern California and currently live in Southern California, but my heart belongs to the small quirky beach towns of the Central Coast. I’m starting off with a post about my personal favorite coastal getaway, Cambria.
While working towards my master’s degree in education at nearby Cal Poly, I was randomly placed for my student teaching in the small town of Cambria, 40 minutes north of the San Luis Obispo campus. Though my professors apologized for the long-ish commute, I was elated! I had an excuse to drive my favorite stretch of Highway 1 every day and teach at an elementary school on a rolling hill with wildflowers, surrounded by cypress trees and a neighbor’s horses. I, of course, found myself spending more and more time in the town outside of my required student teaching hours.
The city dubbed “Pines by the Sea” is as close to an idyllic European village as the U.S. gets with its walkable Main Street, cottages and cabins, and niche culinary delights. Cambria is the perfect take-off point to explore nearby San Luis Obispo, wine taste in Paso Robles wine country, or wind up the oceanside cliffs in Big Sur, with plenty to do in its own village limits. It is the perfect weekend getaway if retreating from equidistant San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Ready to explore and relax in quaint Cambria, California? Here’s my guide for a rejuvenating weekend away.
A Guide for a Weekend Getaway in Cambria, California
Travel Logistics for Cambria, California
Getting to Cambria: Cambria is right in the middle of San Francisco and Los Angeles – about 3.5 hours and 223 miles from LA and 3.5 hours and 233 miles from SF. The closest airport to Cambria is San Luis Obispo County (SBP) Airport, with the most popular airlines: Alaska Airlines and United Express Airlines.
Best Time To Go: Like many coastal cities in California, Cambria has relatively temperate temperatures year-round. The best time to visit would be Spring through Fall to avoid possible rain in the winter. My favorite time to visit Cambria is late February to early May because the hills are green and the wildflowers are in full force. Cambria tends to be overcast in the morning but usually clears up in the afternoon.
Transportation in Cambria: You will need to rent a vehicle if traveling within Cambria due to the lack of public transportation, services like Uber or Lyft being rare, and the distance to local beaches and trails.
Currency & Money | $ USD: Credit cards are accepted everywhere. Some cash may be needed for tipping at hotels.
What to know before visiting: Like many small towns, some restaurants and businesses close earlier. It is important to be mindful of this and look up hours ahead of time.
Where to Stay in Cambria, California
Hotel Recommendation: Cambria Beach Lodge
Cambria Beach Lodge overlooks the ocean in an updated and trendy boutique hotel. They have complimentary beach cruisers to borrow and serve Honey Co. coffee, the roasters from Scout Coffee Company, one of the best coffee shops in nearby San Luis Obispo.
Other Accommodation Options: Private Cabins and Airbnbs
Where To Eat & Drink In Cambria, California
Go here for breakfast or lunch to enjoy savory or sweet blue corn waffles and packed smoothies. This gem is tucked away off of Main Street with a walkup stand draped in ivy and a patio area for outdoor seating. They also sell ghee made by the owner and decorate with art from local makers, like macrame from Tied and True Goods.
Robin’s Restaurant features comfort foods inspired by international cuisines with lots of healthy options. They are famous for their salmon bisque, which pairs well with an entree or on its own with their homemade bread.
Sea Chest Restaurant
Close to Moonstone Beach, this restaurant is known for its oyster bar and fine dining. Make sure to dine al fresco on the patio for ocean view dining.
Main Street Grill
This restaurant is a crowd pleaser and is owned by and has a similar menu to the classic Firestone BBQ restaurant in San Luis Obispo. Try their tri-tip salad, you’ll be happy you did!
Linn’s is a local restaurant known almost exclusively for their pies. If you listen to the local radio stations in the area you will be sure to hear the sweet couple who founded the restaurant talk about coming in for a slice of their famous olallieberry pie.
Brown Butter Cookie Company in nearby Cayucos
Okay, so… this bakery is 15 minutes outside of Cambria in Cayucos, but it needed to make the list! Brown Butter Cookie Company has incredible brown butter cookies (similar to a shortbread cookie). My husband and I love to grab a couple of cookies and then walk down to the Cayucos Pier.
What to Do in Cambria, California
Hike the Harmony Headlands Hike
Harmony Headlands State Park is a must-do. You can park for free in the parking lot right along Highway 1 and then walk to the ocean. It is 4.3 miles round trip (around 2 miles to the ocean and 2 miles back). A relatively flat walk in and out, the time goes by quickly because there is so much nature to look at! It has gorgeous wildflowers in the spring, including California poppies. Remember not to pick the poppies though because they are protected as the state flower. I recommend going a few hours before sunset when the lighting is golden to see the light dance on the water, fields, and flowers.
Stroll the Moonstone Beach
Moonstone Beach has dark pebbly sand and is a great place to go on a morning beach walk. There are moonstones and jade rocks on the beach which are beautiful to look at and photograph, but please leave them where you found them. There are lots of restaurants near Moonstone Beach that you can grab a bite to eat. I recommend grabbing a drink at Sea Chest.
Explore Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
You can easily drive up to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and create as much of a walk as you want to. There are several different loops, all with an ocean view. Volunteers have added handcrafted wooden benches to take in the scenery as you enjoy your walk.
- Soto’s True Earth Market: Soto’s is a market with health foods, produce, and goods that are unique to Cambria – like cheese from Stepladder Creamery and chocolate truffles from Baceae.
- Stash Local Goods: Stash sells locally made products and has a cute store design. Definitely worth a stop!
- Antiques on Main
- Cambria Nursery and Florist
Visit Hearst Castle
San Simeon is just 15 minutes up the road from Cambria. Hearst San Simeon State Park has a beautiful pier and beach worth checking out, but San Simeon is primarily known for Hearst Castle, a luxury estate funded by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst between 1919 and 1947. You might see the Hearst’s herd of zebras on your way up to the castle or along the side of Highway 1. Hearst Castle is currently closed for tours because of health safety but save this for later.
Drive to Big Sur
Big Sur is just a short trip up the coast and has plenty to do and see. Highway 1 goes right along the water and it is impossible to have a bad view on this drive.
Go Wine Tasting in Paso Robles
Paso Robles is California’s fastest-growing wine region with about 200 wineries in the area. My favorite is Justin Vineyards & Winery because of their picnic area and varieties, but there are so many worth checking out. Some others are Eberle, Riboli, and J. Lohr.
Enjoy Morro Bay State Beach
My husband and I lived in the sleepy beach town of Morro Bay for a year and a half. It is known for its surfing and being constantly about 10 degrees cooler than the surrounding towns. Take a walk on the beach, see the giant rock, and grab a bite to eat at Sunshine Health Foods or Tognazinni’s Dockside Restaurant.