Cambria was never on my radar, so when the opportunity came up to visit, I visited it with zero expectations. Little did I know how pleasantly surprised I would be by it!
As I’m writing this, I’m undergoing an emotional period. My fairytale dream is crushed, I’m experiencing a travel burnout, and I feel lost, unhappy and betrayed – despite being in an exciting destination – Africa!
Writing and publishing this piece about Cambria has slightly lifted my spirits, which brings me back to the root of why I travel – to seek places that have opened my eyes, brought me sunshine and happiness, and share it here on this platform with you.
This trip to Cambria has pushed my boundaries and made me surprise myself for a personal feat I’d conquered. I’ve also attained a new level of peace and contentment within myself I’d never felt before. It’s inexplicable. Read until the end as I elaborate more!
I was there over the Labour Day weekend (coincidentally) in early September.
The weather in September was a perfect combination of strong sunlight in the day and the cool winds from the coast, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
- Getting to Cambria, CA
- Where to stay in Cambria, CA
- What to do in Cambria, CA
- What to eat in Cambria, CA
- Wine Tasting in Cambria, CA
- What to do in San Simeon, CA
- What to eat and drink in San Simeon, CA
- Hearst Ranch Winery and The Truck
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Getting to Cambria, CA
I’ll be honest, driving from LA to Cambria directly hadn’t been easy. You’ll have to sit through 4 hours to finally arrive. I only did the full 4-hour drive because I was short on time. If you have time, I would suggest making a road trip out of this journey, as there are many towns along the way that are worth stopping by, like Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Bay, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara and Ventura.
Beyond Cambria, the little township of San Simeon also has lots to offer, such as elephant seals and Hearst Castle. More on those below!
Arriving in Cambria had been relieving to say the least. In this small town of 22km2 (8.5sqm), there really isn’t a lot happening, which is precisely why it’s such a nice coastal town to stay a couple of days in.
Where to stay in Cambria, CA
The hotels in the area were almost all fully booked when I went over the Labour Day weekend, which goes to show what a popular weekend destination Cambria is!
I was booked into Moonstone Landing, a boutique, 2-storey family-owned beachfront property facing Moonstone Beach. Depending on the room you get, you either have a full or partial view of the ocean.
Slightly disappointed that I didn’t have a full view of the ocean or balcony, I was consoled to find a fireplace in my cosy room. It even comes equipped with a dining table, coffeemaker and microwave.
The location of the hotel itself was prime, since I was able to just hop out of my room to catch the sunrise, sunsets, and go on my morning jogs by the beach boardwalk.
They also provide daily breakfast with a standard selection of pastries, yoghurt and cornflakes, along with assorted juices.
If you’re looking for hotels that are within walking distance to to the beach, below are some amazing beachfront properties:
What to do in Cambria, CA
Moonstone Beach and Boardwalk
The primary highlight that Cambria is most known for is its Moonstone Beach. Famous for its dramatic coastline and breathtaking views, the one-mile-long Moonstone Beach Boardwalk is where your seaside escape begins.
Whether you want to sink your toes into the sand, catch glimpses of marine life, explore living tide pools, or simply relax and watch the sunset, you will find there is something for everyone on Moonstone Beach.
When I was there, I saw people building fireplaces from washed up branches, and mostly just lounging by the beach sunbathing. As compared to the weather in Hawaii, people disperse from the beach by sunset when temperatures drop.
Cambria’s Moonstone Beach, as compared to most of the other beaches around the West Coast, sets itself apart with its coarser, darker sand.
The beach has this natural allure to me that between hanging out at the beach and catching up on work on my laptop, I found myself choosing to journal by the beach and soaking in as much warmth as I could on the West Coast of California.
That had been one of the most precious moments of quiet contentment I’d never quite felt before, a feeling I would come to miss returning home from my travels.
While waiting for my dinner the first night, I scouted for an almost secluded spot along the shoreline (anywhere along the beach boardwalk promises an excellent view of the sunset) to watch the sun dip, and cozied myself as the temperature dropped to 17ºC.
I spent a quiet time reflecting about my life, my outlook and being content in the present. Sunrises and sunsets always almost happen too fleetingly.
As a photographer, I’m almost guilty of always rushing to sunset spots in time for sunset, shoot the sunsets, then leave for the rest of the activities of the evening, I realise then that this was one of the sunsets where I could just sit there take the beauty of the sun setting in at my own timing, look into the distance into the ocean and lose all track of time with no hurry to get to anywhere.
Even if you’re not a fan of exercising on your weekend jaunts to Cambria, I highly suggest walking the whole way along the boardwalk towards Moonstone Beach Park in the mornings, as that’s when the animals are most active. The beach views are slowly replaced with shrubbery, and it was here that I spotted a couple of wild rabbits and squirrels during my morning jog which was a pleasant distraction in between my run.
The main street, incidentally called Main St is where all the happenings are. You’ll find shops, restaurants and everything else along this street.
There are no large shopping chains in Cambria, only local shops filled with beautiful antiques, stunning artwork, and cute knick knacks. Strolling along the street window shopping with its historic architecture and cute shops is a relaxing affair.
Nitt Witt Ridge
This was a little cute dilapidated house that looks abandoned and messy from outside. That is not far from the truth.
Folk artist Arthur “Art” Harold Beal (who went by the name Captain Nitt Witt) was a garbage collector by trade. In line with his idea to create a “castle on a hill” based on his own imagination, Beal built what you see today – the Nitt Witt Ridge – all from recycled objects that he has collected over the years.
You’ll find stone, cement, abalone shells, and beer cans. Don’t be fooled by the exterior – the whole landmark actually includes extensive stone walkways, decks and queer gardens, which emphasizes Beal’s excellent creativity and his love of nature.
After Beal’s death, this artwork is then open to visitors to showcase Beal’s creativity – Nitt Witt Ridge has even been designated a Registered Historical Landmark!
What to eat in Cambria, CA
Despite being a small coastal town, there are plenty other food offerings along Main St, if only you have time to sample them all.
Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill
There’s no way you can visit Cambria without stopping by Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill for a meal. This is one local hangout by the beach with renowned seafood and clam chowder. Expect to queue for over an hour if you’re here at peak dinner time. They open from 5pm, so get there as early as you can to beat the crowd!
Thinking I was staying close by, I got complacent and only came in past 6pm. As a result, I had to wait for an hour for a seat. As a city dweller, I would have been complaining about the long wait and retreating to my hotel room. But immersing myself in the town’s laid-back vibe, I was more than pleased to be spending the hour catching the sunset by the beach.
It was all in good timing, since by the time the sun had set, my table was ready!
As expected, the seafood did not disappoint. The oysters which I ordered for starters were (as always), not enough to satisfy me. They tasted really fresh.
Their clam chowder was thick and creamy – it was almost already filling my stomach up, and the main course wasn’t even served yet.
I had to go with another seafood dish for my mains, this time with scallops. The way it was cooked was so tasty and soft that with every bite, I can’t seem to get enough.
Unsurprisingly, I was having a difficult time finishing my huge meal on my own, haha. By the time I was done, temperatures had dropped further. I was so ready to dash back to the comfort of my fireplace-heated room and plonk myself down on the bed. It had been a long drive all day.
Cambria Coffee Roasting Company
I started my morning stopping by Cambria Coffee Roasting Company. Already, there was a line forming all the way outside this little small coffee shop. This local hot spot have beans that are all roasted in-house.
The aroma of coffee hit me the moment I stepped in. Jostling for space as I ordered my mocha, I headed upstairs after to find open air rooftop on the second level. It was here that I found provided the best ambience to get some work done – fresh country air, the smell of coffee and croissant, and the morning sun casting warm rays on my cheek.
I had the pleasure of meeting a local who was also spending a leisurely morning at the coffee shop. It was through her that I got to know more about why the locals call Cambria their home. We had a good discussion about city vs country life, and how we cannot find ourselves in a better place than Cambria right then.
Located in the heart of the main street, its brick house exterior makes it prominent. I was led into the family-run restaurant that was dominated by wooden furniture.
Their specialty is the olallieberry pie – a fruit that’s crossed between a blackberry and a raspberry. I ordered the olallieberry drink instead, which was a much needed refreshing drink on a warm, sunny day of exploring.
Linn’s serves hearty breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, along with small plate choices, offers Hearst Ranch beef and naturally, bakes lots of olallieberry treats.
After you’re done with the treats, they still have a little corner where you can browse little souvenirs and cute knick knacks.
Black Cat Bistro
If not for the large sign of a black cat, I would have otherwise missed the bistro altogether, as it was covered in overgrown bushes and bundled up with an Italian bakery and a gallery in the same wooden hut.
Interestingly, the name comes from the poster in the hallway, which was won at a charity auction.
Inside, white linen cloths covered the tables and a wine rack was proudly standing on the other side, which reminds me more of a fine dining restaurant than a bistro.
Since the abalone from Cayucos is the highlight of the bistro, I couldn’t pass up the chance to order battered abalone with hazelnuts, drizzled with grapefruit vanilla beurre. Sure, I’ve had abalones before, but it being cooked battered style was very Western, and the sauce it was in was a nice addition to enhancing the whole taste.
The other appetiser I went for is the crispy brussels sprouts with blue cheese and roasted beet, drizzled with vinaigrette. The walnuts that the sprinkled added the crunch in the dish, which I came to enjoy very much.
Believe it or not, I was stuffed by the time I also had their award-winning Clam Chowder.
Coming into Robin’s was a delightful surprise. Recommended by my hotel’s receptionist, I finally understood why it gets so popular during peak meal timings.
While it looked like a nondescript house from the outside, the interior was decorated so lavishly, like I was stepping into a manor. The patio was garden-themed, with crawlers taking over the walls, and windows that let plenty of natural light in. The tables are made of tiles of the most assorted colours – and no one was the same!
It was the last meal that I would have in Cambria before setting off back to LA, and was consoled with Asian stir fry noodles, a dish I have missed so much after spending half the month in the US! Needless to say, I was drooling as I was taking these food pictures, and couldn’t wait to dig into it.
Robin’s serve a variety of other cuisines, including Mexican, Thai & Indian fare.
Madeline’s Restaurant & Wine Tasting Room
Another restaurant recommended by a local I came across during my visit here, though I never got the chance to try it. They serve a full-serviced restaurant menu and wine tasting options.
Wine Tasting in Cambria, CA
Wine tasting is one highlight in Cambria you cannot miss out on. Here are some incredible vineyards to have a taste of the local wines:
Driving out of town to Stolo Vineyards was the perfect excuse to wind down my convertible and have the wind in my hair and sun on my face on the isolated road in.
Sitting in 52 acres of sun-kissed vineyards, the farmhouse and old dairy barn at Stolo Family Vineyards dates back to the late 1800s, though they’ve only recently opened their wine tasting room in 2012.
They have a total of 2 vineyards that thrive in Cambria’s unique microclimate, producing coastal-style Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.
Tour the property, then sit down for a tasting on the outdoor benches. It was the perfect environment to enjoy an outdoor picnic while sipping on wine!
Another one of six wineries on the Pacific Coast Wine Trail, this tasting room offers award-winning wines at affordable prices.
Their white wines are from Monterey County and red wines are from Paso Rabbles. Retail price of wines range from USD24-37. Tasting is USD10 and waived with 2 bottle purchases. They also have an option for a cheese tray at USD10.
They also have a space upstairs for event and music nights, and even a spare room which they lease out on Airbnb. It’s a cosy abode with fluffy sheets, complete with a living space and a kitchen, giving off a homely vibe which I love to hide in if only I were staying longer!
What to do in San Simeon, CA
Hearst Castle is a National Historic Landmark and California Historical Landmark.
Built on a hilltop, getting into Hearst Castle requires a guided tour. You will be taken on a bus ride up the hill to face some of the most remarkable Mediterranean architecture.
The owner, William Randolph Hearst, used the fortune he inherited from his mother to further his media empire of newspapers, magazines and radio stations. Using the profits from there, he worked with designer Julia Morgan, one of the the female pioneers in the field of architecture, for over 20 years to create this caste masterpiece.
Of all the artwork and masterpieces you see in this castle, they only make up 10% of Hearst’s entire artwork collection, which is already worth over USD10,000. The artwork and artefacts are a mix of Southern Europe influences combined with gothic architecture.
The main door to the castle is the centrepiece of Hearst Castle, and it was inspired by a church in Spain, and contains 13th- and 15th-century statues. Some of these artefacts as old as 3500 years. The castle itself is comprised of 115 rooms spread over 4 levels.
Interestingly, the outdoor pool you see is open to members of Hearst Castle only. To be a member, it costs USD500 in membership fees. Even then, you’ll have to be able to afford the price of cocktails here, which is rumoured to be valued at USD950 for 2 glasses.
Yes you read that right!
Here’s another fun fact: their indoor pool is made of 22-carat gold!
I’ve never seen Elephant Seals in my life, and couldn’t believe how close of a resemblance these seals look to elephants had I not seen it with my very eyes. As the name goes, yes, they are just like a hybrid between a seal and an elephant.
The number of elephant seals at the Elephant Seal Viewing Point on the beach ranges from hundreds in July and August to thousands from January through May.
There are boardwalks along the beach for safe viewing. As they are wild animals, don’t go near them.
Females and juvenile males spend 10 months each year at sea while the older males spend 8 months at sea. On land, they are very social, often clumping together. At sea, they are solitary. On land, they fast, while at sea, they devote their time to the search for food. While they look relaxed on the beach, they are intensely active at sea – they dive 24 hours a day.
When is the best time to see elephant seals?
- November to December – Adult male seals, weighing over 2 tons, arrive on land to threaten, intimidate or fight for dominance on the beach. There can be over 250 adult males in over 10km of the beach.
- January – Pregnant females begin arriving. Birthing takes place within a week of arrival and takes less than an hour. The new pup weighs around 32 kg
- February – Peak of breeding.
- March – The young ones make their first entry into the ocean.
- April to May – The juveniles and mothers, following a long winter at sea, return to the beach for a month of molting. During winter, they limit the flow of blood outside their blubber layer. Hence, they cannot grow new skin and hair cells. During this period when they return to the beach, they shed their layer of old skin and all of its hair in place of new skin and hair. You’ll often find the juvenile males having fun sparring with each other at this period.
- June to September – the time where you see the fewest seals, but it is the time to see the largest ones.
- October to November – Juveniles and yearlings return for a month, after a trying 5-6 months at sea.
What to eat and drink in San Simeon, CA
Hearst Ranch Winery and The Truck
Situated in a refurbished barn/ warehouse, Hearst Ranch Winery serves wine tastings daily from 11am-5pm.
The Truck is served alongside the winery, with their kitchen operated right out of a mobile truck. Serving classic Western food, you can take your burgers outside by the seaside where they have outdoor picnic tables for you to enjoy alfresco-style.
For someone who has always done road trips in company and never driven alone, not even in Singapore, I’ve never felt prouder of myself for driving 4 hours to and fro Cambria, and navigating the LA traffic unharmed!
Navigating through 7 lanes on the highways of LA, surviving 4 hours of driving on my own and filling my own petrol on my own may seem inconsequential to you, but coming from the city where I take public transport everywhere I go, this is a personal victory!
I’m feeling all grown up and feeling like I’ve taken another step towards independence, besides doing solo travels in unknown territory. Life’s too short to harp on the what ifs, and the idea of wishing I’d done something and ending up regretting my decision if I didn’t do it is just too excruciating a feeling to handle.
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Special thanks to Visit Cambria for this experience! All opinions remain my own.
1-3 Sep 2019, Sun – Tue