Cambria is located in California’s Central Coast region which is a 350-mile strip of land that hugs the coastline from Ventura to Monterey. The drive from Los Angeles is scenic and full of interesting detours. Cambria provides a convenient base for visits to the Paso Robles wine region, Hearst Castle and Big Sur. It’s a destination that easily combines adult and kid-friendly activities.
It’s a straight, 4-hour shot up the coast from Los Angeles. Take the 405 North, to the 101 North to Highway 1 North. A very interesting detour along the way is the one and only Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. Stop for a piece of pie as big as your head or peruse the outrageous pink and red décor. The men’s restroom with its famous waterfall is not to be missed.
Things to Do
750 Hearst Castle Road
San Simeon, CA 93452
Located 10 minutes north of Cambria, Hearst Castle is the most famous national attraction in the area. The Grand Rooms tour is recommended for first-time visitors and includes the iconic pools and time to roam the grounds. Admission includes a 40-minute film about building the Hearst Castle that is part European art history tour and part California entrepreneur biography. Look for zebras on the right-hand side of US-1 as you drive north towards the Castle -– these are descendants of the original zebras that Hearst kept in his zoo.
Kayaking San Simeon Cove
Sea For Yourself Kayak Outfitters
W.R. Hearst Memorial State Beach
Across the street from Hearst Castle
San Simeon, CA 93452
The protected cove at the state beach provides calm waters for kayaking in and around the caves and kelp beds. The owner and guide, Cubby, has worked with kids of all ages at summer camps and provides thorough kayaking instruction before heading out on the two-hour tour. Wetsuits, life vests and even booties are included. Expect to see various kinds of sea life and tide pool creatures. If visiting Friday through Sunday, don’t miss the Coastal Discovery Center next door. It’s small but packed with well-done, interactive science experiments and attractions that complement the kayak tour well -– you’ll need to drag the kids out of here.
Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas
4 Miles North of Hearst Castle Entrance
A few miles north of the Hearst Castle, the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas are a full-time tourist attraction. Docents are on hand to manage the crowds and provide information. Mother Nature is on full display during mating season; be prepared to explain “why the big seal is sitting on top of the little one.”
Jeep Vineyard Tour at Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery
5940 Union Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
You know you’ve arrived at Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery when you see the American flag marking the spot where the B-26 bomber crashed in 1956. The “Crash Course” is a one-hour vineyard and farm tour in a 1958 Willy’s Jeep that, according to my kids, rivals the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. Cindy Steinbeck patiently answers all questions as she drives guests up and down the rolling hills of her family’s 500-acre vineyard. Depending on what’s in season, you’ll sample grapes, pick produce from the garden or collect walnuts to take home. While this is not a wine-making tour, guests do a get a private wine tasting after the ride.
Wine Tasting in Paso Robles
Downtown Cambria has various wine tasting rooms but if you have time, visit the wineries in Paso Robles. The closest ones can be reached in 15 minutes from Cambria, traveling over the mountains on Highway 46 which affords gorgeous mountain and ocean views. The Paso Robles wineries are laid back, many have picnic facilities and there is always somewhere for kids to sit while you sip. Tastings are usually $10 and do not include the glass.
Where to Stay
Cambria Shores Inn
6276 Moonstone Beach Drive
Cambria, CA 93428
Cambria Shores Inn sits across from Moonstone Beach with panoramic views of the ocean and rocky shoreline. The dog-friendly hotel has a small grassy area that dogs and kids love and Adirondack chairs scattered around the property where guests sit and sip coffee or wine while taking in the view. The location is perfect for strolling the beach walkway in search of seals or combing the beach for moonstones or sea glass. Recently renovated rooms have fireplaces and a kitchenette; you’d never know a dog had stayed in the room. Continental breakfast, afternoon snacks and brownies are included along with friendly and helpful staff.
Where to Eat
Sea Chest Oyster Bar and Restaurant
6216 Moonstone Beach Drive
Cambria, CA 93428
The Sea Chest is a two-minute walk from Cambria Shores Inn and is always packed. The restaurant opens at 5:30 p.m. for dinner but diners start to line up at 4:30 p.m. at this no-reservation, seafood lover’s dream. The seafood is always fresh and simply prepared. The fresh calamari strips and local halibut are a favorite. There is a small waiting area where you can play cards and sample the area’s wine or you can eat at the bar. Dinner only, cash only and closed on some Tuesdays.