An easy 125 miles from Santa Barbara, the small town of Cambria — nearly hidden in plain sight right off Highway 1 — welcomes visitors with all the crisp and rugged forces of nature classic to the Central Coast. There’s course sand underfoot and stiff wind off the water. Cold breakers crash against rocky points, and tide pools teem with bull kelp and striped shore crabs. Along the bluffs, trails and boardwalks run for miles against a backdrop of forested mountains. All of it makes for a nice, long pit stop, for sure. Better yet, try Cambria as a destination, even for just a weekend.
Late on a recent Friday afternoon, my family and I checked in to Oceanpoint Ranch (oceanpointranch.com), an unassuming single-level hotel at the northern end of Moonstone Beach Drive. The ladies running the lobby welcomed our two small dogs with gifts of matching bandanas, and across the street, trails through Leffingwell Landing State Park and along the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk provide plenty of leashed roaming room.
Oceanpoint is kid-friendly, as well, with cornhole, horseshoes, croquet, and firepits out front, a year-round heated pool out back, plus a rec room featuring foosball, tabletop shuffleboard, and a giant Scrabble board on one wall. Our room was comfortable, clean, and quiet. For a surprisingly long stretch of tranquility, the 50-inch flat-screen TV stayed off; instead, we stared at real wood flame from the fireplace.
Onsite at Oceanpoint, The Canteen opens at 7 a.m. for breakfast, with a walkup menu highlighted by steel cut oats, blueberry pancakes, and those unrefusable egg-and-potato burritos that get griddled to a toasty crunch just before plating. Each evening, the chalkboard boasts jalapeño cornbread, smoked Gouda mac and cheese, and plenty beef-based protein, plus wild mushroom pasta.
Where Main Street runs through the center of town — where much of Cambria’s original architecture has been deliberately honored and maintained — Linn’s restaurant and gift shop (linnsfruitbin.com) serves as a hub of comfort standards, fresh-baked goodies, and regional wines. I enjoyed breaded California sand dabs with au gratin potatoes and ginger carrots while my better half held praise for jumbo prawns sautéed in olive oil, chopped basil, and minced garlic. With Linn’s extensive dessert menu, it’s an easy place for your eyes and taste buds to run the table. We left happy and ready to hit the sack.
We took it up a notch the following evening, taking a seat on the oceanfront patio at Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill (moonstonebeach.com) for exceptional in-house clam chowder in a toasted sourdough round, walnut pesto shrimp pasta, and apple-chutney pork tenderloin. The GM stopped by for some small talk — turns out, he enjoys spending his weekend getaways in Santa Barbara, exploring the Funk Zone and enjoying an ocean-view meal at Hendry’s Beach.
Between meals, we were guided by the magnetic pull of the Pacific Ocean. The boardwalk and attached trail system provide countless access points (near plenty of free parking) to sandy coves framed by rocky headlands, where each small slice of coast seems suited for a particular ocean-goer, from sunbathers and beachcombers to surfers and anglers.
We also sought to shove off from terra firma, taking the 20-minute drive south to Morro Bay, where Central Coast Outdoors (centralcoastoutdoors.com) set us up with two-person kayaks and a guide, Katherina, well-versed in the surrounding natural and human history. Spoiler: Did you know that in the late 1800s, the market for plumage-adorned women’s hats drove snowy egrets to the brink of extinction? Neither did we. Katherina also put us near sleepy sea otters and oyster farms in the shallows. Don’t forget to tip your guide.
Another highly recommended swath of coastal open space is the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve (ffrpcambria.org), 437 acres of Cambria ranchland once threatened by development and now open to the public everyday around the clock for free. Much like our own Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, it took a determined village to protect Fiscalini, and there’s a trail for every energy level of hiking and biking.
And all of it — from pet-friendly lodging and seaside dining to coastal treks and ocean-borne adventures — is just a two-hour drive from home.
Check out highway1discoveryroute.com for more details, reservations, and travel tips.