There are many places more famous than Cambria along the coast of California – Santa Barbara, Monterey, Carmel, Mendocino, Big Sur – but none I love more. (OK, maybe Big Sur.) In fact, Cambria is such a treasure that I hesitate to blog about it. I almost don't want people to know about it, to keep it less crowded, to keep it a secret. But my family and I just spent a lovely few days in this charming little town, and I can't not talk about it.
Cambria is a village of about 6,400 people, situated smack-dab in the middle of the central coast of California, two hours north of Santa Barbara, two hours south of Big Sur. We've been there many times and love it because there is almost nothing to do there except rest, relax, and recharge. There is a huge – and excellent – tourist attraction just six miles away: Hearst Castle, which we've been to, but the vacation we wanted this time was pure rest, pure beach.
There are many reasons for Cambria's magical attraction. It starts – and maybe ends --with Nature. We stayed on Moonstone Beach. I wonder how many "perfect" beaches there are in California because this is certainly one of them. It is both rugged and flat/sandy. What I especially love about Moonstone is that it's a "double" beach experience: there is a mile-and-a-half Boardwalk on the bluffs twenty feet above the sand, and then there is the beach itself. So you get two beach-walking experiences instead of one. We must have walked the Boardwalk a dozen times, back and forth, at all different times of the day. Sometimes we walked down to the sand and beach-combed, sometimes not. Either way was perfect.
I shouldn't say that there was "nothing" to do there. I spent a good deal of time watching surfers surf. There were two groups – morning and late afternoon – according to the waves, I guess. Surfing is a beautiful thing to observe. First of all, the Pacific Ocean itself is beautiful, so almost any extra thing on it is interesting. But watching these young guys (they were mostly guys) in wet suits, bobbing on their boards in the water, trying to read the waves and paddle into them to stand up just the right moment and ride them into shore makes for endless entertainment. A few of them were really good. I admired their patience, waiting for the right wave; their stillness right before the frenzy of paddling.
We saw lots of wildlife. I brought my binoculars and saw whales ... dolphins ... sea otters ... and many, many different kinds of sea birds. I walked through thick clouds of disgusting sand fleas. I made eye contact with the brazen ground squirrels that live under and around the Boardwalk. We walked in tide pools and dodged around piles of rotting kelp.
And the smells? Nothing smells as good as the ocean except the rest of Nature when you mix in the pine, the lavender, and the native herbs and wildflowers.
There is good food in Cambria. (Madeline's, Black Cat, Robin's. In the past, I've put Trip Advisor reviews up about them all.) The town is near the increasingly important wine area of Paso Robles, and where there is good wine, good food must follow.
And the truly amazing thing? In all the days we spent there, there were never more than a couple of dozen people on the beach. In fact, sometimes it felt like we had the entire beach to ourselves.
"Cambria" is the ancient name for Wales. That kind of makes sense. Wales is the least celebrated part of the United Kingdom, and California's Cambria is likewise outshown by its mo
re famous rivals up and down the coast. But obscurity has its rewards. No crowds, lower costs, and no hassle.
I was born in New York. I still love the East Coast, but there is no denying it: California is paradise.
Here are some links to this wonderful area.
Ry Cooder – "Smack Dab in the Middle" live