Charming Cambria is a village by the sea—not a beach town. Most people know it as the gateway to Hearst Castle, just 11 miles up the San Luis Obispo County coast. But even without its famous neighbor, Cambria’s creative vibe and its setting—beautiful pine forests and open space along a craggy stretch of the California coast—make it an irresistible destination in its own right.
For such a small community (just 6,000 residents), Cambria has many moods. On the inland side of Highway 1, Cambria’s commercial area is divided into two distinct sections along Main Street. With some buildings dating to the 19th century, its East Village is the oldest part of town.
In the former Bank of Cambria building, The Vault Gallery showcases the art of leading plein air painters, as well as contemporary works by the likes of Billy Zane, co-star of Titanic. Plenty of people stop in Cambria just for a slice of the famous olallieberry pie at Linn’s Restaurant, while the eclectic global cuisine and historic adobe setting have made Robin’s Restaurant a Central Coast dining landmark for more than 30 years. A few blocks away, the seasonal menu at the Black Cat Bistro and its intimate warren of dining areas set it apart as a favorite of couples looking for a romantic night out.
Nearby in the West Village, Madeline’s Restaurant & Wine Tasting Room pours top Central Coast wines by day and, in the evening, serves such favorites as lamb shank and a pan-seared duck breast. You can also browse through several galleries in this area—including Ephraim Pottery, where you’ll find pieces by owner Kevin Hicks, as well as handcrafted furniture and lamps.
Across Highway 1, Moonstone Beach is lined with hotels, many offering ocean-view rooms. Walk across the road and you can stroll above the surf on a bluff-top boardwalk that runs for about 1.5 miles—with beautiful views the entire way. For dinner along Moonstone Beach, go to the Sea Chest Restaurant & Oyster Bar, which draws long lines (there are no reservations), thanks to the outstanding bivalves and the popular calamari steak. And nearby, at the 437-acre Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, an extensive trail network follows the coastline and climbs into serene pine forests 400 feet above the ocean.