There are many places along Pacific Coast Highway in Central and Northern California worth visiting that are well known: Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, etc.. However, there are two lesser known locales that are just as spectacular as these and worth a stop: the towns of Cambria and Cayucos. These two towns, though only minutes apart by car have very different vibes. Cayucos is a small surfing town with a main street full of gift shops and antiques whereas Cambria is a picturesque, peaceful seaside resort community. Regardless of what brings you up to this part of California, both of these towns are worth a visit. Here’s what to do there:
What to do:
1. Walking along the boardwalk. Although this may seem rather mundane, the Moonstone Boardwalk is really one of the best things in Cambria. It’s so beautiful and peaceful, you’ll never want to leave. There are many overview points along the way and you may see dolphins, whales, sea otters, and seals in the waters near by. The area is so quiet and secluded that the sea life is often close enough to see easily with the naked eye.
2. Kayaking & Surfing. The water is going to be cold, no matter what time of the year you go, so if you are going to surf, bring at least a 4/3mm wetsuit and booties. You can also easily launch your own kayak from the beach or rent one from Kayak Outfitters.
3. Wine tasting. In the town of Cambria, there are many shops advertising wine tasting. However, I recommend the recently opened Cutruzzola Vineyards tasting room. Whereas other tasting rooms offer wines from multiple wineries both local and beyond, the Cutruzzola Vineyards tasting room only samples wines that they make and can speak about personally. The winery itself is located just outside of Cambria and is a family run operation.
4. Elephant seals. Just 15 minutes north of Cambria is a viewing area for elephant seals. If you have never heard of elephant seals, they are the stinkiest, loudest, biggest tub-a-lubs you have ever seen. And there aren’t just one or two of them but dozens lounging on the beach, fighting in the water, shuffling along the sand. These animals are never going to win any beauty contests but they are really fascinating to watch. A must see.
Where to stay:
Blue Dolphin Inn This is my favorite place to stay in Cambria. You can hear the ocean from your room at night (request a lower full ocean view room) and in the morning they deliver a picnic breakfast to your room. You can eat in your room or take your breakfast out to the beach or boardwalk to enjoy. It is the most relaxing place in the world.
Where to eat:
The Sea Chest. This place is super kitschy but serves reliably good seafood, some of which is local. The key is to get there when it opens, actually before it opens. They don’t take reservations and the place is consistently packed on the weekends. The restaurant opens at 5:30 and people start lining up outside at 4:30pm (and bring bottles of wine to enjoy while they wait) and since it’s overlooks the ocean and has an outdoor waiting area, it’s not a terribly bad spot to have to pass the time. However, if you get there after they have opened the doors on a weekend, be prepared to wait an hour and a half or more.
Where to shop:
1. Home Arts. This store stocks a little of everything and most of it unique, one-of-a-kind items (none of which you will find in a tacky touristy gift shop). Regardless of what you may be looking for, you’ll find something to take home here.
2. Artifacts Fine Art Gallery With local and regional artists, this gallery is worth a visit just to see the variety of what is hanging on the walls. There are oil paintings, signs made from licence plates, clay sculptures, and more.
1. Brown Butter Cookie Company. The best reason to stop in Cayucos is the Brown Butter Cookie Company. Honestly, even if you don’t have time to stop in Cayucos for very long, you need to stop and get some cookies. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, they offer free samples. I guarantee that if you like cookies at all, you will be hard pressed to leave without buying some.
2. Remember When This is a store full of curiosities. An antique store by definition, it’s got a little bit of everything, from wetsuits to glassware to jewelry to sleds. There are literally thousands, if not millions, of items in this store and unlike many antique stores, it’s really well organized. This is a good place to just wander and reminisce about things you remember from your grandmother’s home. It will take you a while to get through the whole store though as it is a full four stories..