Elephant Seals and Castles – Cambria, California

September is truly a glorious time to travel the California Coast. The weather is usually agreeable with foggy mornings, glorious sun-soaked days and cool nights. Driving south on U.S. Highway 101 from the Monterey Peninsula I am astounded by the views of farm workers following behind huge farm implements picking produce at a rapid pace. Mile after mile the sight remains the same although the crop is different. Salinas, Soledad, Greenfield and then the vineyards of San Miguel and Paso Robles begin to dominate before turning west to reach the coast of the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean.

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Fog shrouded Hearst Castle main house at San Simeone (L.Compisi)

This is part two of my multi-part series chronicling our 2017 Road Trip from Sonoma County, California to San Diego, California covering over 1,200 round trip miles and 12 days of beautiful sights, sounds, wine, food and spirits – all in the name of adventure.

Our second stop was the quaint coastal city of Cambria (about 235 miles south of San Francisco, 220 miles north of Los Angeles and 140 miles south of  Monterey) situated on U.S. Highway 1 (Hwy 1) along the magnificent Pacific Ocean. Although Cambria has a long history of mining and cattle ranching it may be best known for its proximity to Hearst Castle in nearby San Simeon.

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Stupendous Roman Pool at Hearst Castle (L.Compisi)

Cambria is surrounded by towering Monterey Pine trees and the shimmering Pacific Ocean along its coast. The city is virtually free of chain stores and boasts a picturesque downtown loaded with charm and offering idyllic living for its six thousand year round residents. It is these virtues that likely attracted the filmmakers of the 1990 hit ‘Arachnophobia’ to select Cambria for its location.

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Monterey Pines Cambria (Scott Campbell photo)

Tourism is the focus of Cambria’s economy with William Randolph Hearst’s castle leading the way. Built on the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” (“The Enchanted Hill”), originally purchased by Hearst’s father, George, in 1865, Hearst collaborated with San Francisco architect Julia Morgan over nearly 30 years from 1919-1947 to create this National and California Historic Landmark. A California State Park since 1954, the Castle offers a variety of daily tours and a seasonally scheduled evening tour. We enjoyed the “Design the Dream Tour” which provided extensive access to the 60,000 plus square foot mansion and one of the three 3,000 square foot guest houses. A living window into the lifestyle of this original media magnate and his Hollywood friends. In fact, Hearst’s life was so fascinating to American’s it became the basis of Hollywood’s 1941 classic film, ‘Citizen Cain’, a film he tried to torpedo.

L-R Guest House Casa Del Mar; Hearst Bedroom; Sitting Area (L.Compisi)

Although we had toured several years ago, we were newly amazed by the extravagance and personality of both Hearst and his architectural muse, Morgan. The entire experience is exceptionally well orchestrated beginning with the free film in the visitor’s center theater (Hearst Castle – Building the Dream), to the 10 mile round trip bus ride audio tour through the exceptionally well informed and personable docents at the castle. Worth the travel to Cambria for this reason alone!

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The Neptune Pool undergoing major repair (L.Compisi)

About 7 miles further north of San Simeon, is the Northern Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas, home to approximately 17,000 elephant seals. Thought to be extinct in 1892, these huge (some weighing over two tons) creatures are observable from less than 50 feet away from the easily accessible viewing area.  We stood there for 45 minutes marveling at the shear size and personality of these behemoths.  We were there when most of the seals were on the semi-annual feeding migration to Alaska and the Bering Straight. The winter months are the best time to view the larger populations and their breeding activities.  Despite this fact, the 70 plus adolescents and a couple older adults offered much to watch. The docents were excellent and there is no charge for this experience. Parking is free.

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Other nearby attractions include the Piedras Blancas Light Station, Moonstone Beach, Point Piedras Blancas Beach, San Simeon State Beach and the San Simeon Pier. Of course, nearby Templeton and Paso Robles offer some wonderful wineries and elegant dining opportunities. Some of our favorites wineries from past visits include: Vina Robles   Castoro Cellars and Eberle Winery.

WHERE TO STAY: Cambria and nearby San Simeon offer numerous coastal motels and Bed & Breakfast (B&B) offerings.  Our choice was J. Patrick House in the hills above Cambria.  This charming Irish themed B&B features 7 private bedrooms with full bath and a common sitting area where coffee and pastries or wine and cheese can be enjoyed while meeting your traveling neighbors.

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J. Patrick House in Cambria (L. Compisi)

Our room, ‘Tipperary’, was charming and well appointed with a large bathroom and very comfortable bed. The main building, which serves as the office, reception area and dining area also hosts the nightly happy hour where proprietor, Linda Ennen, offers local area wines and hors d’oeuvres to complement the opportunity to become acquainted with fellow visitors and Linda herself. Most delightful during our stay where the breakfasts.  Linda has created some beautiful, scrumptious dishes that are visually enticing. With her ‘Goldie Hawn’ like personality, Ennen provided a wealth of information about the area, welcoming hospitality and smart recommendations on what to see and where to dine.  All quite impressive for this relatively new (not quite 3 years) innkeeper.

  1. Entrance to Office at J.Patrick House. 2. Tipperary Room (L.Compisi)

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Delicious Skillet breakfast at J.Patrick House (L.Compisi)

WHERE TO DINE: We had a couple dining experiences that are worth sharing.  The first was a mid-afternoon lunch at Linn’s Restaurant on Cambria’s Main Street. Our excellent server described the menu and wine list with knowledge and enthusiasm. We shared a great burger with fries and wine from Paso Robles.  Yum!

We also got to experience dinner at Robin’s Restaurant, a mainstay for decades just off Cambria’s Main Street on Burton.  Robin’s menu is eclectic with American and Asian-influenced dishes. Flavor-filled, heartwarming and generous portions are presented using fresh ingredients. We enjoyed the Thai Green Chicken and the Short Ribs with Risotto.  The finisher, however, was the Ginger Creme Brulee!! For convenience, Robin’s has Lunch, Midday and Dinner menus for day long service as well as Sunday Brunch. Business partners Robin and Shanny have opened other restaurants in San Luis Obispo in recent years.

Thai Green Chicken and Ginger Creme Brulee (L.Compisi)

If you happen to decide you would like to dine in Paso Robles, Il Cortile is an excellent choice for an elegant dining experience. Another great option is Bistro Laurent in Paso.

GETTING THERE: Traveling south on U.S. Hwy 101 (the 40 mile section of U.S. Hwy 1 from near Big Sur south to Salmon Creek remains closed due to collapsed bridge on one end and a collapsed mountain on the other) from Monterey takes one through the amazing produce fields of Salinas, Soledad, Greenfield and the vineyards of Paso Robles where you head west through Templeton along Highway 46 to the coast where one turns north to Cambria. The trip north from LA follows Hwy 101 until you reach San Luis Obispo where you cut over to Highway 1 and continue north. Whichever direction you travel, arriving in Cambria is well worth the effort.

Subscribe to be sure you don’t miss the rest of the series: Santa Ynez Valley; Pasadena and San Diego!

About John Compisi

John and Linda Compisi are a freelance travel, adventure and lifestyle writer/Photography team focusing on California, Italy, France or where ever life takes them. John is a credentialed member of the SF Bay Area Travel Writers and the Redwood Writers Club. John and Linda, reside in Sonoma County and love nothing more than getting out there and experiencing the world, no matter if it’s a destination close to home, a road trip, or a journey to a romantic international destinations.
This entry was posted in Adventure, Central Coast, Road Trip, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Elephant Seals and Castles – Cambria, California

  1. ninotony says:

    Gentle people….start your saliva glands with the skillet breakfast and take it from there. Hearst house just shrunk the Biltmore in Asheville. Great read.

  2. Pingback: Travel Bites, Flights and Sights Repost: Elephant Seals and Castles – Visit Cambria

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