A Cambria Weekend

By Mona Day

Travel Reporter

The scenic stretch of California's Highway 1 Discovery Route midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles offers breathtaking beauty, outdoor adventure, two world class wine regions, and scenic country roads connecting small artisan towns and seaside villages.

I drove into the picturesque town of Cambria on a Friday afternoon. Known for its stately pines and panoramic views, the town is also full of art galleries, specialty artisan shops, craft breweries and Pacific Coast Wine Trail wineries.

The Cambria Beer Company, which produces small, limited quantity batches of beer, is good for a tasting flight. A Matter of Taste is a gourmet food shop that specializes in top quality products for foodies. Cambria Coffee Roasting Company crafts gourmet blends and unique roasts. Pacific Coast Wine Trail wineries include Black Hand Cellars, Harmony Cellars, Moonstone Cellars, Stolo Family Winery, and Twin Coyotes Winery.

I checked into the El Colibri Boutique Hotel & Spa, a small boutique hotel whose best feature might be its location. Separated from the main town by the highway, it is located along Moonstone Beach on a California State Parkland preserve. Amenities include a fireplace, ocean views and complimentary wine tasting on Saturday.

Its complementary breakfast offers plenty of filling options like oatmeal, harboiled eggs and yogurt, so you can get started with your day without first having to go out in search for breakfast.

Tucked away in a private corner on the second floor is the Colibri Spa featuring an outdoor Jacuzzi, two steam rooms, and separate bathrooms, showers and locker rooms available to all guests.

After a relaxing soak in the Jacuzzi I headed out to Robin's Restaurant, which has been a favorite with locals and visitors for 25 years. I was seated in its vine-covered patio between between tables with a young couple from Los Angeles celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary, and a local group of friends and family saying goodbye to a couple leaving for Australia.

With an emphasis on farm-fresh, local ingredients, Robin's features eclectic choices such as Vietnamese spring rolls, Portobello and spinach lasagna, and peach-glazed baby pork back ribs.

I started out with a Crusted Calamari with Sesame Cabbage Slaw and Sambal Aioli and proceeded to a Moroccan Spiced Grilled Salmon with Saffron Rice Pilaf. Portions were ample, with just enough exotic seasoning to make the dishes unique without taking over.

Next morning I decided to tackle the Fiscalini Ranch which dominates the town. The 70-acre ranch packs plenty of biological diversity in a small area: tidal effect zones, seasonal freshwater marshes and wetlands dotted with birds. The Monterey pine forest is part of three remaining native stands in the world and serves as habitat and cover for wildlife moving between the coastal range and the ocean bluffs.

Selecting from its many trails may seem overwhelming, but a good one to start with is the Bluff Trail boardwalk which you can enter at the end of Windsor Blvd.

I was bowled over by the sheer beauty: rugged coastline vistas from atop craggy cliffs, waves pounding below, fresh saltwater air, spring flowers in full bloom, all on an easy boardwalk: this was a walker's paradise. Along the trail there is sculpture built with rocks and driftwood and plenty of benches carved from tree stumps. Small trails lead down to the beach, if you'd rather walk on sand.

Lunch was at nearby Moonstone Beach Grill, a family owned restaurant with a dinner menu specializing in fresh seafood, steak and pasta. I ordered their specialty clam chowder and debated between the fried oysters and the fish tacos; the oysters won. I also made a mental note to come back and try the Hang Town Fry Omelet - a three egg omelet with deep-fried oysters, bacon, Swiss cheese and a jalapeno cream sauce; until then, it will remain the stuff of my foodie fantasies.

Now it was time to head out to the Piedras Blancas rookery, just north of San Simeon on HWY 1. Home to about 15,000 Elephant seals, the area is open for viewing every day of the year and there is no admission fee or reservation required.

The Northern Elephant Seal migrates thousands of miles twice each year, from the open oceans to the land-based rookery where you can see thousands of them huddled together. There they breed, birth, molt, rest between trips, and the pups train - its a sight to behold.

I moved on to my 3 pm reservations at the La Casa Grande Rooms Tour at Hearst Castle on La Cuesta Encantada, the Enchanted Hill. The magnificent ground floor rooms include the Assembly Room where guests met for cocktails, the Refectory where meals were served, the Morning Room, Billiard Room and Theater. The guide regaled us with stories about Mr. Hearst and the famous guests who visited him for almost three decades.

After your tour you can stroll the grounds at leisure and watch an IMAX film about the building of the castle featuring Mr Hearst's boyhood visit to Europe with his mother, and his working partnership with the Castle's architect Julia Morgan. Her biggest challenge was probably trying to keep up with a client fond of exercising his right to change his mind.

I headed out to dinner at Linn's Restaurant in Old Town Cambria. Linn's began as a humble farm fruit stand that has now grown into a favorite destination serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Its menu specializes in locally grown Hearst Ranch Grass Fed beef, local seafood, and pot pies, soup and Olallieberry pie made with fruits and vegetables from its own farm. I ordered an appetizer of Coconut Encrusted Prawns that came with Asian slaw, Linn's Blood Orange Dipping Sauce and a main course of Macadamia nut encrusted Mahi Mahi in coconut red curry sauce and chatted with the girlfriends from Mountainview at the neighboring table.

Having been so taken by the Bluff Trail Boardwalk the previous morning, I decided to continue on with the Moonstone Beach Drive boardwalk that begins just steps from the El Colibri. Its an easy coastal walk, with lots of walkers, joggers, bikers and their dogs.

I completed my weekend with a massage at the hotel's Colibri Spa. Each session is individualized, and my particular need that weekend was a sore neck caused by driving to Cambria from LA in a rental car I wasn't used to. My full body Swedish style massage used a luxurious, organic massage cream along with hot towels - my favorite body treatment. The sore neck was history.

Now relaxed in mind and body, I was ready to head back to the big city. I made note that Cambria is a keeper - for weekend getaways to rejuvenate and replenish. Its also a place to return and discover more.

I'd like to revisit the boardwalks and check out more trails. I've also got to tell my friends and specially my family in Central California only 1 1/2 half hours away, who've never been there. Come to think of it, what a great place meet and catch up - kids, pets, and all. 

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Photo credits: Laurel Sherrie


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