Cambria’s Moonstone Beach has probably been the site of more than a few marriage proposals. With its rugged 1.5-mile-long boardwalk trail and hills stretching the length of the little Central Coast town enveloped by pines, the spot offers a romantic backdrop.
Ocean waves spill opaque moonstones onto the sand, and beachcombers often collect the little pieces of feldspar. Light falling on the gems creates a shimmery effect called “adularescence.” A host of bed-and-breakfast inns and motels along the shore capitalize on the dreamy atmosphere.
Cambria is the Latinized form of the Welsh term for Wales, and the rocky cliffs and waves resemble a foreign landscape to inspire poets and writers.
“We get a lot of Scottish tourists,” said Luiz, the desk clerk who checked me in to my hotel, explaining that the weather might be familiar to them.
Although mild in the summer, temperatures can dip into the low 40s in the winter, and winds anytime of the year cool things down.
Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco along Highway 1, Cambria makes a relaxing weekend getaway with or without the kids.
Rooms with a view
The Cambria Shores Inn (canbriashores.com) at 6276 Moonstone Beach Drive boasts faraway ocean views like many of the lodges here. The windows mainly face the parking lot, a vestige of its former retro-motel past. Luckily, you can block out the parked cars by closing the curtains.
The inn’s owners have added amenities like flat-screen TVs, gas fireplaces and DVDs for guests to borrow. The bathrooms include generously sized tubs.
Families will like the small kitchenette area, complete with microwave and refrigerator. Every morning the staff delivers a picnic basket of fruit and sugary pastries with orange juice. The hotel has a “Very Important Pooch” policy, which means that dog treats sit in a bowl near the thermoses of morning coffee.
Happy patrons left tips about where to eat and what to see in the guestbook on the nightstand.
Rooms are pristine and start at $200 per night, but check the website for specials.
Another popular place, but harder to find, is the Cambria Pines Lodge (cambriapineslodge.com) at 2905 Burton Drive. Wooded cottages set back from the road add to the charming ambience. Small suites start at $169 per night.
The Cambria Pines Lodge offers reasonably priced spa treatments like massages and facials at Sojourn, which bills itself as a “healing arts spa.”
The Fireside Lounge, open to the public, features nightly cover bands and dancing in front of a big river-rock fireplace.
Dining in town
The Sea Chest Restaurant & Oyster Bar (seachestrestaurant.com) at 6216 Moonstone Drive, seemed popular – lines laced around the building on a Friday night. The menu includes oysters Rockefeller, oyster stew and calamari.
I dined at Indigo Moon Cafe (indigomooncafe.com) at 1980 Main St. The restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside, but on the inside, the interesting art and appealing atmosphere provided a pleasant setting for a satisfying meal.
The $8 fig and olive tapenade brie starter plate impressed me – and the French guest sitting at the next table. A $9 pear, gorgonzola, caramelized walnut and baby green salad made for a light entree.
Lots of heartier choices graced the menu, including a $24 flat-iron steak with chimichurri sauce and roasted fingerling potatoes.
The restaurant offers a Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the perfect time to enjoy dining in the garden.
Robin’s Restaurant (robinsrestaurant.com) at 4095 Burton Drive attracts locals with its mixed fare. Ranging from Mediterranean to Indian, the menu will please most, especially vegetarians. The $9 yellow lentil and sweet peas samosas plate looked tasty, as did the $24 slipper tail lobster enchiladas. The global selection of entrees – including the $24 Moroccan duck breast with fruit couscous – mixes in local products like radish and sunflower shoots.
Stroll down Main Street
If you can still walk after your meal, stroll downtown on Main Street to browse the 20 or so art galleries. Ephraim Pottery West (ephraimpottery.com) at 728 Main St. sells ceramics originating in Minnesota.
Across the street, a humble storefront houses the mighty Home Arts (home-arts.com) at 727 Main. Nautical-themed decorative objects share the tiny space with furniture, indoor-outdoor Bali carpets, and unusual Kantha quilts for $95. The store boasts all kinds of stellar gift possibilities, baby clothes in a back room and cupboards. Whales, otters, fish and sea creatures big and small in all their possible variations fill the space. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Visit July 4 to see the fireworks at Shamel Park at dusk. A free old-fashioned celebration is scheduled 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. featuring a pie-eating contest, a raffle for a $1,000 prize, live music and dancing.
For more information, visit visitcambriaca.com.