Cambria on California’s Highway 1
Cayucos and Cambria really gave us a taste of these small seaside villages along Highway 1. The laid-back vibe pervades across everything—the people, the beaches, the sea, the air. We interrupted the 15-mile drive along the coast from Cayucos to Cambria with stops to take in Pacific Ocean views. At famous Moonstone Beach, we walked the long boardwalk on a beautiful but windy afternoon.
It was in Cambria that we learned about the olallieberry (pronounced oh-la-leh berry), a marriage between a youngberry and loganberry that looks like a blackberry. In fact, its name is a Native American word for blackberry. In this neck of the woods, the berry has been made famous by the Linn family who grows it along with other crops on their farm five miles (8 km) outside of Cambria. Or should I say the berry has made the Linn family famous! Everyone knows the Linns. Their mom-and-pop success story is a town legend, and their fruit-forward olallieberry pie made with less sugar is renowned. The Linns sell it at their restaurants, bakery and gift shops in town as well as at their farmstore, which we visited with son Aaron Linn and loaded up on olallieberry jams to take home.
The fruit also gave its name to the bed-and-breakfast where we stayed. The Greek revival-style house circa 1865 is the second oldest home in town marked by a 140-year-old Giant Sequoia Redwood in the front yard.
Over the years, a number of prominent families lived in the house. Then, in 1955, owners turned it into a boarding house. Finally, in 1976, a Dr. Shaw and his wife bought it and converted it into a top-rated B&B.
Current innkeepers Maureen and Nelson Hubbell chucked the corporate world in San Diego to become hosts at this iconic property in 2016. “We were able to bring it to a higher level,” said Maureen, who loves living in Cambria. She cites a vibrant cultural life with artists and galleries, performing arts and an international film festival. I chatted with her during a delightful happy hour for guests on the back porch.
Our room—with a fireplace opposite the bed and sunken tub in the bathroom— totally charmed us.
A professional chef prepared a three-course affair for breakfast; baked goods came hot out of the oven.
We learned a lot about the area at the Cambria Historical Museum housed in one of the town’s oldest homes circa 1870. Cambria is divided into east and west sections, with historic East Village starting at the Farmers Market intersection where, locals will tell you, the fog stops! The weather is that predictable! The Farmers Market is a big deal. We spotted Aaron Linn roasting meat over a huge grill.
One of the more notorious sights is Nitt Witt Ridge, a California Historical Landmark house made with odds and ends like beer cans, old stoves and car parts.
Finally, We enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Robins, a lovely restaurant in an old adobe house serving global farm-fresh cuisine.
Hearst Castle and San Simeon
Just past San Simeon, a very small hamlet on a pristine stretch of Highway 1, Hearst Castle appears in the distance on top of a hill to the right. The iconic castle is one of the most important destinations in California.
William Randolph Hearst, American media mogul from the first part of the 20th century, built it over a period of 28 years, and it’s still not finished, they say. Influenced by the grand palaces in Europe he visited as a child with his mother, the Mediterranean Revival castle also contains his legendary art collection—some 25,000 artifacts—from mostly Spain and Italy.
Due to his connection with Hollywood, Hearst and his companion, actress Marian Davies, entertained moviedom’s most prestigious celebrities like Cary Grant, Bette Davis and Clark Gable. To accommodate his guests, he constructed two pools; tennis courts; a wine cellar (built during Prohibition); an airstrip that made getting there easier; and a zoo, once the largest private zoo in the world (since disbanded). Today, the castle, its grounds and gardens are under the care and protection of the California State Park Service.
The only way to visit the castle and gardens is on a tour. They offer a variety of tours beginning at $25 for adults.
As we drove along the highway to wine tasting and lunch at Hearst Ranch Winery, we spotted two zebras from the Castle Zoo, now comfortably grazing alongside cows on the Hearst Ranch! The tour guide told us to be on the lookout for them, and there they were!
More Along Highway 1
We turned off the smooth highway onto rugged San Simeon Creek Rd. for a tour of Stepladder Creamery. The 100-year-old farm raises heritage pigs and avocados, but primarily goats for cheese and milk. With names like Heather, Josephina and Grapenut, the goats are like family to the third-generation owners of the farm. Each one had a personality. They were adorable! The cheese we sampled was terrific too!
Farther down the highway, we came across a bunch of cars stopped along the road next to the beach. This must be the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery we heard about. We peeked over the edge and saw hundreds of elephant seals laying like sausages on the beach. They snorted and shimmied around the sand to the delight of everyone gathered, a sight definitely worth the drive.
By the time we reach Ragged Point at the far end of our journey along Highway 1 Discovery Route, the sun was slipping into a velvet blue sea. Ragged Point is the gateway to the rugged coastline of Big Sur.
We checked into our final destination, Cavalier Oceanfront Resort. The motel-style property is aptly named as it truly is on the ocean, separated from the beach only by a huge grassy area. Here, we found volleyball nets, large chess and checkers sets, and walkways to connect it all. Fire pits glowed against the darkening sky and a general calm engulfed us. We enjoyed a nice dinner at Cavalier Coastal Kitchen at the resort before retiring to our room and lighting the wood in the fireplace to subdue the chill of the fall evening. Interestingly, the housekeepers had positioned the lounge chairs to face the patio window, as if to remind us to take in the coveted views of the Pacific Ocean!
Paso Robles Off Highway 1
We couldn’t come this far and not visit Paso Robles Wine Country, home to more than 200 wineries and about 100 tasting rooms. Near San Simeon, we veered off Highway 1 onto Highway 46 going east.
The hillsides wore fall colors of pale green, rust, brown and yellow. Warm days, cool nights and minerality of the soil are the perfect storm for producing the excellent wines of this region.
We stopped into Vina Robles, a gorgeous property with a European influence due to its Swiss owners. Mostly a Cab house, they also excel in Malbec and Petite Sirah. In addition to a sprawling Hospitality Center where we had a lovely al fresco lunch, the winery features an amphitheater that hosts top artists from April through October.
Other wineries we visited are Robert Hall Winery, where you can picnic on the terrace, engage in a game of bocce ball, and tour the wine cavern; and Wines of the West, a small roadhouse tasting room featuring canned wines, as well as flights from bottled labels.
DAOU Winery sits at 2,200 feet atop its own mountain covered in vineyards. It’s the highest elevation winery in San Luis Obispo County. We enjoyed a beautiful charcuterie-plate pairing with some amazing Cabernet Sauvignon on the patio overlooking the vineyards.
From the bell tower, you see the vineyards covering the mountain below.
Our final destination is a stay at Allegretto Vineyard Resort in Paso Robles. My story is here.
And so our journey ends with a half-hour drive back to the San Luis Obispo airport. The people we met, the places we stayed, the wineries we visited, and the sights we’ve seen only make us want to return, next time for the adventurous side of Highway 1 Discovery Route!
Claudia Carbone is an award-winning travel writer based in Denver. Read about other hotels she’s visited in Sleepin’ Around.