A visit to the North Coast most likely centers around Cambria, with its top-notch selection of shops, restaurants and inns. From there, it’s easy to explore the coastal area’s other offerings.
Your visit to Hearst Castle, if you’re planning one (it’s highly recommended, as are reservations), will determine your schedule for the day, but thankfully the area’s attractions can be enjoyed just about any time of the day so you can piece together your ideal coastal escape.
While in Cambria for the weekend, you can even leave your car in the hotel parking lot. The free Otter Bus (805-927-0468) makes half-loops between the East and West Villages and Moonstone Beach Drive. The trolley runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Monday.
ROOM AT THE INN
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Cambria lends itself more to small inns, B&Bs and vacation rentals than larger hotels. They line ocean-front Moonstone Beach Drive, sprinkle the villages and dot the pine-covered hills. A variety of motels straddle Highway 101 in San Simeon. Check our hotel directory for a complete listing.
East Village area
If the breakfast is as important as the bed, look to the historic Olallieberry Inn (2476 Main St., 888-927-3222, 805-927-3222, $130-$220), which has won awards and accolades for its gourmet morning repast as well as its accommodations (including "best breakfast in America" from Inn Traveler magazine the last four years). The nine-room inn has been restored to reflect its 1873 heritage. Retreat to the quiet back deck and colorful gardens or take a short walk into town. Amenities include fireplaces, evening wine and hors d’oeuvres and in-room massages (the innkeeper is a certified massage therapist). An olallieberry, by the way, is a mix of blackberry and European red raspberry that thrives in the region. Its name comes from a Native American word for "berry," so it literally means "berry berry."
In the heart of town, the historic Squibb House (4063 Burton Drive, 866-927-9600, 805-927-6500, $125-$175) features breakfast delivered to your room, furniture hand-built on the property, woodstoves in every room and a simple, country Victorian atmosphere. Rock on the porch, stroll the garden path or step outside to the shops and galleries.
Nestled in the pines is J. Patrick House (2990 Burton Drive, 800-341-5258, 805-927-3812, $165-$215, two-night minimum on weekends), a log cabin and carriage house B&B with an Irish touch that was recommended as best place to stay near Hearst Castle in May 2006 issue of Sunset magazine. Amenities include fireplaces, hosted wine and hors d’oeuvres hour, bedtime chocolate chip cookies, in-room massages and complimentary concierge services.
One of the larger options in the area, the Cambria Pines Lodge (2905 Burton Drive, 800-445-6868, 805-927-4200, $110-$400) offers lodging from rustic cabins to large suites with plenty of amenities, all set on 25 acres of woods and gardens. There are conference facilities, a full-service restaurant, nightly live entertainment, room service, a day spa and indoor pool. Unlike many of the B&Bs, rooms feature TVs with HBO and, for a fee, high-speed internet access.
Ocean views and award-winning hospitality await at Blue Whale Inn (6736 Moonstone Beach Drive, 800-753-9000, 805-927-4647, $275-$450, two night minimum on weekends and holidays). The bed & breakfast has won Four Diamond designation by the Automobile Club of Southern California for the past decade. Amenities include fireplaces, whirlpool tubs, afternoon tea and homemade baked goods and evening cheese and hors d’oeuvres.
There’s an English cottage feel to the White Water Inn (6790 Moonstone Beach Drive, 800-995-1715, $170-$250), a motel where rooms feature TV, VCR, refrigerator, gas fireplace and continental breakfast brought to your room. Some have an ocean view and whirlpool tubs. Two mini-suites feature sitting rooms and ocean-view hot tubs on private patios.
At the gateway to Big Sur is Ragged Point Inn (19019 Highway 1, 805-927-4502, $110-$260). Throngs of Highway 1 motorists stop at the inn to take in the spectacular view 400 feet above the ocean and fill up on snacks and essentials during the day, especially on weekends, but at night you’ll feel far removed from the madding crowd.
Time for a repast
Indigo Moon (1940 Main St., 805-927-2911), in Cambria’s East Village, makes divine sandwiches and salads perfect for lunch or an afternoon meal. The café also offers a wine bar with tasting if your palate is seeking something wet, as well as an assortment of artisan cheeses. For something more casual and a taste of the area’s signature tri-tip, try Main Street Grill (603 Main St., 805-927-3194), the older sister of popular SLO college hang-out Firestone Grill.
For a prime ocean view and patio seating, hit Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill (6550 Moonstone Beach Drive, 805-927-3859). Listen to the waves crashing on the rocks, watch the sunset and don’t worry about getting chilly – the patio has forced air heaters. The Sea Chest Restaurant and Oyster Bar (6216 Moonstone Beach Drive, 805-927-4514) is another great choice for seafood by the sea.
If you’re more interested in the food than the view, try Black Cat Bistro (1602 Main St., 927-1600, reservations recommended), a newer darling of local foodies, or Robin’s Restaurant (4095 Burton Drive, 805-927-5007), a long-time favorite featuring eclectic international selections.
Other notable options in town are the Sow’s Ear (2248 Main St., 805-927-4865), Wild Ginger Café (2380 Main St., 805-927-1001) and the local hangout, Creekside Gardens Café (2114 Main St., 805-927-8646).
In the mood for libations?
Fermentations (4056 Burton Drive, 800-446-7505, 805-927-7141), open until 10 p.m., is a lively place to taste wine as well as shop for it. Fifteen to 20 bottles are usually open, mostly from small local wineries without tasting rooms. The East Village tasting bar and adjoining shop were featured on "Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels" on the Food Network in July 2006. Avid wine buyers should also check out the Cambria Wine Shop (788 Main St., 805-927-0990) in the West Village for premium wines from Napa, France, Italy and beyond.
Moonstone Cellars (8801 Main St., 77-517-WINE, 805-528-WINE ) has a tasting room in Cambria. You can also travel about six miles south to the tiny hamlet of Harmony ("Population 18") and Harmony Cellars (3255 Harmony Valley Road, 800-432-9239, 805-927-1625), which has a gift shop and picnic area as well as tasting.
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