Cambrian: Slice of Life

It's been a busy summer along the North Coast

Kathe Tanner
Kathe Tanner

August? Really? Wasn’t yesterday Valentine’s Day? Wha what happened?

I do know it’s mid-summer. After all, I recently took yet another 70-mile round trip to San Luis Obispo from Cambria. On a Saturday. Yes, I’m brave.

Traffic wasn’t quite bumper-to-bumper gridlock, but the road was so crowded. Judging the level of driver skill exhibited, I’m thinking there’s a flock of newbies behind those wheels. Or real dummies. Lots of really stupid moves out there. It’s scary.

Traffic both ways was a steady stream of mini-parades, 15 or 20 cars each, from monster motorhomes and buses to motorcycles and overgrown golf carts. One cycle rider was riding barefoot, wearing shorts and a tank top what was I just saying about dummies?

Summer parking also is problematic in downtown Cambria, by the Cayucos pier, on the Morro Bay Embarcadero, Avila, Pismo any place that’s a tourist magnet.

Historian Dawn Dunlap of Cambria said the attitude is delightful. In downtown “there’s such a happy buzz in the air, a feeling of heightened contentment, about being in a beautiful place on such a lovely day. Then the glorious summer fog comes in to rescue us and the pine trees It all reminds me of when I was a kid here.”

North Coast business has been really good this season, I’m told. And I can believe it, having tried to get into a Cambria restaurant table at 7 on a Friday night.

That’s probably why so many cooks and servers are wearing the expressions of panicked deer staring down the hood ornament of a 16-wheeler.

Carl Vanicky at Old Stone Station said 2014 has provided the best summer business in recent memory, “and it’s not just us.” He said he’s checked with other Cambria restaurateurs, “and they’re just as slammed as we are.”

Why so many visitors now?

School’s about to start for students in some districts, so families are on last-gasp trips before those essays are due about “What I did on my summer vacation.”

The moderate weather attracts many people. Go 30 miles east of the coast and it’s roasty-toasty time. Go even further inland, and you could be sitting in a Charbroiler instead of a Chevrolet.

Summer-shocked valley folk have flocked to the Central Coast since the 1880s, according to Dunlap. “They were getting away from heat and the malaria that was prevalent before the Central Valley was drained.”

But Richard Castillo, manager at Giovanni’s Fish Market in Morro Bay, had another idea about why coastal business is exceptional this summer.

“It’s the drought,” he said. “The lakes are drying up.”

I must have been a bit fuzzy around the brain cells. “They can’t run their boats there, so they have to bring them here?” I asked doubtfully, knowing what can happen if you try to take a flat-bottomed lake boat out onto the Pacific.

Richard’s smile got bigger. “Mostly, it’s because when the lakes dry up, people can’t swim in them. In a drought like this one, people who want to get wet and cool off have to come to the ocean.”

Meanwhile, local drivers and workers aren’t the only ones dealing with overload and burnout. There apparently are some electronic meltdowns, too.

We lunched with Shirley and Bill Bianchi recently, and they told us of a recent trend along San Simeon Creek Road, a scenic, twisty, steep rural roadway that’s two lanes wide only in concept and the pipe dreams of some unaware highway engineers.

Apparently, some GPS units and iPhone’s Siri have directed quite a few terrified tourist drivers up that overgrown goat path, saying that’s the way to get to Hearst Castle.

Ummm. No. That turnoff is another 4.5 miles north, and it’s a whole lot easier to navigate.

San Simeon Creek Road has a campground, a rock-and-gravel yard, some pea fields, nice homes and ranches. But no castle.

There also are locked gates and very few places wide or level enough for even a skilled driver to turn around a Mini Cooper, let alone a motor home (or the tour bus that showed up July 27, heaven help us!).

August? Oh my, yes. But September is right behind it. So, hang on, and meanwhile, Siri, get some rest.