Fiscalini Ranch Preserve shows what could have been at Wild Cherry Canyon

View south along the bluff at Cambria's Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
View south along the bluff at Cambria's Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

When you’ve lived in a place for many years, it’s often easy to run short of new discoveries and places to explore.

So it was with great delight last weekend that we stumbled upon a true Central Coast gem, and completely by accident, at that.

Taking advantage of an open Sunday afternoon, we loaded kids and dogs, two by two, into the car, along with sweatshirts, a bag of peanut butter pretzels and a loose plan to wind up in Cambria for dinner.

How we would get there and where we would stop remained somewhat up in the blustery springtime air.

We ended up taking the circle route on this day: out of the North County via Highway 41, up Highway 1 along the ocean — cruising beneath several hang gliders who were taking advantage of the prodigious wind — and eventually back on Highway 46.

As we were passing through Cambria, I noticed a heretofore-unnoticed trailhead right before the Santa Rosa Creek crossing. It turned out to be an entry to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, and a dog-friendly one as well.

With no idea where this trail right off Highway 1 might lead, we headed off through the eucalyptus trees and up the back side of a small hill.

Within minutes, the trail turned toward the ocean and crested the rise amid a pine forest that opened onto as glorious a piece of coastal property as you will ever see.

Talk about a “wow” moment.

There you are, standing on a 400-foot-high ridge line overlooking an expansive ranch criss-crossed with walking paths and blessed with unobstructed views up and down the coast.

I’d heard about this conservation effort but never visited. Obviously, we were long overdue.

For nearly a century, the ranch had been home to dairy and beef cattle and owned by the Fiscalini family, who sold it in 1979.

The next owners hoped to build on the property, which is tucked in unlikely undeveloped fashion between two neighborhoods of homes that reach to the sea.

Instead, a coalition of groups and the American Land Conservancy joined together and raised the money needed to buy the property, preserving it for future generations.

Today, it is managed by the Cambria Community Services District and open to the public, complete with interpretive signs, benches, and a network of well-kept trails that range from deer paths to boardwalks.

Access points on three sides allow hikers, joggers, cyclists and dog walkers entry to the gently sloping hills.

You can stroll along the bluffs on wide, smooth trails or range up and down the many intersecting paths that link various sections of the ranch.

At points, benches offer spots for a breather and quiet enjoyment of the view.

The kids especially enjoyed dashing off to each Y, at which point they’d stop and point in both directions, waiting for a decision on which way to turn.

As a family, we’ve walked the beaches, hills, streams and meadows of San Luis Obispo County for years, but this now may be my very favorite spot.

So it was an odd coincidence last week that the day after our visit to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve came the news of the failed efforts to protect Wild Cherry Canyon near Avila Beach.

The properties seem to share many similarities with their rolling coastal hills, panoramic ocean views and potential for million-dollar development.

In Cambria, a concerted, collaborative effort united to protect a spectacular natural asset.

In Avila, a likewise effort attempted similar results, only to be thwarted thanks to inaction by the state.

Now, rumblings around Wild Cherry suggest homes could one day be part of the land’s uses.

As a visit to Cambria so vividly illustrates, that would be a real shame.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at or on Twitter @joetarica.