For those of us in the Merced area, Monterey Bay is our closest escape to the coast. It’s a great place to get away from the Central Valley’s summer heat and winter cold.
Farther south along the Central Coast, the Cambria-San Simeon area is another ideal getaway. In addition to the iconic Hearst Castle – featured two weeks ago – it offers beaches, trails, an extensive variety of wineries, excellent dining, great weather and a huge population of elephant seals.
The 3 1/2-hour drive is longer than the drive to Monterey Bay, but it’s close enough for a three- or four-day weekend.
With my brother living in Los Angeles, Cambria has become a favorite halfway point where our family can conveniently meet. To accommodate our family in one location, we’ve rented vacation homes on two recent trips.
There is a variety of sizes and locations available, including some along the shore. If you just want a motel room or a bed and breakfast, there are at least 20 options facing Moonstone Beach and several closer to downtown Cambria and along the highway in San Simeon. Cambria has all services; nearby San Simeon has motels and a couple restaurants.
The easiest way from the Merced area starts by heading south on Highway 99 to Madera. For a longer and more exciting way home, take Highway 1 up the Big Sur Coast to Castroville, then use 156, 152 and 59 to get back to Merced.
If you visit the Cambria-San Simeon area, here are three of our favorite outdoor adventures:
Moonstone Beach bluffs – You can walk the easy, level footpaths along the bluffs and descend to the main beach and smaller coves via short staircases. This is a beautiful walk most can do, and it’s directly across the highway from the many motels that face the ocean.
The total end-to-end distance is about 2 miles, and it can be enjoyed any time of day, though evening is especially nice. The trail and beach are located along Moonstone Beach Drive, an easy turnoff from Highway 1, just north of downtown Cambria. Parking is free, and leashed dogs are welcome on bluff trails but not the beach.
Fiscalini Ranch trails – A bit south of Moonstone Beach is the 430-acre Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. A network of trails crisscrosses with a lower trail along the edge of the bluffs and higher trails that climb the 400-foot ridge for even wider views of the landscape.
There are several access points. For more information, go to www.ffrpcambria.org/index.html. Parking is free, and leashed dogs are welcome. The bluff trail is flat enough for strollers.
You can enjoy the view from several nice benches.
Piedras Blancas elephant seals – Located 15 miles north of Cambria, Piedras Blancas provides a year-round home for northern elephant seals. Once almost extinct, these mighty creatures have recovered and a large population has colonized the beaches around the point.
The most exciting season is January and February, though some seals are present year-round. For information about visiting and about what you can see each season, go to www.elephantseal.org.
Knowledgeable interpreters are often on site to answer questions. You can take good photos of the seals from the trail. Admission and parking are free.
Piedras Blancas also has a historic lighthouse, built in 1875. Although the tower hasn’t been as scenic since the top was removed after an earthquake in 1948, it does have an interesting history. For information about tours of the grounds and the effort to restore the lighthouse to its original height and appearance, go to www.piedrasblancas.org. Admission and parking are free.
Next week, I’ll follow up with additional recommendations about other fun things to do in the Cambria area.
Adam Blauert: firstname.lastname@example.org