Tranquil Cambria, California

Head up Highway 1 to this uncrowded Central Coast gem.

View from the town of Cambria, a seven-hour drive north of San Diego.
  • View from the town of Cambria, a seven-hour drive north of San Diego.

With a backdrop of Monterey pines drooped in a misty veil, interrupted now and again by the sun, you can see why the sleepy artist village of Cambria has drawn Californians for decades to its relaxing shores.

A coastal secret among its larger rivals of Santa Barbara and Monterey, Cambria feels like a Cape Cod seaside resort; the vibe here can only be expressed as utter tranquility.

Cambria village, courtesy of VisitCambria.com.

Cambria village, courtesy of VisitCambria.com.

You'll want to bring your camera, sandals and a good pair of binoculars for the seven-hour drive to this central California town. It's hard to find fault in a community that prides itself on retaining open space, scenic views, walkable neighborhoods, and friendly coastal restaurants and shops. Not only is Cambria home to three federally endangered species, a few state-listed species remain in their natural habitat a short walk from the village center.

Getting here

After you've packed your weekend bags, set your phone on silent and enjoy the coastal drive. To reach Cambria from San Diego, take Interstate 5 to the U.S. 101, which crosses through Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo before parting with California Highway 1 in San Luis Obispo.

Continue west along Highway 1 to Morro Bay. North from Morro Bay, the 1 stretches north for a short 30 minutes toward the town of Cambria.

What to do

Unwinding is what locals do best here. Bring your surfboards for a classic Central California beach experience. Though the waters in the early morning can feel icy, the Pacific Ocean does not disappoint. Family-friendly hikes, walks, sunset viewing and the nearby Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery are worth your time along this stretch of coast.

In town, there are a number of worthwhile activities, but one that should be on the top of your list is a stroll through the Cambria village arts district along Sheffield Street. Handcrafted local art is set along open patio coffee shops and restaurants reminiscent, again, of Cape Cod living.

Where to stay

There are many good choices for lodging in Cambria, but there's nothing quite like the ambiance of Cambria Pines Lodge. An authentic village retreat, the Lodge's setting is right for you to unplug from all the chaos of California life.

If you're looking for a way to spend quality time with your significant other or a personal trip to simply "take a step back," I highly recommend a short trip up to Cambria. Reflection is key in this part of California; it's hard not to sit back and enjoy the Golden State in its purest form.

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