Cambria: Chumash, Cinnabar, on the California Coast

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery in Cambria California.
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery in Cambria.

Cambria, California is workcation, learn-cation, vacation perfection

By Mary Charlebois

Cambria, California is one of those sleepy little coastal towns you’ve never heard of. You may have driven past this old California community on your way to a historic castle nearby.

Cambria Scarecrow
Cambria Scarecrow & Raven

Cambria is a seaside village on California’s Central Coast in San Luis Obispo County. The small seaside community straddles road-trip-superstar, CA HWY 1.

It’s quiet and easy-going here. Surrounded by native Monterey Pine forest to the east and the rugged Pacific Coast on the west, unspoiled nature is the star of Cambria’s show.

Earliest Natives the Chumash

Native American Chumash peoples have inhabited the coastal region since prehistoric times. It’s believed that 30,000 Chumash lived in the region over 1000-years before Europeans arrived in 1769.

Cinnabar was discovered in 1862. From the bright red cinnabar (mercury sulfide), mercury was extracted. Then called Slab Town, the village boomed. Settlers and miners flooded to Slab Town, building a prosperous early California economy. The San Simeon wharf once bustled with cargo and passengers.

Caviler Resort spyglasses in Cambria
Cavalier Resort whale watching spyglasses.

Slab Town Becomes Cambria

When mercury prices dropped, and a monstrous fire destroyed the ore furnaces, Slab Town’s boom-towners moved on. Renamed Cambria, it became the quiet dairy and farming community it remains today.

During the Great Depression, the town had a new economic boom. Beginning in 1919, a great castle was built in the area by publisher William Randolph Hearst. Many local craftsmen and laborers found employment at Hearst Castle until the early 1940s when the landmark was completed.

Today agriculture and tourism are the primary economic contributors to Cambria.

What is a workcation, learn-cation, vacation?

Remember when we used to leave our homes for work and school? Our daily routines centered around going to offices or classrooms to work and learn.

Vacations were scheduled weeks or months in advance. We knew exactly when school would break for students and teachers. Our jobs controlled when we could get away for a break.

Virtual offices and classrooms are on screens in homes around the planet. Working and learning from anywhere that has an internet connection has changed the way we live and vacation permanently.

Are you working and schooling remotely from your home office, kitchen table, recliner, or bed? Have you been at it for months? Did you miss your summer vacation? Then it’s time to getaway.

children and berries
Learn-cation berry break.

Why is Cambria perfect for workcations?

A workcation can happen anywhere. California’s Central Coast is perfect. Uncrowded, unhurried, and unspoiled, you’ll get your work done in a peaceful change of scene, clean air, and natural beauty.

Solo travelers and multi-generation groups will find lodging and activities for everyone’s taste and budget. Hiking, walking, cycling, kayaking, beachcombing, fishing, natural and human history, wildlife viewing, castle exploring, and sipping the sundown are just a few.

Food and libations, local and seasonally sourced, are available in eateries and markets where you can sample locally produced wine, beer, cheese, seafood, and meat.

Lodging in Cambria California covers a broad spectrum of styles and budgets. Choose from a six-bedroom estate, oceanfront hotels, vintage motels, vacation rentals, RV parks, and camping.

Hearst Castle Dinner Table
Hearst Castle Dinner Table

While in Cambria California you are surrounded by ocean, mountains, and farmland.

When not working or learning, get outside and soak-up Nature. It’s the very-best refreshment for months at home.

Where to Stay in Cambria

Finding lodgings is the first order of business. Wi-Fi and space for everyone to sleep, work, and play are musts. Solo travelers might be happy with a bed and desk. Families should consider a suite or cottage with more than one room and workspace for more than one laptop.

Eleven things to do in Cambria on a workcation

  1. Hunt for treasure on Moonstone Beach. The milky stones can be found while beachcombing along Cambria’s crescent shoreline.
  2. Catch your dinner off San Simeon Bay Pier; no fishing license required.
  3. Watch the sunrise with Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.
  4. Sip the sundown from your ocean-view balcony.
  5. Look for wild zebras at Hearst Castle
  6. Hike on coastal bluffs, beaches, hills, and valleys. Find a trail here.
  7. Visit the Cambria Historical Society Museum and learn about the Spanish Land Grants and old rancheros that make up Cambria and San Luis Obispo County.
  8. Meet Scarecrows. In fall, businesses and homes dress and display scarecrows.
  9. Occupy the California Coast at Coastal Discovery Center.
  10. Catch the light at Piedras Blancas Light Station, one of California’s oldest lighthouses.
  11. Take a day-trip along CA Hwy 1.


Piedras Blancas Lightkeepers house
Piedras Blancas Lightkeepers house.

Cambria’s Own Ranch

Consider Cambria’s Oceanpoint Ranch. It has all anyone needs for a workcation. The 9-acre beach-side haven is known for its gardens and soaring Monterey Pines. There is room to spread out during the afternoon break from work and learning.

Cambria trail ride
Cambria trail ride through Monterey pines.

The grounds have quiet relaxation spaces and group-friendly picnicking and lawn game areas. There’s a private path to Moonstone Beach and connecting coastal trails.

Choose from guest rooms, junior suites, and multi-room suites with fully equipped kitchens. Oceanpoint offers pet-friendly, family-friendly, and ADA rooms. Outdoor dining and takeout are available in the onsite restaurant.

Cavalier Oceanfront Resort and Pelican Inn and Suites are also great spots to work and escape.

Pelican Inn is across the road from Moonstone Beach. They have rooms and suites of all sizes. Rooms have fireplaces, some have hot tubs and sunset balconies. Complimentary Mimosas come with each morning’s hot breakfast.

Cavalier’s ocean view rooms have fireplaces, hot tubs, and sunset balconies. Relax in a lounge chair around the sunset bonfire. Whale watching platforms and spyglasses are dotted around the property.

Where to eat and drink in Cambria

One of the town’s greatest treasures is locally grown and produced food and libations. Sold in markets and served in restaurants, most are organic; all are incredibly special.

Couple wine tasting
A workcation-style break from the keyboard.

Fill your larder at the Friday afternoon Farmer’s Market and at Cookie Crock Market. Get ice cream in the nearby one-street town of Harmony.

Cambria eateries and wineries have put together Takeout Trios. These clever groupings are guides to food and wine paired with an adventure.


Getting to Cambria

Cambria is on CA Hwy 1. From Hwy 101, take Hwy 46 West, south of Paso Robles.

If you are flying, the closest airport with commercial service is in San Luis Obispo (SBP), a 35-minute drive.

Summer months are busier than winter. The call of Nature is loud, bringing people from around the globe to enjoy the ceaseless beauty, both natural and humanmade.

cambria sunset picnic
Workcation picnic dinner at sunset

In winter, the crowds disappear. The coast becomes your private domain, with Cambria as a home base. You’ll hike coastal trails, watch Elephant Seals, tour the castle, taste wine, comb beaches, photograph wildlife, watch sunsets, waves, and storms. Oh yes, and get some work done.

For more information about Cambria, go to Visit Cambria. For more about CA Hwy 1, visit California Hwy 1 Discovery Route.

Read more GoNOMAD articles about the region – A Central California Coast Escape and Paso Robles California is Full of Distilleries.


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