Off the Grid in Cambria, California
Guest Blogger-Cindy Rynning
Thirty miles west of Paso Robles, on the Central Coast of California, lies the charming resort town of Cambria where ocean sunsets, eclectic shops, terrific restaurants, and comfortable inns are waiting for you. Prior to this summer’s Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Barbara, I spent two days in Cambria with my daughter,
Stephanie, who is a resident. My born and raised Midwestern daughter craves Cambria’s mild weather, sunshine, organic food offerings, small-town vibe, and beach time. For now, she’s a California girl. And I found out why.
Whenever I travel somewhere new, I enjoy discovering tidbits of history which helped shape the area it is today. Perhaps you do, too. Prior to 1866, the area was home to local tribes and a segment of the Mission San Miguel.
In 1850, San Luis Obispo County was planned as one of California’s first counties. Land grants were given in 1865 and the town of Cambria, finally named as such in 1870, was developed by a host of Swiss, German, and American settlers. Stores were established, dairy farming and agriculture were lucrative, and soon miners hearing about gold and mercury in the land rushed in. However, prosperity in Cambria diminished in 1894 due to, among other factors, a massive fire. Years of isolation resulted. Growth was realized many years later, thanks to the efforts of William Randolph Hearst who built his castle seven miles north in 1920, housing developments, new roads, and two wars which generated business and commerce. Although still found today, the focus on agriculture has declined over the years. Cambria is now a mecca for tourists and place for those who live there to appreciate the simpler things in life. There are no movie theatres, a Gap, or even a Starbucks. And I didn’t miss them at all – I was happily off the grid.
To soak up the most beautiful views en route to Cambria (think Big Sur and Santa Barbara), you’ll need to follow the Pacific Coast Highway south from San Francisco or north from Los Angeles. Cambria is smack dab in the center and about a four-hour drive from either city. I flew in from Chicago with a quick layover in Phoenix to the tiny airport (remember the television show Wings?) in San Luis Obispo. No sooner had I exited the plane and walked to the airport, my bags and daughter were waiting for me.
After a late lunch at San Luis Obispo’s Bliss Cafe at which I caught that old 1970s feeling, Stephanie drove along beautiful Highway 1 through Morro Bay to Cambria while I couldn’t take my eyes off of the endless sea of blue, the Pacific Ocean. Turning east on Santa Rosa Road, I arrived at our first stop and home for the next few nights, Charan Springs Farm, where Stephanie works as an organic farmer. I stayed in their farm stay rental cabin which was rustic and charming and if you love nature, this is the place to be. A gurgling creek and rustling leaves from surrounding trees set the stage for a relaxing two days. My daughter picked fresh carrots, zucchini, beets, spinach, and more from the garden and stir-fried our dinner while the sunset. Nirvana.
Our first day was spent exploring the beaches, finding unusual items at quaint shops, and figuring out which enticing restaurant or winery to enjoy. We drove along the coast about a mile north of town to the soon-to-be new home of Centrally Grown, a “neighborhood of sustainably-conscious spaces built on the philosophy that healthy people build healthy
communities.” With sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, the complex will be finished in 2015 and I’m anticipating a return to Cambria to enjoy fresh California cuisine at the Loft restaurant, wander around the organic garden, shop at their store featuring gourmet deli items and produce from local growers, and watch the sunset.
If you regularly read my wine blog, you’ll know that in my humble opinion it’s never too early for wine tasting…and Cambria has the perfect spot. Wine: Taste offers boutique wines which are affordable and unique. Leslie, the owner, “wants wine tasting to be a lifestyle (it was for us!) and an adventure where you can taste something new and enjoy.” The tasting fee for six wines is $10 and includes a Riedel crystal wine glass. Five of the wines I chose to taste were from Paso Robles. Included were James Wilkins Tempranillo 2008, Stephens Claret 2006, Candor Lot 4 Zinfandel, Austin Hope Troublemaker Lot 7, and Merry One Chardonnay Sherry. I walked away with two bottles of wine and a very satisfied palate.
It was time for a lovely lunch at historic Robin’s Restaurant where “international inspiration collides with the season’s bounty”. I savored a luscious avocado melt with red onions, vine ripened tomatoes, arugula pesto, and swiss cheese nestled in a whole wheat croissant while Stephanie couldn’t get enough of her rich and juicy Portobello burger (all organic I might add). Now, I was itching to visit Main Street again where the turn of the century buildings housing art studios, shops chock full of fair trade items, boutique clothing, unique gifts, and friendly people (many of whom greeted Stephanie and me as if we were long lost pals) satisfied my shopaholic tendencies.
We made our last stop of the day… Stolo Family Winery (yes, another wine tasting!) located on Santa Rosa Creek Road. Amidst the rolling hills and winding turns of the two-lane road, loomed a white Victorian farmhouse next to a beautiful, modern tasting room. Seven wines for $7 were offered and after tasting some incredible wines I just had to buy their 2013
Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 TreViti Syrah. Lisa, the tasting room manager, explained that the winery was purchased in 2002, and all wines are from estate grown grapes with production at only 1000 cases produced a year. Stolo Family Winery is a hidden gem…don’t miss it!
Being a tourist can be exhausting so a few hours at Moonstone Beach was just the cure. Although the weather was in low 70s, it was still delightful to dip my toes in the water and gingerly walk across the shiny stones on the beach while catching some rays. If you go, look for seal pups…seriously.
Rejuvenated and ready to experience more Cambria, we had a lovely dinner at Madeline’s Restaurant. This popular dining spot offers locally sourced food and an adjacent wine and cheese shop. I couldn’t get enough of the Polenta Madeline, polenta topped with seasonal vegetables, pumpkin seed pesto, and roasted tomato sauce paired with Alban Viognier 2012 from Paso Robles. Our after dinner drink wasn’t a liqueur but a brew at Mozzi’s, a turn of the century dive hangout of cowboys and ranchers in the area. Mozzi’s was a short walk down Main Street from Madeline’s and a stark contrast to our dining spot’s urban vibe. And I loved it! Ranching and beer swilling are alive and well in this part of California!
My last day in Cambria heralded the beginning of the pre-Wine Blogger’s Conference excursion in Paso Robles where I would be learning about the terroir and fantastic wines of the area and, yes, tasting scores of them for the next twenty-four hours. Before Stephanie took me to my accommodations in Paso Robles we oohed and ahhed at the unique glass art at Harmony Glassworks then had lunch across the street at the Harmony Café in, you guessed it, Harmony, an extremely small town boasting nineteen residents, its newest recently born. Harmony Café oozes an Italian vibe and, with talented Chef Giovanni at the helm, it’s no wonder that hungry foodies both local and from miles away visit. My eggplant burger with caramelized onions and goat cheese included fresh basil and tomatoes purchased from Charan Springs Farm Cambria’s weekly Farmer’s Market at Veteran’s Hall. What a perfect al fresco lunch, my last in this part of the world.
I can’t wait to return to beautiful Cambria for more wine tasting, shopping, dining, relaxing on the farm or the beach, and more. Perhaps I’m a California girl now, too~
Cheers! ~ Cindy