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Cambria 
California Central Coast

Cambria is a singular place with multiple personalities; four to be exact, and although they share a name and a proximity, they have little else in common...

... Unless you count a perpetually evolving destiny.
Two of Cambria's faces are coastal. Of these, one is residential and the other is commercial, a tasteful row of motels and inns whose setting is reminiscent of Pacific Grove. It's called Moonstone Beach for the kind of pebbles that once were ubiquitous here. The residential area features primarily wood-sided homes either hidden in tall, dense pines or perched precariously alongside them on surrounding hills.

Inland are two other Cambrias, referred to as East and West, separated both physically, by a length of less commercialized Main Street, and stylistically. While East Cambria resembles an 1880's mining and lumber mountain town, West Cambria is of a noveau Victorian motif..

It's snuggled in a finger-like valley shrouded by hills and massive Monterey Pines. Indeed, Cambria is the site of the largest stand of these magnificent aboreals in their southern range. Old board sidewalks, Victorian Bed and Breakfast Inns, art galleries and antique shops, and a lot of charm that doesn't feel put on abound here.

Then there's West Cambria, which is very affected, with false front roof lines, ersatz gingerbread, and faux attic windows. The shops themselves, however, are of a very high caliber, and price and not fake at all.

Perhaps it's due to its distinct settings, Cambria has been called many names. Part of it was called Rosaville, (Santa Rosa Creek enters through the eastern end of town), then the whole area was named San Simeon and Slabtown.

The current name means Wales, and locals tend to pronounce it (correctly) with its short "a" sound. And, it seems like a place you'd expect to find in Wales. Even though it aspires to an art colony status, it remains rooted in a working class heritage.

Forested hill residential areas give the whole complex of Cambria places a tree theme, almost like an alpine village. Everywhere in the two villages, trees are a dominant surrounding.

At Moonstone Beach, as well as inland, the trees are an attracting element. Here, the exotic posturing of the Monterey Cypress forms a metaphor for the wildness of the sea, and frames the rocky promontories and tide pools. Tree-lined paths meander from beach to cliff terrace, happily obscuring the traffic of Hwy One from this peaceful scene.

Other trails lead up to a State Park Reserve where there's a picnic area. From here it is only 8.5 miles to the elephant seal beaches south of Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.

Cambria is also a tourist gateway to something very great, just up the road.

Hearst Castle, as WR's "ranch home" is now called by the State Park Service, attracts a million visitors annually. It is a monstrous American pomposity. But Cambria doesn't seem too overly impressed by its flamboyant neighbor.

Perhaps that is because of its other, even greater neighbor, the wild and awesome Big Sur.

About half the people who come to Cambria are either returning from, or on their way to, Big Sur. It is the kind of attraction that evokes wonder in all who experience its natural splendor.

With all the competing agendas of its four parts, Cambria has been searching to accommodate each of its identities. In this respect, it shows signs of being influenced by Carmel as a Beach Resort/Art Colony cum Retirement Haven/Tourist town, With its many disparate elements, there is no handy description for Cambria.

Where else could one find a glitzy gallery across from an herbal garden, a formal dinner house around the corner from a new age Celtic alternative medicine shop? And the ironies don't stop there.

 

For now, it is an interesting and rewarding place to be. And, the people are nice.

A strong willed environmental consciousness appears to be emerging in response to those who would develop this relatively pristine part of the coast. An epic battle in nearby San Simeon is unfolding around the fragile ecosystem of this area, with the California Coastal Commission currently working on a Local Coastal Plan in the face of a monstrous tourist resort proposal by the Hearst Corporation.

For details visit the Commission website.

8.5 miles north of Cambria's Moonstone are the breeding grounds for Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas beaches. These mammoth pinnipeds began arriving in 1989, and now have a colony of more than two thousand here. Once thought extinct, their reappearance has generated great excitement and crowds. Go to the beaches at San Simeon and Piedras Blancas.

 

Morro Bay offers a variety of activities for all ages and abilities. In the Marina, boats, kayaks and canoes can be rented by the hour or day, and several cleaning stations for fishermen are available.

All of Morro Bay is a bird sanctuary and nature preserve. Peregrine Falcons nest on Morro Rock. Great White Egrets and Great Blue Herons nest in the trees along the Bay. Flocks of rare white falcons inhabit the great sand-spit in front of the little town. Bands of sandpipers and all sizes of shore birds dance up and down the surf line. No guns are allowed in town because the birds are a national treasure. Morro Bay is one of the ten best places in America to see birds.

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