Something about the name – Moonstone Beach – had intrigued me long before I drove to the beautiful little town of Cambria on California’s central coast. Once there, and wandering the dramatic coastline, I realized that this is a destination that more than lives up to its dreamy name.
In terms of sheer beauty, Cambria rivals any of the jewels along the Pacific Coast. But the city also offers something special. Perhaps it’s the pearly moonstones worn by the surf that dot the beachfront, or the intimacy of the inns and cafes that line the cliffs, or the wildflowers that blanket the shoreline in spring. Whatever the appeal, Moonstone Beach manages to stand out.
Located roughly halfway between the major cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cambria has an enviable location on California’s legendary Pacific Coast Highway. And with a climate that features temperatures in the high 50’s/low 60’s (Fahrenheit) year round (with an average high of 57 in March, April and May), Cambria is a great visit any time of the year. but especially in spring.
I was a guest at the Highway 1 Road Trip for parts of my stay, but my opinions are my own.
Here are 8 reasons why Moonstone Beach is the perfect spot for a spring vacation.
1. Moonstone Beach boardwalk
Breathtaking ocean vistas, peaceful beaches and beautiful tide pools are all found along the 2-mile, expansive Moonstone Beach Boardwalk. The fact that the hike is classified as easy and is accessible for wheelchairs and prams also contributes to the enjoyment for the whole family.
The promenade is also great for walking dogs (on leashes) and for picnickers looking for a spot for an al fresco meal. The Highway 1 Road Trip website says Moonstone Beach is known for having “some of the best tide pools on the Central Coast,” and suggests families keep an eye out for crab, anemone, sea urchins, and snails.
Pro tip: Because the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk is so easily accessible, it often gets very crowded during the high season. To avoid some of the crowds, consider walking down to the rocky shoreline on the paths branching off the main promenade to the north end of the route.
2. Spring wildflowers
Spring is wildflower season throughout California’s central coast, and visitors are likely to spot beautiful California poppies and purple lupins in a variety of spots. Winter rains usually bring out the blooms, so a particularly wet winter is often followed by an exceptional display of wildflowers.
With its already colorful palette of bright blue skies, cobalt blue seas and green ocean foliage, Moonstone Beach makes an exceptionally beautiful backdrop to spring’s floral explosion. Shades of yellow, pink, purple and red are often seen in the natural landscape bordering the boardwalk, as well as in the village of Cambria and nearby Fiscalini Ranch.
When to visit Super Bloom
It’s not guaranteed, but every now and then the California coast experiences what’s known as a “super bloom” — a time when wildflowers are at their most plentiful. April and May are considered the best months for super flowering.
3. Fiscalini Ranch Reservation
Within walking distance of the village of Cambria is the spectacular oceanfront preserve known as Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. Free and open to the public sunrise to sunset 365 days a year, the 437-acre reserve offers a vast expanse of pristine nature and solitude along California’s central coast.
The reserve is a favorite for people looking for everything from birds to marine life to wildflowers. It is home to more than 150 native plants and 430 birds. The varied terrain includes intertidal zones, seasonal freshwater marshes, wetlands and a pine forest. The reserve also features a dramatic sea cliff with a 200-foot ridge that offers a glimpse of sea life.
Wildflowers take center stage in spring, with yellow California buttercups and sunflowers vying for attention with purple beach daisies and orange California poppies.
Pro tip: Fiscalini’s Bluff Trail, an easy route of almost 1 mile, is a good place to spot an array of wildflowers.
4. Covell’s California Clydesdale Ranch
A combination of pine forests, ocean views, pristine meadows and a herd of 100 free-roaming Clydesdale horses awaits you at Covell’s California Clydesdale Ranch at Cambria Pines by the Sea Ranch. Because of its intriguing blend of characteristics, Covell’s is known as one of the most unique ranches in America.
The ranch offers horseback riding on their majestic Clydesdale horses as well as ranch tours. And spring, with its green meadows and abundant wildflowers, is the perfect time to take a drive through Covell’s open pastures and pine forests – all with the sea as a backdrop.
5. Oceanpoint Ranch
With its fresh sea breezes and sweeping sea cliffs, Cambria is a natural place for cozy and romantic inns and hotels. For a classic location on California’s Central Coast, head to Oceanpoint Ranch, a resort hotel ideally located on Moonstone Beach.
The hotel sits on 9 oceanfront acres and optimizes its location with grounds that include fire pits, lawn games, a private beach path and festive fairy lights. Nighttime temperatures often dip to over 40 degrees in March, April and May, making campfires in Oceanpoint’s fire pit the perfect place to wrap up in a blanket and breathe in the springtime sea air.
Dubbed ranch-chic, guest rooms do justice to the local area, with amenities like ocean-view cabins, wood-burning fireplaces, and luxurious bathrooms. Decor consists of bold plaids, restored vaulted ceilings, and rich leather accents that give Oceanpoint the feel of an upscale ranch oasis.
6. Sea Chest Oyster Bar
When it comes to warmth and intimacy, Cambria’s restaurants and cafes also more than hold their own. In fact, Cambria’s dining scene is known for its charming seaside village vibe.
For an evening that combines delightful ambience with great ocean views and delicious seafood, head to Cambria’s mainstay, the Sea Chest Oyster Bar. From my seat at the bar, I had a front-row view, while the chef had a prepared a huge range of seafood specialties – from Rockefeller oysters to oyster stew and from shrimp scampi to clam linguini.
For something wonderfully decadent, I recommend the scampi and bay scallops combo—a flavorful concoction of seafood, wine, butter, garlic, mushrooms and capers.
Pro tip: Sea Chest does not take reservations, but encourages guests to stop by to be placed on the waiting list. For those waiting on a chilly spring evening, the restaurant offers a comfortable outdoor seating area where guests can watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean across the street.
Picturesque downtown Cambria is divided into two distinct shopping districts: the West Village and the East Village. The two areas are located along portions of Main Street and together comprise approximately 1.5 miles of walkable downtown shopping.
The shops offer everything from books and sweets to yarn and clothing. Antique shops are also popular in Cambria, stocking home decor, clothing and hard-to-find collectibles. Or, for local cuisine and gift ideas, stop by Linn’s, a family run restaurant, boutique and gourmet shop.
Downtown Cambria also hosts the Friday afternoon Cambria Farmers Market in the Veterans’ Hall parking lot on Main Street – one of the best markets on the Central Coast. Cambria’s market is open all year round and springtime is sure to have many of the locally grown produce the market is known for.
8. Castle Hest
Perched high on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the splendor of Hearst Castle is a must-see on any visit to the Central Coast. And less than 10 miles north, the castle makes a perfect day trip from Cambria.
Although beautiful any time of the year, spring is a great time to visit Hearst Castle as the rolling hills are likely to be covered in greenery and wildflowers.
Known as The Enchanted Hill (La Cuesta Encantada) the castle was a project of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. He began building the property in 1919 and when he left in 1947 the complex consisted of 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways.
Today the castle offers tours of the various rooms, pools and gardens. As well as being able to wander the lavish grounds, a visit to Hearst Castle offers unbeatable views of the surrounding hills and distant coastline.
Pro tip: Reservations for tours are recommended and tickets can be purchased up to 60 days in advance on the Hearst Castle website. Check out 8 Tips for Visiting Hearst Castle for more information.