Where the “Pines Meet the Sea.” On the Central Coast of California, that place is Cambria. Just four hours north of Los Angeles (exactly halfway to San Francisco on Hwy. 1) and just south of gorgeous Big Sur, you’ll find the idyllic blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Cambria. The perfect destination for a quick getaway with the family, and we’ve got the scoop on the best things to do in Cambria.
Things to Do In Cambria with Kids
By some miracle, this slice of San Luis Obispo County remains somewhat quiet – and, dare we say, undiscovered by the masses. Despite recently being named among the country’s best beach towns by Travel + Leisure, Outside, Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP, and others.
Cambria is tucked in amid the gorgeous Monterey Pines on a dramatic coastline full of rocky outcroppings, tidepools, seals, native plants and flowers, wildlife, and too much driftwood to count. In Cambria, nature’s bounty is on full display. That makes it a great long weekend destination if you’re looking for things to do with kids.
Here are six things to do in Cambria that the whole family will love:
The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve offers a to-die-for trail system along bluffs, zigzagging across meadows, all the way up into the pine trees. It’s free to walk the trails, and you won’t get better views of the Cambria coast. It’s the perfect place to walk, run, birdwatch, squirrel chase, and deer-spy. There are also areas to climb down and see tidepools – just be careful, as some areas are pretty steep.
You may get lucky and spot seals sunning themselves on the rocks or bobbing in the water at the south end of the bluff trail. The one-mile-long path along the ocean also has many pretty places to pause and watch the pelicans, egrets, and herons feed. A fan favorite – stop at any of the benches and chairs sculpted out of driftwood for the perfect picture or meditation moment. At sunset, on a driftwood bench, surrounded by the chirps of warblers and goldfinches – pure perfection.
Toward the south end of Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, among the native pines, you may find butterflies if you time your visit right. Monarchs are returning to the Central Coast of California, and in Cambria, they’re heading to Fiscalini’s wooded area (a.k.a. away from the ocean). A sign marking the groves says, “Look. Wonder. Marvel. Please Be Kind to Monarchs.” Your best chance of spotting them is between October and March or April, as they migrate north.
If you’re overnighting in Cambria, this is likely where you’ll find your hotel. Lined up all along Moonstone Beach Drive, all the hotels boast unbeatable views. And the beach here isn’t shabby. While much of Cambria’s coast is rocky, Moonstone Beach is filled with sunbathers and surfers. The beach is also lined with mounds of driftwood, and kids can imagine, build, and play to their hearts’ content.
Strolling the boardwalk along Moonstone Beach and searching for elusive moonstones are fun activities for kids. If you want to pack a picnic, stop by Soto’s True Earth Market for a specially made deli sandwich and Red Moose Cookie Company for a selection of cookies the kids won’t be able to pass up. Tip: if you go to Red Moose on the weekend, go before 10 a.m., or they’ll sell out, and you’ll have some sad faces on your hands.
Kids over 7 can hop up on a Clydesdale for the biggest adventure of your vacation. The trail rides go through the meadows and pine forests that Cambria is known for and offer an ocean view. No experience is needed to ride, although there is a cost that can get steep at $120 per rider.
You can also tour the ranch on an ATV, which offers gorgeous views and the chance to spot some of the over 50 Clydesdales that live on the property. The cost for the ranch tour is $200 per group for up to four people. Reservations for both are required. After your visit, stop by Linn’s in downtown Cambria for a slice of pie – they’re known for olallieberry.
Stepladder Creamery’s goat cheese is fresh and delicious, and you’ll see it packaged in shops around town. And, back by popular demand are their farm tours, where you can get to know the friendly goats and go behind the scenes to learn how the goat cheese gets made. Plus, samples! The tours are by reservation only, and dates are limited. Tickets are $50 per person.
Just a few miles north of Cambria, the Elephant Seal Rookery is home to about 17,000 animals – you’re guaranteed to get a good glimpse of these enormous and fascinating creatures no matter the time of year. But peak viewing times for large numbers of seals are January, early May, and late October.
Other places to explore in the area include the Piedras Blancas Light Station park and wildlife sanctuary, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The lighthouse is beautiful and the grounds even more so. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids ages 6-17, and free for under 6. Note that reservations are required to visit, and you must purchase tickets in advance.
More Things to Do In Cambria
Looking for more fun things to do in Cambria that the kids will love too? Honorable mentions include Hearst Castle and the Hearst Ranch Winery (plenty of room for kids to run around while adults enjoy the wine and the view) and the town of Harmony – population 18. It’s just south of Cambria on Hwy. 1 – pull in for ice cream, stay for the pictures!
A word of wisdom: bring warm clothes if you visit in the summer. It can be chilly on summer days, and the temps will definitely drop at night.
Want to learn about more fun destinations to visit with kids? Check out our travel guides.