This sometimes fog-shrouded coastal
destination on California's Central Coast is every bit as romantic as
Carmel-by-the-Sea, minus the traffic.
Sure Cambria gets booked up with tourists,
and sure it gets crowded. But with less hotels, the accommodations serve to
limit traffic somewhat, making the experience simply awesome! Nestled
in pine trees at the foot of Big Sur half way between Los Angeles and San
Francisco on Highway 1 is Cambria. The city includes beautiful beaches with
numerous hotels facing them, two villages spanning several miles on Main
Street and a location 6 miles from the California State Parks most
successful attraction, Hearst Castle.
East Village and West Villages are filled with ethnic
restaurants and shops, antiques, collectibles, fine art, sculptures and
historic buildings. Both are accessible to each other on foot though walking
with gifts and packages would be a challenge. Drive your car to each section
when you plan on buying things you don't want to carry around with you.
ABOUT CAMBRIA: When William Leffingwell built the area's
first sawmill in the 1860's, Cambria prospered as an active seaport and
whaling station. It is a point of contention as to how Cambria was named but
it most likely came from the suggestion of one resident who previously lived
in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. In 1870, titles such as Slabtown
for the rough pieces of wood that went into hastily built
homes that sprang up around that time, gave way to what we know it as today.
Lumber, dairy ranches, mining and shipping began to provide a job base which
attracted people to this scenic region with numerous natural resources. In
1880, 7000 residents made it the second largest city in San Luis Obispo
County. The center of town during that time is now the East Village.
The city's economy is primarily based on tourism now. The beach and shopping
are the prime attractions there. Cambria is the
largest city on the coast traveling north until you reach the
Carmel/Monterey Bay region. Beyond Cambria and San Simeon are windy roads
lined with trees and sometimes steep drop offs to the ocean. Small
hamlets and restaurants dot the coast traveling north but Cambria is the
traveler's best opportunity for a variety of choices in shopping, dining and
hotels on the Pacific for the next 100 miles.
Traveling north, Big Sur is 73 miles away but takes nearly 2 hours by car.
Coastal Highway 1 passes through Los Padres National Forest and is a
gorgeous, scenic drive but not for those who get motion sickness in cars.
The 100-mile drive to Carmel takes over 2 hours on Highway 101, the
inland route, but can take 4 hours+ on Highway 1. For some, this is a
"white knuckle" trip but one worth the sweat. There are coach tours which
take this route so you can leave the driving to someone else while you watch
the dramatic ocean views below.
The past is very much a part of
the present in Cambria where historic buildings and monuments such as the
glass encased Piedras Blancas Lighthouse lens stands. This fresnel lens
(left) was installed on the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse 12 miles north of
Cambria in 1875. It was removed from the lighthouse in 1949 and was
replaced by an automated aero-beacon. Nearly destroyed, local groups
stepped in to save it.
As one of the largest first order fresnel lenses in
existence, it would bring in an appraisal value of around $2 million.
The United States Coast Guard transported the lens to Monterey for
refurbishment in 1992 and then returned it to Cambria where it stands on the
Pinedorado grounds, facing Main Street. The Friends of The Piedras Blancas
Lighthouse Lens is a nonprofit organization created to preserve this
Fresnel Facts: The light from this fresnel lens
shone 20 to 25 miles out to sea. When in commission, the focal point of the
lens was 90 feet above ground level. The lens contains glass elements which
require polishing and retooling and cast iron portions needing polishing.