Cambria, Cayucos and Carpenteria, California – The three C’s

Genie Davis October 22, 2010 No Comments


We love small beach towns in California. And we tend to visit some of our favorites, not that far away from our home in Los Angeles, every year. The reason: they each offer simple pleasures and plenty of sights to see, and each has their own distinctive and appealing character.

When I asked my kids which beach destination was their favorite, they decided they had three – three C’s – Cambria, Cayucos, and Carpenteria.

Cambria is the farthest north, a gateway to southern Big Sur, and  about a four hour drive from Los Angeles. We love the tide pools and great rock collecting along Moonstone Beach, along which a strip of homey motels are strung. Some are more luxurious than others, most charge a premium for ocean view rooms, but no matter where you stay you’ll have across the street access to Cambria’s wonderful boardwalk. Following the curve of the beach on the gentle bluffs above it, this boardwalk is great for kids of all ages, and its a prefect place to push a stroller, too. Lookouts have benches and ocean views; native plants and wild flowers are planted along the way. We’ve often spotted bunnies, ground squirrels and possums in the brush in the evening or early morning. Stasis and wild irises grow in clumps. Down on the sand there are some easy to scramble over rock terraces, heaps of driftwood, and at low tide, access to rocky tide pools filled with interesting sea life. In town, antique stores, cafes, galleries and candy stores.

View from Cambria's boardwalk California

View from Cambria's boardwalk along the bluffs

Our favorite things about Cambria: that boardwalk, the wonderful small pebbles and stones you can fill a bucket with, and the sunsets.

Cayucosis just down the road, to the south.  It’s roughly 10 minutes north of San Luis Obispo on Highway 1.  Between Cayucos and Cambria you’ll find the small artists colony of Harmony. There’s a chapel, a glass works that sells jewelry and unique vases and other glass items, and a potter’s with plenty of dishware, wind-chimes, vases and pots. Once a thriving art colony and previous to that a dairy, Harmony still has its own post office and a winery up on a ridge. While the community’s shops and artisans have been slowly disappearing over the years that we’ve visited, it’s still worth a stop for its pleasant brick lined courtyard, friendly feral cats and the glassworks, which bustles with activity on weekends. In front of the glassworks, kids can, for a fee, collect pieces of beautifully colored and shaped discarded glass from a large horse trough. It’s fun to chose the pieces and keep them in a jar that we fill higher each time we return to Harmony.

In Cayucos itself you’ll find a long pier, excellent for fisherman and fisherman-watching. Unlike Cambria, there is no motel row, just a few upscale bed and breakfasts and old fashioned court style motels scattered throughout the town. We like the Cayucos Sunset Inn for its large, upscale and luxurious rooms, and the included breakfasts. We also enjoy the reasonably priced Cayucos Beach Inn which is both child and pet friendly and has outdoor barbecue should you be ambitious enough to grill your own dinner. A nice touch here is free movie rentals. You can also rent houses along the shore or up in the hills at reasonable prices; bicycle powered buggies are available for hour long or day rentals too if you’d like to strap the kids in for a little sweat- powered ride. Unlike the rocky Cambria cove, Cayucos beach is flat and broad at low tide. It’s an easy walk toward Morro Bay and its giant rock.  A stroll along the town’s main street, Ocean Avenue will take you past a candy store offering ice cream, penny candies including those tiny wax soda bottles filled with colored corn syrup called Nickle Nips. No longer a nickle, they’re still a child-favorite. We enjoyed browing in some of the second hand and antique stores, and picking up some smoke tuna tacos to go from Ruddell’s Smokehouse, at the water’s edge. We also like the onion rings and fries from Bill and Carol’s Sea Shanty; and New York style pizza and crispy salads at Ocean Front Pizza. None of these stops is designed for fine dining, but they’re great to- go spots for lunch on the sand or a lazy dinner at your rental house or on your motel room porch. For upscale dining with a well designed kid’s menu too, you’ll want to go to Hoppe’s Garden Bistro. The brick patio and garden is rich with sunlight and butterflies at lunch time. There’s also a drugstore with an old fashioned soda fountain – try the root beer floats or the chocolate malts.

Cayucos Beach California Low Tide

Low tide at Cayucos, CA - lots of room for fun

Closer to Los Angeles is another small beach town “C” – Carpenteria. South of Santa Barbara, with Amtrak ticking along through town, Carpenteria is more of a working town than a resort.
It’s beaches are lovely, and offer gentle waves perfect for small children. From the shore, views of the Channel Islands are prime, and the water itself is warmer here than in Cayucos or Cambria. Inexpensive condo rentals are easy to find, particularly during the week. Besides the condos you’ll find mainstream chain motels. Salt Marsh Nature Park has easy trails through interesting, bird filled wetlands; there are also bluff top trails with views of a harbor seal sanctuary. For dinner, you can’t beat the really good, fresh, and MSG free Chinese at Uncle Chenn’sPadaro’s Beach Grill is literally right on the sand and has a play area for the kids. For shopping, we like the Seaside Gardens Botanical Shop – interesting and reasonably priced plants to buy and a small kid- friendly and kid size garden to explore.

Although all three of these seaside communities begin with the letter ‘C,’ they offer “A+” fun for the whole family.

avatarAbout the Author:

Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

Tags: Travel Excursions

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