What to Do in Winter in Cambria, California
If you’ve spent any time here on WTG, or follow me on social media, then you’ve likely gathered that I love Big Sur. Friends reading this are probably like, “Yeah, no duh, you won’t shut up about it.” Truthfully, Big Sur is that one place that I go to that never gets old.
However, after many trips there, I had never visited Cambria, which is the closest town to the southern end of Big Sur. I know, it’s a travesty. So I reached out to Visit Cambria a couple months ago, and we put a trip in motion for me to partner with them for a little road trip, a little photography and a lot of adventure in and around Cambria. And like all of my Central California trips, it didn’t disappoint.
This Central California trip, nevertheless, was different. That’s because it was really my first proper winter trip to Central California. I, like most travelers, probably don’t think of taking a California coastal road trip during the winter. Yet the fog, wind and cooler temps I expected to find were nowhere to be seen until the last couple hours of my trip. What I found instead were trails, beaches and roads I felt like I had largely to myself. Winner, winner, s’mores dinner!
So in my latest Central California travel post, I’m bringing you a few of my favorite things from winter in Cambria, California.
Waterfall hike in Big Sur
Duh, I had to start with Big Sur. I compare Cambria to the southern portion of Big Sur similarly to how I compare Carmel to the north of Big Sur. The fact is that there’s really not a better gateway to the southern end of Big Sur, since Cambria is the closest nearby town. Major landmarks associated with Big Sur, such as Piedras Blancas and Hearst Castle, are less than a half-hour away, while it would take at least an hour, if not more, from most other Central California cities.
Come winter, however, one of my favorite California things to do is to go on a waterfall hike, as they’re often rushing because of recent rainfall. So that’s where I started in Big Sur, at Salmon Creek Falls, which is a 120-foot waterfall that’s just off the PCH. Additionally, just above the falls is a hiking trail that climbs up the hills, affording beautiful, sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and Big Sur’s rolling hills. In this case, I do recommend chasing waterfalls.
Salmon Creek Falls is one of the first great hiking areas in Big Sur if you’re coming up from the south, located approximately 45 minutes north of Cambria. On this particular day, timing or luck must have been on my side, as it was a calm, warm 60-degree day in Big Sur, and one of the best weather days I’ve had on the Central California coast. Between that, and far fewer people, I should’ve bought a lottery ticket.
For many tourists, Piedras Blancas is one of the last stops as they’re leaving Big Sur to the south. Located between Salmon Creek Falls and Cambria, Piedras Blancas is famous for being the only accessible elephant rookery of its type in the world. Though Piedras Blancas is bustling year-round with seal activity, winter is especially unique, because it’s mating and birthing season. I’m not sure about you, but it’s not every day that I see elephant seals larger than my SUV mating or birthing.
Pro tip: While most people stop at the main viewing area, I stopped along a much smaller parking area just north, where there were fewer seals, but I had the area entirely to myself.
Living in California and working in media, I’ve known about Hearst Castle for years, as it was the home of William Randolph Hearst, who built America's largest newspaper and media company, Hearst Communications. Yet I had never visited it until this trip. Now having seen Hearst Castle for myself, I can truly say that it’s one of most unique properties in all of America. There, I said it.
What started as building a cottage in the early 1900s for Hearst, then became a sprawling mansion and series of structures, like you may expect from Europe, and which Hearst never did completely finish. Today, it’s a state park, which visitors can take a guided tour of.
While there are several different tours available year-round, during the holiday months, guests can take the Holiday Twilight tour. This after-hours tour affords sights of a brightly lit Hearst Castle that few ever see. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a Christmas tree that’s so big. But whether you’re in Cambria during the winter or not, if you do one thing, make it a tour of Hearst Castle.
Fireside music and s’mores
What says winter like fireside s’mores? I probably drive people who follow my Instagram Stories crazy, since it’s on the regular that I’m posting fire pit and s’mores stories. So naturally, I went to find a warm fire in Cambria, of which I found a couple!
This may or may not have been the first thing I did in Cambria, since my hotel, Oceanpoint Ranch, had fire pits spread across the property. The front desk sells s’mores kit, but who are we kidding, I brought my own s’mores (Peanut butter cup s’mores for the win!). For a warm fireside evening indoors around Cambria, there’s Cambria Pines Lodge, which is home to the Fireside Lounge. Here, they have live music fireside paired with an adult version of s’mores in the way of their S'Moretini. S’mores lovers rejoice!
Beer and wine tasting
As I mentioned before, Cambria is such a convenient destination to Big Sur. However, Cambria is also located close to one of California’s most prominent wine regions, Paso Robles. Yet with a couple of wineries in Cambria itself, you don’t have to drive all the way to Paso Robles for a great wine tasting experience.
I started first at Stolo, located just outside of Cambria on a country estate with the most photogenic barn and goats (yes, really) I’ve seen at a winery. Stolo was just coming off news of having their 2016 Estate Syrah ranked num. 12 by Wine Enthusiast. I did a full tasting, which included one of their Syrahs, and other wines like a Gewürztraminer, Rosè and Pinot Noir.
From here, I went to Cutruzzola Vineyards, conveniently located on Main Street. While Stolo has a wide variety of wines, Cutruzzola Vineyards specializes in Riesling and Pinot Noir. They, too, have been recognized by Wine Enthusiast.
Finally, being the craft beer lover that I am, I ended my craft drink day at 927 Beer Co, which is the beer location in Cambria. 927 Beer Co. is less brewery like you may think of when you hear the term, and more of what I’d call a nano brewpub. I walked in, told the bartender what I liked, and he put together a great flight that spanned multiple beer styles. It was the perfect “daycap” as the sun set over Cambria.