Travel Feature Story

Autumn Among the Pines of Cambria

The fall months are arguably one of the best times to visit Cambria

Articles and photos by: CANDICE MERRILL unless otherwise specified
Published: Friday, November 7, 2014 | 8:28 PM


With its coastal bluffs, windswept beaches and towering pines, Cambria is a summer choice for a weekend get away for many Southern Californians. But what about the Fall? Fewer crowds and less traffic are two majors reasons to consider Cambria in the fall, but the weather is also a draw. As those of us “in the know” realized long ago, Fall in Southern and Central California are some of the best times weather-wise. The weather is not too hot, the sun provides a golden backdrop to the ocean and mountains, and the cool evenings are glorious.

The Blue Dolphin Inn

On our visit to Cambria, we stayed in the Blue Dolphin Inn one of the many small boutique-like hotels dotting Moonstone Beach. Directly across the street from the beach and boardwalk, the Blue Dolphin Inn is an adult-only property. Our room on the second floor of the Inn had commanding views of the ocean and strategically placed chairs to optimize the view. There was an electric fireplace that provided heat when needed or just for the effect of a fire and breakfast was served to the room every morning.

The Anho Bay Room, photo: The Blue Dolphin Inn

When we got to our room I took full advantage of the view, sitting with a glass of wine and the windows open to catch the ocean breeze and listen to the roar of the waves. That night we were having dinner in town at Robin’s.

Local produce, a large selection of vegetarian dishes and world cuisine make up Robin’s menu. Thai, Vietnamese, Latin, Indian, and a dash of Mediterranean make up the menu choices. Robin’s is housed in a Mediterranean marvel with a fireplace and large covered patio. We began our meal with a glass of wine and the Crusted Calamari.

Tender rounds of calamari where enrobed in a crunchy coating and accompanied by a spicy Sambal aioli. A sesame-cabbage slaw made the base for the calamari and it was quite good. The calamari’s breading was crispy and light, but could have used a bit more seasoning.

Malaysian Chicken Curry

For dinner my companion ordered the Grilled Pork Loin and I ordered the Malaysian Chicken Curry.

The pork loin was accented with apple-sage stuffing, golden beets, caramelized apples and apple butter sauce. As they say nothing goes better with pork than apples and they certainly made their appearance in this dish. Tender pieces of pork combined with the sweet/tart apples and beets to create a melt-in-your-mouth sensation.

The Malaysian Chicken Curry whispered at spice rather than shouted it. It was served with toasted coconut, sugar snap peas, rice and a pickled cucumber salad. The curry was savory and full of chicken and the toasted coconut added a bit of sweet and a little crunch.

Hot Fudge Sundae

For dessert we indulged in a hot fudge sundae. With a choice of coffee ice cream or vanilla (I opted for vanilla) the sundae was full of thick hot fudge, pistachios and whipped cream. The addition of the pistachios was inspired as it gave the sundae a new flavor note. There’s nothing better than a really good hot fudge sundae and this one was ranked in the top ten.

After a relaxing night’s sleep in our king sized bed we decided to take a walk around the town and look at the scarecrows. Every year during the month of October Cambria and San Simeon’s businesses display scarecrows fashioned after that year’s theme. This year it was saving water. There were all sorts of scarecrows positioned throughout the town touting slogans like “drink wine not water”. Shops offer artisan selections be it food, wine, paintings, jewelery or knick knacks.

Scarecrows dot the town of Cambria and San Simeon

Of course there’s a big wine presence in Cambria. To accommodate that and to keep visitors on the coast there’s a Pacific Coast wine trail that focuses on coastal wineries. It’s a self-driven tour and consists of seven wineries located from San Simeon to Cayucos.

Later that afternoon we took a walk on the mile-long wooden boardwalk that borders Moonstone Beach. It has to be one of the most beautiful and easy to walk paths. Ground squirrels, birds of all sorts, sea lions, sea otters, whales and dolphins can be seen along the path.

Before we knew it, it was time to go back into town and have dinner at the Black Cat Bistro. A small intimate restaurant, the Black Cat Bistro’s chef/owner Deborah Scarborough serves seasonal selections made with the bounty of the surrounding ocean, farms and wineries.

Moonstone Beach mile-long boardwalk

I began my meal with a glass of pink bubbly and my companion a glass of red. Stuffed fried green olives were on the menu and as these are a favorite of mine I had to order them. My companion opted for the Pork and Beans a dish of pork belly and gigandes beans.

The firm green olives were stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese in my dish. The olives were lightly covered in Panko bread crumbs and then fried until a golden brown. Green olives are defiantly not everyone’s cup of tea but it if you like them there’s nothing better than when they are stuffed with a really good cheese. These olives where salty, briny, crispy and rich all at the same time.

Fried Green Olives and Pork and Beans

My companion’s Pork and Beans were a savory mixture of Paso Robles pork belly, gigandes beans, date apple mustard and a touch of thyme. The pork belly was scored and seared until crispy and the sweet mustard glaze added the right note of sweetness.

I selected the Strozzapretti pasta and sea scallops as my main course and I was glad that I did. Strozzapretti is an elongated version of cavatelli, which was topped with three seared scallops. The pasta was then dressed with a garlic cream with hints of curry, mint and Asiago cheese. Currents, rapini, and cauliflower dotted the mixture. The whole was a sum of it’s parts, giving the palate hints of musky, sweet, nutty and savory. A delicious dish and I savored every mouthful.

Salted Chocolate Caramel Pot de Creme

My companion chose the Loch Etive Steelhead. Although Steelhead is associated with trout it is more like salmon in color, texture and flavor. The Black Cat Bistro prepared the dish with a Mediterranean twist adding Zucchini, Feta cheese, and yogurt. It was served on a bed of garbanzo beans and was absolutely delicious.

For dessert I had salted chocolate caramel Pot de Creme and my companion the sticky toffee pudding. Dessert in a restaurant is a crap shoot. So often they source it out or it’s an afterthought. That was not the case with the Black Cat Bistro.

Now I want you to close your eyes. Imagine a layer of rich, dark, creamy chocolate with the taste that only cooking will impart to it. Topping that chocolate is a gooey, buttery layer of caramel with just a slight hint of salt, capping the caramel is a layer of pure dark chocolate that you have to break with your spoon. Now imagine those three layers hitting all of your taste buds. All I can say is “wow”.

Hearst Castle, photo: Hearst Castle

My companion really enjoyed his Sticky Toffee Pudding with loads of gooey toffee sauce, spiced pecans and whipped cream spiked with Stout. It was a sweet ooey-gooey taste treat.

It was going to be an early morning for us as we had reservations to take a tour of Hearst Castle which is only about fifteen minutes away from Cambria. We reluctantly packed up our stuff and checked out of our room. I was going to miss having the ocean waves lull me to sleep and the luxury of having breakfast delivered to my room every morning.

La Cuesta Encantada as William Randolph Hearst named his mansion on the hill was designed by Julia Morgan, a name known to Pasadenans, and had 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. Tours are broken into the Grand Rooms Tour, Upstairs Suites Tour, Cottages & Kitchen Tour and and Evening Tour which is only available in the Fall and Spring. We went on the Grand Rooms Tour which is recommended for first-time visitors (I had been before but it was years ago).

The Assembly Room, photo: Hearst Castle

Our tour guide was very engaging as she described the Assembly Room where guests would gather for cocktails, conversation and a chance to meet their host. The dining room was next which was given the name the Refectory after the term for a monastery dining hall. The Billiard Room was where guest could enjoy a game of pool or billiards and relax with other guests. In the Theater guests were treated to full-length movies and newsreels. On the tour we got to see a short film featuring historic Castle footage. When we were finished we were able to walk around the grounds, view the indoor pool with its gold tiles and see the outdoor pool which is under restoration. If you visit Cambria you’ve just got to see Hearst Castle, it’s a wonder. Make sure you reserve your tickets before you arrive, the tours are usually sold out.

Our trip to Cambria will be one we long remember. It’s a great place for a long weekend to relax and unwind and enjoy what nature has to offer.

The 411:

The Blue Dolphin Inn, 6470 Moonstone Beach Drive, Cambria
(805) 927-3300,

Robin’s Restaurant, 4095 Burton Drive, Cambria
(805) 927-5007,

Pacific Coast Wine Trail,

Black Cat Bistro, 1602 Main Street, Cambria
(805) 927-1600,

Hearst Castle, 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon
(800) 444-4445,