Home » 2021 California Surf and Turf

Cambria, CA

Tuesday, March 23, 2021 - 11:45am by Lolo
300 miles and 5 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Pups at the Elephant Seal RookeryPups at the Elephant Seal RookeryCambria is a lovely little seaside town along the Central Coast, just south of San Simeon and the much-visited Hearst Castle (unfortunately closed due to Covid during our visit). Besides the natural beauty of its beaches, there are plenty of art galleries, shops, restaurants, and walking paths to enjoy.

Rather than crawling into the back of the 4Runner for our first night on the road, we decided to start our first post-vaccination journey with some socially distanced human activities - staying in an Inn and going out for dinner. Needless to say, I was very excited.

Rather than stay in town, we booked a night at the Castle Inn, right across the road from the picturesque Moonstone Beach, where a mile-long boardwalk traces the coastline, with several options to get down to the beach itself. However, we would save that stroll for sunset.

Elephant Seal RookeryElephant Seal RookeryFor now, we hopped back in the car, and drove up Route 1, passing the turnoff for Hearst Castle, to the Piedras Blancas Light Station, just 12 miles north of Moonstone Beach. Unfortunately, access to the lighthouse was closed, because during Covid tours are only given on Saturdays.

Oh well, we returned down Route 1 for about 2 miles to the Elephant Seal Rookery where we were treated to dozens of northern elephant seals lolling about on the beach. The number of seals, and what they are doing, will vary based on the month you visit. The following is a very brief description of what you can expect based on the month you are here.

January through mid-February is when the females give birth, usually just a few days after their arrival on the beach. The moms will bond and nurse the pups for about 5-weeks, during which time she loses about 40% of her body weight. At the end of that time, she comes into esterus and mates with the harem master and then returns to the sea, leaving her weaned, one month-old pups on shore to fend for themselves.

Moonstone Beach in CambriaMoonstone Beach in CambriaIn March, the adult males, who have also lost 40% of their body weight, boogy out as well, leaving the beach to the pups, who now start venturing down to the water to begin their self-taught swimming lessons. Because much of their swim practice occurs at night, we didn’t get to see this. When they feel ready, they head out to sea where they will forage until their return to the rookery in the fall.

Between late March and July, the elephant seals return to the rookery to undergo their annual moult, where they grow a new layer of skin and hair, as the old layer falls off in patches. Once that is complete, they head off to sea for their second migration of the year.

Outdoor dining and the Moonstone Beach Bar and GrillOutdoor dining and the Moonstone Beach Bar and GrillThe cycle starts all over again when the first adult males return to the rookery in late November through December, ready to breed again. Only the strongest and most aggressive will become a harem master, so competition gets pretty tough at this time, and the battles can get pretty bloody.

The pregnant females arrive in December as well and will give birth from mid-December through January. About 5 weeks afterwards, she will get a visit from the harem master and it starts all over again.

We were at the rookery at the end of March, so we saw lots of already weaned pups as well as some adults who had returned for the moult. Quite fascinating and interesting to watch. It would be great to catch them in either the mating or birthing process, but what they are doing most of the time is lying like lazy sunbathers with the occasional flipping of sand onto themselves to keep cool.

When we got back to the Castle Inn, we walked to the nearby Moonstone Bar and Grill to check out the menu. It was only 4:30, but a line was already forming outside for its 5:00 opening, so we returned to the Inn for a quick shower and change, and hurried back to place ourselves at the end of what was now a quite formidable line. Wow! This place must be good. We were concerned that we might not get in and would have to wait for all those ahead of us to finish their dinners before we could be seated. However, the place was pretty big and open for both indoor and outdoor dining, and most seemed to choose indoor. This left room for us on their lovely outdoor patio, complete with ocean view, which we would have chosen anyway. Plus, we were more comfortable eating outdoors, as this was our first dining-out experience since the start of Covid.

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Bluff TrailFiscalini Ranch Preserve Bluff TrailIt was wonderful. We were so excited to finally be out dining and feeling normal that we would probably have enjoyed even a mediocre meal, but that was not our experience. The food was delicious, the glass of wine was an extremely generous pour, and the view was lovely.

A post-dinner stroll along the mile-long Moonstone Beach boardwalk during sunset completed what I consider a perfect day.

The next morning, before leaving the Cambria area, we went for a hike at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, a 364-acre property with 11 trails, bounded on each side by lovely residential areas. We took the bluff-trail, which had stunning views and a scattering of interesting driftwood benches to sit on to just relax and enjoy the scenery.

Pretty awesome start to a post-vaccination road trip!

Cambria location map in "high definition"

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