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Cambria : A poem of pine-covered hills, crashing surf, of velvet headlands and peaceful pasturelands

June 23, 1985|Jerry Hulse | Times Travel Editor

CAMBRIA, Calif. — Got an urge to shift out of high gear, put life in neutral and do a detour around the insanity of the cities?

The secret password is Cambria, and while I'm reluctant to mention this pleasant little village (pop. 3,500), the locals are doggedly campaigning to lure travelers, which leaves them facing this dilemma: If business booms, so will the population.

Visitors express a desire to remain and this could destroy the spiritual appeal of this obscure little town that's caught in the cleavage of verdant hills that rise and fall barely a whisper from the Pacific.

Midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco and roughly 10 miles from Hearst Castle, Cambria is a town where cattle graze in pastures that sweep to the shoulders of Main Street.

Surrounded by working ranches, farms and vineyards and spiced with Victorian homes, weathered barns and sagging fences, Cambria is pastoral and peaceful and out of step with the pressures that exist in the cities. Barely 30 miles from San Luis Obispo, it is a lifetime removed from the daily grind of urban anxieties.

Cambria is a poem of pine-covered hills and crashing surf, of velvet headlands and peaceful pasturelands--a symphony of sights and scents and ocean rumblings. Friendly, lonely, wild, haunting. White surf pours against the shores while pines on the hillside lean at the beckoning of the wind. In springtime wildflowers carpet the hills and cattle move lethargically through deep grass while the song of birds is heard across the valley.

Sometimes the fog rolls in, obscuring everything. On these evenings smoke rises from chimneys, signaling that all is well in the gentle village of Cambria. And when morning comes? For sensitive souls it is, well . . . a spiritual awakening.

Cambria was settled in the 19th Century with the arrival of cattlemen and lumbermen; it was a major seaport until the railroad put an end to coastal shipping. Later when the highway joined Cambria with the north and south, Cambria Pines Lodge flung open its doors and the birth of tourism had arrived. Lots were sold. Main Street was laid out. Still, with all its progress, Cambria has remained its old-fashioned self.

Don't be misled. This isn't one of those tank towns that's out of step with the rest of the world. It has its chic shops and chic restaurants, but the pace is slow and neighbors appear to care for neighbors and not a single soul covets success if the result of that success means self-destruction.

Success is measured differently in a town that prides itself on low-gear living. The relaxed life style is the reason Cambria's residents and shopkeepers came here in the beginning.

Although only moments off busy California 1, Cambria is divorced from the rush of life that passes so near. It has its characters and its joys and occasional disappointments, but mile for mile, life in Cambria is sensible and meaningful and few would return to the fears and frustrations they left behind.

--Certainly not Bill Wagnon, the ex-TV producer who fled Los Angeles three years ago for the small-town atmosphere that Cambria affords. Wagnon beams. "Here when I pass folks on the streets it's 'Hi, Bill. Hi, Bill.' That doesn't happen in Beverly Hills."

--Certainly not Kathe Tanner who, with her husband, Richard, operates the popular Upper Crust Bakery on Main Street and pens a column for the local newspaper. In a recent essay she spoke of leaving Los Angeles: "Most of us weren't even aware that we were dissatisfied with our big-town lives till we came here. Most of us took severe cuts in pay because we thought life would be better here . . . and we were right." She describes the "marvelous, unique sense of community" and tells how Cambria "pulls together whenever there's trouble--a warmth and caring and deep feeling on behalf of your neighbors, even when you don't know them well."

And certainly all this is true of Woody and Marilyn Ross who delivered themselves from Southern California several years ago to operate the little Moonstone Inn that faces the ocean near town. The Moonstone (the only seven-room lodging with four-star status in the nation) is one of those gems that surfaces rarely along the world's frenzied highways. Actor MacLean Stevenson stopped off for a single night a couple of years ago and remained for eight, which should give you an inkling of its charm. Other celebrities have sung its praises, and for good reason. Wine, cheese and bread sticks are delivered to guest rooms on $2,500 silver trays and breakfast arrives on other priceless silver settings. Obviously, such attention doesn't come cheap. Figure on $72.50/$82.50 a day for two.

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