California Central Coast activities in Cambria, San Simeon

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, fellow travelers. I have welcome news for anyone dreaming about a trip up the California coast this summer: Caltrans last week announced that Highway 1 along Big Sur is expected to reopen by April 30.

Highway 1 will see lots of traffic in coming months as COVID-19 cases decline and vaccinations increase. In anticipation of larger crowds flocking to the Central Coast, I spent a recent weekend cruising the area south of Big Sur. I revisited favorite destinations, such as Santa Barbara’s Handlebar Coffee Roasters, and discovered some new stops, avoiding crowds with ease.

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find Central Coast adventures to take before summer. As always, mask up and keep a distance from other travelers.

🐚 Spot marine life large and small in Cambria

Although Avila Beach, Morro Bay and other Central Coast communities attract their fair share of travelers on warm spring days, I had plenty of open space to myself on Cambria’s Moonstone Beach.

Visitors here can spot mussels, snails and more in tidepools at the northern end of Moonstone Beach Drive, according to the website California Tide Pools. Those hoping to spot larger marine mammals may have luck gazing at the Pacific from the beach’s boardwalk. California’s gray whale migration north lasts through April, but dolphins, otters and other species can be seen year-round.

One more thing: While in Cambria, stop at Linn’s Easy as Pie Cafe for a slice of its fresh-baked olallieberry pie.

Wearing a rimmed hat and wrapped in a blanket, a seated visitor watches the sun set at a beach.

The fog rolls in as the sun sets on Moonstone Beach in Cambria, Calif. Photo taken in 2018.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

🍦 Treat yourself in Harmony

The pint-sized town of Harmony lies nestled between rolling hills on a quiet stretch of Highway 1.

Harmony once was the epicenter of dairy production on California’s Central Coast. The one-block-long town, home to 18 residents, now is decidedly quieter, but visitors can get a taste of the community’s history by stopping for an ice cream cone at the Harmony Valley Creamery.

While in town, take a peek inside Harmony Glassworks and the Harmony Pottery Studio & Gallery, as well as the town’s famous wedding chapel.

If you fall in love with life in Harmony, there’s a cottage in town to rent on Airbnb.

Welcome sign to Harmony, Calif.

A sign welcomes visitors to Harmony, Calif., population 18.

(Rachel Schnalzer / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🌊 Become a seal expert in San Simeon

April and May are busy months at the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, according to Friends of the Elephant Seal, as adult female and juvenile seals return to shore to molt.

If you’ve road tripped up Highway 1 to Big Sur, you’ve probably spotted the rookery about seven miles north of San Simeon. It’s home to thousands of northern elephant seals, which owe their name to the adult male’s large snout. The second largest seals in the world, adult males can weigh up to a whopping 5,000 pounds.

Next time you’re passing through, deepen your experience by seeking out docents — recognizable by royal blue jackets — from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily for more information about the seals.

No reservations or fees are required to view the elephant seals. Visitors are expected to be respectful of the wildlife and their habitat. This short video, created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, offers tips for safely viewing marine life.

Can’t make the trip? Check out this live webcam of the rookery.

Elephants seals loll on the sand.

Male elephants seals on the beach south of Point Piedras Blancas near San Simeon, Calif.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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🚗 Mapping a road trip? Here’s a helpful website

Are your road trip wheels turning? I’ve got a tool for you: Oalley, a website that maps your trip based on how much time you’re willing to spend on the road.

For example, if you plug in Los Angeles and say you’re comfortable traveling up to three hours by car, you’ll see a map that includes much-loved destinations Pismo Beach, Joshua Tree and Julian.

Are you planning a California road trip? Let me know where you’re headed, and I’ll feature the destination in a future edition of Escapes.

Illustrated road trip map.

On a road trip time crunch? Oalley will help you get to whre you want to go.

(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • One of the best-preserved ghost towns in the country is tucked deep within Death Valley’s Surprise Canyon. Jack Daleo explains how to get there in Backpacker.
  • California’s Giant Rock in the Mojave Desert is said to be the largest freestanding boulder in the world. Grant Marek wrote about his experience finding the rock in SFGATE.
  • Utahraptor State Park has mountain biking trails and dinosaur bones galore. Meredith Carey discusses the new state park in eastern Utah in Condé Nast Traveler.
  • Wildlife warriors are making a big difference for animals in southern Florida, Paul Rubio writes in Afar. He profiles two organizations helping manatees, pelicans, sea turtles and more around Fort Lauderdale.
  • This vintage sign museum electrifies Arizona’s neon past, Douglas C. Towne reports in the Arizona Republic.
A giant rock dwarfs a visitor.

A view of the Mojave Desert’s Giant Rock.

(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

💻 Can’t adventure IRL? Here’s one way to expand your horizons

California still discourages traveling abroad, but you can explore Prague, Czech Republic; Guadalajara, Mexico; Beijing and more with Drive & Listen, a site that lets you virtually drive city streets as you listen to local radio stations.

I especially enjoyed cruising by Tokyo’s skyscrapers at dusk listening to music from Japanese pop duo Moumoon.

Screengrabs from Drive & Listen of  streets around the world.

Wanna take a drive? Drive & Listen offers an authentic way to roam streets around the world.

(Screengrabs from Drive & Listen; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Photo of the week

Atop a rocky promontory stands the Lone Cypress.

The Lone Cypress stands on a rocky ledge along the private 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, Calif.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

Take a nine-minute-and-51-second drive up the California coast with the Decemberists. Hat-tip to our designer Jade Cuevas for recommending “California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade.”

Fog clears near  the Big Sur coast.

Fog clears near Lucia on California’s Big Sur coast.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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