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Along California’s famous Highway 1, Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur are well-known, and then people often skip down to Morro Bay and Pismo Beach. In between those popular spots though, there is a string of charming seaside towns. If you put together all the things to do in Cambria, Harmony, and San Simeon, you’ve got an idyllic day trip on your hands.
So take a day from your California road trip, and hit up these overlooked spots.
If you’re coming down Highway 1 from the north, you’ll hit San Simeon first, followed by Cambria, and then Harmony, and the reverse if you’re coming from the south.
Note: As of Jan. 28, 2021, parts of Highway 1 just south of Big Sur but north of San Simeon are closed after the road collapsed and fell into the ocean. So if you are coming from the north, you’ll have to make sure to go inland and take Highway 101 instead.
Explore Hearst Castle
Located on a massive hilltop estate and the main reason people visit San Simeon, Hearst Castle is truly the gem of the town.
Built by pioneering architect Julia Morgan for media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, this National Historic Landmark is a little slice of European architecture on California’s Central Coast. As a kid, I remember being absolutely wowed by the grandeur and glisten of Hearst Castle, especially its massive outdoor pool and its gilded indoor one.
Hearst Castle is currently closed due to COVID-19 (as of Feb. 2021). When it reopens, it is an absolute must-visit.
Guided tours take about an hour, but you can definitely spend more time exploring the estate. (And I promise to find an old Heart Castle photo next time I visit my parents!)
Of course, there are other things to do in San Simeon besides Heart Castle.
As a coastal town, there are miles and miles of beaches. One highlight to call out is the Piedras Blancas Light Station and Elephant Seal Rookery, where the colony consists of more than 25,000 northern elephant seals!
Experience the magic of Cambria
But the truth is, San Simeon is small. For more things to do during your day trip, drive 15 minutes south to the much larger, but still small town of Cambria.
I’m not sure if I’d heard of Cambria before we spent the beginning of 2021 in the region. In fact, even after I learned about it and looked up things to do in Cambria, it still wasn’t #1 on my must-visit towns.
But I’m so glad we did — because it is absolutely magical.
Eat and shop downtown Cambria
What originally caught my eye about Cambria was its famous Linn’s olallieberry pies. Yes, I let my stomach decide my travels — it certainly wasn’t the first time (case in point: eating my way through Hong Kong).
Olallieberries are a type of blackberry, specifically a cross between a loganberry and a youngberry. That makes them roughly 1/3 red raspberry and 2/3 blackberry from a genetic perspective.
I have a thing for blackberries and all its hybrid descendants. So the call of olallieberry pie and preserves was just too strong to ignore.
And that was precisely our first stop in Cambria: getting a slice of olallieberry pie at Linn’s Easy as Pie! cafe. (Linn’s has a number of other properties around town, including a full-service restaurant and a shop.)
Satisfied and sugared up, we set out to explore Cambria’s historic and darling downtown. My favorite discovery is the Spellbound Herbs Gift Shop and Garden.
A cute, handwritten sign about its Faerie Festival is what first caught my eye. The shop is filled with items of herbal and mystical nature, from fairy garden pieces and incense to crystals and herbs. But it was what was behind the back doors that was truly magical.
If you like Peter Pan, Harry Potter, the Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, or anything like that — you’ll love this intricately-designed, spellbinding garden.
I spent so long inside, my partner started wondering if I’d been transported to another world!
Other cute stores in Cambria include Cinnabar, a Fair Trade folk art and home decor store that’s located in an old blacksmith shop, and the nature-inspired Sea + Green.
And of course, if I started with eating upon arriving in downtown Cambria, I must also eat right before my departure. In this case, the town’s well-renowned Boni’s Tacos. The main location is just outside town center, but weekends bring a Boni’s Tacos truck right on the main street.
Al pastor street tacos are their speciality, though the little truck serves up much more. There was an endless line of folks ordering and (socially-distanced) eating nearby, which made me nostalgic for pre-COVID taco binges in Mexico City.
Soak in the sun on the shore
Given it is a seaside town, visiting the beach is a no-brainer when trying to figure out what to do in Cambria.
After we had our fill of delicious street tacos and gorditas, we headed over to Moonstone Beach. Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach itself, so we had a sunny afternoon stroll on the boardwalk instead.
The mile-long boardwalk offers amazing views of the coast and is also scenic itself, with its photogenic trees and shrubbery. We even spotted some sea lions playing just off the shore!
For more gorgeous scenery to explore, you can also head slightly south to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
Other things to do in Cambria
One unique Cambria activity that we forewent was visiting and riding Clydesdale horses.
The city is home to Covell Clydesdale Ranch, where there are roughly 100 of the majestic horses made famous by Anheuser-Busch commercials. The ranch offers tours as well as horseback riding.
Our pup Kokomo has yet to meet horses. Not sure if he’d liken them to big dogs or be afraid. Perhaps another time!
Pop in for some Harmony
Just south of Cambria is a town named Harmony.
Yes, I know, I know, Harmony is a speck of a town compared to Cambria, with a whopping population of 18 people. It truly is a “blink and you’ve missed it” town off of Highway 1.
But it is absolutely adorable and makes for a fun quick stop to wrap up your day trip to Cambria and San Simeon.
Harmony used to be a dairy cooperative. Today, it’s a one-block main street sort of town. There are instagrammable backdrops, a pottery shop, a glassworks shop, a winery up the hill, and a darling little chapel. Who wouldn’t want to start their marriage in Harmony? 😉
And since you are in a dairy town, make sure to grab some ice cream from the Harmony Valley Creamery ice cream truck and go meet all the cows around town. (My fav is the Holy Cow!)
Told ya this place is cute!
Where to stay in Cambria
We visited these magical seaside towns from our homebase in San Luis Obispo, but I absolutely would’ve loved a stay in Cambria.
I found Cambria to be the cutest of the towns. It also has the most options for lodging, from luxurious rentals to boutique hotels on the beach.
Of course, you can stay in San Simeon as well, and believe it or not, even the tiny town of Harmony has a vacation cottage for rent right on the main street!
Hope this has inspired you to visit Cambria, San Simeon, and Harmony! Pin it to share it!
4 thoughts on “A Day Trip to the Magical Seaside Towns of San Simeon, Cambria & Harmony”
Super cute towns! I would love to watch the sea lions on the coast. I’ve probably passed their towns without even noticing. Will have to stop next time.
That pool at Hearst Castle looks magnificent. What a beautiful looking place. I had no idea (nor had heard of) what olallieberries were, but I must have that pie in my life!
Love this part of the California Coast. We haven’t been in about a year. I guess is time to go back. I have never stopped in Harmony. I need to check out this super small town. We have been to the Harmony Headlands State Park though. Super beautiful!
It looks beautiful and everything was looking so charming and serene… then I saw that Holy Cow photo and cracked up hahaa!