By Lena Katz
This California vacation installment was originally slated “Valentine’s Candy” because it features some of the sweetest destinations in the state. But the weather was still a bit chilly back in February, whereas now, temps are back to the beautiful mid-70s … perfect for a sunset stroll or a morning searching for sea shells in the one-of-a-kind California towns spotlighted below.
Cambria actually is at its best in springtime, though summers are pretty darn beautiful too. This tiny coastal art colony is about 40 minutes west of Paso Robles wine country, and is one of the friendliest places for a California vacation for all sorts of reasons. First of all, there’s the food and wine. Organic, affordable gourmet is the Cambria way, not just in restaurants, but also in the stores. Newcomer Sweet Offerings offers artisan chocolate, while Cambria Wine Shop specializes in sweet wine including a “chocolate-infused” vintage. Cambria is right by two one-of-a-kind attractions: Hearst Castle and the Piedras Blancas elephant seal colony. It’s nestled in pine trees and fronted by Moonstone Beach. I think few beaches are as magical as this one, especially when it catches the sunlight and sparkles from a million angles.
Until late 2009, Cambria mainly had B&Bs and inns for guest lodging, but the just-opened El Colibri Boutique Hotel brings something new to Moonstone Beach: a sleek little retreat where globetrotting Euro couples, girlfriend getaway groups on California vacations and families are free to seek their own kind of fun. Nestled in the trees and a short scramble to the beach, this 34-room hotel feels like a total getaway, but it’s actually just off the highway that connects Cambria to Paso Robles.
Peaceful and mystical, the Ojai Valley is as known for its great spas as its wine country. It’s a bit of a hippie haven that gets a lot of Los Angeles day trippers who appreciate its serene, slightly mystical ambiance and its beautiful verdant setting. In addition to classics like the Ojai Valley Inn (rated 5 stars by Orbitz travelers) and the Oaks at Ojai, this town has a lot of cool, unique inns rich with personality, from the fantastically landscaped Emerald Iguana to the nicely priced Capri.
Half Moon Bay is one of California’s best-kept secrets and will remain so, because it’s on the coast at a point where the coast highway has diverged from the main freeway. Only those who choose the road less traveled — literally — ever get to see this stunning little California vacation spot. Light a fire in the wood-burning stove as the waves crash on the cliffs at boutique Beach House; snuggle in the lap of ultimate luxury at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, or check out the newest digs in town: the Oceano Hotel and Spa.
Lena Katz is the author of SUN: California and SIP: California, part of the Travel Temptations series published by Globe Pequot Press.