The Hearst Castle is a major attraction of California's Central Coast north of San Luis Obispo, an area marked by a scenic coast and numerous small towns south of the castle with good restaurants, local wine, boutique hotels and a variety of shops.
One of the remaining commercial fishing towns along the coast, Morro Bay is distinguished by the large volcanic rock off shore, now a bird sanctuary called, appropriately, the Morro Rock.
The small bayside shopping area, the Embarcadero, is easily walkable and offers a collection of restaurants and bars featuring local seafood. Shopping includes a store crammed with seashells, several art galleries and curio collections. An "aquarium" is best passed by. The harbor provides a range of water activities including kayaking and the Rock is a great place to watch the birds and sea lions.
Lodging is plentiful in the small town where I stayed at the Breakers Motel, a clean affordable 1960s-style place. There are also several chain accommodations as well as small local hotels and motels.
This pleasant town six miles south of San Simeon might lack Morro Bay's setting but not its charm, good food and a collection of 80 stores that includes an attractive shop crammed with Amish furniture from Western Pennsylvania and Ohio, which also carries metal products from Wendell August of Mercer County.
And yes, one of the early American settlers named it after Cambria County, Pa. The town is home to several herb and garden shops including a funky place along the town's dried-up creek that sells only cacti and other succulents. Being California, Cambria shopping contains a variety of natural skin and hair care products, handcrafted clothing, wellness techniques such as massage and wine-tastings.
There's an ample supply of collectibles and antiques, too. The dining scene runs from pizzas to upscale meals. We enjoyed a fine seafood dinner at The Sow's Ear cafe on Main Street featuring the local wines. The reasonable bill was a nice treat as well. Lodging is also plentiful including several inns along the coast.
Cambria is considered an artists' colony as well, with galleries sprinkled around the area. There are also two theater companies performing everything from Broadway musicals to Eugene O'Neill. The surrounding area is busy with recreation from the coast beaches to hiking and biking trails.
This pleasant agricultural town is 28 miles east of Cambria on California Route 46, a two-lane highway seemingly lined with vineyards on both sides of the road. That impression was confirmed when I learned there are more than 32,000 acres in the region dedicated to vineyards and to serving 200 wineries.
Wine Enthusiast magazine named the Paso Robles area its "Wine Region of 2013." The long and dry growing season produces strong, alcoholic reds like the ones we sampled at the Wild Coyote Estate just west of town. Its small tasting room and dining space are cozy with a Spanish decor.
I came home with a bottle of El Macho, a potent 2013 Tannat, not a grape we can find easily in Pennsylvania. The Hearst Ranch Winery is also in this region. The center of town is untouched by chain fast-food joints and stores, retaining the sense of a real town with echoes of the 1950s. There are several places to eat, including the intriguing Artisan on 12th Street. Paso Robles is also home to the Firestone microbrewery, which makes a line of excellent craft beers.
Bob Hoover is the retired book editor of the Post-Gazette.