Monday, February 9, 2009

Cambria Paradise

Dateline: Cambria, 2/3/09 - 2/7/09

There seems to be a requirement that owners of a vacation rental house give a name to the house. Cambria Paradise is the name of a house we've stayed in twice, first in 2007 and now this week. Cambria is a beautiful little town of 6500 people on the Central Coast, almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. We've gone there about every two years since we moved to California. When the owner of Cambria Paradise emailed about special winter prices, we couldn't resist.

The best thing about the house is its location. It's in the expensive Seaclift development, on a side street that dead ends at the ocean. There's only one house between it and the ocean, and the views are spectacular. It's also within walking distance of Cambria's two fabulous walks. The East-West Ranch walk is on a bluff overlooking the ocean, and connects the housing areas on the east and west sides of the town. Moonstone Beach is another beautiful ocean walk. Each of these walks is about a mile one way. The trails have been improved since our first visit, with boardwalks covering most of the trails. It is also possible to walk downtown from the house.

The name Cambria Paradise could apply equally well to the town itself. Downtown Cambria is divided into two "villages", east and west, with a sort of no man's land between them that contains churches, schools, and a decrepit old cottage housing a video store where we've rented movies several times. The east village is a bit more upscale, with art galleries and upscale restaurants. The west village has pizza places, delis, and funky stores.

On Wednesday we visited our friends Nancy and Jerry in Morro Bay, about 15 miles south of Cambria. They have rented out their home in Mountain View and are renting a condo in Morro Bay for the year, to see whether they want to settle there. We liked their condo, which is spacious, has a great view, and is right downtown. For a town just about twice as big as Cambria, Morro Bay has a lot to offer. There are two bead stores, a nice waterfront with stores and restaurants, and a unique store called Lina G that features ribbons, trimmings, and yarn.

Thursday was my day to wander and shop in Cambria. After we had breakfast out, Jim drove home and I walked the length of the town, stopping in the yarn store, Ball & Skein & More; the needlepoint store, Flying Fuzzies (which now also has knitting yarn); and the bead store, Cambria Beads. Since we didn't get any cell phone service in Cambria, Jim and I had arranged for him to pick me up at Cambria Coffee Roasting at 1 p.m. I was there and ready to go by noon. I used the coffee shop's wireless to send Jim an email, hoping he would be online and would come and pick me up early. After I finished my coffee I started walking home, hoping that Jim would meet me en route. I got to the house just as he was about to leave to pick me up. But it was a nice walk, and good exercise.

Also on Thursday we drove to the nearest "big city", San Luis Obispo, a college town which is the home of Cal Poly. SLO has a very nice, walkable downtown with both a Starbucks and a Peet's. I visited Naturally Jennifer's, a bead store with a great selection of seed beads, while Jim went to Starbucks. After that we went to see Last Chance Harvey (I love Dustin Hoffman but this is not one of his better movies) and ate dinner at Novo, a Brazilian restaurant. SLO is known for its Thursday farmer's market, which was still going when we finished dinner.

Friday was a rainy day, perfect for staying home, enjoying the ocean view, reading and beading. (We had great luck with the winter weather. Tuesday and Wednesday were warm and sunny; Thursday was cloudy but rained only at night.) On Saturday we drove home on the coastal route, stopping to see the elephant seals near San Simeon, just north of Cambria.

One of the highlights of this trip to Cambria was that I finally found Pat Riley, the artist from whom I bought a handpainted sweatshirt and two tee shirts on our first visit to Cambria, in 1995. The sweatshirt especially is one of my favorite items of clothing, and I always get compliments when I wear it. At that time Pat was selling her work at a table on Burton Drive. I looked for her on every subsequent visit, without success. I came close in 2007 when a woman who works at the Seekers Gallery (which sells beautiful glass objects) recognized my sweatshirt, told me Pat's name, and told me that her studio is in Tin City, a former storage complex near downtown. I walked to Tin City and couldn't find Pat.

On this visit I lucked out. The same woman at Seeker's recognized my sweatshirt again, and this time referred me to Lily's Coffee House, for which the multi-talented Pat bakes cupcakes. I went to Lily's, found a poster there with Pat's phone number and an advertisement for an open studio! I called Pat and arranged to visit her studio on Saturday. There I tried on lots of things and bought three, the two pictured above and a purple fleece jacket which she will custom paint for me. I found out that Pat does several shows a year in Pacific Grove (another of my favorite places, and closer to home), and one show in Palo Alto, even closer to home. Now I'm on her mailing list and hopefully won't lose touch again, although she said she's retiring from the handpainted clothing business next year to work on her art.

Whenever Jim and I visit Cambria we have two conflicting thoughts: We love this town and we want to live here; and We can't live here, it's too isolated. Cambria has no hospital, no movie theater, no Starbucks. The largest grocery store is a small supermarket called the Cookie Crock (or as I call it, the Cookie Crumbles). The nearest large airports are probably Santa Barbara and San Jose, and each of those is a long drive. Although we love to drive around looking for houses for sale in Cambria, the isolation thought always wins and I don't think we'll seriously consider retiring in Cambria. But we'll certainly visit Cambria Paradise every couple of years.