Clydesdales, the majestic 1-ton horses made famous in Budweiser commercials, were bred to pull wagons. That didn't stop 18-year-old Tara Covell from training half a dozen of her family's herd at Covell's California Clydesdale Ranch in Cambria for trail rides. "Don't worry. Clydesdales are gentle giants," Covell told me as I climbed a stepladder to ride a mare named Christine, whose back was a dizzying 6 feet off the ground. I gripped the reins as Christine lumbered after the other horses on the trail, but I soon relaxed and urged her into a trot. By the time we reached a meadow with breathtaking ocean views, I agreed with Covell's description of the bouncy but exhilarating ride: "It's like off-roading on a sofa!"
The tab: $150 a night for lodging; $200 for meals; $100 for a two-hour horseback ride; $100 for up to four people for goat farm tour, plus taxes and tips.
The newly remodeled Oceanpoint Ranch is one of many clapboard cottage-style motels across the street from celebrated Moonstone Beach. Our room lacked an ocean view but was spacious, with a high-peaked wood ceiling, chic ranch decor and a fireplace. At night, nestled in our comfy king-sized bed, my husband, Paul, and I could hear the distant pounding of the waves.
At 5:25 on a cold and foggy Friday night, I was amazed to see the line of customers snaking into the parking lot of the Sea Chest Restaurant and Oyster Bar. "You should see it in summer," a local woman said. "People start showing up with their camper chairs and wine at 3 p.m." We got lucky and soon were seated at a window table, thoroughly enjoying the restaurant's clubby ambience, fresh seafood and friendly service. After dinner, we understood why 30 customers were gathered around the fire pit outside, awaiting their turn to dine.
After riding a Clydesdale, I relished an encounter with another local animal attraction at Stepladder Creamery. Owner Michelle Rudolph explained that her husband, Jack, was a Silicon Valley techie who took over his grandfather's avocado ranch six years ago to raise goats. "He chose the Lamancha breed because it's the friendliest," she said. Several goats nuzzled me like dogs craving attention. I scratched their ears, which seemed unusually short. "Lamancha goats have tiny ears but big hearts," Rudolph said. At the end-of-the-tour tasting, I discovered they also produce delicious cheese.
THE LESSON LEARNED
In Southern California, "beach" means balmy breezes, swaying palm trees and gentle surf. On Cambria's Moonstone Beach, I learned that "beach" can mean something different but no less pleasing. As we walked along the bluff, we huddled against the icy wind and marveled at how the swirling fog transformed the gnarled Monterey cypress trees into ghostly specters.
Ocean Point Ranch, 7200 Moonstone Beach Drive, Cambria; (805) 927-4648,oceanpointranch.com. Wheelchair accessible.
Sea Chest Restaurant and Oyster Bar, 6216 Moonstone Beach Drive, Cambria; (805) 927-4514, seachestrestaurant.com. Wheelchair accessible.
Covell's California Clydesdale Ranch, 5684 Bridge St., Cambria; (805) 975-7332, covellscaliforniaclydesdales.com. By appointment only.