Perched on the Pacific Ocean roughly midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cambria is charming — full of local boutiques, not chain stores; fresh, inventive restaurants, no McDonald's in sight; art galleries, studios and a series of small-scale inns and B&Bs. It's also a great base for adventures in Paso Robles' bordering western wine region alongside U.S. 46. On our recent weekend, my husband, Bill, and I were set on checking out some lesser-known wineries recommended by friends. We threw in an off-season visit to nearby Hearst Castle and took a look at the elephant seals in their beach rookery at Piedras Blancas a few miles away.
Pelican Inn & Suites on Moonstone Beach (6316 Moonstone Beach Drive;  454-4222, http://www.pelicansuites.com) is one of several hotels across from the beach's three-quarter-mile boardwalk. We chose the Pelican because two-thirds of the rooms had been recently renovated, we could upgrade to a suite with a step-down living area and fireplace, and we wanted easy access to the boardwalk. A buffet breakfast and evening wine, cheese and dessert were included.
Robin's (4095 Burton Drive;  927-5007, http://www.robinsrestaurant.com) offers what its owners call "handcrafted global cuisine." Vietnamese spring rolls, a Turkish meze plate, tandoori chicken and five-spice duck breast were among items on a recent bill of fare, along with a range of vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. It's in a historic adobe house in the eastern part of downtown, with indoor or patio dining available. Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Dinner entrees are $16-$27.
The western Paso region is out-in-the-country country, Once you leave U.S. 46 and its breathtaking views of cattle-studded rolling hills and deep valleys, you're likely to find yourself bumping along narrow, hill-hugging roads — some unpaved. Watch for deer and flocks of turkey vultures — we saw both — among other local fauna near the elegant Daou Vineyards (2777 Hidden Mountain Road, Paso Robles;  226-5460, http://www.daouvineyards.com). The Spanish Colonial-style tasting room sits atop a 2,200-foot promontory in the Adelaida mountains where French ex-pat brothers Daniel and Georges Daou have been making their limited-production wines since 2007.
The lesson learned
We loved strolling the boardwalk on Moonstone Beach, but the wind blowing off the Pacific can be intense. Best to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when there is typically a lull.
We used two tanks of gas in our hybrid car, totaling $68. Our oceanfront suite, including tax and breakfast, was $257 a night. We split dinner at Robin's for $35 and had a lunch for two at the Indigo Moon Cafe in Cambria for $40. Each of us had multi-course seafood dinners, including house-specialty oysters, at the Sea Chest on Moonstone Beach for a tab of more than $150 (including wine; cash only; no credit cards), and we spent about $40 more for picnic foods for other meals. The largest expense: several cases of wine. Priceless!