Castle Inn on Cambria Coast in CaliforniaCalifornia has many well-trod vacation hot spots, from big cities to wine country. On our recent west coast vacation, which included college visits and San Francisco tourist attractions, we needed to take a break. We found the perfect spot on the Cambria Coast, about half an hour from San Luis Obispo and two and a half hours from San Francisco.

To kick off some relaxation time we made the Castle Inn our home base. This inn is situated across from a glorious walking/biking path that you can take along the beach. The beach differs from Southern California sandy spots; it is a rocky coast where you look for seals and in tide pools. It is also the place for the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen.

We drove 10 minutes north to Piedras Blancas, where we saw more than 100 elephant seals basking in the sun. Be sure to seek out the volunteer docents, who share pictures, stories and answer questions about the seals, all for free.

Further away, you can check out Hearst Castle in San Simeon. But if you are looking for more low-key pleasures, there is also bird watching and whale watching nearby.

Castle Inn on Cambria Coast

Castle Inn on Cambria Coast in CaliforniaThe family friendly Castle Inn has a lovely outdoor pool, and even though it was too cold to swim (even in July!), we lounged there and read books. There are also picnic tables where we ate our complimentary Continental breakfast.

The inn has a retro game set up outdoor, corn hole. You toss bean bags into a hole. That’s it. No video screen, no scorecard, just a little family fun.

Rooms were simple, clean and comfortable, but too small to fit five in one room. There are no adjoining rooms, either; this was fine for our teens, but if you have a large family of small kids, you will probably want to squeeze into one room.

One place we didn’t have to squeeze: We drove a new Ford Flex and had plenty of room as we drove along the coast.