The city of Cambria is located on Highway One at the north end of San Luis Obispo County, and has earned the nickname “Gateway to the Big Sur Coast.” Like that stunning area to the north, Cambria has its own beautiful waterfront. Explore sandy beaches and rocky tide pools on a 2.85-mile round trip hike down Moonstone Beach Boardwalk, crossing a pristine beach that is preserved by Hearst San Simeon State Park. There is only 40 feet of elevation change over the level and easy trail, so you are free to set out in flip-flops or tennis shoes. Explore tide pools or walk across the sand on Moonstone Beach to add variety to this beautiful oceanfront stroll.
You can start the boardwalk from free parking areas at either end (or in the middle). To discover the ocean views, start from the south end of the trail, just off Highway One near the beginning of Moonstone Beach Drive. Hike northwest beneath pines along Santa Rosa Creek. After 0.2 miles, you will spot a pool of water at the mouth of the creek, separated from the ocean by a line of sand. The wooden boardwalk progresses alongside the estuary where you can see ducks and snowy egrets.
Leaving Santa Rosa Creek, you will pass the Santa Rose Day Use Area where there is additional parking and bathrooms. Turn north up the coast, strolling along a bluff about 25 feet above the inviting sand of Moonstone Beach.
After 0.55 miles of hiking, you can turn left out to a scenic overlook where there are steps down to the beach. You are free to walk up the sand instead of the wooden boardwalk. There is another beach access point just 0.2 miles up the coast that presents the same option (and allows you to create a little loop).
Roughly 0.2 miles past the second beach access point, and under a mile from the start, reach a spur in the boardwalk that heads down to tide pools that are part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Take the short flight of stairs down to pools in a jumble of dark rocks. Look for sea stars, hermit crabs, and sea anemones in the shallows. You may even spot seals sunning on the rocks.
The tidal cove is framed to the north by a point with sheer orange bluffs topped by a viewing platform. To reach it, hike another 0.2 miles along the boardwalk around the cove. Step up to the viewpoint and look down over the tide pools as you gaze south down the coast.
The boardwalk continues along the bluff for a short distance, coming to the north end of the trail, 1.45 miles from the start (including the side trail to the tide pools). North of the parking lot on the other side of Leffingwell Creek is the Leffingwell Day Use Area, where you can enjoy a picnic on a point that juts into the Pacific. It is 1.4-mile hike back down Moonstone Beach Boardwalk to the trailhead at the south end (excluding any side trails to tide pools and beaches) for a 2.85-mile round trip hike with just 40 feet of elevation change.
While hiking Moonstone Beach Boardwalk, you will pass several side access trail, but the main route is obvious. There are benches along the way where you can linger to admire the scenery. The boardwalk runs parallel to Moonstone Beach Drive, which is lined on the inland side by restaurants and hotels. You don’t need a reservation to enjoy all the great views from Moonstone Beach Boardwalk! Dogs are welcome on the boardwalk, but bikes are not. Parking at the trailheads is free and no permit is required to hike along Moonstone Beach in Hearst San Simeon State Park, so get out and enjoy! For another nearby coastal hike, consider the Bluff Trail in Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
To get to the trailhead: From San Luis Obispo, drive 34.2 miles north up Highway One to Cambria. Turn left at the traffic light onto Windsor Boulevard. Drive a hundred feet and make an immediate right onto Moonstone Beach Drive. Go 0.1 miles and turn left into the trailhead parking area just past El Colibri Hotel. If you are coming from the north, Windsor Boulevard is 7.2 miles south of Hearst Castle Road.
Trailhead address: Moonstone Beach Drive, Cambria, CA 93428
Trailhead coordinates: 35.569, -121.105867 (35° 34′ 08.39″N 121° 06′ 21.12″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.
|Bluff Trail |
This 1.9-mile stroll crosses beautiful undeveloped coastline in Fiscalini Ranch Preserve at the center of Cambria.
|Headlands Trail |
This gradual 4.5-mile lollipop loop in Harmony Headlands State Park crosses a coastal valley to reach picturesque ocean bluffs on the rugged coast between Cayucos and Cambria.
|Piedras Blancas |
This 3.2-mile out-and-back hike ventures up the coast from the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery to Piedras Blancas Light Station. Additional boardwalks at the rookery can be used to add another mile of hiking.
|Morro Rock via Morro Strand Trail |
This level one to 3.5-mile round trip hike starts from Cloisters Park and crosses Morro Strand State Beach to reach Morro Rock.
|Pacific Valley Bluff Trail |
This short out and back hike extends from Highway One to an ocean bluff with fantastic views of the Big Sur Coast.
|Jade Cove and Plaskett Rock Point |
This 1.5-mile hike along an ocean bluff visits a prominent peninsula and a small cove.
|Salmon Creek Falls |
This short hike visits a fine 120-foot waterfall near the start of Salmon Creek Trail.
|Buckeye Trail |
This hike of 6.5 miles or more reaches incredibly ocean vistas and trail camps in the Silver Peak Wilderness. Connect Cruickshank Trail and Buckeye Trail for an excellent shuttle hike of 8.25 miles or more.
|Cruickshank Trail |
This hike into Silver Peak Wilderness starts with bold ocean views and crosses redwood groves to reach Upper Cruickshank Camp at a junction with Buckeye Trail, 5 miles round trip from Highway One.
|More Central Coast Hikes |
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.