Historical photo of Cambria California

Discover the History of Cambria, California

The soul of Cambria is more than beautiful landscapes and travel gems—it is rooted in a rich, 150-year history full of difficulties and perseverance. Scroll down and travel with us on a nostalgic journey of learning about Cambria’s history. 

1850 – The Old Santa Rosa Chapel

historyofcambria santarosachapel

Constructed in 1850, the Old Santa Rosa Chapel was the first church built in San Luis Obispo County after the original Spanish missions. But more than that, it was the first Catholic church built in all of California. The chapel served the local community for 91 years before closing, when it was nearly lost to dilapidation and the ravages of time. Luckily in 1978, Cambria natives Marina Curti and Clementine Newman led a 7-year restoration through the Santa Rosa Chapel Committee. Old Santa Rosa Chapel opened again in 1984. Today, the community uses it for events like weddings! The historical site includes a peaceful 12.2-acre cemetery established in 1870. Visit their Facebook page for updates and information.

1866 - Cambria Is Officially Established

historyofcambria established

When it was established in 1866, no one could have imagined the beautiful Cambria we have today. This was especially true because back then, the futures of towns were uncertain. It was not unusual for towns to dry up and disappear with very little warning. Residents were forced to move, picking up their entire lives only to settle down in another area of uncertainty. Technically, Cambria wasn’t founded—it was incorporated and officially named Cambria by the federal government in 1870.

1889 - The Great Fire in Cambria

historyofcambria fire

In 1889, an expansive fire destroyed over half the town. It decimated many of the buildings in Cambria, as well as the hopes and dreams of the seaside residents. Many of them moved away in search of a new start, but there were people who persevered, despite the continuing difficulties. Their contributions to the community helped to make Cambria the beautiful town and travel destination that it is today.

1919-1958 - Hearst Castle & Highway 46

history of cambria hearst castle

The population of Cambria fluctuated until the famous La Cuesta Encantada, or Hearst Castle, was brought into existence by William Randolph Hearst. The enormous project of building the mansion, as well as expanding Highway 46, took from 1919 to 1947 and brought new jobs and new citizens to the developing area of Cambria. Hearst Castle was finally opened to the public in 1958. Check the Hearst Castle website for more information about visiting the historical site.

Historical Buildings in Cambria

historyofcambria historicalbuildings

Cambria has a number of surviving structures with storied histories.

  • The Guthrie-Bianchini House, one of the oldest houses in Cambria, was owned by the Bianchini family starting in 1914 and recently purchased by the Cambria Historical Society in 2001 to be the home of Cambria’s Historical Museum.
  • Camozzi’s Bar, built in 1922 as a hotel, card parlor, pool hall, and barbershop, is now known as Mozzi’s Salon.
  • Maggetti House was owned by three generations of the Maggetti family starting in 1870 and was purchased by the Cambria Historical Society in 2014 as a museum annex.
  • The 1903 grand home known as the Westendorf/Dickie House was moved from its original location on the corner of Lee and Center Streets to its current spot in the 1980s and is now the Dragon Bistro.
  • The Souza House was lived in by the family for 30 years, but was sold in 1971 and has since become the current Robin’s Restaurant.

Use the Visit Cambria app to learn more about some of Cambria’s historical buildings.

Today – Moments of Nostalgia

on foot

This little-town-that-could has flourished against all odds, and its appeal shines on even the shortest visit. Moonstone Beach, olallieberry pie, Fiscalini Ranch, the absence of chain stores, unique restaurants, and luxurious lodging properties all make Cambria one of the Central Coast’s most desirable destinations. For the holidays, don’t miss the 14th annual Scarecrow Festival or the Christmas Market, which was inspired by 1300s German Christmas Markets.

Cambria’s history is significant because the personality of this unique town is a byproduct of its past. The people who live in Cambria have always been strong, creative, multi-faceted and innovative—exactly what a town needs to overcome, adjust, and thrive. The Cambria of today is a peaceful place: a haven for artists, cyclists, antique-seekers, history buffs, and lovers of the great outdoors, as well as anyone who happens upon this small gem on the Central California Coast.

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