Succulents by the sea: Cambria Shores Inn

In a previous post I took you to Grow Nursery in the town of Cambria on California’s Central Coast. Two miles away on Moonstone Beach Drive is Cambria Shores Inn. What does a motel have to do with a nursery?

Here’s the answer:


The Cambria Shores Inn features a veritable extravaganza of succulents that makes you slam on the brakes as you approach.

It turns out that the Cambria Shores Inn’s landscaping was designed by Nick Wilkinson, the owner of Grow Nursery (and Left Field in San Luis Obispo). The motel is owned by his mother and stepfather, Leslie and Kim Eady.

This May 2015 articles from the San Luis Obispo Tribune describes the beginnings of this project:

Renovations began in 2006. Nick Wilkinson was an art major with an intense interest in plants and landscaping. He drew freehand sketches of how the garden would look after nearly an acre of lawn was removed. The turf was torn out down to bare rock. New soil was brought in and mounded to various heights. Additional rock came from local quarries.


Because of budget constraints “everything we planted was small at first,” says Nick Wilkinson in the article. “People commented about the modest size of the plants and had serious doubts about our vision. The following year local garden clubs toured and were impressed by the growth and the beauty.”

Wrestling with the size of plants to buy is something every gardener is familiar with. I found it encouraging to know that this spectacular succulent garden started out small—literally.


Far side of the succulent garden, looking and walking back towards where the first photo was taken

Another issue in the perennially water-challenged Golden State is irrigation. Before mandatory watering restrictions went into effect in Cambria, the garden was watered five times a year. Let that sink in: five times a year!


When the landscape watering moratorium was in force, irrigation stopped altogether. In the Sacramento Valley, this would spell certain death to all but the toughest plants. Our summers, however, are significantly hotter than the Central Coast. Located in California’s Goldilocks zone, it hardly ever experiences temperatures in the 90s, let alone the 100s. In addition, frequent fog contributes enough moisture to keep plants going.


LEFT: Agave ‘Sharkskin’  RIGHT: Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’

After a wetter winter and spring than we’d had in five years, the garden at the Cambria Shores Inn looked picture perfect during our visit at the end of March.

160322_Cambria_CambriaShoresInn_0059 160322_Cambria_CambriaShoresInn_0061

LEFT: Agave parryi and Aeonium ‘Zwartskop’  RIGHT: Agave mitis var. albidior sending up a flower stalk

I’d thought it would take me 15 minutes to snap a few photos, but I ended up spending almost an hour going from plant to plant.





Spotted aloe (Aloe zebrina?) and ice plant. The flowers aren’t open because at 11:00 a.m. it wasn’t warm enough yet.


Aloe broomii


Euphorbia rigida


The flowering agave on the left is Agave gypsophila



This pincushion (Leucospermum sp.) is the very definition of perfection


I had never seen so many flowers on a leucospermum before


Flowering Agave americana ‘Marginata’


The flagstone path I had come from


Row of Adirondack chairs looking out over the Pacific Ocean


Looking southwest


Agave victoria-reginae


Dudleya brittonii



Aloe dorotheae


Aloe nobilis


More views from the top looking out over Moonstone Beach


Looking towards the inn


I’m glad they snuck in a sign for Grow. Nick deserves kudos for such a seemingly simple, yet surprisingly multi-faceted design. The San Luis Obispo Tribune article compares it to an Impressionist painting—I can see why!

The photos above were taken along Moonstone Beach Drive. While not as dense, the plantings continue in the main part of the U-shaped motel complex. The central area, no doubt once a giant lawn, is now divided into an inviting flagstone patio bordered by succulent beds and fronted by a much smaller lawn.




Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’


Aloe vaombe


Looking towards the motel rooms


Aloe broomii


Another look towards the motel rooms

The Cambria Shores Inn is located at 6276 Moonstone Beach Drive in Cambria, California. Visit its web site for more information and to make reservations. I think it would be a stunning place to stay. It’s dog-friendly, too!


Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. I don’t know whether that’s at play here or whether it’s Nick Wilkinson’s brainchild as well (although it doesn’t quite look like it), but the landscaping at the motel next door to the Cambria Shores Inn has switched to succulents and other water-wise plants very recently. The plants are still small, but there’s potential here:



I’ll post an update after my next visit. The San Luis Obispo/Morro Bay Area is definitely on my radar now.



Spring break 2016 index


  1. Well worth imitating, the planting is wonderful! That sort of planting is adaptable to most coastal areas of the UK too.

    1. Wouldn't it be nice to spend a few days at the Cambria Shores Inn?

  2. Absolutely stunning! Nick is a succulent visionary! Thanks for taking us for a visit.

  3. I have been here and loved it! Nick Wilkinson also designed and planted a fabulous succulent garden at his Mom's home. Really exceptional! Thanks for the pictorial update.

    1. I'll see if I can meet up with Nick the next time I'm on the Central Coast.

  4. WOW!!! I don't think I've ever seen a succulent garden both so well done and so well maintained.

  5. Sweet! I would have been able to spend an hour or so too, just soaking all that in. So I'm curious, did you make up the phrase "California’s Goldilocks zone" or is that widely used? Also didn't you hear the news? There is no drought in California. Donald Trump said so.

    1. I guess I made up the phrase "California's Goldilocks zone." I was thinking of the Goldilocks zone in astronomy.

      As for Trump, well, if he says so, it must be so. After all, he's an expert in everything. He's always good for a laugh. That's about the best I can say about him.

    2. Ha ! I went there too Gerhard but it was a 'stumble-upon' ..There was a private residence to the south that had a great garden too, but it was mid day and windy as hell so the the photo gig was challenging. I decided I would stay there next time but in fall when the weather is better at the coast.

    3. We were lucky: The lighting was OK when we were there and there was no wind.

      We should do a mini Garden Bloggers Fling on the Central Coast!

  6. I so covet the 'Arizona Star' agave. The pavers and GC reminds me of Kris' new garden. I agree, the Central Coast is fairy tale land for succulent gardens.


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