For thousands of years the land on which Cambria now stands was occupied by indigenous peoples. After the Spanish discovered New Spain (Mexico) they began to explore the new world and, in 1542, the Viceroy of Mexico, Don Antonio de Mendoza, dispatched Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese navigator, to begin his exploration of the coast of California. His three ships left Navidad on the west coast of Mexico on June 27 of that year and followed the coast north to the bay of San Diego which he called Port San Miguel. Because many of the names Cabrillo gave to the significant features of the coastline have since been changed, and because of the difficulties he had in accurately establishing the latitude of his ship, it is not clear exactly how far north his expedition traveled. However, it is virtually certain that they passed the site of present day Cambria.
For more than 200 years the Spanish continued to explore the coast of California without establishing any settlements there. Then, in 1769, a Jesuit Father, Junipero Serra, joined the expedition of Don Gaspar de Portola whose mission was to explore and occupy California. Father Serra established the first nine of California’s 21 missions before he died on August 28, 1774 at Carmel. His successor as Presidente of the missions, Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, took formal possession of the land for Viceroy Branciforte and founded the sixteenth mission, the Mission San Miguel, on July 25, 1797.
As far as the Spanish were concerned, all of present-day California west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains was divided up among the 21 missions. The property of the Mission San Miguel extended 18 miles to the north to the lands of the Mission San Antonio de Padua, 18 miles to the south to the lands of the Mission San Luis Obispo, 66 miles to the east to the top of the Sierras and 35 miles west to the Pacific Ocean including the future town of Cambria.
In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain and, in 1834, Mexico’s Secularization Laws were ratified under the governorship of Jose Figueroa and the Mexican government began disposing of the mission lands. From 1840 to 1846, three governors of Mexican California made land grants from property belonging to Mission San Miguel. Governor Juan B. Alvarado granted about 49,000 acres of Rancho Piedra Blanca to Don Jose de Jesus Pico on January 18, 1840 and on January 18, 1841, he granted the 13,000 acre Rancho Santa Rosa, which included present-day Cambria, to Don Julian Estrada. On October 1, 1842, Don Jose Ramon Estrada, Julian’s brother, received Alvarado’s last grant from the lands of the Mission San Miguel, the 4469 acre Rancho San Simeon.