Fall in Love with Avila Beach
By Donna Wolfe
Driving between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and longing for a respite? Look no further than Avila Beach. Located just 2.5 miles off Highway 101 down an oak-studded road, this beach community offers ample opportunity for relaxation and adventure alike.
Experience tourist attractions, fine dining, cider and wine tasting, whale watching, kayaking, paddleboarding, and tours that bring you right to the water’s edge. Or explore its local history, like its working commercial fishing pier, inland apple orchards, and famous Point San Luis Lighthouse, built in 1890.
Bob Jones Trail
One of the favorite stops for locals and tourists is the Bob Jones Trail. This 3-mile paved trail, open for bicycles and foot traffic, begins on Ontario Road and ends in downtown Avila. Walk alongside San Luis Obispo Creek and take in excellent views of the Avila Beach Golf Resort as well as oak and eucalyptus trees and blossoming flowers along the road, swaying in the ocean breeze. This is one of the most popular hikes in Avila Beach and is a splendid way to introduce you to the town. Leashed dogs are welcome.
Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa
After a long day of hiking, unwind at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Delight in a soak in the mineral spring tubs nestled in the hills, under a canopy of beautiful oak trees.
Sycamore Resort Hot Springs was voted 2021’s Best Staycation and Best Massage by the local weekly newspaper, New Times, and is also highly ranked on Tripadvisor because of its consistency with accommodation, attractions, and its restaurant. “This place has everything for everyone. It is a place that makes you feel far away, and it is tranquil and peaceful,” says Nicole Dichirico, the sales, events, and social media manager. “Each room has their own mineral hot tub, and it is sourced from the water at Sycamore’s mineral springs from over 100 acres of natural, underground resources. Also included on the 100-acre property,” Nicole adds, “is a vegetable garden which provides farm-to-table fare at special event dinners.” In addition to guest accommodations, the resort offers yoga retreats, venues for private events such as weddings, and public access to the mineral spring tubs.
Coming this summer: live music in Sycamore’s secret garden, every first Thursday of the month running June 3 through September. Enjoy tunes, snacks, beer and wine, as well as a farm stand featuring Sycamore-grown vegetables.
Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, 1215 Avila Beach Dr. (805) 595-7302 sycamoresprings.com
Avila La Fonda Hotel
The Avila La Fonda Hotel is an experience that brings you back in time to 19th century California. Voted Best Romantic Hotel by Tripadvisor (2019), the Spanish-colonial architecture, thoughtfully chosen Mexican decor and art, stained-glass windows, and early California artifacts make this a true getaway. It is only one block from the beach and has easy access to activities and shopping.
Avila La Fonda Hotel, 101 San Miguel St. (805) 595-1700 avilalafonda.com
Located just right off the Bob Jones Trail in Avila Village is one of the locals’ favorite spots: the Woodstone Marketplace. It offers a deli, country market, coffee bar, and a wonderful wine shop, as well as weekly dinner specials and pizzas.
The outdoor patio sits alongside beautiful large oak trees that provide plenty of shade, especially convenient during the summer when you’ll want to savor a meal; enjoy live music each Sunday from 2 to 4 pm.
Cheryl Peterman has owned the market for 15 years. She and her husband previously owned the famous Pierside Seafood in Pismo Beach for 30 years, and wanted to make the leap into Avila Beach. “The place is special. There is something that drives us here,” says Cheryl. She loves the community and has felt their support during hard times like the pandemic. “This is definitely a destination place,” Cheryl continues. “This place is successful because of the support of this community, the details in our shop, and the great location.”
Woodstone Marketplace, 6675 Bay Laurel Pl. (805) 595-1018 woodstoneavila.com
Blue Moon Over Avila
Take a stroll where the shops line the beachfront and you will find a beautiful wine bar and French bistro called Blue Moon Over Avila. It is a must-go place for lunch or dinner, or brunch on Sundays,“ with an extraordinary view of the ocean. Take in a sunset from the bar facing the beach and enjoy the finest French food paired with French wines. The owner, Nancy Bell, co-founder and director of Lindamood-Bell®
Learning Processes, opened Blue Moon in 2017. Jason Hoffman, the restaurant manager, had worked for Lindamood-Bell for 15 years when Nancy asked him to help manage her new venture. He loves the many parallels he’s discovered between his technical work and restaurant life. Plus, “I love the location … you can watch a beautiful sunset and see people enjoying their time here,” says Jason. “This is a unique location and with summer here, we highly recommend reservations. It is worth the wait at this place.”
Blue Moon Over Avila, 460 Front St. (805) 595-2583 bluemoonoveravila.com
Driving into town from the freeway, you’ll notice the Bassi Vineyard in the hills. This stunning spot just 1.2 miles from the beach is where Sinor-LaVallee sources its grapes. Located in downtown Avila, Sinor-LaVallee winery features wines from estate-grown, organically farmed grapes with varietals that include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. The Black Label Pinot Noir and White Label Syrah all come from the Bassi Vineyards.
Sinor-LaVallee owner Mike Sinor is one of the most celebrated winemakers on the Central Coast. He has been making wine in the region for more than 20 years. “I worked hard through school at a winery, and that is when I fell in love with winemaking,” he says. Mike’s done a lot in the last two decades: worked at Byron Winery, then became winemaker at Domaine Alfred Winery, and is now director of winemaking at Ancient Peaks Winery in addition to helming Sinor-LaVallee. Sinor-LaVallee is taking off and Mike is excited to see it grow. “I got the best education about wine at Byron Winery when I first started in the wine business. I love the diverse lifestyle that winemaking offers.” It is physical, some days I am working a forklift or fixing equipment, but also cerebral,” he notes.
Mike’s first harvest was in 1993, and Sinor-LaVallee was born in 1997. He opened the official tasting room in downtown Avila Beach in 2015. Come taste the fruit of Mike’s labor at his gorgeous tasting room in the heart of Avila.
Also, while you’re wine tasting make time for the Shuck Shack, an oyster bar on the patio that offers local oysters you shuck yourself.
Sinor-LaVallee, 550 1st St.(805) 459-9595 sinorlavallee.com
Big Al’s At The Beach
One of the busiest merchants has got to be Tim Taylor, owner of Big Al’s At The Beach. Tim landed in their new location after outgrowing the old spot in Landing Passage. The most popular item on his menu is the Hawaiian shave ice, with all the fun extras to go with it. They specialize in authentic Hawaiian shave ice, smoothies, boba drinks, and locally roasted organic espresso and coffee.
You may have a little wait, but it is so worth it!
Big Al’s At The Beach, 445 1st Street (new location) (805) 441-2770
Fat Cats Cafe and Mersea’s
Heading to the Port San Luis Harbor District? Be sure to check out two restaurants, Fat Cats Cafe and Mersea’s. Fat Cats has been a staple restaurant for more than 25 years for both locals and visitors. It is a famous destination that offers friendly service and award-winning meals that keep customers coming back for more. Grab breakfast (served anytime), seafood, burgers, homemade onion rings, and more. It was voted one of the Top 5 Eateries on the Pacific Coast Highway by USA Today.
Nearby, Mersea’s Port San Luis is the newest restaurant in Avila Beach on the Port San Luis Pier. Order up some fresh seafood and drinks and sit outside at the bar. You’ll be treated not only to great fare, but also beautiful views of the ocean (and maybe even some wildlife!).
Fat Cats Cafe, 3920 Harford Dr. (805) 595-2204 fatcatscafe.com
Mersea’s, 3985 Avila Beach Dr. (805) 548-2290 merseas.com
Avila Valley Barn
Go country at Avila Valley Barn! It’s easy to spend hours at this sweet family-friendly destination, where you can treat yourself to locally-grown corn on the cob and hanging out with farm animals. Feed the goats and sheep, then shop for local produce. Don’t forget the homemade ice cream and pies!
Summer activities include hayrides and pony rides. Check the website for an updated activity calendar.
Avila Valley Barn, 560 Avila Beach Dr.(805) 595-2816 avilavalleybarn.com
Gopher Glen Organic Apple Farm
Looking for a tasty hidden treasure? Take the curvy See Canyon Road to Gopher Glen Organic Apple Farm. For half a century, this family-run farm has been producing the finest cider sourced from their own apples. For the 21-and-over crowd, there is also cider beer. Come check out this fun hideaway. You may never want to buy cider from the supermarket again!
Gopher Glen Apple Farm, 2899 See Canyon Rd. (805) 595-2646 gopherglen.com
Is biking your style? Then you’ve got to try BoltAbout! Move around Avila with ease on these electric bicycles and scooters, which can be rented for the day or by the hour.
“It was all by accident how my business started,” says owner, Matt Maxwell. During his third year at Cal Poly State University-San Luis Obispo, the campus was under construction, and parking was a challenge. “I needed not to be late to school, and this solved the problem by having an electric bicycle,” he explains. Matt purchased two electric bikes so he could get 40 percent off the sticker price, and rented the other bike to his roommate to offset the cost. His roommate loved it, and Matt decided to start a business renting ebikes to the college students. Being a finance major, he figured out how to make a profit and ended up with 200 monthly subscriptions. Looking to make an even bigger eco-impact, Matt and his co-founders purchased Pagoda Electric Bikes in Avila Beach in 2016. “Our mission is to help people have fun and show them how amazing electric bikes can be … and show them that it can be good for their mental health, the environment, and their wallet,” says Matt.
BoltAbout’s electric bikes will run 50 to 80 miles on a charge, and a scooter battery charge will go for about 30 miles. Not surprisingly, the Bob Jones Trail is among the most popular destinations for Matt’s customers.
BoltAbout, 472 Front St. (805) 234-2349 boltabout.com
Avila Beach Paddlesports
Avila Beach is great from the land, but from the water it’s a whole different experience. Take it all in from both directions with Avila Beach Paddlesports. Conveniently located on the Port San Luis Pier, Avila Beach Paddlesports does more than just rent kayaks and paddleboards. Vincent and Emily Shay have shared their business on the port with local fishermen for the past 12 years and have developed a great relationship with them, as well as local wildlife agencies and other paddleboarders. Vincent believes if you work together you can create a safe place for customers who visit. The Shays created maps to educate people on the routes for paddling, as well as tips on wind and ocean conditions, and wildlife viewing. “They learn how to really see them and protect them, and they pass that along. I love to embrace them with the knowledge and see how to approach an otter and be responsible and care for marine life. I feel that is my way of giving back to the people,” says Vincent. “It was amazing to see inner-city kids who have never seen the beach and watch them touch a batch of kelp.”
The experience is sure to leave you with a profound respect for marine life and the ocean. Tours lead you past the Port San Luis Lighthouse and through the habitats of seals, otters, and if you’re lucky, humpback whales. Stop off for a tour at the lighthouse every Saturday at noon and 1 pm.
Vincent’s oceanic passion is reflected in his photography, which displayed in his shop.
Avila Beach Paddlesports, 3915 Avila Beach Dr. (805) 704-6902 avilabeachpaddlesports.com
SLO.Tours and the Shark Exhibit
Sharks: so fascinating, yet so misunderstood. Michael Brink aims to change that. His Shark Exhibit allows people to get up close and personal to several species that inhabit the waters around Avila. Located in Passage Landing, the exhibit incudes a display of shark’s teeth, egg sacks, and a life-size model of a great white shark. There’s also a shark cage where you can take pictures.
Michael’s other venture, SLO.Tours, takes small groups on harbor and ocean tours. You’ll catch views of the stunning Central Coast, and (hopefully) glimpses of sharks, sea lions, otters, humpback whales, sea birds, dolphins … the list goes on!
SLO. Tours begin in June, when you’ll have a good chance of seeing humpback whales migrating along the coast. Michael’s got a good track record for spotting wildlife; he has been on the popular television show “Shark Week” two times! His boat tours hold a maximum of six people, which keeps it intimate.
SLO.Tours, 3975 Avila Beach Dr. The Shark Exhibit, 66 Landing Passage (805) 705-8681 slo.tours
Central Coast Aquarium
To see marine life up close, visit the Central Coast Aquarium. “I was here when I was 12 years old from a school program. We got into a boat and we identified sea life, and it changed my life,” says Gabriela Morales, the aquarium educator and coordinator. Gaby loves the education and the hands-on program they have created. “This place leaves an impact on the people who get to see how the sea creatures live, and they get to touch some of them. We have a touch tank so they know what a shark feels like. It is offered every hour.” Do you know what a sea star or sea cucumber feels like? You will after Gaby’s done with you!
Feeling inspired to do your part to conserve the incredible marine diversity of the Central Coast? Good, that’s part of the Central Coast Aquarium’s mission! Pick up a Cleanup Kit from the aquarium and get all the tools you will need to make the coast a little cleaner.
The aquarium also offers summer programs for kids and teenagers. Visit their website to register.
Central Coast Aquarium, 50 San Juan St. (805) 457-5357 centralcoastaquarium.com
Want even more Avila Beach? Check out visitavilabeach.com