Classic California At Pismo Beach
By Donna Wolfe
Pismo Beach is one of the most sought-out, classic California towns on the Central Coast. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, this town offers vast beaches, a wide range of eateries, live music, great wines and beers, as well as many options for fun outdoor adventures. Incorporated in 1946, Pismo Beach is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with fireworks on the Pismo Pier on Oct. 15, 2021.
With so much to do, where do you go first?
We recommend starting with a stroll on the new Pismo Beach Pier Plaza boardwalk where you will find the colorful, seven-foot-tall installation of the words “Pismo Beach”. It has a marine-inspired playground for the kids with a humpback whale as the main play area and a clam slide. Nearby is the pier, built in 1928 and one of the longest in California at 1,200 feet. The town spent more than $8 million to renovate the historic landmark which reopened in 2018. On the pier you will find three beautiful vintage Airstreams: the Information Airstream (general info on the town, courtesy of Pismo Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau); Sunsets at Pismo (featuring a popular menu of fish dishes, filet mignon sandwiches, and shrimp tacos); and Sheldon’s Bait Shack (a 45-year stalwart offering everything you need for a fishing expedition).
Pismo is perhaps best known for its dunes and recreation. The State Vehicle Recreational Area (SVRA) offers opportunities not found anywhere else in California, with a miles-long stretch of beach and more than 3,600 acres of coastal sand dunes, as well as a lake and riparian areas. Formerly called Pismo State Dunes, it is now known as Oceano Dunes, and is the only place in California where you can drive a vehicle on the beach! Explore this vast terrain that also offers beach camping, horseback riding, and off-roading on sand buggies over the dunes. ATV Safety Certificate courses are offered throughout the year. Contact the park to schedule a class or reserve your camp site: (805) 773-7170, or ReserveCalifornia.com.
Here’s a bunch of our other favorite spots:
If you’re looking for something a little quieter, try the Pismo Preserves. Lovingly conserved by The Land Conservatory of San Luis Obispo County, this region encompasses 24,000-plus acres of land. Along with 11 miles of trail through beautiful oak woodlands and coastline, there are 880 acres for recreational activities. Bring your camera to capture views of the Pacific Ocean that extend from the Irish Hills to Point Sal.
Check out lcslo.org for downloadable trail maps and more, or call (805) 544-9096
Monarch Butterfly Grove
Treat yourself to a unique spectacle at the Monarch Butterfly Grove. It’s an amazing place to see the monarch butterflies that find refuge in Pismo Beach on their 3,000-mile migratory route. According to the Experience Pismo Beach website, Monarch Butterfly Grove is one of only five places in California where you can see these increasingly rare butterflies by the thousands. From mid-fall to mid-winter, they flock to the eucalyptus trees in this special grove. During the monarch season there will be no daily talks, so the State Park staff has provided an educational monarch video you can find at experiencepismobeach.com/beach-and-outdoors/monarch-butterflies. Access the grove from Highway 1 just south of Pismo Beach proper.
Sandbar Surf School
Adventures on the sea are among the most popular activities in Pismo Beach. You will find surfers lining the shores and riding the waves. To connect to and feel the energy of the ocean, take a lesson at the Sandbar Surf School. They have been in operation for more than 22 years, and provide instruction for groups, individuals, or couples.
“I love seeing their faces when they ride on the ‘Green Wave’. That is where they get up and find their balance and have fun at the same time,” says Jonny Ziegler, owner of the company.
Find Sandbar Surf School at 110 Park Ave. For more: sandbarsurf.com or (805) 835-SURF (7873)
Central Coast Kayaking
If you prefer to stay dry but still want an experience on the water, try Central Coast Kayaking. Make sure you sign up for their most popular tour, the Cave Tour. You and your guide will kayak through the arches, a rock garden, and the famous Dinosaur Caves. There is also a Naturalist Tour, where you will paddle through a kelp forest and look for sea life that live in the area such as otters, seals, and dolphins. The kayak is a fantastic way to explore the rich marine life up close.
Find them at 1879 Shell Beach Rd.For more: centralcoastkayaks.com or (805) 773-3500
Pismo Beach will be celebrating their yearly fall event, the Clam Festival, on October 16 and 17. The annual clam chowder cook-off also features live music, local food and drinks, and a clam parade, as well as activities for kids at the Kid Zone. Sample your favorite chowder from participating restaurants and cast your vote for the Best Clam Chowder award!
If you’re not planning to be in town the third weekend in October, you can still find some fantastic clam chowder at Splash Cafe downtown. To get their famous clam chowder, you may have to wait in line — but it is worth the wait! The owners, Joanne & Ross Currie, have created the most renowned clam chowders in the area, with its own fresh bread bowls, since 1991.
“Splash Cafe and our award-winning clam chowder are proud to be an iconic part of Pismo Beach for over 30 years. Like Pismo, we are a little quirky, a little old-fashioned, and a lot of fun. Truly Classic California!” says Joanne.
Get in line and taste their celebrated clam chowder at 197 Pomeroy Ave.
For more: splashcafe.com or (805) 773-4653
Cool Cat Cafe
If you are in the mood for a juicy custom burger, then head over to Cool Cat Cafe. Bright colors and music give it the energetic vibe of a 1950s diner. Steve Corpuel and his family have been in the restaurant business for more than 40 years and opened the Cool Cat in 1992 (they also have restaurants in San Luis Obispo and in Lahaina, Maui). His son, Sean Corpuel, says that his dad is the food guy. Their menu has a list of signature burgers, with their own sauces made from scratch. The La Bamba burger is a favorite, with spicy chili. They also have fresh halibut, fish tacos, and ribs. Their custom milk shakes, like the Pismo Mudd Pie, are a must-try. Step back in time and enjoy a great meal.
Find the Cool Cat Cafe at
198 Pomeroy Ave. For more: coolcatcafe.com or (805) 773-1020
If you have a taste for tapas, try La Bodega. This restaurant serves seasonal, locally-grown fresh ingredients with Portuguese and Spanish influenced recipes. The restaurant is owned by Teresa Cordeiro and John McCartney. Teresa grew up in Northern California but was born in Lisbon, Portugal. Her authentic recipes come from her mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens. La Bodega’s signature firewood flatbreads complement the dining room’s beautiful local artwork. The owner’s concept is to make great Latin food and bring people together.
Come experience the talk of the town. Live music on Wednesdays and Sundays.
La Bodega is at 790 Price St. For more: labodegapismo.com or (805) 295-5400
Old West Cinnamon Rolls
One of the best cinnamon rolls around can be found at the iconic bakery, Old West Cinnamon Rolls. Three generations of family members keep this place a famous destination spot. They have been featured on the Food Network, Guilty Pleasures, and more, as well as being named Top Places to Eat. A mixture of cinnamon, butter, and sugar has created a world-famous cinnamon roll with a delicious center. Their recipe comes from Betty Clemens who created it 40 years ago. There are a variety of different cinnamon rolls, sweet treats, and seasonal goods. Take a stroll and get the best cinnamon roll made on the West Coast.
Old West Cinnamon Rolls, 861 Dolliver St. For more: oldwestcinnamonrolls.com or (805) 773-1428
Hot Shots Billiards and Family Entertainment has 14 pool tables, air hockey, and arcade games. Set up for all ages to play in a beautiful setting, this place will entertain you and the whole family in the center of the downtown scene. The art deco-style building was built in 1927 for a vaudeville theatre, then turned into a movie theater from 1938 to 1988. Big-bands played in the 1930s and 1940s and west coast bands played from the 1960s to 1980s. Homemade pizzas, fish and chips, and a super selection of drinks keep you happy and ready to take on the next game. Also check out their fun retail shop in front with classic comic books, over 1,000 t-shirt designs, and billiard pro-shop accessories.
Hot Shots Billiards and Family Entertainment, 250 Pomeroy Ave. For more: hotshotspismo.com or (805) 773-4542
Pismo Bowl downtown brings back the old retro-style bowling atmosphere with eight lanes. The bowling alley was established in 1939 and the family-owned center has created an entertaining place for friends and family. There are a few bowling leagues and events for birthdays with party packages. The smell of fresh pizza and sounds of the crashing bowling pins brings you back in time. Get your bowling shoes on and make a strike at Pismo Bowl.
Pismo Bowl, 277 Pomeroy Ave. For more: pismobeachbowl.com or (805) 773-2482
Sans Liege Winery has a comfortable new tasting lounge downtown. Curt Schalchlin, owner and winemaker, focuses on Rhone varietals. One of his most popular wines and customer favorite is The Offering, a GSM varietal. Curt focuses on making wines that are sourced from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. Walk in and relax in their tasting lounge, and indulge in wines from the best vineyards of the Central Coast.
Sans Liege Winery, 870 Price St. For more: sansliege.com
or (805) 773-2770
Looking for wines from other local wineries? Try Tastes of the Valleys, a wine bar that offers wines from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. Owner Ash Mehta opened his shop in 2010 and thought he would only carry 200 wines; he now has up to 1,000! Ash has built a reputation on knowing the best wines in the area and presents ‘wines of the week’ for you to taste. He has two other wine bars/shops in Paso Robles and in San Luis Obispo. His Pismo shop was the first, and it gives you a comfortable vibe that is cozy and fun with his knowledgeable and friendly staff. Get a glass or a few bottles from one of the premier wine bars in town.
Tastes of the Valleys, 911 Price St. For more: winesneak.com or (805) 773-8466
Pismo Brewing Company is the place where you can find the owner, Melissa Moscardi, behind the bar. She opened her brewery room in June 2011.
“Our primary focus is making palatable beers. Our brews are all American ales, and we like to get creative and incorporate interesting flavors. We have had a lot of fun with different fruits, like watermelon and raspberries,” says Melissa. They turned their hobby into a business not fully realizing the undertaking that was required. Through perseverance, they are having fun working with their customers and making beers their customers will enjoy. “They arrive happy and leave happier!”
Melissa picked Pismo Beach because it still has the sleepy, small, unique beach town feel that brings so many visitors back each time. Her brewery is family and pet friendly. Through the years they have made some changes like adding wine, ciders, and hard kombucha, and other local small-menu items like pulled pork sandwiches, flatbread pizzas, and fish tacos. Say hello to Melissa and her friendly crew and see what kind of custom beer is right for you.
Pismo Brewing Company, 500 Cypress St. For more: pismobrew.com or (805) 295-6200
One of the most beautiful stays is at Vespera Resort on Pismo Beach, Autograph Collection. It has an upscale beach house theme to it. It was named Vespera – meaning ‘evening star’ – to honor the Chumash Indians who inhabited California’s Central Coast region and used the stars to cross the Channel Islands.
The resort gives you access right to the beach and the boardwalk. You can easily walk downtown or directly to the beach. There is an East Coast appeal with a West Coast appreciation. It has a lobby lounge, pool, deck, and hot tub overlooking the ocean. There is an outdoor bar, a lawn with fire pits, and they are dog friendly.
“We are focused on enhancing Vespera Resort’s positioning in the market, and transforming the beachfront property into the premier Central Coast destination, replete with dynamic programming and engaging amenities,” said David Morneau, general manager.
Their restaurant, Somerset Grill, serves “Oceanside Americana” cuisine that is regionally inspired from local growers in San Luis Obispo County. Their executive chef, Frank Barajas, has over 15 years of hospitality and restaurant experience.
The open kitchen design, with a woodfired grill and panoramic view of the ocean, elevates your dining experience. Be sure to try their unique hand-crafted cocktails and list of local beer and wines. This place will always be marked as your best getaway!
Vespera Resort on Pismo Beach, 147 Stimson Ave. For more: vesperapismobeach.com or (805) 773-1011
One of the best panoramic views of the coastline is at the Inn on the Pier, a new craftsman style hotel with 104 boutique rooms next to the oceanfront. Most of the rooms have an ocean view. One of the best features is their rooftop bar and dipping pool. It is a distinct way to see the panoramic coastline while sipping on their handcrafted specialty cocktails or sampling their seasonal coastal menu. Or eat at their main full-service restaurant, Blonde, where classic meets contemporary California. Beach living is right there for you to enjoy at this luxury hotel.
Inn at the Pier, 601 Cypress St. For more: theinnatthepier.com or (805) 295-5565
Pismo Beach offers some of the best women’s apparel, and Bling Boutique is fun and full of shiny rhinestones. Owner Debbie Eastom has a vibrant collection of accessories from fashion jewelry to sterling silver, Vocal brand clothing, purses, wallets, and more! You can find something special with some beautiful bling that brings a smile to your face every time.
Bling Boutique, 771 Dolliver St. For more: facebook.com/theblingboutiquepismo or (805) 556-3033
Wildflower Women Boutique is a special place that was created by the owner, Amber Lease. Her parents sold children’s clothes for over 45 years and clothing retail is in her blood. Amber opened her Pismo store along with her three other stores in Paso Robles, Orcutt, and Los Olivos. Every item in each of the four boutiques has been hand-picked to meet the needs, wants, and desires of the Wildflower customer. Amber offers private shopping for you or a group, and a stylist can help you pick your perfect outfit. This is a beautiful store with brands that can satisfy any customer’s needs.
Wildflower Women, 890 Price St. For more: wildflowerwomenboutique.com or (805) 773-1055
Come visit Pismo Beach – this iconic California Classic town – and find your groove whether it be paddling or surfing on the Pismo waters, off roading on the dunes, hiking the preserves, bowling with the locals, voting for the best clam chowder, or sipping on your handcrafted cocktail while watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. The friendly town of Pismo Beach is truly a trip to remember!
Experience Pismo Beach: experiencepismobeach.com City of Pismo Beach: pismobeach.org/1