Located on the Central Coast of California, about 3 hours north of Los Angeles, Pismo Beach is a small, laid-back town that offers visitors the chance to get outdoors, relax, and enjoy some seriously good seafood. Several miles of coast beckon to you to stroll on the sand, watch surfers ride the waves, and catch a sunset from the pier. Don’t expect a packed itinerary; instead, look forward to a peaceful weekend away along the Pacific Ocean.
What To Do In Pismo Beach
While Pismo Beach is definitely a relaxing destination, that doesn’t mean there isn’t much to do. On the contrary, this small town is loaded with options, especially for outdoor lovers. A few activities require advance planning, but most can be done whenever you are ready.
Explore The Pismo Preserve
The Pismo Preserve was opened to the public for the first time in January of 2020. For a scenic hike or bike ride, this is the place to be. The 900-acre conservancy offers 11 miles of trails that wind through woodlands and bluffs, providing excellent views of the Pacific Ocean. A variety of wildlife can be found in the preserve, including deer, fox, bobcats, and mountain lions.
Admire The Butterflies
The Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is one of only five sites in the state that has counts of more than 10,000 butterflies annually. From late October through February, the butterflies cluster in the limbs of towering eucalyptus trees.
Wander through the grove on your own or take advantage of a docent talk to learn more about these colorful creatures. Telescopes are available to help visitors get a better view.
The butterfly grove is located off of Highway 1 at the southern end of Pismo Beach. Since the butterfly counts vary greatly each year, it’s suggested that visitors check out the website prior to planning a trip.
Stroll The Pismo Pier
The 1,370-foot-long wooden pier is probably the most famous landmark in Pismo Beach. It’s a great place to stroll to appreciate views of the ocean and beach or to see what the local fishermen are catching. There’s a snack shop at the end of the pier if you get hungry. If you’re here for a romantic weekend getaway, then head to the pier to catch a sunset.
Relax At The Beach
With 17 miles of beach, Pismo State Beach is the ideal destination if you’re wanting to swim, surf, sunbathe, or just stroll the sand. If you’re looking for something a bit more unusual, try your hand at clamming -- just be sure to get a permit first.
Pismo State Beach is one of only a few public beaches in the state of California that allow guests to drive their cars on the sand. This is only permitted in certain areas, so be sure to check the local signage.
Kayak Through The Sea Caves
Adventure seekers can schedule a tour of the sea caves located along the Pismo Beach coast. Most of the sea caves in this area are only accessible by water, making them some of the lesser-known attractions in town.
Central Coast Kayaks describes its 3-hour cave excursion as exhilarating and at times strenuous. But you’ll be rewarded with views of kelp forests, grottoes, and marine life.
Go Tide Pooling
Formed in depressions along the shoreline of rocky coasts, tide pools are filled with seawater that gets trapped as the tide recedes. Often they are packed with sea life like barnacles, mussels, anemones, urchins, sea stars, crustaceans, and small fish. There are dozens of spots along Pismo Beach’s coast where you can enjoy these tide pools.
Eldwayen Ocean Park is a nice place to see tide pools. Look for a wooden set of stairs at the north end of the park -- it leads to the beach and the tide pools. Margo Dodd Park is another option if you’d like to see both tide pools and sea caves. Spyglass Park offers tide pools that are a bit more remote, but definitely worth the trip. Follow the trail down to the beach and then climb over the rocks to the small sandy beach.
Before venturing out to the tide pools, be sure the tide is out and that you can safely return before the tide comes in.
Where To Eat In Pismo Beach
If you love seafood, then Pismo Beach is the place for you. And if you specifically enjoy clams, you’ll be happy you made the trip. At one time, the city was known as the Clam Capital of the World. This may be a small town, but it’s loaded with great restaurants at all price points to make your weekend getaway perfect.
Here are some of the best.
If you’re looking for a fine-dining experience with an excellent view, head to Oyster Loft. Many locals consider this their go-to restaurant for special occasions. The must-have items here are, of course, the oysters, but you can’t go wrong with any of the seafood entrees.
The Cracked Crab takes pride in serving locally caught fish and seafood as well as produce sourced from the region’s farms. The decor is casual and well suited to a dining experience that can be messy. There’s nothing like digging into a platter of crab legs!
Clam chowder aficionados should head to Splash Cafe. One of the oldest restaurants in Pismo Beach, this place proudly serves more than 30,000 gallons of chowder each year. For an extra treat, order it in a house-baked sourdough bread bowl! Be prepared for a wait, since this is one of the most popular restaurants in town.
Pismo Fish And Chips
Family-owned Pismo Fish and Chips has been around since 1963. And as its name implies, the fish and chips are the main event. In fact, many locals say they are the best you'll ever taste. Be sure to try the excellent clam chowder as well.
Where To Stay In Pismo Beach
This popular seaside destination does not lack for nice hotels and inns. While there are chain hotels in the area, many of the independently owned hotels offer scenic locations, well-appointed rooms, and friendly service.
Here are some of my favorite places to stay in the area.
SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel
Sitting high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel is an ideal home base from which to explore Pismo Beach. Enjoy the view from the terrace or head down the stairs to the beach. For a romantic weekend, splurge on a room with a balcony and an ocean view. Amenities include a continental breakfast, a pool, a hot tub, and an on-site restaurant.
Inn At The Cove
Located on a secluded cove, the Inn at the Cove provides guests with ocean views from every room. And if you’re hoping to travel with your pet, this hotel is happy to help. Amenities include a continental breakfast, pool, and electric car charging station.
Cottage Inn By The Sea
Inspired by the English countryside, the Cottage Inn by the Sea has a lovely oceanfront location where it’s hard to escape views of the water. Choose from a garden or ocean-view room; all rooms have fireplaces. Amenities include a continental breakfast, a pool, and luxury toiletries.
If You’ve Got More Time
There’s plenty to do in Pismo Beach over the course of a weekend, but if you have more time, consider venturing out a bit farther.
Just 30 minutes outside of Pismo are three historic winemaking regions: Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande, and Avila Valley. Dozens of wineries throughout the area offer tasting rooms and tours. Or head an hour north to visit the spectacular Hearst Castle, built by the publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
Pismo Beach can be both a destination in and of itself and a base from which to explore more of California’s rugged Central Coast.