Pismo Beach

I must admit, that these Covid 19 shutdowns has made it extremely hard to be active. I’ve become so lazy in fact, that it has taken me a while to write this story.  So, pay no attention to the Christmas lights in the photos even though we are only a few weeks shy of the start of summer.

Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this piece about an amazing town on the Central Coast of California, otherwise known as Slo Cal.  This moniker is fitting, as this part of the coastline has a slower pace and is less populated than other seaside counties.  So, it is no wonder that this story is written by an equally slow and sluggish, ‘former shutdown survivor’.

Pismo Beach and Everything Nearby:

My brain was screaming, “I need to get out!!”   More specifically out of town!  After being locked up by Covid 19, it was time for a staycation.

You know, California gets a bad rap because of the political climate and policies; therefore, I am not touching on those subjects with a ten-foot pole.  What I’m talking about is travel and exploration while taking the time to discover all that this state has to offer. There are tons of beaches, mountains, deserts, lakes, rivers, streams, plus so much more!

So, we leave the current events at home and head up our incredible coast to, Pismo Beach.

Covid Times:

Traveling during the Covid 19 crisis is a lot different than at other times as it provided a few challenges. For one, all the restaurants were closed for any kind of dining while California was in one of its more restrictive tiers.  So, we knew take-out would be the order of the day… make that morning and night too.

On the bright side, traffic was nonexistent as we decided to travel in the morning instead of the dreaded rush- hour that we know oh so well in Southern California. 

This was a time when people were still isolating themselves so we suspected the weekend would be filled with another challenge, social distancing. 

Our goal was to get outside and enjoy ocean breezes as well as much needed… fresh air. Between going to the beach and fishing as we planned, we could easily separate ourselves from other people. 

The drive went by surprisingly fast as we made it up the coast in record time.  It was only four hours from our starting point of North County San Diego.

Even though it was the beginning of our winter, Mother Nature still treated us to a weekend of beautiful weather. The nights were cool, but the days were pleasant and comfortable.

Only a few blocks from the pier, our hotel was just steps from the beach and not at a price that would break the bank either. It wasn’t fancy but it was clean and fresh which was fine with us.

The beach on the north side of the pier was expansive and seemed to go on for miles. Taking advantage of the agreeable weather, there were tons of people wandering about on the sand.  You were hard pressed to come within 50 feet of any of them, which made social distancing not a problem.

As the day faded away,  the sunset was gorgeous as the vibrant oranges splashed the sky like they often do in the short winter days in California.

Pismo Pier:

As a center piece in the city, the Pismo Pier is quaint and simple.  A huge colorful sign at the base of the pier lets visitors know exactly where they are…P-I-S-M-O  B-E-A-C-H.

At 1,200 feet long, the pier is short compared to others and it is absent of the other normal features such as, restaurants, cafes, and shops. In their place were three silver Streamline trailers situated at the entrance. 

Although they were closed for the evening, we saw at least one that had a food menu and a cozy little seating area. We made a note to come back in the daylight hours although we assumed that it would be closed because of Covid restrictions.

The Pier at night. Streamliner at the right.

Maybe in the future, when we are allowed to sit down in a restaurant, this would be a great place to kick back and enjoy the backdrop of this sprawling scenic shoreline.

The Seaside:

Although Pismo is one of the more visited towns along the Central Coast, it still has the charm of a smaller one. The shoreline is brimming with spectacular cliffs and offshore rock formations while the big blue Pacific Ocean, dances in the background.

One very wonderful feature about Pismo Beach is that they allow dogs to romp around on the sand, albeit, only with a leash.

It is a small price to pay to have our furry friends along with us to enjoy the day…or night.

Even though it was a chilly winter evening by California standards, there were dozens of people out- and- about on this weekend night.

A short walk to the pier led us to that large illuminated sign where tourists were taking photos and enjoying the night air. Just steps from the pier entrance, the clinking of glasses blended with the scent of freshly prepared sea food.

This is the heart of the city where locals as well as visitors go to eat, drink, and shop.  

Shell Beach:

The next day, the sun was straining to free itself from the clouds, so we bundled up, and headed to explore the general area a little more.

Up the road from our hotel, sits the small community of Shell Beach. 

Essentially, it’s a part of Pismo Beach although you would be hard pressed to find it on a map. 

This small town is perched high on the bluffs, so to reach the beach you either use a trail or a man-made stairway.

We found an entrance area where sturdy stairs allowed you quick access to a rocky beach.

However, the waves were crashing violently onto the cliffs so there was no way we could make it all the way to water’s edge. Luckily, I had my trusty tide ‘ap’ and determined that the high tide had peaked and it was headed towards low.

So, we decided that we would buy some time and go fishing eleven miles up the coast to the wharf at Avila Beach. Avila Beach is another place you should check out while in the area.

Avila Beach Wharf

A few hours later, we made our way back and sure enough the tide had receded enough for us to safely step on to the beach. It is amazing that only a few hours earlier we could have risked our lives just standing where we were now.

I am a beachcomber, so I was looking forward to seeing what this place had to offer.  Sea glass is what I search for first but, sadly there wasn’t much. I think I found two pieces. Nor were there many shells which begged the question, why is it called Shell Beach?

Researching it later, evidently there are shells, we just didn’t see them when we were there.

Regardless, these are tremendously scenic beaches to explore, even if you don’t beachcomb. However, just as a suggestion, pay attention to the tides because they can make a difference in your day.

Driving on the Beach:

Speaking of tides, yet again they can determine your activities for the day.

Another unique feature of Pismo Beach is the fact that you can drive your car or truck on the beach.

There is a designated area just south of town where you can pay a small fee and actually take your vehicle out onto the sand.

We stopped by one day right before sunset and were surprised that it was only five dollars for the whole day usage.

Even though daylight was waning, you could see cars and trucks for miles.  Some were parked and bon fires were already being set up for the evening. 

It was interesting that they just let you dig a hole and create as large of a fire as you want.

We considered paying the nominal fee to experience this uncommon activity but decided against it after talking to the guard at the gate and reading the brochure.

We were informed that cars without four-wheel drive were only allowed at certain times, mainly because of the sand condition.

There are periods where the sand is hard and impacted, making it easy to drive on.  All of this is determined once again by the tides.

The brochure said to keep on the paths but with my inexperience and the impending low visibility, I decided, maybe another day.

Luckily, I was able to experience this many years ago, but I highly recommend it for any of you that are visiting the area.

Butterfly’s are Free:

Heading back into town, there is another rare experience, the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.

At least 10,000 butterflies flock annually to this Eucalyptus grove in south Pismo. 

Seeking shelter from the cold, these vibrant orange monarchs nestle high up into the trees where you can barely see them with the naked eye.

The day we visited, binoculars were available to be checked out but, my cameras telephoto easily viewed them close up.

It is a must see especially since it is free, unfortunately, they only migrate here in the months of October to February.

A Short Weekend Comes to an End:

The warm and inviting aroma of a warm cinnamon bun hit our nostrils like a Mack truck.

So we took a short walk to find out where that appealing smell was coming from. Judging by the line at the door, others were being lured here also. 

Lines at doors are common, as the food in Pismo Beach is exceptionally delicious.

On other trips, while traveling up the coast, I have had to pull into town just so a friend or two can get the local clam chowder. Chowder that they claim is one of a kind. 

But cinnamon buns? Not exactly sea food, but I was going to wait in line, darn it!

They were worth the wait and easily gobbled down.

Pismo Beach is a lively town, it reminds me of a college town where bars and restaurants are abundant. Yet, it still has that small-town feel.

With belly full, we took one more stroll on the beach to say goodbye to the Christmas tree lights at the tip of the pier.

Delicious food, driving on the beach, butterflys, scenic beaches, and warm cinnamon buns, what else could you ask for?  

So consider the vibrant Pismo Beach for one of your California staycations, you won’t be sorry.

Photos and story: Debbie Colwell


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