If you are looking for a relaxing stay in a beach town without all the hub bub of a big city, Pismo Beach and the surrounding area are going to suit your fancy.
The central coast mecca of surfing and beach relaxation are within a short distance of both Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo for those looking for a quick flight to the beach, as well as along Highway 101, making a road trip to the beach pretty straightforward.
We traveled there this October, just at the end of the summer tourism season, and are glad we did. Besides maybe Saturday and a little bit on Sunday, there were no crowds, no waits to eat anywhere, and the beach was practically empty save a few local surfers.
Pismo Beach is a small town, but has several beautiful areas you can stay. Shell Beach, Avila Beach, and of course downtown Pismo Beach all have plenty of short-term rentals through services like VRBO, which we highly recommend in order to stay in a “local” place. While there are hotel options floating around, staying in a condo or a small beach house is far more fun.
Check out deals from VRBO here:
What to do in Pismo Beach:
We explored Pismo Beach for two weeks, sometimes with our kids, and other times just by ourselves. Here are our favorite things to do for each of these different explorations:
- Beach time: There is so much perfect sand on Pismo Beach, that spending time building sandcastles, playing in the (shallow) waves (beware of undertow out deeper!!!), and simply running around, the beach here was a major highlight.
- The Dinosaur Caves: While the park is small, it’s a fun little area, and more importantly, if you walk a little along the cliffs, you’ll find a stairway that goes down to small, rocky areas perfect for exploring. Honestly I think I had more fun down there than the kids, but they had fun too. Watch tide schedules, though, as the water comes in and out down there pretty quick.
- Bowling / Arcade: There’s a big bowling alley and arcade right on the main strip. Not necessarily an essential Pismo thing, but it was fun to do for a bit, especially with the vintage feel.
- Running on the shore: Right where the water comes up to the sand, the hard pack makes for a great running surface. We loved going on jogs along the beach.
- 4wheeling the dunes: Don’t tell the kids you’re doing this one, but just south of Pismo Beach, in Oceana, there is a 1700 acre sand dune play area, where ATVs and 4wheelers are allowed. It was one of the coolest experiences. While there are rentals for kids, we thought it was a fun outing for us adults
- The local bar scene: If you’re looking for a cold beverage or a fancy drink, Pismo Beach has bar varieties for everyone.
Best places to eat in Pismo Beach
We tried probably 70% of the restaurants in Pismo Beach during our two week stay in the area. There were several great choices, and honestly we never ate anything we hated, but below are our favorites during our two weeks in town and in the surrounding areas:
- Woody’s – Right off the boardwalk/pier, this is a great (and affordable!) option for families. Try and get there 30 minutes before sunset to get the best view in the area. The food is good, we highly recommend the BBQ burger and the tacos, both highlights.
- Pepe’s – A little shack four blocks off the beach, Pepe’s was the best tacos we found the entire time we were there and we returned twice to try different flavors. Daily specials make this a great lunch spot. Small seating area inside and outside. It gets crowded, and expect to wait 10 minutes before your food is ready. The homemade tortillas were insane.
- Chipwrecked – This one is mostly for the novelty, but we loved that there is a small hole-in-the-wall joint that focuses almost exclusively on homemade artisan potato chips. Definitely worth a stop for a quick snack. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it one time.
Things to do around Pismo Beach
If you’re looking for a few outings out of the beach town, here are some of our favorite activities that we tried while we were in the area:
- Mountain biking – Right outside San Luis Obispo there are some world-class trails. We had a local guide show us the routes, and we absolutely fell in love with the loose rock trails mixed with dirt. Plenty of spots in the area to rent bikes, so don’t worry about bringing your horse with you.
- Hiking – Nothing too crazy, but there are several great coastal trails, great for both kids and adults. Some short, some steep, but options for everyone. Not very many long trails, so plan on 1-3 hour treks. Bring water, as it gets surprisingly humid.
- San Luis Obispo farmer’s market. This is a must. One of the biggest markets, every Thursday night, downtown SLO shuts down and turns into a fantastic food experience from all the local restaurants. Get there a little early to avoid the longer food lines. Starts at 6PM and seems like it runs year-round.
- Nipomo Wine Country – Lots of great wineries about a 20 minute drive from Pismo Beach. My wife loves wine, I do not, but she seemed to enjoy her time there. Several are kid friendly, but call the specific winery you’re hoping to visit to make sure before you get there.
All things considered, we highly recommend visiting Pismo Beach and would go there again in a heartbeat to enjoy a relaxing vacation on the beach, but with plenty to do in the surrounding area to keep things fresh.