California’s central coast earned the nickname “The American Riviera” for good reason. Visitors and residents alike flock to its four regions to enjoy the best of what the Golden State has to offer. Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the 16-city San Luis Obispo region is the epitome of all-things-California. Pismo Beach sits in the heart of the region’s wine country. But sipping vino while watching a spectacular sunset isn’t your only option. This destination is full of fun things to do no matter what type of experience you’re looking for.
Pismo Beach is a surfing hot spot. Wave riders from all over the state travel here year-round to enjoy this surfer’s paradise. Who says you have to be a pro to join in? Instead of being a spectator, sign up for a surfing lesson. Look for schools that furnish both the board and the wetsuit. If you realize you’ve found your new favorite pastime, you can stop by the renowned Pismo Beach Surf Shop—the first surf shop on the Central Coast—and pick up some gear or schedule a paddleboarding tour.
The best things in life are free. Hike, bike, or jump on a horse and explore the 880-acre Pismo Preserve. There’s no entrance fee to enter the Preserve. Eleven miles of trails lead you to unforgettable Pacific Ocean vistas and across serene oak woodland habitats. Pack your camera, because you may catch sight of local wildlife, as well. You can bring along your favorite canine, as long as they’re on a leash. You’ll find the Preserve’s entrance just off Highway 101 in Pismo Beach.
While some cities have town squares, others, like Pismo Beach, have a pier. Originally built in 1924, the pier reopened in 2018 following an $8.7 million renovation. It stretches 1200-feet out over the Pacific ocean. As the evening rolls in, feast your eyes on one of the most beautiful sunsets on the California coast. A 60-acre beach surrounds the pier. Play volleyball, watch surfers ride the waves, keep an eye out for whale migrations, or fish for red snapper, no license required. More than one million people visit the pier every year.
Around 30,000 black Monarch butterflies head to Pismo Beach each year during the colder months. Winter home to one of the largest colonies in the nation, the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove opens in late October and closes again at the end of February, although the surrounding park trails are open year-round. Hang out with the Monarchs among the majestic Eucalyptus trees and commune with nature. Travel south for a mile down Highway 1 to find the refuge.
Just south of downtown Pismo Beach, off-road enthusiasts gather at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area to play in one of nature’s giant sandboxes. This 23-mile stretch of coastline nearby is the only beach in the state that allows people to drive on it. Rent an ATV at the park entrance and explore the most extensive coastal sand dunes in California. Afterward, head to the beach to enjoy swimming, surfing, fishing, and hiking. Camping facilities are available, but fill up quickly during holiday periods.
Pismo Beach is a foodie’s delight. For those who love beautiful views and fabulous food, this is the city for you. Reviewers have listed two local restaurants among the most scenic restaurants in the country. Ventana Grill’s popular Sunday brunch offers an ever-changing menu with a variety of seafood, salads, desserts and other specialties. Enjoy your meal while taking in its magnificent Pacific Ocean views. The Oyster Loft serves upscale cuisine, regional seafood dishes, and fresh oysters. Dine indoors, or experience the mesmerizing evening views of Pismo Beach while dining on the patio. Reservations are recommended.
For the past 43 years, musicians have entertained audiences with swing, big band, zydeco, and traditional New Orleans music at the annual Jazz Jubilee by the Sea. The three-day festival occurs during the last weekend in October at five different venues and features than 20 different bands. If you can’t make it to Pismo Beach during the festival, you can still catch year-round jazz performances on the last Sunday of each month at the Veteran’s Memorial Building.
If you’re looking for the ultimate wine-tasting experience, Pismo Beach is the perfect destination. You’ll find several tours offering visits to picturesque vineyards in Pismo Beach and nearby San Luis Obispo. Wine Enthusiast magazine named a local establishment, Pismo’s Tastes of the Valleys, as one of the top 20 wine bars in the country. Experience taste comparisons of groups of similar wines—an experience called wine flights—put together by experts to make finding your favorite vintage a little easier.
Head to Avila Beach, a short 10-minute drive from Pismo Beach. Immerse yourself in a hot mineral bath or swim in a pool of naturally heated water from the nearby mineral springs. Those seeking a whole-body rejuvenation will also find a variety of spas, world-class massages, yoga, and other types of therapies to indulge in. Afterward, grab your binoculars, reserve a table at a beachside restaurant, and enjoy some whale watching and local fare.
When high tide arrives in Pismo Beach, it’s time to jump aboard a kayak and explore the coastline. Rent a kayak and head out on your own or book a guided sea cave tour, lighthouse tour, or fishing tour. If you’re more interested in exploring the sea life and shore environment in the Pismo Beach area, sign up for one of the naturalist tours. Take an introductory kayaking class to learn the basics and start your paddling career.