Pismo Beach – all things to all people — couples, families and even dogs — elegant and rustic, relaxing and adventurous, beaches and trails, romantic and just sheer fun. Sun yourself or surf at the beach, bike or hike on the trails and bring your pup along as long as he’s on a leash, dinner for two or lots of kid-friendly things to do. It’s all there and just a three-hour car ride from Los Angeles.
“What’s unique about Pismo is we’re a beach community with oceanfront hotels and affordable vacation rentals and one of our unique selling points is we have a wine region with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay just about 10 minutes away,” says resident John Sorgenfrei.
“With the gasoline prices, it’s just about a tank of gas to get up here from Southern California and once you’re here, you really don’t have to go very far to enjoy yourself,” Sorgenfrei continues. “There’s the wine region and there are tasting rooms within the town itself, and a variety of different kinds of dining.”
There is also an assortment of places to stay that offer different price points including many oceanfront hotels like the magnificent Cliffs Hotel and Spa, the lovely Seacrest Oceanfront Hotel and the two newest – the Inn at the Pier and the Vespera Resort, and guests who book during the week days always get the better deals. There are incredible vacation rentals available and two RV parks with all the amenities of home, and then some – topped with beautiful ocean views.
Mayor Ed Waage has lived in Pismo since 1993. He became the city’s mayor in 2016, but served on the City Council for eight years before that.
His love of the area is obvious as he speaks about the exquisite beaches with their incredible white sand. He is very proud of all the work the city has done in recent years, including a $13 million dollar improvement of Shell Beach with a bike/pedestrian path, new lighting and all utilities moved underground. They also made some enhancements to the adjacent Dinosaur Caves Park, their largest park.
Waage says the outdoors was their calling card during the Pandemic when airlines were shuttered and people wanted an escape. It was then that many discovered Pismo Beach. “A lot of places closed down, but we did not. Pismo is wide open,” he says. “The outdoors is pretty safe and we noticed people coming from Northern and Southern California because they were trying to find places they could drive to.”
A few years ago, the city helped finance the Pismo Preserve, nearly 900 acres of trails with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean for dawn to dusk walking and biking pleasure.
They’ve spruced up their quaint downtown palm tree-lined area as well with pavers instead of sidewalks and new street lighting. There are lots of wonderful new eateries, bars and surf shops – your typical beach town downtown — and in addition to the boutique stores, there’s a mall full of outlet stores where you can purchase 40 of your favorite brands at discounted prices.
Sorgenfrei says the Pismo downtown restaurant scene offers both intimate and family dining choices with a diversity of food from everything including Mexican, fresh seafood, and Italian. Some establishments even allow dogs, but it’s a good idea to check first.
Waage says Harry’s Night Club and Beach Bar downtown closed a few years ago, but recently reopened under new management and it is completely remodeled and he calls it a “spectacular transformation.” The bar offers nightly live music and a large dance floor.
The mayor also mentions the Oyster Loft and Wooly’s Beach Bar and Grill downtown, and that there are many outdoor dining options.
Waage says every one of them has its version of clam chowder since Pismo was once known as the Clam Capital of the World when clams were in abundance. Waage explains that, although the area’s clams declined about 30 years ago, they are in the process of returning.
“We helped fund a study through Cal Poly State University and they’ve been monitoring the comeback. They’re not big enough to harvest yet, but they are coming back,” Waage says. “But we have the best clam chowder.”
You can get clam chowder on the newly renovated pier as well. The mayor says he and his wife love to walk the length of the pier and particularly now, since in 2018 they restored the historic pier which was originally constructed in 1924. They reinforced the structure, but kept its classic look and at the same time changed the rules to allow food on the pier. They purchased airstream trailers – one as a visitor center for information and souvenirs, one for bait, poles and snacks and another for a steak and seafood restaurant.
“You can now dine on the pier, enjoy a nice glass of wine and enjoy life,” Waage says.
At the entrance of the Pier Plaza, the spectacular seven-foot-tall letters that spell out Pismo Beach welcome visitors. That’s everyone’s favorite selfie place by day with the beach in the background and at night all lit up in dazzling colors, which enhances everyone’s nighttime experience on the pier.
“It’s not quite like the Hollywood sign in Southern California,” the mayor says with a laugh, “but it’s getting close. It’s a popular place where people hang out and relax. There’s a play area for children and it’s a gateway to the beach,” Waage says, adding that they’ve installed artwork and new restrooms on the pier.
The mayor also mentions the safety of the city with its award-winning police department and wonderful fire department and that they are undertaking the repaving of a third of the roads in the city.
With weather somewhere in between Southern and Northern California, just like its location, it’s the ideal vacation spot, particularly summertime and fall. But if you want to see the Monarch Butterflies during their annual visit, you will want to come from late October to February when the butterflies cluster in the limbs of a grove of Eucalyptus trees at Pismo State Beach. Pismo’s colony is one of the largest in the nation, some years hosting an average of 25,000 butterflies.
While in Pismo, lots of guests take the opportunity to explore the surrounding areas as well as it is less than a 20-minute drive to San Luis Obispo and an hour to an hour and a half to the iconic Hearst Castle.
And speaking of Hearst Castle, when William Randolph Hearst first built the lavish castle in San Simeon, in the roaring 20’s and 30’s, it was quite the allure for such stars as Clark Cable, Orson Wells and Carol Lombard and they would stop and stay over in Pismo Beach on the way to the castle.
Pismo was on a lot of some big celebrities’ radar. Even Bugs Bunny’s in a 1957 cartoon. After he and Daffy Duck made it through a tunnel he thought he was in Pismo Beach and he said, “all the clams we can eat.”
Sorgenfrei believes Pismo should be on everyone’s radar.
“It’s the perfect place for a romantic getaway for two and it’s a great place for a family,” Sorgenfrei says.