5 Ways To Dig The “Vibe” In Pismo Beach, CA
Having secured our Spring Break spot we settled into a laid-back week of hanging & exploring around the Pismo area. The town itself was completely new to us. We’d visited nearby SLO (San Luis Obispo) many times in our pre-RV days, but we’d never been to Pismo Beach so we didn’t really know if we’d like it. It took all of about 30 seconds to figure out we LOVED it, and the feeling really didn’t change the whole time we were here.
As a traveler I always find this phenomenon fascinating. Every town I know has a “vibe” and either that vibe resonates with you or it doesn’t. Some rare towns need an extra look and grow on you over time, but most are either instant connections (or disconnects), kind of like two strangers sharing love at first sight.
In a way this makes perfect sense. The feelings you have about a place are really no different than any relationship, and so those same wishy, washy completely non-scientific emotions come into play. In our travels both Paul and I feel town vibes almost instantly. We usually know right away if we’re going to love a place and we typically feel exactly the same about every place we go. This synchronicity is also what makes us such great travel companions, no doubt.
And so it felt in Pismo Beach. The State Park was relaxed and green. The beach was awesome and the town had that nice laid-back surfer vibe that we instantly connected with. A bit touristy no doubt, but not so much that it had lost it’s personality and not so over-developed that it had lost it’s heart. Plus the entire area is just BUSTING with natural beauty and SUPER dog-friendly to boot. Drive a few miles and you can find a stunning spot all to yourself.
Here’s what we got up to and our top pics for feeling the “vibe” of the area:
1/ Beach Sunsets, Piers & Rides
One of biggest draws in Pismo is that you can access endless miles of beach just footsteps from your RV. Not only that but they really cater to everyone here. So whether you’re an ATV-nut, a horse-rider, doggie-lover or you just want to hang there’s plenty of beach for everyone.
In the South end of town are the famous Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, one of the largest dune complexes in all of California. They stretch 18 miles long and encompass several distinct areas from a large Wildlife Refuge at the very southernmost end, to a hugely popular OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) & Camping Recreation Area in the middle, to a smaller (lesser-known) Natural Preserve (a popular horse-riding area) at the top .
The central OHV area is probably the nuttiest area in the whole of Pismo. If you’re brave enough you can drive your RV onto the sand and camp here, but otherwise you’re free to take your car, ATV or any other vehicle with wheels and just play around. It’s not really our kinda thing so we just did an afternoon visit on our leg-powered ATV’s (i.e. our bicycles) so we could go and gawk at the rigs in the sand (Our verdict? Probably fun for some, but not for us).
North of the Dunes, from Grover Beach to Pismo Pier (right by downtown) is a huge multi-mile stretch of 100% dog-friendly, human-friendly playground. No cars allowed along this part of beach, so it’s quiet and relaxed. This is where we spent MOST of our time either walking to/from town with doggie, watching sunsets, strolling along the pretty Meadow Creek Trail, or just hanging on the beach. Plenty of spots to rent a surf board, SUP or kayak if you want to get on the water too.
2/ Brews And Food
Pismo Beach offers a offer a ton of decent food, brew and wine options. Downtown Pismo has all the usual “beach fare” (frozen yogurt, taffy etc.) as well as a few worthy eateries. A short drive south, Grover Beach/Arroyo Grande offers a surprising number of Asian spots (Thai, Japanese) plus a VERY nice brewery.
Beer-wise our absolute top pick for the area was definitely Figueroa Mountain Brewing. It’s not dog-friendly (sadly), but offers good food and superb beer! Not much for heavy Stout lovers here, but we really liked almost everything else we tried especially the Bella Mia Saison, Darby Brown (on cask), the Such A Dort Lager and ALL the IPA’s (Hoppy Hoppy, Double IPA, Imperial IPA). A “must do” for beer lovers. NO Dogs.
Food-wise our fav hit was the Splash Cafe, a local institution especially for Clam Chowder (although they have tacos and other stuff too) which was highly recommended by several of our fellow RV travelers. It definitely delivered and Paul raved about the Clam Chowder for days after. NO Dogs Allowed.
Coffee-wise our absolute top hit (and what became our regular morning walk) was The Orange Cat Cafe. A super cute cafe named after a 19-year old cat who still hangs out there everyday. Sip a tasty mocha in their grassy outdoor (doggie-friendly) area, pet the legendary cat (he’s a cutie) and just enjoy the laid-back atmosphere. Dogs OK!
3/ Hikes & Views (With Doggie)
One of the big draws of this part of the Central Coast is the endless abundance of open nature. From beach to hills, almost everything is ridiculously scenic and if you’re lucky enough to come in Spring you get the added bonus of green grass, California poppies (always a treat) and a multitude of other colorful blooms.
Probably the most famous area to hike around here is Montana De Oro State Park and it truly is superb (stunning, amazing, wish-you-were-here kind of place) but sadly the park doesn’t allow dogs on any of its trails (dogs allowed at Spooners Cove, but that’s it). So if you’re NOT hiking with paws, definitely go. Otherwise there are thankfully many other places where you can enjoy the views w/ pooch in tow:
- Dinosaur Caves (Pismo) -> Within the Pismo area, apart from the beach (of course) there’s a very scenic trail just north of town at the top of the cliffs in Dinosaur Caves Park which is 100% dog-friendly. It’s super short and easy (the park is only 11 acres in size), but it’s very lovely and a great way to see the sea caves without having to take a kayak tour. Coords for trail start: 35.154005, -120.666600
- Johnson Ranch/Irish Hills (SLO) -> Drive just ~10 miles inland from Pismo to San Luis Obispo and you enter a magical land of rolling green hills and endless miles of dog-friendly Open Nature Preserves. I never actually knew about these until my friend Lauren introduced them to me during our visit here, and I am sooooo thankful he did! Together with Polly we went on a fabulous 5-mile trail through old oak groves, running creeks and grassy hills absolutely bursting with spring flowers. Start your exploration at Johnson Ranch and either do a loop there or connect through to Irish Hills for a longer hike. One of the best doggie spots around IMHO!! Coords for trail start: 35.223422, -120.693304
- Morro Dunes Ecological Preserve (Los Osos) -> Around 10 miles west of San Luis Obispo is another hidden dog-friendly gem. Morro Dunes Ecological Preserve offers miles of paw-friendly trails that lead up a steep hill to a stunning overlook of Morro Bay. Polly and I did an awesome ~3-mile loop hike here and saw almost no-one else. NO trail signs though (I got lost at least 3 times) so make sure you download the map on THIS PAGE and keep some kind of GPS handy (a smartphone will do). Coords for trail start: 35.308454, -120.843157
4/ Afternoons At Avila Beach
If you head just 10 miles north on the coast from Pismo, you’ll hit the little town of Avila Beach. Snuggled into it’s own little cove, this is a popular week-end spot for beach goers, lighthouse lovers and doggie folks. It’s touristy and small and doesn’t offer many eating options, but it’s cute and has a few hidden gems:
- Point San Luis Lighthouse – A GORGEOUS lighthouse, but it’s only accessible via docent-led tram or hiking tours (only offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays) and you have to plan ahead to get in. We were lucky enough to come here a few years ago, so we didn’t go this time around, but if you’ve never been it’s well worth the visit! Click HERE for more info. NO Dogs Allowed.
- RV Beach Camping – Drive past town towards the Port and you’ll actually find a bunch of first-come-first-serve RV camping right by the beach (there’s also an overflow area up on the hill). It’s very scenic and you DO get full water views, but at $50/night (for dry-camping!) it’s not cheap. Click HERE and HERE for more info.
- Off-Leash Doggie Beach – In the same area as the RV Camping you’ll find the Avila doggie beaches (Fisherman’s Beach & Olde Port Beach), two totally off-leash-friendly spots for doggies to play and run in surf and sand. Click HERE for more info.
- PierFront Wine & Brew – Once you and doggie have tired of running on the beach, head on over to this craft beer and wine spot overlooking the pier in town. Good selection of brews and doggies are welcome in the outdoor seating area. Click HERE.
5/ Markets & Missions in San Luis Obispo
For an easy afternoon away from the beach, head ~10 miles inland to SLO to check out the Thursday night Farmers Market and the local Mission. The former is famous for it’s BBQ’s (and the very entertaining vendors that sell them). The latter is one of the 21 missions that comprise California’s Historic Mission Trail. It was built in 1772, has a great little museum and still operates today. NO doggies allowed at either location unfortunately, so leave pooch at home for this one.
There’s a TON more brews & restaurants in SLO too, but sadly Paul got sick with the flu and spent the last days of our stay drugged out in bed. So we didn’t really get a chance to check ’em out. Something for next time though, right?