When it comes to California beach towns, you can’t get much better than Pismo Beach. Nestled between Los Angeles and San Francisco in SoCal, Pismo Beach is a world away from California’s big cities. Located alongside the Pacific Ocean coastline there are ocean views for days, along with more fresh seafood than anyone could possibly eat, and pristine beaches to call your home away from home.
But don’t give in to beachy dreams just yet, Pismo Beach is far from sleepy. The beaches are just a highlight of what this place has to offer.
Here are 17 things to do in Pismo Beach, California, that we know you’re going to love.
COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN PISMO BEACH
- Best Budget Hotel. Edgewater Inn and Suites is a two minute walk to the beach for cut rate prices without cut rate quality. Reviews highlight the cleanliness and comfort of this budget hotel.
- Best Ocean View. Vespera Resort on Pismo Beach, Autograph Collection features top rated, fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean. Pismo State Beach is just steps away from the hotel, which also boasts a restaurant and terrace where you can hang out and enjoy the view.
- Best For Families. Pismo Lighthouse Suites is rated highly for families, with a pool, playground, and mini-golf, all just minutes from the beach.
MONARCH BUTTERFLY GROVE
Tourists aren’t the only ones flocking to Pismo Beach. Monarch butterflies love to winter in the town, as well as several other places around it in San Luis Obispo County. From November to February, the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove has one of the largest overwintering western monarch populations anywhere, according to the park’s website.
Why? Like any migratory creature, monarchs need the perfect environment to call home at any given time. Coastal California gives them the shelter they need from frigid temperatures and the weather patterns of the area also protect them from the devastation of storms.
Park visitors are welcome to observe the brightly colored butterflies, while learning from experts all about them, as well as the conservation efforts in place to protect the monarchs.
Grab a bite, get some bait or slide down to the beach (literally) at Pismo Beach Pier Plaza. Like other famous California, ocean-side piers, Pismo Pier offers visitors a chance to take a break from life with a variety of things to do for the whole family.
Kiddos can play on a Humpback Whale play area that seemingly “emerges” from the water design on the Pier Plaza, while parents grab something tasty from a nearby food truck.
The resident Airstream trailers at the pier enhance the area’s vintage aesthetic while also providing concessions, souvenirs, and fishing supplies. (Fishing is free and welcome from Pismo Pier.) You can tell the fish are aplenty by the number of pelicans you’ll see lounging around.
PISMO STATE BEACH
Get ready to take part in one of the most popular outdoor activities you’ll find here — Pismo Beach surfing.
Beneath and around Pismo Pier is Pismo State Beach, a beloved watersports spot known by surfers as a great place to catch a wave. Surfline says the area is “the hub of south county surfing” and says the south side is better than the north side of Pismo for surfing. They also say the surfing at Pismo can be compared to a place like Huntington, except the water is colder here.
Plus the Pismo Pier is lit up at night, so anyone who loves a nighttime surf session will be happy hanging out at Pismo State Beach. Though the water is shallower around this beach and less windy than Avila Beach, so don’t expect huge wave swells here, according to Surfline.
OCEANO DUNES STATE VEHICULAR RECREATION AREA
Right next to Pismo State Beach, you’ll find the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area — a place where you can go off-roading.
Bring your OHV (off-highway vehicle) and have a blast exploring this fun area. In addition to off-roading, you can also find swimming, surfing, surf fishing, camping and hiking here.
BOARDING IN PISMO BEACH
Surfing isn’t the only water sport popular in Pismo Beach! Another local favorite is stand-up paddle boarding, and even boogie boarding. There are plenty of shops around the beach to rent any boards you might need for your day of catching waves, no matter how you choose to catch them.
Especially for folks who aren’t experienced surfers, Surf Learner says bodyboarding is easier to do than surfing. They say that bodyboards are easier to paddle, wave riding feels more natural and bodyboarders can lie down to catch waves rather than having to balance.
So give it a try while you’re out! Maybe you’ll find you have a knack for it.
DINOSAUR CAVES PARK
Full disclosure: this is not Jurassic Park…although there are dinosaurs! Back in the 1940’s, there was a huge concrete dinosaur at this location where visitors could walk through its tail to get to an underground sea cavern (according to californiabeaches.com). Unfortunately, that cave has since collapsed, but the park remains!
Dinosaur Caves Park doesn’t have beach access, though it has plenty of green space for everyone to enjoy (even on-leash pups). Although visitors can’t walk to the cove anymore, it is possible to kayak to it. Shelter Cove is an easy kayaking journey away from the park with lots of rocky architecture to enjoy. Central Coast Kayaks offers a popular Cave Excursion Tour.
MARGO DODD PARK
Within viewing distance of Dinosaur Caves Park is Margo Dodd Park, a gorgeous spot overlooking the ocean on a bluff. With picnic tables, a gazebo, and lots of open space, this is a perfect picnic spot. Be sure to bring binoculars, you birders and animal lovers… there are plenty of both to be found here!
Unlike its neighboring park, however, there is beach access at Margo Dodd. This is a great area to go snorkeling and observe tide pools. Those tide pools are probably why there are so many birds around. We love to watch for hermit crabs scuttling around — see how many you can find hiding in or around the tide pools!
AVILA HOT SPRINGS
Right near Avila Beach is the legendary Avila Hot Springs. Discovered at the top of the 20th century, Avila Hot Springs has been a destination for over 100 years. Like the rest of Pismo Beach, the weather at the hot springs is considered “some of the best weather on the Central Coast.”
There are cabins on the property for guests to rent and the hot springs even have a masseuse on the property! RV and tent camping on the property is also welcome. Talk about a relaxing vacation!
Their swimming pools and hot mineral springs are both open year-round with varying seasonal hours.
Overlooking Pismo Beach is the stunning views of the Pismo Preserve. This nearly 900-acre nature preserve is open daily from dawn to dusk for visitors to soak in the area’s natural beauty.
There are over 11 miles of trails for visitors to enjoy, though the preserve’s website states that the trails may close if they are wet. Make time for the 5.4-mile Discovery Trail loop. This popular trail is great for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
You might even see cattle when you’re exploring the trails, depending on the time of year. From spring to fall, there are cattle rotated between two pastures in the preserve. So be sure you close gates behind you so there aren’t stray cattle roaming around Pismo!
Horses, leashed dogs, and bikes are allowed on trails, but electric bikes and motorized vehicles are not allowed. Horseback riding in the Pismo Preserve is a much-beloved activity and there is horse trailer parking available.
ELDWAYEN OCEAN PARK
This oceanfront park in the Shell Beach neighborhood is another scenic locale to enjoy ocean views. With beach access to more tide pools with luscious sand for lounging, Eldwayen Ocean Park is another spot for wildlife spotting.
With over a mile and a half of park to enjoy, there is plenty of space for activities. Spread out a blanket and take in some much-welcomed sunshine.
PISMO BEACH PREMIUM OUTLETS
Who doesn’t love an outdoor outlet mall? Pismo Beach Premium Outlets is a savings-centered destination with 40 stores like Coach, Polo Ralph Lauren, Kate Spade, Vans, and more. If you get snacky, pop into Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for a quick pick-me-up.
The outlet mall is open every day, though hours do vary. You can also sign up for their free VIP club to score more bonus offers.
NORTH BEACH CAMPGROUND
Located at Pismo State Beach, the North Beach Campground is where you can put down roots if you want to stay nearby in nature. Beach camping is available at this location with up to eight people per campsite (that includes children). Leashed pets are allowed and quiet hours are from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Campfires are allowed only in designated fire ring areas or in camp stoves. Please don’t start beach bonfires in non-fire areas. This is particularly important because the Monarch Butterfly Grove is nearby, so please protect the already endangered butterflies by keeping fires in their places.
A central eatery since 1989, Splash Café has been a popular spot for decades. Their site says they are one of the longest-standing restaurants on the Central Coast, and they serve more clam chowder at their Pismo Beach location in one year than other seafood restaurants serve in their lifetimes. They aren’t joking — they serve over 40,000 gallons of clam chowder per year.
The chowder is good here, too! Their chowder is so good that it consistently takes 1st place in the annual Pismo Beach Clam Festival.
This restaurant, which has a sister location in San Luis Obispo, is even a certified landmark. When you head back home, if you get a hankering for Splash’s clam chowder, you can have some shipped through Gold Belly. It’s seriously that popular.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that clams are abundant in Pismo Beach, especially given Splash Café’s bestselling clam chowder. So maybe spending time on the beach going clamming should be on the agenda.
According to Experience Pismo Beach, the Pismo Clam is one of the largest you’ll find on the California coastline. If they aren’t gobbled up by clammers or otters, they can grow up to 7 inches!
Clammers need to obtain a salt-water fishing license before going out on the hunt. You’ll also need a clam fork and a caliper to measure the size of the clams you find. You can only catch ten per day, per person, and they must be 4 ½ inches in diameter to be legally taken from the beach. If a found clam is undersized, they must be put back in the hole they were taken from, per California state law.
Experience Pismo Beach suggests bringing a bucket and filling it with seawater to put the collected clams into. The reason is that when the clams are in the saltwater they will open a little bit and purge any impurities. This makes taking their shells off a lot easier.
CITY TO THE SEA TRAILS
The Bob Jones City to the Sea Trail (what a name!) is a short and sweet journey alongside the San Luis Obispo Creek down to the Pacific Ocean. Trail Link says there is a lot to see on this trail, including two private neighborhood communities, a golf course, a multitude of mature oak trees, a vineyard, and eventually the soft sands of Avila Beach.
Just shy of three miles long, the Bob Jones Trail is an easy jaunt through the area. Bikers, joggers, and walkers can all enjoy this trail at different paces.
Another beachfront park with sandy areas to relax and tide pools to enjoy, Spyglass Park is an accessible space for families. Not only are there handicapped parking options, but there are also accessible picnic areas as well.
Spyglass Park has a playground for kiddos, restrooms, barbecue areas, picnic tables, and ample parking for both vehicles and bikes. The beach access leads to over a mile and a half of the beachfront.
SAN LUIS OBISPO CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
The San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum is a beloved community institution. Originally opened in 1990, the museum went through a $5 million renovation from 2005 to June 2008. In June 2009, the final floor of the museum was re-opened and it was fully back! According to the museum, 50,000 guests visit each year to explore the interactive exhibits and new programming.
Strollers are not allowed inside the museum (they really packed the activities wall to wall) and adults cannot visit without kiddos. The museum is open Thursday – Monday.
The areas surrounding Pismo Beach have become local wine-making hot spots. According to Experience Pismo Beach, the historic winemaking areas of Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande, and Avila Valley are just 30 minutes outside of downtown — making them perfect for a winery road trip.
If you aren’t looking to venture that far out of town, there are many restaurants in Pismo Beach that serve local wine that is paired to complement whatever dish you are about to enjoy.
It only makes sense that wine is a highlight of the area. After all, Pismo Beach’s slogan is “Your Wine & Waves Destination.”
PISMO BEACH FAQ
What is Pismo Beach best known for?
Pismo Beach is best known for its beautiful location overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and for its amazing clams. Clamming is a popular pastime here, and the annual Clam Festival should not be missed.
Is Pismo Beach worth visiting?
Beach lovers should absolutely visit Pismo Beach. In addition to the beautiful beaches, you’ll also find amazing wine, parks, and water adventures here.
When is the best time to visit Pismo Beach?
Anytime is a good time to visit Pismo Beach, but if you’re looking for milder temps and plenty of things to do, consider a visit from September through November. In October, you can catch the annual Pismo Beach Clam Festival.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO CALIFORNIA
- YOUR CALIFORNIA VACATION
- TEMECULA: 12 Amazing Things To Do In Temecula, California
- BAKERSFIELD: 13 Best Things To Do In Bakersfield, California
- BODEGA BAY: 11 Amazing Things To Do In Bodega Bay
- LONG BEACH: 14 Things To Do In Long Beach, CA For Coastal Fun
WHERE TO STAY IN PISMO BEACH
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