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Stops on the Way

California Dreamin’ at Pismo Beach

Experience the West Coast's surf and wine culture in this vibrant beach town between Channel Islands and Yosemite.

When you arrive in Pismo Beach, you’ll feel as if you’ve landed in the California beach town you’ve always dreamed of.

With its vibrant downtown packed with tourist beach stores, locally owned restaurants and surf shops, park your car and start experiencing the California coastal culture you’ve seen in the movies. Don’t miss walking its iconic pier that was completely rebuilt recently.

Surfer near the pie in Pismo Beach
A surfer makes his way back to the beach near the renovated pierCourtesy of Pismo Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau

On your way to the pier, check out Pismo’s newest beachfront hotel, Vespera on Ocean, a Marriott Autograph Hotel Collection. ( It offers oceanfront dining and upscale beach-style rooms. Inn at the Pier, a craftsman-style hotel with boutique rooms, is also a newcomer to the scene. If you’re looking for beachside RV camping without the wind, head to Pismo Coast Village RV Resort. Located on 26 acres with a heated pool and walking distance to town, even some locals camp there. Or stay at one of the newest hotels in town, Inn at the Pier.

Vespera on Ocean hotel on Pismo Beach near the pier
New hotel on Pismo Beach near the pier, Vespera on OceanPhoto by Shannon McMillen Photography courtesy of Vespera on Ocean

Elsewhere around town, you’ll get a sense for the town’s whimsical sense of humor. There’s a wave-shaped bike rack, a surf-board table along the sidewalk and signs that read, “Don’t be crabby! You’re in Pismo Beach” and another one that reads,  “A gourmet meal without a glass of wine is tragic.”

It’s real California, and these sights capture this iconic beach town’s laid-back vibe and its proximity to 27 wineries in the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley wine regions.

Wine tasting in a vineyard near Pismo Beach
Wine tasting in a vineyard near Pismo BeachCourtesy of Pismo Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau

Before surfing became vogue, Pismo Beach lay claim to the “clam capital of the world.” Even Bugs Bunny, the famous cartoon rabbit in Looney Tunes, knew of Pismo’s sea treasure. In 1957, Bugs Bunny said, “Well, here we are! Pismo Beach and all the clams we can eat.” But the clams, once so abundant, were over-harvested. Today, head to the Pismo Beach Clam Festival in October where 15,000 people usually gather for the three-day event. It features live music, food trucks, a local clam chowder contest and wine walk. For some excellent clam chowder during the rest of the year, stop by the Splash Cafe or one of the other great restaurants in town.

The Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach
The Splash Cafe in Pismo BeachTori Peglar

Explore the New Pismo Preserve

Get outside and into nature at Pismo Preserve, a 900-acre gorgeous piece of property lined with more than 10 miles of ranch roads and trails. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk. Trails will be closed when wet.

It’s well worth the trip as you’ll explore oak woodlands and coastal ridge lines, which give way to incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. The Pismo Preserve is located just off California’s scenic Highway 101 in Pismo Beach. Visit The Land Conservancy website at to view hours and conditions.

Flutter Around with Butterflies in Winter

Pismo Beach Monarch Butterflies
Monarchs flock to Pismo Beach seeking shelter from cold northern wintersPhoto courtesy of Pismo Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau

Along with travelers, thousands of monarch butterflies descend on Pismo Beach for part of the year. Between late October through February, stop by the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, a half mile south of town just off Hwy. 1.

On average, 25,000 monarch butterflies winter in Pismo Beach. It’s one of the largest monarch butterfly colonies in North America. No one knows for sure why these butterflies return year after year to the same place, especially since no butterfly lives long enough to make the trip twice. Some scientists suspect the butterflies have a genetic homing device that leads them to ancestral wintering sites. Interestingly, the lifespan of the monarchs that spend time in Pismo Beach is six months, as opposed to the common monarch that lives about six weeks.

For more information and to check out current lodging specials:

Monarch Butterfly Grove

Central Coast Tourism