Pismo Beach

Everybody loves Pismo Beach. It has the feel of one of the surf towns south of LA, but moved north: it sits about midway between Santa Barbara and Monterey.

If you're driving the Pacific Coast Highway then you can't miss Pismo Beach as Highway-101 and Highway-1 merge here and run right through it, and the small town of fewer than 10,000 people just begs you to stop. You have the ocean on one side and rolling California hills on the other. Both are good reasons to spend a few days here. The ocean's attractions are obvious and the hills contain the Pismo Preserve, hiking and cycling trails, and lead to some excellent vineyards where you can enjoy wine-tastings.

Photo Courtesy of Pismo Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau

Pismo Beach Clams

If you've heard of Pismo Beach it might well be because of the famous Pismo Beach Clams. The town's motto used to be 'Clam Capital of the World', and the clams here are the largest you'll find along the California coast, as they grow to up to seven inches.

If you want to go looking for clams then first you'll need a permit, and be aware of the limit of ten clams per person. You'll also need a lot of patience as the clams have been over-harvested and there are very few left these days. If you see clams or clam chowder on a menu here it's very likely the clams have come from elsewhere along the coast - but they'll still be tasty and may still be Pismo clams, as the clams are found in several places along the coast, not just in Pismo Beach. 

Photo Courtesy of Pismo Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau

The city still has its clam festival in October, which is lots of fun - and lots of clam chowder! Incidentally, the winner of the 2017 People's Choice award for best clam chowder went to the Splash Café

You can learn more about the situation on clamming at Pismo Beach here:

Pismo Beach Pier

A good marker point is Pismo Beach Pier. If you're passing through and want to stop then head for the pier as you'll find restrooms, parking… and more clam chowder! If you're driving PCH then look for the west turn onto Pomeroy Avenue, a one-way street that will take you down to the pier and the parking. You get back to the highway by going east on Hinds Avenue.

Pismo Beach Pier Rehabilitation Project

Note that Pismo Beach Pier is currently closed to the public while renovation and improvement work is done. It's expected to re-open sometime in the Fall of 2019. The beach and boardwalk remain open. You can find out more here.

Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

Just south of the town and off Highway-1 at Pismo State Beach is one of Pismo Beach's most popular and unusual attractions, the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. From late October through February thousands of beautiful orange and black monarch butterflies can be found here. They migrate south to escape winter further north, and who can blame them for wanting to spend a few winter months in Pismo Beach? We'd love to do that!

These days you might get anywhere from 25,000-35,000 butterflies wintering in Pismo Beach, although as recently as 1990-91 there were 230,000 of them. What a job, counting those. There is a trick to it, though. You count the wings and divide by two.

Take a look at this video to see the butterflies:

Vineyards near Pismo Beach
Courtesy of Pismo Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau

Pismo Beach Wine-Tasting

There are several wineries inland from Pismo Beach, and wine-tasting opportunities in the town itself. A 5-minute drive south on Highway-101 leads to Phantom Rivers Wine in the village of Arroyo Grande. Check the website for the opening hours of the tasting room.A little further south on Highway-101 is the Laetitia Vineyard and Winery, whose vineyard has a walking trail with great ocean views. The tasting room is open daily.

In the town center on Price Street is the tasting room for San Liege Wines. Also on Price Street is Puffers of Pismo, where you can taste local wines and beers and also enjoy live music and good food. Still on Price Street, Tastes of the Valleys is both a wine shop and tasting room which has over 1,000 selections, including of course many wines from the local area.

Pismo Beach Surf Shop
Courtesy of Pismo Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau

Pismo Beach Surfing

As you can see from the photos, Pismo Beach is good for surfing too. Don't miss the Pismo Beach Surf Shop, which claims to be the oldest surf shop on the Central Coast. Pismo Beach also has several surf camps including one from the Association of Amputee Surfers.

Photos Courtesy of Pismo Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau

Driving Times and Distances

If you drive the Pacific Coast Highway route then Pismo Beach is:
From Los Angeles: 4-5 hours/210 miles
From Santa Barbara: 2 hours/106 miles
From Monterey: 2-3 hours/150 miles
From San Francisco International Airport: 7-9 hours/275 miles

If you want to get there more quickly then there are faster routes avoiding the coast.

Where to Stay in Pismo Beach

Recent Articles

  1. Balboa Park in Facts and Figures

    Feb 07, 18 12:00 PM

    Here are the facts and figures about Balboa Park in San Diego, which is bigger than New York's Central Park and contains 19 gardens, 17 museums and 14 restaurants.

    Read More

  2. San Simeon

    Feb 06, 18 05:12 PM

    San Simeon is a tiny town of a few hundred people close to Hearst Castle on the California coast midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    Read More

  3. Maps of the Pacific Coast Highway: Free Downloadable Driving Maps of the PCH

    Feb 06, 18 02:05 PM

    Road maps of the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH are essential for anyone planning to drive the trip, and detailed routes are available for free download via these links to the Mile by Mile website.

    Read More

The Best PCH Guide
We've read lots of guides to the Pacific Coast, and easily the best one is the Moon Handbook. You can read our review here, or buy it through the Amazon link below.


Follow Us on Twitter

Our PCH Hotels Guide

PCH Travel's 2016 guide to Pacific Coast Highway hotels

To help you in choosing your Pacific Coast Highway hotel, guesthouse, inn, bed-and-breakfast, resort, motel or other accommodations, we've prepared our Pacific Coast Highway Hotels Guide. In it we do mini-reviews of accommodations along the Highway, from Seattle to San Diego, through Washington, Oregon, and California.

In all there are over 200 hotels listed, complete with 8 pages of color maps showing the towns where our recommended hotels can be found. There are both alphabetical and geographical indexes, helping you plan your journey.

We also include color photos of all the hotels that are our Personal Favorites. Here's the link to read more about our ebook guide to Pacific Coast Highway hotels.

The 2016 edition of our Hotels Guide is available with maps and color photos (if you have a color reader) in the US Kindle Store for only $4.99 and in the UK Kindle Store and other Kindle stores worldwide at prices based on the US price.

If you want a paperback edition of the 2016 guide  with only black and white photos and black-and-white maps, it costs $6.99 at the US Amazon Book Store and £4.99 in the UK Amazon Store.


Follow Me on Pinterest