Are you visiting the central coast in the Pismo Beach area and you’re excited to find things to do? Heck yeah, you are. I’ve written this list to help you organize – there are many more places to visit, but these will get you started. And fun fact: all of the places I’ve listed below also double as great photography locations!
Please note: some of these locations are dog-friendly, but because it varies from place to place, please check beforehand to make sure.
The pier in Pismo has a nice, wide walk out to the ocean and there are even a couple of cute “Airstream” food trucks permanently stationed on the pier. The beach itself is relatively busy, but there’s always room, and when you get tired of swimming and enjoying the sun, Pismo has several restaurants and gift shops nearby. Oh, and there’s a bowling alley, too!
Pismo (like most of its neighbors) is relatively small, so if you run out of things to do and feel like exploring more, Pismo is part of “The 5 Cities” area, which includes (from north to south) Shell Beach, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Oceano and Arroyo Grande. Shell Beach is so tiny that I generally think of Avila Beach as being the 5th city instead of Shell, but no matter which town you go to, they’re all just a few minutes from Pismo.
PRO TIP: Check out the recently added 7ft tall “Pismo Beach” sign standing proudly in the center plaza in front of the beach and pier. It’s colorful and makes for a fun backdrop, plus it lights up at night and it even has a ruler built into the side so families can measure how much their kids have grown since their last visit!
More info: https://www.experiencepismobeach.com/
Smaller than it’s cousin Pismo Beach, Avila nonetheless has several charming qualities that will draw you in. A quaint, colorful boardwalk fronts a few interesting businesses and restaurants The beach itself is small, but lovely. Avila has its own pier, though at the time of this writing it’s currently closed.
On your way to Avila Beach, you’ll spot Avila Farms, which can also be a great stop for families. Honeysticks, pies and all kinds of other treats await, all nestled in a downhome farm environment. You can feed goats, cows, horses, pigs and more…and don’t forget to stop inside the ice cream shop!
More info: https://visitavilabeach.com/
Looking for some outdoor time with the fam? Head to Pismo Preserves, a sprawling 880 acre casual hiker’s paradise. There are 11 miles of trails of varying degrees of difficulty, but most are easy. You can walk or ride your bike, and I’ve even seen some 10 or 11 year olds riding their bikes near the top with their parents. Occasionally you may even see some horseback riders!
PRO TIP: If the tiny parking lot is full, you can often find parking just past the freeway overpass towards the ocean.
More info: https://lcslo.org/pismopreserve/
If you’re interested in something a little more sandy, then the dunes might be the spot for you. You can drive your vehicle straight onto the beach, set up camping and can even have small campfires. Offroading is also allowed in certain areas.
You can easily get to both Oceano and Grover Beach towns from the dunes. Oceano itself doesn’t have much in the way of tourism but does have some great small businesses – Quintessa Coffee Roasters, The Place: Art, The Great American Melodrama, Sylvester’s Burgers, Efren’s, Pier Street Deli, Chacho’s, Old Juan’s and the Rock and Roll Diner, among others. Also, Grover Beach is right next door and has a few interesting shops and food options, especially along Grand Avenue. Check out Yamato Sushi on Grand for some of Steve Shin’s delicious creations!
More info: http://ohv.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1207
PRICE HISTORICAL PARK
With hiking, biking and historical buildings to check out, you can’t go wrong with a quick visit to Price Park. You can learn a little about Chumash culture and the California Mission system, along with some information about Pismo Beach history, as well. The house on the property was built in 1893 and the ranch feels like you’re stepping back into history.
More info: http://www.pismobeach.org/307/Price-Historical-Park
MONARCH BUTTERFLY GROVE
Love butterflies? This is definitely your spot. It’s not very big, but it can be really beautiful. From late October through February, you can sometimes see thousands of gorgeous orange and black Monarch butterflies clustered around branches and fluttering around the grounds. Parking is limited, so consider parking farther away and walking, or maybe renting a group cycle in Pismo and riding down!
More info: https://www.experiencepismobeach.com/beach-and-outdoors/monarch-butterflies/
DINOSAUR CAVES PARK
Close to Pismo Beach, you’ll find Dinosaur Caves Park, which is an oceanfront park popular for its playground (replete with dino life!), picnics and walking. If you can figure out the entrance, you can hike down into the area where the actual caves are, although I’m not sure if the caves themselves are open to the public.
More info: http://www.pismobeach.org/288/Dinosaur-Caves-Park
VILLAGE OF ARROYO GRANDE
Nestled on the far end of the city of Arroyo Grande, you’ll find the village of Arroyo Grande, which is a throwback to old-town America. A single street lined with businesses on each side will have you reminiscing about the old days. There’s a swinging bridge (although it doesn’t do much actual swinging, lol), lots of restaurants to choose from, Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab and both a cool brewery and an old-school butcher shop. You’ll occasionally find music in the park and there are many activities to do nearby, like golfing, watersports and farmer’s markets.
PRO TIP: Drive about 45 minutes away and you’ll find Lopez Lake, a fun camping and hiking spot nestled in the hills. One note: cell signals are spotty out there, so keep that in mind!
MORE INFO: https://www.visitarroyogrande.org/
CHARLES PADDOCK ZOO
Even though it’s about a 40 minute drive away from Pismo, I’ve included the zoo because it’s the only zoo on the central coast. It’s not a large zoo and definitely won’t resemble what many city zoos look like, but if your children love animals, then it might be worth a trip!
MORE INFO: https://charlespaddockzoo.org/
Bonus for the adventurous: Avila Ridge (in between Pismo and Avila Beach) is a great hike, though a bit challenging for beginners. It does occasionally get misty and hazy at the top, but on clear days, it has gorgeous views of the ocean and nearby valleys! Experts will enjoy the steep vertical climb on the far end, but the intermediate climb on the end nearest the freeway will be a better choice for most. Once you get up on either side, the hike is mostly horizontal.
I hope this list helps you plan some fun adventures! And hey! You know what would go great with all your adventure? Some fun professional photos to help you remember everything! Reach out to me and we can plan some family portraits while you’re here, or if you want to book my “Go Big or Go Home!” package, you can book me for a half day or full day, and I will follow you around with my camera and tell the story of your visit through great detail shots, ambience shots, candids of you and the people around you, and even some posed portraits! Can you imagine having hundreds of professional shots of your vacation? How amazing would that be? 😀
I’m sure you’ll have a blast visiting the central coast – it’s a great place to live and visit. We’ll see you soon!
Namu Williams is the owner of Namu.Love, a professional event and portrait photography company based in central California, serving the greater Los Angeles area, the central coast and the SF Bay Area. He has photographed the likes of Gwen Stefani, Sting, King Felipe VI and Vice President Al Gore. He has also covered events big and small all over California and provided beautiful portraits to both CEOs and families alike. You can follow Namu’s work on Facebook, Instagram and on LinkedIn.