Pismo Beach is California in a nutshell. Head in to discover a buzzy downtown enfolded by chaparral-clad peaks. Come along to find surf-washed shores where longboarders chat over coffees while watching the waves. Drop in and you’ll catch cool cafes, beautiful Central Coast cliffs, top wineries, and chic shopping. Yep – this really is the place you’ve been searching for!
Thankfully, the Pismo Beach weather stays warm from April to November most years. What’s more, there are some seriously enticing Pismo Beach hotels and motels. They’ve got you covered no matter if you’re craving a room with a view of the Pacific or a pad close to the Pacific Coast Highway. Beyond all that, there are stretches of some of the most stunning beaches in California, surf spots, dune habitats, and oodles more.
This list of the very best things to do in Pismo Beach can help you put together a top break in this corner of the Golden State. It’s got tips on where to go for retail therapy. The notes are loaded with wave-washed shorelines. It’s even got excursion suggestions to one of America’s most amazing castles! Let’s get started…
1. Cruise over the Pismo dunes
Calling all adrenaline lovers – there’s nowhere quite like the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area to get the heart a-thumping! Called, simply, the SVRA for short, this curious reserve is a part of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. That stretches through long parts of the Central Coast, and is the second-largest area of its kind in the whole state.
What sets it apart from the crowd is that it’s perhaps the only coastal section of California where you’re legally allowed to get the auto on the sand. The result? Adventure is easy to come by. As you rumble onto the beige hills, you’re instantly transported to the West Coast’s answer to Arabia. There are peaks and troughs to explore on the ATV. You’ll rattle up and roll down, all while the Pacific crashes into the sand nearby.
Any visitors looking to hit the off-road tracks of the Pismo dunes will need to be aware of environmental protections. Fenced off areas are always out of bounds. They’re in place to protect the rare seabirds and flora that grows in the preserve.
2. Have a round of golf in a gorgeous setting
When the Pismo Beach weather is going your way and the sea breezes die down, there’s arguably no better place to go than to one of the local golf courses. And what a selection there is! Pismo Beach is the gateway to a long length of the Central Coast that’s well-known for its picture-perfect rounds of 18.
You could start by pulling out the seven iron at Cypress Ridge. That’s won awards for its manicured looks and holes that make clever use of coastal elevations and conditions. It’s all designed by Peter Jacobsen and enfolded by its namesake evergreen. Alternatively, Avila Beach Golf Resort flaunts verdant kikuyu grass across its fairways, along with stunning views of the eucalyptus-clad mountains tumbling into the sea on the horizon.
Visitors are likely to need to pay green fees in the region of $40-55 per round. There are also special rates for club rentals and twilight rounds. Seniors and juniors often get reduced rates in nearby Pismo Beach golf courses to boot.
3. Taste your way through the Central Coast Winelands
Just check the map – where does Pismo Beach sit? Answer: On the doorstep of the Central Coast. That means it’s got access to some of the most remote mountain and coast areas in the Golden State. And the upshot of that is that farm ranches and winelands abound.
You’ll just need to cruise inland and north a little from the town to see things take a turn for the bucolic. The entrance to the mountains in San Luis Obispo is a good choice. From there, you’re a mere stone’s throw to the Rotta Winery, the Cass Winery, the Wild Horse Winery – the list goes on. They churn out some seriously taste-bud-tingling tipples. Yep: The cellar doors burst with pinot noir, chardonnay, paso robles, you name it!
Of course, you don’t have to leave Pismo Beach behind to get a-tasting. It’s also possible to hit one of the bars in the center of little Pismo itself. They include the well-stocked Tastes of the Valleys wine outlet, and the Monarch Grove Winery Tasting Room.
4. Watch the elegant fliers in the Monarch Butterfly Grove
At the end of October, when the Pismo Beach weather chills just a tad, something special happens in mountains around the town. In a grove of eucalyptuses that spills over the hills right by the ocean, more than 10,000 monarch butterflies can be viewed in a single sitting. Welcome to the Monarch Butterfly Grove – arguably top of any list of things to do in Pismo Beach!
If you happen to be cruising up the Pacific Coast Highway come winter, be sure to pull over. This small forest of scented trees is inundated with the elegant creatures. You’ll be able to spot them clutching the boughs and branches like bunches of grapes. Others flutter through the air in plumes that look more like smoke clouds because of the sheer population numbers.
The Monarch Butterfly Grove officially opens for the season in mid fall. However, it might be wise to rock up a little later to catch the best influx of butterflies. Parking is available at the site just off Highway 1.
5. Make a day outing to Hearst Castle
Prepare to be stunned by the sheer audacity of Hearst Castle. This is one seriously exquisite example of American architecture. It fuses strands of the Neo-Classical with the Gothic. It pushes Renaissance art into the realms of the Spanish Baroque. There are Mediterranean country design featured melded seamlessly with Mexicana ranches and Californian hinterland feels.
The whole complex is now one of the most-visited landmarks on the Central Coast. It sits high on the hills above San Simeon. There, it sprawls over thousands of acres of land, and boasts elegant gardens, ranches, private suites, gala halls – you name it. But then what would you expect from the former retreat of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst?
The price of a tour in Hearst Castle varies depending on your time of arrival and age. Standard tickets cost $36. Children can enter for $18. And there are also extra reductions for holiday entries and walking tours with a differing focus.
6. Walk the wonderful Dinosaur Caves Park
Something for the kids and lovers of coastal views alike awaits at the Dinosaur Caves Park. The fun begins in a small playground that clutches the clifftop. It’s got swings, slides, sandpits, and small models of sea creatures that are sure to entertain even the most curious of little ones.
From there, you can make a beeline to the clifftop walking paths. They crisscross the headland and offer sweeping views of Pismo Dunes’s corner of the Central Coast. Be careful where you step, though! The rocks drop dramatically, even vertically, into the Pacific Ocean from some points.
The upshot of that is you can get up close and personal with crashing, white-capped waves. And the views are stunning. That’s particularly true come evening, as the sun dips low on the horizon and casts its yellow-orange haze across the whole bay.
7. Go hiking in the Pismo Preserve
Eager to escape the buzz of the surf town? Want to get away from the promenades and the beach crowds? Cue Pismo Preserve. This small and charming area of protected nature is visible from most corners of the city. In all, it clocks up around 900 acres of land. They cover rolling hills, meadows, groups of eucalyptus trees, and coastal pine forests.
There’s plenty of hiking within. Pull on the walking boots and grab the sticks for the Discovery Loop. That’s the ultimate trek through the preserve, offering five miles of connected trail to explore. As you go, you’ll encounter stacks of native flora, and might even catch a glimpse of a stray monarch butterfly. Another highlight is the sweeping view of the Pacific that unfolds to the west. You can take a rest at the forward portion of the loop to enjoy that, along with panoramas of all of Pismo Beach downtown to the south.
There are regular closures of the Pismo Preserve for road maintenance. That means it’s always wise to check ahead that access is open as normal before you come in search of the rambling paths and solitude.
8. Hit the Californian waves
It’s not just LA and Malibu that nail surfing, you know! Nope, all of the Central Coast is famed for its waves. What’s more, the region has places that are way more remote and unknown than down in SoCal. The result is that you can find beaches with empty lineups, and rock the dawn patrol all to yourself.
First up is Shell Beach. It’s a perfect ride when the winter swells crank upwards and push hard into other corners of Pismo’s bays. You’ll need more power for the waves to hold up here, but, when working, you’ll catch rippable A frames that are to die for. Pismo Beach itself is another star. There are long, long stretches of beach break to get through in these parts. That means crowds disperse nicely and you can hit those mushy rollers to your heart’s content.
If you’re willing to drive a little further afield, consider Avila Beach to the north. It’s a doozy when the Pacific is really roaring, thanks to the protection of the headlands and reefs to the west. And it’s a great option for first timers, with tamer waves that closeout, and surf schools aplenty.
9. Stroll to the end of Pismo Pier
One of the great icons of Pismo Beach is the legendary Pismo Pier. It stretches out into the Pacific Ocean from the heart of the main sands. It’s often abuzz with life (when it’s not closed for renovation, that is!). And it’s the place to go to taste the iconic clam dishes and chowders that are served so often in this corner of Cali.
Simply taking a stroll to the end of the wooden frame is an experience that all locals say is a must. You’ll see loads of them doing it, too, especially when the sun dips low and you can watch the haze of the ocean turning yellow, orange, and then into twilight.
Surfers can often be seen riding the swells that lick underneath Pismo Pier. Meanwhile, the best seafood eateries (the ones for that aforementioned chowder), along with some of the very best Pismo Beach hotels, crowd into the urban blocks where the pier meets the town.
10. Indulge in some retail therapy in Pismo Beach Premium Outlets
If the Pismo Beach weather takes a turn for the worse, you might want to drop Pismo Beach Premium Outlets onto your itinerary. It’s perfect for all those retail needs. That’s thanks to a collection of countless stores and outlets. They offer everything from high-style fashion to electronics and street wear.
Of course, there are also stacks of eateries to get through in the complex. From fast-food staples to family-fun pizzerias, sub outlets to coffee shops, you’ll never be short of options on the gastronomy front.
You can look for all of that and more straddling the bustling Highway 101 just as it joins central Pismo Beach. There’s plenty of parking on site, and a clutch of local Pismo Beach hotels also await nearby for convenient access.