Pismo Beach Travel Guide

USA  #21 in Best California Beaches
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Best Things To Do in Pismo Beach

A seaside city that blends natural beauty and surfing charm, Pismo Beach is certainly worth a stop. There are enough attractions to keep you busy

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A seaside city that blends natural beauty and surfing charm, Pismo Beach is certainly worth a stop. There are enough attractions to keep you busy for days. Not to mention, it's a great location for traveling families as there are many kid-friendly attractions nearby, including Dinosaur Caves Park and the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. Adrenaline junkies will jump at the chance to ride ATVs across sand dunes, surf the famous California waves and explore the cliffside coves. And, of course, Pismo Beach is an oenophile's dream, with many vineyards and wineries close to the city.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated September 24, 2020

  • #1
    Things to do in Pismo Beach
    View all Photos
    #1 in Pismo Beach
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    One of the main attractions in Pismo Beach is undoubtedly the pier. This 1,370-foot-long wooden structure stretches into the Pacific and acts as a community gathering point where visitors can fish, attend seasonal events or simply admire the views. Some of the pier's annual events include Pumpkins on the Pier and the Tree Lighting and Celebration, which kids are sure to enjoy.

    Beyond the pier is Pismo State Beach, which stretches along the California coast for about 17 miles. In the beach area near the pier, you'll find many people trying their hands at water sports, including surfing. This area is a surfer's paradise and hosts the annual World Surf League's Pismo Beach Open in January and February. The pier is even lit up at night, so nighttime surfers can navigate the waves. If you'd like to rent surfboards or other equipment, you'll find multiple surf shops near the pier, including the popular Pismo Beach Surf Shop.

  • #2
    View all Photos
    #2 in Pismo Beach
    Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Pismo Beach region is full of places to sample central California's wines. In fact, the Central Coast boasts some of the state's oldest grapes, and its mild temperatures help grow grapes perfect for sauvignon blanc, riesling, cabernet franc and pinot noir, among others.

    If you're tight on time, consider stopping by one of the tasting rooms near the downtown area. Monarch Grove Winery Tasting Room is located at the end of West Grand Avenue and sits nearby the Pismo Beach Golf Course. Monarch Grove earns high marks for its friendly staff and reasonable prices. Another visitor recommendation is Tastes of the Valleys, which allows patrons to sample wines by the glass or in flights. Travelers commend the shop of its wide selection and knowledgeable staff.

  • #3
    View all Photos
    #3 in Pismo Beach
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're in the area between the months of November and February, you must stop at the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, according to previous travelers. This sanctuary attracts a massive population of monarch butterflies that migrate thousands of miles to reach the mild temperatures in Pismo Beach. Not only is the central California weather perfect for the monarchs, but the eucalyptus and Monterey cypress trees in the grove provide them with ample protection.

    The grove is staffed by volunteers who dedicate their time to learning about these creatures, and many past visitors were thrilled with the helpful information they learned from the volunteers. The volunteers can give you tips on how to treat the grove, including watching your step so you don't harm the creatures and leaving the butterfly clusters undisturbed. Photography is welcome in the preserve, and you're sure to catch some of your winged companions on camera.

  • #4
    View all Photos
    #4 in Pismo Beach
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Nature lovers will revel in the 11 miles of trails and scenic overlooks at the Pismo Preserve. This expansive area is full of wildlife and funded by a nonprofit called the Land Conservancy. There are trails for hikers of all levels. Previous visitors recommended the Pismo Discovery Trail for beginners, the Peekaboo Trail for intermediate hikers and the Vamanos Canyon Trail for advanced hikers. As you explore the trails, you'll pass through woodland areas and open pastures that look over the Pacific Ocean. You'll likely see cows grazing on some of these open lands, and you may even come across horses as horseback riding is permitted on some trails. There are two trails – the Vamanos Canyon Trail and the Lover's Point Trail – that are dedicated to hikers only; all other trails allow for mountain bikers.

    The 900-acre Pismo Preserve stretches from Irish Hills Nature Reserve in the north to Point Sal State Beach in the south. Irish Hills is a mountainous area popular among equestrians, while Point Sal is a great place for fishing, hiking, bird-watching or just relaxing on the sand. (However, the waves here can be strong, so swimming isn't recommended.)

  • #5
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    #5 in Pismo Beach
    Beaches, Natural Wonders, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Natural Wonders, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Oceano Dunes are something like a massive natural sandbox, perfect for adventuring all day. The rolling hills of white sand overlook the ocean and offer a sense of tranquility away from the large urban areas in California. Previous visitors said driving along the dunes in a four-wheeled vehicle makes for an unforgettable experience. You can start off-roading at the Post 2 checkpoint, which is 1 mile south of Pier Avenue. It costs just $5 to register your vehicle for off-roading. While many people opt to simply drive their car onto the beach, another popular way to explore the dunes is on an ATV.

    There are numerous places to rent ATVs at the west end of Pier Avenue. Steve's ATV Rentals and Arnie's ATV Rentals received positive reviews from past visitors, who appreciated the helpful staff members at both establishments. The staff will give you instructions on how to ride the ATV and where to take them; they're also available to help if you get stuck. Rental prices will depend on the type of ATV you select and how long you plan to use it, but prices may start at around $60 for two hours. Recent visitors recommended booking a morning ride as it can get crowded and too hot later in the day.

  • #6
    View all Photos
    #6 in Pismo Beach
    Historic Homes/Mansions
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're looking for a unique daytrip from Pismo Beach, consider driving an hour north to the Hearst Castle. Inspired by his admiration of European architecture, this mansion with glistening pools and ornate halls was constructed at the behest of famous media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Construction of the intricate home started in 1919, lasted until 1947 and cost millions. Hearst, who was an avid art collector, also filled the rooms with millions of dollars' worth of paintings, textiles, sculptures and more. Throughout his life at the castle, Hearst hosted famous figures from around the world, including Winston Churchill, Calvin Coolidge and Charlie Chaplin.

    Today, visitors can tour the massive estate to see the splendor for themselves. The main house is Casa Grande, and it's neighbored by three guest houses. Most tour options stick to one or two of these houses, so you'll have to choose your tour type according to what you want to see. For example, there's a grand rooms tour in Casa Grande, an upstairs suites tour, and a cottages and kitchen tour. A tour dedicated to Julia Morgan, the architect who designed the castle, is also a popular option. There are additional tour options specifically for those with accessibility difficulties as well as private tours. Past visitors recommended booking your tour in advance.

  • #7
    View all Photos
    #7 in Pismo Beach
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    This park got its name from a large metal dinosaur structure that used to lead into the sea caves below. Although the structure is now gone, the surrounding area has turned into a popular park for children, joggers, bikers or anyone looking for a leisurely afternoon outside. The 11-acre park sits atop a bluff and provides visitors with picturesque ocean views. There are an abundance of walking trails as well as picnic tables and open grassy areas for relaxing. The park is family-friendly, and children will enjoy the playground structures, which have a dinosaur and animal theme. You can also bring dogs to the park as long as they stay on their leashes.

    There is an amphitheater in the park where gatherings are occasionally held. The park may play host to yoga classes, arts festivals or other events on any given day, so check out the website to see if anything interests you during your visit. If you want to explore the cove beneath the park, known as Shelter Cove, you should rent a kayak from downtown Pismo Beach and paddle among the arches. Unfortunately, there is no beach access directly from Dinosaur Park, but if you head to nearby Margo Dodd Park, you can put a kayak in the water and then venture to the coves beneath the park. Visitors laud Dinosaur Caves Park for its stunning ocean views and clean grounds.

  • #8 in Pismo Beach
    Recreation, Swimming/Pools
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Recreation, Swimming/Pools
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Natural hot springs mark the entrance to Avila Beach, and lucky for travelers, the springs are open for day visitation. Let your worries melt away as you sink into the 104-degree water of the soaking pool at Avila Hot Springs. The soaking pool is two feet deep and heated by the mineral spring beneath the ground. The complex at Avila Hot Springs also offers massages, including Swedish, hot stone and deep tissue treatments.

    If you're ready to cool off, take a dip in the public freshwater pool, which children love for its slides and water toys. There is a large viewing deck near the pool for parents to keep an eye on their children. If you'd rather cool off in the ocean, you can take the Bob Jones Bike Trail from the complex to Avila Beach, which is just 2 miles away.

  • View all Photos
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

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  • View all Photos
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • View all Photos
    Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

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