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I’ve been nursing a crush on Pismo Beach for a while now but I am now finally ready to come out and declare my love for the entire Central Coast of California! I will even go so far as to say that my beloved Pismo Beach has been dethroned by its sweet sister Avila Beach, just a few miles down the road.
Here’s how all this came to be.
My brother sweetly, if not enthusiastically, agreed to spend some of his winter break babysitting for us here in California. He flew in after Christmas so Chris and I could go away for New Year’s weekend. I scoured the internet for getaways and found that (1) California is expensive and (2) The Bay Area is really expensive. I ended up selecting the Sycamore Mineral Spring Resort in San Luis Obispo primarily because each and every room comes with a hot tub piped with water from the local mineral spring.
With all the added activity that comes with Christmas, I never got around to researching what to do or see while we were in the area, so we showed up just excited to explore. The Bob Jones “City to the Sea Trail” passed right by our resort, so we got up Saturday morning and started the 2-mile leisurely stroll to Avila Beach.
The Bob Jones Trail is a bike trail but also great for pedestrians. During our walk, we passed an orchard, walked along a stream, caught glimpses of the sun trying to rise over the mountains, watched herons and ducks, and wound through a golf course.
The Bob Jones Trail would also have been a great place to bring the kids and there was even a playground next to the trail. It also appeared to be quite dog-friendly as we saw many dogs out for a morning walk.
The Bob Jones Trail emptied us into the small but charming town of Avila Beach only one block away from the beach itself. We left the trail and stepped onto the sidewalk right outside the Central Coast Aquarium. After the aquarium, we passed a nice pirate-themed playground, some public bathrooms, and then found ourselves on the beach.
We arrived in town about 10 am the Saturday of New Year’s weekend and the town was just starting to stir. Most restaurants were closed, but you could see people inside preparing for lunch; artists were beginning to set up their booths on the pedestrian walk; stand up paddleboarders were making their way down the coast.
We found our way to the Custom House where we scored a table overlooking the beach. We were one of the only tables on the patio that didn’t have a dog sleeping under it, and this dog-friendly restaurant even had a “Bow Wow Chow” menu!
The food was good and the service was fast, but the location by the beach was what really made brunch special! I was surprised it wasn’t more crowded given that it was a holiday weekend but it was really very laid back and enjoyable.
The most disruption to our meal came in the form of some motorized paragliders circling overhead. I’ve been hang-gliding and I’ve been wanting to go paragliding, but I think including a motor has to defeat the point. They were pretty loud for those of us on the ground so I imagine they must have been just roaring to the driver.
After breakfast, we explored the town a bit. We aren’t big shoppers so we didn’t go in anywhere, but we checked out the town and watched the clouds over the oceans. According to the history lesson in our menu at the Custom House, the entire beachfront business district had to be torn down in the late 90s to remove thousands of gallons of oil that spilled underground. As a result, the businesses in town were redesigned and built to be charming, colorful, and cohesive in the early 2000s.
Chris wanted to check out Pirate’s Cove so we started the 1.5-mile walk. I will warn you, the walk is alongside busy roads and part of it is along a mountain road with no shoulder. If you have a car, I recommend just taking it, but the walk turned out to be fine for us.
There were a number of cars in the parking lot at Pirate’s Cove/ Avila Sea Caves but there were so many side paths to take that we didn’t find it crowded at all. We took a few side paths to give us a view back towards Avila Beach and then turned to check out the sea cave and Pirate’s Cove.
After Pirate’s Bay, I was ready to get back to the hotel for a soak in the hot tub and a nap, but Chris had other ideas. He wanted to hike up the Ontario Ridge Trail. The mountain (hill?) did not seem especially high, but instead of weaving up the mountain, the Ontario Ridge Trail went straight up the side. Watching hikers struggle to remain upright was not exactly encouraging!
We went for it anyway and it honestly wasn’t as bad as I was expecting! We stopped and looked back frequently so we could see the views, which turned out to be a good thing because the fog rolled in while we were climbing up. By the time we reached the top there was no longer any view to be had of the ocean!
Once we reached the top it was only a matter of following the trail down the other side of the mountain and directly to our hotel. Such luxury!
How often do you find a place that is perfect for a romantic weekend away but also great for the whole family? Avila Beach perfectly fits the bill and if I haven’t convinced you of its merits, that’s ok, we’ll enjoy it better without the crowds. 🙂
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