Avila Beach (Central Coast, California)

*Last updated on January 4th, 2018 at 04:09 pm

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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.

Bob Jones Trail Signpost
The next day we biked to the San Luis Obispo Mission. To the North, the trail is not continuous so you have to bike along the roads for several miles.
Bob Jones Trail Great Oak Root
You can see the root of this Great Oak has to stretch over 10 feet through this rock formation before it finds soil!
Bob Jones Trail Marker Sign
We stopped at all the informative signs to learn about the trail, trees, and local birds.
Heron on golf course
I snapped quite a few pictures of this heron strutting around but I was too slow to catch the really impressive sight of him flying low across the golf course.
Avila Beach Golf Retreat
The Avila Beach Golf Retreat, one of the best golf courses on the Central Coast.

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.

Pirate over Avila Beach playground
This pirate is keeping an eye out for any who might threaten the playground!
Avila Beach
The sandy beach at Avila Beach.
Avila Beach
It’s a small town, but there is no shortage of restaurants or activities in Avila 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.

Machaca at Custom House in Avila Beach
Machaca off the brunch menu
Chris at the Custom House Avila Beach
Chris at the Custom House in Avila Beach.
Paraglider over pier
Motorized Paraglider over Avila Beach Pier. If you want to try this it looks like WingEnvy is the place to go. They offer tandem rides as well as solo instruction.

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.

I loved watching these clouds on the horizons! I like to think these looked like a pod of dolphins standing out of the water and skimming along on their tails.
Avila beach Town
The newly designed town is all painted in coordinating pastels, perfect for that beachy vibe!
Seagull posing by the beach.
Avila Beach
At this point, it was almost noon on a holiday weekend! It’s winter but it was plenty warm enough to relax on the beach. Where are all the people? Is Avila Beach just a well-kept secret?
Starfish statue
I love stumbling across this kind of detail! These little metal starfish were sprinkled along the wall in front of the beach.

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.

View from Front Street
The view from the top of Front Street. Even if you’re not up for a long walk, this is only a couple blocks from the center of town and the view is well worth it!
Dr. Seuss flower
Does anyone know what these flowers are called? They were huge at probably 6″ in diameter. Chris called them “Dr. Seuss Flowers” since they looked like something you’d find in a children’s book.
Dr. Seuss Flower
These “Dr. Seuss Flowers” were gorgeous with Pirate’s Bay in the backdrop.
Signs covered in stickers
Apparently being able to read signs is overrated! I was trying so hard to make out the rockslide sign that I completely missed that the beach was clothing optional!
Smuggler's Cave
Smuggler’s Cave! It’s a shame it’s so covered in graffiti, but it is still really beautiful and well worth the short walk from the parking lot.
Jessica and Chris
I’m so glad we got at least one really good picture of us together! You really can’t beat that backdrop!
Tide Pools at Smuggler's Cave
It wouldn’t have been too difficult to climb down here, but we were content peering into the tidepools from above. Chris was able to make out a sea anemone but my eyesight must not be good enough!
Pirate's Cove
Since Pirate’s Cove is “clothing optional” every time I pulled out my camera Chris would say “stop taking pictures of the naked people!” They are in this photo but it isn’t high enough quality to be able to tell if, even if you zoom! (I checked before I posted this to the internet :-P)

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!

Ontario Ridge Trail
The view of the Ontario Ridge Trail from the bottom.
Ontario Ridge Trail
One-third of the way up the Ontario Ridge Trail!
Avila Beach Golf Resort
I managed to snap a picture of the last bit of golf course view before the fog swallowed it up!
Ontario Ridge Trail
The fog hadn’t reached the other side of the mountains! Here we were standing at the top of the Ontario Ridge Trail looking East.

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. 🙂



13 thoughts on “Avila Beach (Central Coast, California)

  1. Oh California has so much to explore, I visited 6 years ago and I don’t think I saw half the things I wanted to see! Avila beach looks like a pretty cool place to hang out and hike around. Great discovery!

  2. I love to discover gems that are not far from my front door! Avila Beach sounds lovely and with the mix of the town and the numerous hiking trails I can imagine this to be a pefect destination for a few excursions.

    Thank you & happy travels!

  3. This sounds so perfect. We actually wanted to visit when we were in the USA recently but I think there had been some landslides around Big Sur so we cancelled the whole coastal drive. I guess there is always next time.

    1. Yes, there are still some road closures. We were in Big Sur this fall right up to the bridge that was out (it’s open now) and it was so incredible. We can’t wait to do the whole drive when it reopens. Avila Beach is still accessible from the south, but if you are coming from the north you have to take 101 around the mountains.

  4. Dear Jessica, thank you for your post. You cannot imagine how much pleasure I had reading your article about Avila Beach. I spent a few days here some months ago, and with your article, you had made me remember beautiful memories and make me feel a load of good emotions and vibes. Is a perfect place to relax and to shoot pictures (I have a picture just in front of the Great Oak).

  5. I love the Central Coast in California, when I lived in CA, it used to be our weekend getaway spot. But although I’ve been to almost all the little towns there, I never made it to Avila Beach. Great to read about it, looks like a great spot and not as busy as many of the other more popular towns, hope to make it there some day on a visit!

  6. Those tide pools do look alluring, but I see your point in not climbing down there. The beach, the rocks, the pastel color coordinated houses – all make an appealing spot. Even though I agree with you that California can be pricey, Avila Beach looks like a destination worth the price.

What do you think?