If you remember Pismo as a gone-to-seed 1950s beach resort, take another look. Luxury hotels have sprouted on the beach and bluff tops, and more are on the way.
The town's rinky-dink amusement area on the ocean front has been cleared away, replaced by a plaza at the base of Pismo's rebuilt fishing pier. There are new shops and restaurants, too.
You'll find the place more peaceful as well, because the off-road vehicles that once roared along the beach have been moved a few miles south.
What hasn't changed is Pismo's beautiful scenery and fiery sunsets in the fog-free winter sky.
Visitors who arrive next weekend can join in the old-fashioned fun of the community's annual clam festival. Accommodations may be scarce, however, even though the number of hotel rooms has nearly doubled in the past few years.
Get to that unpretentious vacation spot along California's central coast by driving north from Los Angeles on U.S. 101.
Head into the heart of town by exiting at Price Street, then turn left on Pomeroy Avenue to reach the ocean and public parking area at the foot of the pier.
On the way you'll see turquoise awnings decorating a 1920s hotel that's been renovated and reopened as the Pismo Landmark, a bed-and-breakfast inn. Its original 40 rooms have been converted to 19 larger suites with kitchens. Rates begin at $50 with ocean-view rooms tops at $75; all include a continental breakfast. Reservations: (805) 773-5566.
To survey Pismo's coastline and new beachfront lodgings, stroll to the end of a 1,200-foot pier that replaced the old one destroyed in the winter storms of 1983. Diamond-shaped extensions o1847620712casting space to eager anglers, as well as unusual overhead views of wet-suited surfers.
Driving on the Beach
You'll also enjoy a panorama of Pismo's famous beach. South of the pier it's wide enough at low tide for cars to drive along the ocean's edge. To the north the strand tapers to rugged cliffs where the surf smashes onto a rocky shore.
Beyond are outcroppings in the ocean that serve as offshore rookeries for brown pelicans and cormorants. A closer look with binoculars reveals sunbathing sea lions and an occasional sea otter frolicking in the kelp.
Just north of the pier you'll see the stucco-white Sandcastle Inn, a handsome 59-room lodging on the beach that opened a few weeks ago. Doubles begin at $65, ocean-front fireplace suites from $135; all include continental breakfast. Toll-free reservations: (800) 822-6606.
Next door and also on the sand are popular accommodations at the wood-shingled SeaVenture, a 3-year-old Quality Inn that boasts private spa tubs on 20 of its ocean-view room balconies. The tab for sun-and-soak rooms is $128; those without the open-air whirlpool begin at $64, including continental breakfast. Toll-free reservations: (800) 228-5151.
A special attraction of SeaVenture is one of Pismo's favorite restaurants, a rooftop dining spot that also draws the sunset cocktail crowd to its outdoor patios overlooking the Pacific. You can order full meals or eat light from an appetizer menu specializing in seafood.
Locals also like to dine at the venerable Plessas Tavern, Scrambles, Sand Point restaurant and Trader Nick's, all on Price Street. Pismo's best-known eatery is F. McLintock's Saloon and Dining House, north of town along Mattie Road.
It's in the town's attractive suburb of Shell Beach, the location for several cliff-top lodgings that include two longtime favorites of U.S. 101 travelers, Spyglass Inn and Sea Cliff Lodge. This spring they were joined by the Shelter Cove Lodge, an impressive hostelry that also sits just above the pounding surf. Double room rates from $85. Reservations: (805) 773-3511.
Continuing north along the ocean bluffs you'll see the new Windmark, a grand 170-room resort that plans to open by Christmas. Its owners intend to make it a five-star hotel. Information: (805) 773-5000.
Despite all the building, Pismo Beach remains a quiet destination. The most novel activity is a leisurely drive along the ocean on hard-packed sand.
Just don't try to embark on the trip at high tide--the road will be under water. The wide, six-mile thoroughfare is the only beach in California where vehicles are permitted. It's part of a state park and entry to the sand costs $3 per vehicle.
To reach the nearest access ramp, go south from Pismo on California 1 to Grover City and turn right on Grand Avenue. The beach speed limit is 15 m.p.h., and there's no reason to be in a hurry. Keep alert for other motorists, horseback riders, shore birds and clam diggers.
An abundance of clams brought the first visitors to Pismo before the turn of the century. Tales are told of digging up 2 million of the tasty mollusks in a single season. These days they're scarce, and even restaurants serve chowders made with clams imported from the East Coast.
Nevertheless, the Pismo clam continues to be celebrated with an annual fest that began in 1945. This year's affair is set for next weekend, with a clam dig for prizes on Sunday afternoon.
Starting with a parade featuring 35 high school marching bands, festival events include a fishing derby, sand castle contest, volleyball tournament, musical entertainment and an arts and crafts show.
For information contact Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce, 581 Dolliver St., Pismo Beach, Calif., 93449 or call (800) 443-7778. The office is open weekdays 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Round trip from Los Angeles to Pismo Beach via U.S. 101 is 408 miles.