Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach

Every November thousands of Monarch Butterflies flutter into a small grove at the south end of Pismo Beach. Like their year round human visitor counterparts, they come into the Central California coastal city to find rest and refuge after their travels.

The city of Pismo Beach has managed to retain it’s old fashioned funky California beach town ambiance while keeping up to date with all the activities and amenities that anyone could want in a vacation destination. Located sixty miles from the Santa Ynez Valley, Pismo Beach is a great day trip, less than an hour up the coast.

Nicknamed “Clam City,” Pismo Beach celebrates its famous bivalve with chowder contests, parades, and an annual October festival. Although the Pismo clam is going the way of the Dodo and local restaurants now import their clams for their chowders because the numbers of clams has diminished considerably, the clam is still a star attraction here. Check out the giant clam statue at the south end of Price Street which is decorated for any and all holidays. Pismo Beach is proud of its namesake clam (and official state mollusk) and equally proud of its history as a seaside resort. Over one hundred years ago, the area was such a popular attraction that a tent city was set up on the beach to house the overflow of guests from the El Pizmo Inn. The clam was truly king back then. At the turn of the twentieth century, a limit of 200 clams per day per person was set to prevent the beach being stripped of the then abundant Pismo clams.

Natural beauty and wildlife are intertwined in Pismo Beach. There is of course the small grove of Monterey Pines and eucalyptus which are adorned with upwards of 100,000 lovely, colorful and fragile wintering Monarch Butterflies. The grove holds the largest number of the migrating butterflies in the state of California. A record number of them, over 200,000, wintered in Pismo Beach about ten years ago This pocket state park was said to be one of famed novelist John Steinbeck’s favorite spots.

Many bird species also live in this section of the California coast. In fact, over 200 species of birds either live here year round or follow the Pacific migration route, stopping in Pismo Beach. The prehistoric looking California brown pelicans patrol the sea air above the wide, white, flat expanse of Pismo Beach. Once listed as an endangered species in June 1970, their numbers have recovered sufficiently to de list the birds by November 2009. The California Least Tern is making a comeback but is still listed as a federally listed endangered sub species. The small bird is often seen sailing over the waves with its characteristic hunched back and black crowned cap or roosting on the sand dunes just south of Pismo Beach. The California Least Terns arrive in April, mate, make their nests from the middle of May until the middle of June, and then leave by the end of August. Both parents incubate one to four eggs and the baby birds are able to fly at four weeks old.

The Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes Preserve, at the southern border of Pismo Beach, are the tallest and largest sand dune ecosystem in the world. With eighteen miles of shoreline and 22,000 acres, there is plenty to explore. The Dune Nature Center sponsors public hikes, school programs and special activities all year round. The Dunes Center is open from Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and located at 1055 Guadalupe Street, Guadalupe, CA 93434 (805) 343-2455

The Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes are also known for the adjacent northern section of the dunes: the Oceano Dunes State Recreational and Vehicular Area, the place where ATVs, dune buggies and even cars and trucks can drive directly onto the beach.

From the Pismo Beach pier and city parks, migrating whales can be seen as they make their way south from December through April. For up close and personal views of humpback, gray and killer whales, dolphins, sea lions, and otters, book a whale watching trip. Patriot Sportfishing offers 2 ½ hour cruises at reasonable prices: $35 for adults, children 4-12 for $15 and children 3 and under $10. During whale watching season, excursions are offered on Fridays, Saturdays and/or Sundays, weather permitting. Boats leave from Port San Luis Harbor, north of Pismo and Shell Beach in Avila Beach. Sport fishing and private charters are also available.

For more wildlife viewing, travel up the coast north of Cambria. There you’ll see the behemoths of the California Central Coast, hundreds of giant elephant seals in their protected rookery near the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.

This stretch of windy Pacific Coast Highway, south of Ragged Point and Big Sur, is home to the huge males and females that bring forth their young in the spring behind the fences that run along Highway 1. Gigantic bulls with walrus like tusks snort and fight for the right to mate with the females in their harems. The air is filled with their noisy fighting, barking and mating. Sometimes the elephant seals make their way across the road to the inland side and have to be “escorted” back to the beach. Docents are available to answer questions and provide information about the habits and habitats of these incredible mammals and their young.

There are many opportunities for fun and adventure in Pismo Beach as well as up and down the Central Coast. But for a different day in Pismo, remember your fellow creatures on land, in the sea and in the air. From the sights of migrating graceful gray whales, the endangered Least Terns burrowing into the sandy dunes, soaring brown pelicans flying in squadron formation, and the royal Pismo visitors, the Monarch butterflies leaving their clusters in the tall trees to flutter in the warmth of the sun, a day in Pismo Beach will linger in your memory and your heart for a long time to come.