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14 Best Things to do in Pismo Beach, California

Stopping at Pismo Beach on your California trip? You won’t regret it! There are tons of great things to do in Pismo Beach, and here you’ll find the very best ones. 

Pismo Beach is a hidden coastal gem in California’s Central Coast, a small fishing town between San Francisco and Los Angeles which makes a perfect stop on your LA to San Francisco drive (or the other way around!).

Pismo’s vivid downtown area is filled with bars and restaurants, and its extensive beach and giant pier give it the right amount of city and nature that is guaranteed to suit all kinds of travelers.

I spent one year as a high school exchange student in nearby Paso Robles, and Pismo Beach for me was the exact image of how I thought California would be – a big stretch of beach with lifeguard huts, palms, the pier, and cute, little boutique shops and cafes.

Whether you’re visiting with children, looking for a romantic getaway, or want to enjoy Pismo Beach’s nightlife, this dreamy little town won’t disappoint. Add great cuisine, sunsets, and gorgeous landscapes to the mix, and voilà! The absolute perfect weekend in Pismo Beach is served. 

Now, let’s get to the 14 best things to do at Pismo Beach!

Enjoy the beach at Pismo Beach

Well, the town’s name says it all, right? With white sands, clear waters, marine life and sunrise, and sunsets to remember, the beaches in Pismo Beach are a true gem

Although you’ll find several in the area, the best beach in Pismo Beach is probably the one right in the town’s center, unmissable thanks to the iconic pier, a true landmark in San Luis Obispo County. 

The 1200-feet long pier is a great visit on its own, fantastic for children to run around as the adults admire the views, without anyone getting their mouths or feet filled with sand. But if that’s not a concern (I hope it isn’t; the beach is gorgeous!) take your shoes off and head down for some sunbathing time, swimming, kayaking or beach-volley; town beaches are always great opportunities for meeting people, especially if you’re traveling solo! 

You can also go surfing or fishing at Pismo Beach, if that’s your thing, and since it’s located right by Downtown Pismo Beach, you can walk here. 

If you feel like going a bit further, your choice should be Shell Beach, a coastal dream landscape where the Pacific Ocean fights the pointy, rocky cliffs of Shell Beach. Sunsets in this spot transport you to the most perfect movie scene (and since we’re in the land of movies…pretend you’re in one, and you’ll be sure to believe it!) 

If you have kids, Shell Beach is a perfect destination as long as there’s a low tide in Pismo Beach; you’ll find lots of pools for them to splash around, and chances are you’ll get to see crabs and starfish. If you’re lucky, you might even see some sea cucumber or even an octopus!

There are many other beaches near Pismo if you feel like exploring.

Have the best clam chowder at Splash Cafe 

If you want to enjoy Pismo’s classic food spots like a local, Splash Cafe is waiting for you; it’s definitely one of the top restaurants in Pismo Beach and if you’re looking for the best clam chowder in Pismo Beach, you’re in the right place, since this classic dish is has won awards

Splash Cafe is the perfect spot for seafood lovers, since all meals from the menu are made with the catch of the day. If you’re not into seafood but your fellow travelers are dying to eat here, you can enjoy some of the veggie options they offer. 

After you’ve eaten here, you can explore some of the best restaurants in Pismo Beach for different dishes and classics. The local cuisine is truly delicious!  

Explore the Dinosaur Caves Park

Dinosaur Caves Park is a part of Pismo that comes with a funny story. Back in the day, in the 50s, a Pismo neighbor built huge dinosaurs next to the highway to call the attention of drivers that were passing by. This project was not well received by the locals, so the City Council decided to ask him to terminate it. Decades later, and with a different attitude, the city decided to recover the original project, and Pismo’s Dinosaur Caves Park was born.

The Dinosaur Caves in Pismo Beach are a crowning spot at the end of Shell Beach, and the city’s most used event facility. Spending some time here is one of the best things to do in Pismo Beach with kids, as they’ll be able to play in the huge dinosaur sculptures, run along the trails and pretend to be the toughest Tyrannosaurus Rex. 

This area is a favorite for joggers, dog-walkers and bikers as well as families, as the trails overlook the ocean offering lovely views. 

Dune Buggy at the Oceano Dunes

If you found that some adrenaline is missing in the previous points, we’ve reached the one to interest you. Oceano Dunes at Pismo Beach offers you an incredible, thrilling experience; one of the best Pismo Beach attractions for adventurers: dune buggy!  

You can drive a buggy or go atving in Pismo Beach to add some exhilaration to your trip. You’ll whip across the dunes and past the crashing waves for a couple of hours; equipment and safety gear are included, so there’s nothing to worry about besides having fun. 

The dune buggy in Pismo Beach experience also comes with a souvenir t-shirt; there’s no way you’ll be forgetting it anytime soon! ➥ BOOK IT HERE 

Make it a Romantic Weekend

Pismo Beach is the utmost romantic getaway; a long pier overlooking the ocean, dozens of cute eateries to stop for a bite, beach walks after watching sunset…Yeah, I’m getting cheesy (that was the point, though!) 

There are several bike rentals in Pismo Beach, hot springs, and spa options for a relaxing weekend with your partner; but if your ideal romantic escape is not so tranquil, you can still have fun in this California town. Hiking is one of the top-rated activities of the area, as is catching some waves, going shopping, bar hunting or horseback riding in Pismo Beach. You can go back home invigorated and with new memories!

In case you want advice on the most romantic spots for dinner, here are some: 

Ventana Grill: This is a breathtaking place for an early dinner while watching the sunset. The atmosphere is great, the food is homemade, locally sourced and part of the kitchen is visibly exposed in front of customers. Remember to make your reservation beforehand. 

Address: 2575 Price St, Pismo Beach
Opening Hours
: Daily from 11 AM to 9 PM

Somerset Grill: If you are into fancy, 19th-century wooden style furniture, Somerset Grill is quite an experience for the senses and traditional looks. You’ll be required to suit up for the occasion, which adds some charm to the dinner date. The food is made with locally-grown produce, and they have both vegan and vegetarian options. Booking is welcomed.

Somerset Grill is located inside Vespera Resort Hotel, a perfect choice of stay for your passionate getaway. 

Address: 147 Stimson Avenue, Pismo Beach
Opening Hours
: Daily from 7 AM to 8 PM

READ ALSO: 13 Best Cafes and Restaurants in Pismo Beach, CA

Satisfy your sweet cravings

Incurable case of a sweet tooth? Well, welcome to pastry paradise (one of many, actually, but not the less worthy!)
Pismo Beach is home to really good homemade pastries and sweets and has two golden gems that will threaten your diet. 

Surfside Donuts: If you are looking for a place to buy cool, instagrammable, yet delicious homemade donuts, Surfside Donuts is the place. You can even have personalized messages made with donuts! A really cute treat for a loved one (or yourself!)
Address: 603 Dolliver St, Pismo Beach
Opening Hours: Mondays to Sundays: 6 AM to 11 AM

Old West Cinnamon Rolls is a small hidden gem in Pismo. This place drives all the Cinnamon Rolls connoisseurs from the area CRAZY! You can get the Classical Cinnamon Roll or choose among other frostings, and if cinnamon rolls are not your thing (really, though?) you can opt for Brownies, Carrot Cake, Muffins and Mudslides. 

Address: 861 Dolliver St, Pismo Beach Opening Hours: Mondays-Sundays from 6.30 AM to 6 PM

READ ALSO: A Guide to the Best Cafes and Restaurants in Pismo Beach

See thousands of butterflies at Monarch Butterfly Grove

From late October to February, Monarch Butterflies flock to Pismo Beach seeking shelter from the northern winters. 

Every season, these beautiful, orange butterflies cluster in the limbs of a eucalypt grove located throughout the State Beach, one of the five places in the state which receives thousands of butterflies every year. 

There are around 25 thousand butterflies at Pismo Beach during that time, making this colony one of the biggest in the country. 

Seeing these magnificent butterflies is a wonder, and will enchant children and grownups alike. The grove is located on State Highway 1 at the south boundary of the city limits and it’s easily accessible. Definitely, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Pismo Beach!

Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa

Whether you’re exploring the area with your partner, with your girlfriends or on your own, head to the Spa at Dolphin Bay Resort for the best massage in Pismo Beach and some pampering that will get your skin glowing and your muscles relaxed. 

The spa facilities in this hotel include all you need to quiet the mind, body and soul, as it also offers guided wellness rituals. 

Address: 2727 Shell Beach Rd, Pismo Beach  Opening Hours: Wednesday-Sunday from 11 AM to 6 PM

Go Kayaking or Surfing in Pismo Beach

If you want to add some more adventure to your Pismo bucket list, going kayaking or surfing are some of the best water activities in Pismo Beach. 

Pismo is one of California’s surfing hot spots, where riders come from all over the state to catch waves. Whether you’ve never tried it or are an experienced surfer, you can benefit from prepping with an instructor to gain the necessary confidence and tips to surf like never before! Surfboard and suit are included. ➥ BOOK IT HERE 

If you trust your skills and want to go on your own, there are several places where you can rent the equipment, both for surfing and kayaking. Pancho’s Surf Shop and Pismo Beach Dive Shop are good rental shops to check out.  

Stretch your legs and go for a hike

If water isn’t your thing and you’re wondering what to do in Pismo Beach to enjoy as much without getting wet, the answer is hiking!  

There are many beautiful hikes near Pismo Beach that will get you going and reward you with astounding views. Here are some of the favorite hiking trails: 

➤ If you’re into recreational activities and love the outdoors, the Pismo Preserve is the best place for you to stop by. There are over 11 miles of existing ranch roads and trails, oak woodlands, coastal ridgelines and breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean. All ideal places for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

The California Coastal Trail is one of the most amazing coastlines in the world. If hiking in Pismo Beach is in your plans, you shouldn’t miss this trail, offering you the sights of sandy beaches, tide pools, impressive cliffs, forested mountains and bays. 

The California Coastal Trail is an interconnected public trail system that is still being developed, and that will extend from Oregon to Mexico covering a distance of over 1200 miles. The trail offers many outdoor activities, boasting a paved path for bikes, skateboards, wheelchairs and strollers, and a bluff top dirt path for hiking or horseback riding. It’s definitely one of the utmost Pismo Beach activities for outdoor lovers!

The Shell Beach Bluff Trail is an incredible place for hiking, walking, and enjoying nature. Its scenic views toward the ocean are mesmerizing, and the good news (for lazy hikers or people with slow mobility) is that it’s only 1 mile long. This makes it the perfect hiking trail for young children, and since it’s pet-friendly you can bring your dog with a leash. 

Catch a show at the Great American Melodrama

The Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville is a theater located in Oceano, 3 miles south of Pismo Beach, that features musicals, comedies and classic melodramas. After a long day in nature, it’s one of the perfect things to do in Pismo Beach at night for some culture and entertainment. 

The theater shows off a fancy cabaret-style decor and offers, after every show, a vaudeville revue with comedy, songs and dances. As they state, the performances are fun for ages 4 to 104, so there’s no way you’ll leave the theater without belly aches from laughter. I’ve personally come three times over the the year I was living in nearby Paso Robles, and each time enjoyed a different performance.

Address: 1863 Front St, Oceano  Box Office Hours: Wednesday to Saturday 12 PM to 6 PM, Sunday from 12 PM to 5 PM.

Wine Tasting in Edna Valley

Oh, yes. Pismo Beach also boasts (as it should be, we’re in California!) magnificent wine. The Edna Valley is one of the best attractions in Pismo Beach, and it’s located less than 7 miles north from Pismo. There are many wineries in the Valley, and the first vines date back to the 1800s! 200 hundred years later, winemaking still remains popular in the area (I wonder why?) 

Old Edna, as the place is generally known, has a natural varied landscape and beautiful views of the vineyards; needless to say, if you enjoy a glass of rosé or (insert your favorite wine here), a visit to the Edna Valley is one of the must things to do near Pismo Beach.

Here are some of the most popular wineries to stop for a drink: 

Kynsi Winery: Kynsi is a high-ranked winery in California, and one of Edna Valley’s favorites. This family-owned winery focuses its labors and production on Pinot wines. If you want to visit Kynsi Winery, you need to make sure to book in advance, since it only has the capacity to host 6 visitors at a time. Kynsi used to be an old dairy ranch which was turned into a very rustic, cozy winery, so the place itself is very enchanting. 

Edna Valley Vineyard: With panoramic views and outdoor patios, Edna Valley Vineyard is the perfect place to relax with a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. The vineyard hosts a vast tasting room and offers seasonal light bites to pair with your wine.

Paso Robles: This is not a vineyard, but Paso Robles, another town nearby Pismo and Edna Valley, has recently become one of the most sought-after wine destinations in the area. It’s only a 40-minute drive from Pismo Beach, and worth a day trip! You’ll find several wineries at Paso Robles to choose from.  

Rainy Day? Go shopping at the Pismo Beach Premium Outlets

The outlets at Pismo Beach are a dream for those who enjoy shopping, hosting 33 stores and more than 900 brands (yes, you read that right!) 

Whether shopping is the backup plan for a rainy day, or you’re adding it now to your itinerary (or even if you don’t want to spend!) going to the Premium Outlets is a real treat. Here you’ll be sure to find all sorts of souvenirs, replace the x item you forgot to pack – be it glasses, hiking boots or lipstick, and watch your fellow shoppers while having a meal at the food court. 

Address: 333 5 Cities Dr, Pismo Beach Opening Hours: Sunday to Thursday from 11 AM to 7 PM; Friday & Saturday from 10 AM to 8 PM

Plan a trip for the Pismo Beach Clam Festival

Every year in October, the Annual Pismo Beach Clam Festival awards Pismo’s best Clam Chowder

If you visit Pismo Beach during the festival, not only will you eat the very best Clam Chowder in the West Coast but you’ll also get to enjoy amazing events with live music shows, parades, street vendors and an overall atmosphere of joy that lights up this coastal town. Not to be forgotten is the Clam Chowder cook-off and the appointed winner. 

Pismo Beach is in festival mode during this month, and it’s a perfect excuse to visit with your foodie friends or with the whole family; a Clam Festival is one of those unique things to do in Pismo Beach…or anywhere!

Go on a day trip and explore SLO County

If your stay in Pismo Beach lasts more than a couple of days, it’s a great idea to go out and explore some of the best gems in San Luis Obispo County. 

San Luis Obispo (SLO) is considered “one of the happiest places in America”. The city is filled with cute restaurants and shops, plenty of hotels and great nightlife activities such as bars, breweries and museums. 

In San Luis Obispo you’ll get some of the best craft beers in the area, and during the weekend there’s a renowned farmers market you can’t miss (it gets crowded, though!). If you still have time after checking it out, having a pint and shopping around, there’s a great botanical garden you can visit, spectacular mountain views and vineyards, in case you’re more on the wine team than the beer team. 

San Luis Obispo is located 12 miles south of Pismo Beach, a 20-minute drive that’s totally worth it!

Hearst Castle is the main attraction of San Simeon, a town 55 miles from Pismo Beach. 

This gorgeous, palatial estate was built in the early 1900s, and was later turned into a museum unlike any other in the United States. It’s a Mediterranean Revival mansion (winking at you, architecture savvys!) that shows off great opulence, and while visiting you’ll be immersed in beautiful history. 

Image by Buurserstraat38 vía DepositPhotos

There are different tours you can take to visit the castle’s grand rooms, library, cottage and kitchen. You can even dine at Hearst Castle! The highlight of the place? The outdoor pool. Don’t leave without checking it out!

Cambria is a town 45 miles north of Pismo, located 10 miles before San Simeon. This place is great for some hiking adventures at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, Shamel Park, Bluff Trail or Leffingwell Landing Park. 

Of course, you’ll be able to sample great wine and mostly enjoy the views, because the coastal sights in Cambria are breathtaking. The town itself is beautiful too, so don’t forget to wander around and stop for a treat at some of its cafes. 

Morro Bay, 24 miles from Pismo, is world-famous because of the Morro Rock, a magnificent natural backdrop for all your beach activities and that adds a dramatic look to all your photos. 

Besides this fabulous creation of Nature, Morro Bay is home to pretty amazing beaches, including Coleman Park and Bay State Park Beach.

There are plenty of things to do in Morro Bay. After you go for a swim or get the perfect selfie with the Morro Rock, go hunting for restaurants (there are quite a few) and get tickets for the movie theater.

This is definitely another destination that needs to be on your San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary, if that’s what you’re planning!

How to get to Pismo Beach

You’ll probably be visiting Pismo from Los Angeles or San Francisco, but in case you’re coming from any other city or state, there are a few airports near Pismo Beach you can get to. The closest option is San Luis Obispo County Airport (SBP), only 15 minutes from the city. If you’re coming from abroad, international airports in the area include Burbank (BUR) and LAX.

How to get to Pismo Beach from LA

If you’re coming from LA to Pismo Beach, the drive will take you around 4 hours (it can be a little less if traffic is good to you!). Pismo is located about 170 miles north of West Hollywood, and the best way to get there is by taking the US-101 N highway. 

▶ If you’re not driving, the train ride between LA and Pismo Beach costs between 40 to 60 dollars at the time of writing, and it takes little less than four hours to get there. Take the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner in Union Station and get down at Grover Beach Train Station, where you can take a taxi for around 10 dollars (it’s a really short ride) or the Line 21 bus for as little as a couple of dollars at the time of writing. 

There are only 3 direct trains per day, so unless you don’t mind the transfers, plan ahead and make sure you take the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner; the other trains, due to the many stops along the way, can take more than 7 hours to get there!  

How to get to Pismo Beach from San Francisco

If you’re driving from San Francisco, the ride will take you between 4 and 5 hours, depending on the traffic. The distance from SF to Pismo Beach is 280 miles, and you have two different route options: the US-101 S/Central Fwy, which is the shortest way, and the  I-5 S that takes you through the Golden Gate Bridge. 

▶ For public transportation, your best option is the Amtrak Bus that departs from San Francisco twice a day – although one of the departures is at night – and takes around 6 hours to get to Grover Beach Train Station. From here, you can take the bus (Line 21) for a couple of dollars, or take a taxi.  If at any point you feel lost, you can always ask for directions to Pismo Beach; it’s a very popular place!

You can also get to Grover Beach by taking a combination of bus and train, but you’ll have many transfers along the way and it’ll end up taking you around nine hours to arrive, so make sure you book the right ticket and ask if necessary – better safe than sorry! 

Once in Pismo, you can use the Avila/Pismo Trolley, RTA 21, RTA 28 which all go around Pismo, Shell Beach, and Avila Beach areas respectively.

Where to stay in Pismo Beach 

Of course, you won’t resist staying for a few days once you arrive! Here are the best hotels in Pismo Beach, for all budgets: 

LUXURY: Vespera Resort on Pismo Beach – This 4-star hotel is the ultimate choice for a romantic and luxurious weekend. It offers, beside beautifully decorated and fully equipped rooms, a pool to cool off, a fitness center, a bar and magnificent views of the beach. The hotel welcomes pets, so feel free to include your furry family member on the trip. The Vespera Resort is also home to Somerset Grill, a fantastic restaurant with meals worth mouth watering over. 

BOUTIQUE HOTEL: Inn at the Cove – This boutique hotel has beautiful views of the ocean; the sunset from here is spectacular. There’s a pool and hot tubs available, and you’ll enjoy a continental breakfast every morning. Among the facilities, there’s a spa, sun terrace and tea/coffee maker in all rooms. There are many activities you can book from the hotel, like snorkeling, horse riding or canoeing. 

MID-RANGE: Pismo Lighthouse Suites – Lighthouse in Pismo Beach is a fantastic hotel for families. It has great views of the ocean, swimming pool, beach equipment and tons of kid-friendly facilities; from an outdoor playground to board games, DVDs and family rooms. Breakfast is included.  

ON A BUDGET: Ocean Palms Motel – This Motel is only 300 meters away from the pier, a great location in downtown Pismo Beach. All rooms have en-suite bathrooms, a coffee machine, microwave, and mini-refrigerator. The Le Sage Riviera Golf Course in Pismo Beach is within a 5-minute drive, and there’s a picnic area and BBQ facilities if you’d rather not dine out. 

Things to do in Pismo Beach FAQ

Is there anything to do in Pismo Beach?

There are many activities to enjoy in Pismo Beach, especially if you love the outdoors. All water activities can be done at the various beautiful beaches of the area (Pismo Beach is a hot spot for surfing), and hiking trails allow you to go for a run, ride a bike or go horse riding with views of the ocean. There’s a theater nearby, tons of cafés and restaurants and the wineries near Pismo Beach abound. 

Is it worth visiting Pismo Beach?

Pismo Beach is a lovely fishing town in the California Coast, and it’s worth the visit for a couple of days, especially if you enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, horse riding or any sort of water activity. You’ll be spoiled with the delicious food, you’ll have beautiful beaches to take your kids to or watch the sunset, tons of rental shops for surfing and kayaking equipment, a spa for relaxing, a comedy theater to laugh all night…and many wineries in the closeby Edna Valley. It’s the perfect destination for a weekend getaway either on your own, with your partner or family. 

Can you swim at Pismo Beach?

You can definitely swim in Pismo Beach. This coastal town has many beautiful beaches where, besides swimming, you can practice most water activities, such as surfing, kayaking or windsurfing.

Which is better, Avila Beach or Pismo Beach?

Avila Beach is usually warmer than Pismo Beach, and enjoys more sunny days. However, Pismo Beach has more accommodation and activities to offer, and is bigger than Avila. It’s also more busy and noisy than Avila. If what you’re looking for is some quiet time and  guaranteed sunny days, regardless of the activities, you should stick to Avila. If, on the other hand, you want entertainment and more things to see and do, Pismo Beach is better. 

What do you wear in Pismo Beach?

Essentials for Pismo Beach include swimwear and some warm clothes, including a jacket, pants and long sleeve shirts, as the nights can get cold and some days may be foggy. The safest option is to dress in layers. 

Which is better, Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

Both beach destinations are beautiful; it depends on your interests which one will suit you best. Pismo Beach is a more relaxed town, ideal for family trips or romantic getaways. Santa Barbara, on the other hand, is bigger and offers more city facilities, like upscale shopping and architecture. If you want to disconnect from the city and get lost in nature, Pismo Beach is the better choice. 

How far is Pismo Beach from Los Angeles? 

Pismo Beach is 170 miles north of West Hollywood in Los Angeles. If you’re driving, the trip will take you around 4 hours; a little less if there’s not much traffic. 

  • Stefania Guglielmi

    Stefania Guglielmi is the founder of Every Steph. Originally from Bologna, Italy, she's been traveling full-time since 2016 and has visited over 50 countries across 6 continents. She believes sustainable travel and luxury travel can go hand in hand and has been advocating for responsible tourism since 2014. Stefania's advice and travel experiences have been featured in important publications such as Business Insider, Refinery29, and Yahoo Money.

Brian Carpenter

Saturday 7th of May 2022

Great helpful information! Looking to move home to California from South America and Pismo Beach sounds ideal. Thank you.


Wednesday 11th of May 2022

Oh, I'd imagine it could be a great place to live! I'm more of a city girl, but when it comes to quaint, charming beach towns, it doesn't get much better than Pismo!