Avila Beach, California - a great little find on the quiet - and lovely - central coast
AVILA BEACH, CALIFORNIA – Sometimes even a native Californian gets surprised at what this state has to offer.
I’ve driven down Highway 101 dozens of times between L.A. and San Francisco, and I’ve passed Pismo Beach dozens of times without stopping. It’s a small but cute beach town roughly midway between the two major cities of California, close to the town of San Luis Obispo and not far down the coast from Hearst Castle.
I’d hardly ever noticed the exit signs for Avila Beach, just north of Pismo (and pronounced A-VILL-A, with no real emphasis on any one syllable, just FYI). But the tourism board suggested I stop for the night on my way from Santa Barbara to the Paso Robles wine country, so that’s what I did.
You turn off Highway 101 a couple miles north of Pismo Beach and wind your way through a pretty canyon, past towering sycamore trees and eucalyptus. There’s a lovely golf course on your right with deep-green fairways that contrast starkly with the dusty brown hills of central California at this time of year, and then, suddenly, you’re at the beach.
And it’s a beauty.
There are two large piers that jut out into the Pacific in Avila Beach, and there’s a long stretch of sand that's close to a kilometer in length. There are chalky cliffs lined with thick, spiky ice plant and luxuriant grasses, and there’s a massive golden-brown rock formation at the east end of the beach (see above).
The weather has turned cool and rainy the last day or so, but earlier this week it was 20 degrees C and sunny in Avila Beach and I had a wonderful walk on the sand, passing a guy in his 70’s who was out boogie-boarding in the cold California water, not far from a pair of splashing sea lions.
There were 15 or 20 people on the beach the other morning, almost all of them with rambunctious dogs chasing beat-up tennis balls or chewed-up Frisbees in the surf.
Someone has spent a ton of money fixing up the waterfront, and there’s a lovely park at the north end of the beach, right next to the beautifully-landscaped Avilia Lighthouse Suites hotel (see photo below left), which features large units right on the water with a great pool and decent breakfast with free wifi. A great spot for folks who want a little space or families travelling with kids, as they also have ping pong on the patio and other activities, including a large swing-set right on the beach.
Rooms are going for as little as $129 mid-week this month for a park view room and $189 and up for ocean views. Weekends appear to be at least double that price.
Right next to the hotel are a series of shops, restaurants and bars fronted by a waterfront promenade that runs right along the beach, which means you can sit and have a coffee or a drink or dinner and be four or five metres from the beach, with nothing to mar your view of the Pacific except pedestrians or the odd skateboarder.
I had a Firestone Double Barrel ale and a huge plate of meaty ribs for dinner at Custom House, which has a big whack of tables outside for days like I had earlier this week. It was a great place for dinner, and just steps from a couple of small hotels and inns. There are also are fun surf shops, cutesy souvenir spots, a small bookstores and several wine-tasting spots, as the Edna Valley wine region is close by.
It's only a few minutes from larger Pismo Beach, which has a small outlet mall and tons more restaurants and shops. And it's only 15 minutes from San Luis Obispo, which offers a fun, pedestrian-friendly downtown and a culture that features cowboys, surfers, college kids from Cal Poly SLO, farmers and wine afficionados.
All in all, it was quite the find. Not the sort of place most Canadians would make their ultimate destination for a California trip, but a great spot for those who want to check out the lovely and less-visited charms of the central coast and who might be making their way between SF and LA, or vice versa.
More to come next week on central coast wine regions; particularly the Santa Ynez Valley area near Santa Barbara and the relatively unsung Paso Robles area, which has stunning red wines that I rank as my favourites from anywhere in the world.