With all the fuss over regulations and expensive taxes in California, it's refreshing to find a beach town that's doing fine holding onto a simpler past. Pismo State Beach, located NW of Santa Barbara, manages to balance the modern luxury of beach spas, wine tours, and film festivals right alongside beachfront camping, pier fishing, and dune buggies.
Touristy little beach towns run together along the miles of wide sandy beach from Pismo to Oceano - about two and a half miles. There are two CA State Park campgrounds: North Beach in Pismo and Oceano toward the south. Between the two campgrounds lies a giant mass of beach dunes which are a beloved playground for OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles).
Pismo State Beach is the last spot remaining in CA where it's legal to drive out onto the sand, and the access road is right past the Oceano Campground. This presents a special luxury, where visitors can pack every beach toy they own, along with food and drinks for the whole family, right into the car for one easy trip. This access is well used by surfers, fishermen, clam diggers, and visiting beach-goers.
If you're looking for other ways to spend the day, the surrounding area has no shortage of attractions. One of the main draws are the variety of wine tours north toward San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. There is a Monarch butterfly grove, a 100 year old mineral spring, biplane and helicopter rides, sea caves and more.
The weather at Pismo Beach is mild year round, so whenever you get the chance to visit, you will be welcomed with a huge variety of choices for fun and entertainment. Being just a few hours north of L.A., Pismo sees some big crowds during peak summer season. The State Park camping is the cheapest option in the area, so reserving six months in advance is common.
RV Rentals in Pismo State Beach
Transportation in Pismo State Beach
The beach town layout of these small towns doesn't leave much room for big vehicles. Make sure you know directions before you start driving, as it can be hard to find a place big enough to get turned around. The campground has plenty of room to loop around and comfortably maneuver back. Sand can mean uneven pads. California is serious about it's paid parking; watch for signs, meters, and warnings - tickets are a lousy souvenir.
Campgrounds and parking in Pismo State Beach
Campsites in Pismo State Beach
Santa Margarita KOA
Enjoy the multiple award-winning Santa Margarita KOA campground in a rustic, rural area. The campground’s been named the “best-kept secret on the central coast of California.” Fishing, hiking, biking, boat rentals and horse trails are less than half a mile away at Santa Margarita Lake. Hearst Castle, the Sunset Drive-in Movie Theatre, Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, wineries, the Pozo National Forest and whale-watching tours are all close by. The campground itself features Wi-Fi, a swimming pool, picnic tables and barbecue grills, a playground, disc golf, recreational facilities, activity and game rentals, a pet walk and a snack shack.
Avila / Pismo Beach KOA
The quaint Avila/Pismo Beach KOA is completely smoke-free and nestled inside a lovely California canyon, with natural attractions such as Pismo Dunes Natural Preserve and Pismo State Beach nearby. Sites at the Avila/Pismo Beach KOA include full hookups with cable and Wi-Fi. Amenities include restrooms and showers, laundry facilities, community propane barbecue pits, a year-round pool and hot tub, deluxe sites, a playground, a game room, recreational facilities, bike rentals, and a well-stocked general store. Guests of all ages will enjoy the petting zoo and farm across the street. This campground is pet-friendly with some restrictions.
80 beach dune campsites. Half do not have electricity. Large pull through sites for RVs with power, water, and a central dump station. One of the lowest rates for CA beach camping if you're set up for dry camping. A visitor center, flush toilets and hot showers. Open year round and reservable on the state website. Visitors prefer this south camp for access to the Oceano Dunes and off-road vehicle fun.
North Beach Campground
Closed for major construction
Seasonal activities in Pismo State Beach
Driving on the Beach
Enjoy access to the only drivable beach in California. There is vehicle access to the beach near each of the State campgrounds. Instead of hauling your beach chairs and cooler from the parking lot, you can load everything, and everybody, into the car, and drive right to your beach spot for the day. Driving down the beach near sunset will bring you back to the 1960's. Keep your speed down. The 25 MPH speed limit is enforced.
No permits are required to fish on the 1370 foot Pismo Beach Pier. The water toward the end is deep enough to grab ling cod and red snapper, so you may even need a net to bring in your trophy. Other rules still apply, so please check with the CDFW. The surf fishing is also very good for smallmouth bass and California flounder, but you'll need to by a license if you fish beyond the pier. Chat up the locals on the pier, they usually know just the right bait to reel in dinner.
One of the most accessible and most forgiving surf spots in the area, catch some waves north or south of the Pismo Beach Pier. A consistent beach break that never feels crowded. Several local shops offer cheap equipment rental and lessons. Waves pick up in the winter, but are a perfect size for boogie-boards in summer. It gets hot enough mid-summer for board shorts, but real wet suits are a must when temps are below seventy.
There are top wineries everywhere in this area, so many that you won't even have to drive around to find them - join a tour. Whether you explore Paso Robles, Arroyo Grande, or San Louis Obispo, there are so many choices and so much beautiful scenery between wineries, you'll be glad that someone else is driving. A variety of wine tour companies will pick you up in Pismo Beach for tours lasting a couple hours, or all day.
SLO International Film Festval
Six days of independent film screenings held at theaters and wineries around the San Louis Obispo area (minutes north of the park). This high-profile event is celebrating 25 years and is an amazing opportunity to rub shoulders with major Hollywood celebrities while enjoying some of the best work from emerging film makers. Tickets are surprisingly affordable and can be purchased singly or a full week vip-treatment. Tell Robert Redford we said hello.
Monarch Butterfly Grove
October through February thousands of Western Monarch butterflies show up at the eucalyptus trees at Pismo Beaches' own butterfly grove. Knowledgeable and well-informed volunteers offer visitors daily talks and information about the butteries. So many orange and black wings cover the tree branches that you can barely see the trees. It's a short walk from the North Beach campground.