Pismo Beach captures the real essence of a funky California seaside town. By day, summer vacationers head to the shore for surf, sun and foraging for sand dollars. At night, the town comes alive with seaside joints and visitors in flip flops strolling streets enlivened by vintage neon signs.
The name comes from “Pismu,” a Chumash Indian village some 9,000 years ago, meaning “tar,” an invaluable substance the Chumash used to seal their baskets and canoes. The city is part of the original 8,838 acre Rancho Pismo granted to Jose Ortega in 1840. In the 1850’s, records show that the ranch was purchased for 477 head of cattle by Issac Sparks. In 1875 the first hotel was built by John Price and in 1888 the first school district was founded and the first Post Office was established.
My sister and I meet for two days exploring the little seaside towns surrounding San Luis Obispo which lie between San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Our first night we dine at Giuseppe’s. Standing room only, it is packed with regulars and buzzing with that sweet sound of success, as the aroma of Italian food sweeps the air. We order the margharita pizza, fried squash blossoms and Italian beer. This is absolutely a must visit when in Pismo Beach and reservations are highly recommended.
Shell Beach has DePalo & Sons. The most fascinating deli brimming with packages of pastel colored dried pastas, freshly cooked lasagna & cannelloni ready to heat and eat, cookware, cookbooks, bottles of wines with coastal labels, pastries, their signature pasta sauces and the best hazelnut coffee ever. I thought we were going to spend our entire vacation in the deli.
Down the highway about a half hour away we turn into Avila Beach. My sister tells me the history of Avila’s oil spill and the years it has taken for the clean up. It now sits with it’s toes in the ocean beaming with visitors sitting outside dining, sunbathing and taking in the charm of it’s pastel-colored houses.
As we skirt through Cambria, our goal was to reach a little beachy destination called Cayucos. Rolling into this tiny town on the water, we find Schooner’s to throw back beers while overlooking the beach and pier. There is an effort to save the pier by contributions towards it’s restoration by faithful locals. Here we discover probably the most delicious cookies we have ever tasted at Brown Butter Cookies. We sit outside on wooden benches scarfing down soft mounds of buttery dough laced with sea salt watching tourists drive up just to leave with bags of these delectable sweets.
Driving back to Carmel, my Rover is filled with antiques, seashells, pasta sauces, wine, sea salt cookies, sand dollars and memories of the charm of tiny beach towns steeped in history, antiques and great flavors. Already planning a trip back. If not just for the deli.