Pismo Beach is great in all seasons. Winter may have cooler temperatures, but it will also have a lot fewer tourists and a lot more butterflies. Whether you want to surf, explore the Pismo Beach dunes, visit Dinosaur Caves Park, go wine tasting or simply stroll on the beach, Pismo Beach is a great getaway. Located in central California off Highway 101, this is a perfect little beach town getaway.
Pismo Beach Lodging
Best Luxury Hotel in Pismo Beach: Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa
Best Shell Beach Hotel: The Cliffs Hotel and Spa
Best Pismo Beach Hotel on the Beach: Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa
Best Family-Friendly Hotel: SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel
Best Budget Hotel: Beachwalker Inn & Suites
Read Reviews of the Best Hotels in Pismo Beach on TripAdvisor
The below list offers some of the best things to do in Pismo Beach in all seasons, except the Monarch Butterfly Grove which is in full swing from late fall into mid-winter. Below are just a few of the reasons winter is still “prime time” to visit Pismo Beach:
Top Things to do in Pismo Beach in Winter
1. Monarch Butterfly Grove – November through February
Each year thousands of vibrant Monarch Butterflies flock to Pismo Beach, seeking shelter from the freezing northern winters. From late October to February, the butterflies cluster in a grove of Eucalyptus trees at the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, just 3 minutes from downtown. The Pismo monarch butterfly garden colony is one of the largest in the nation, hosting an average of 25,000 of these enchanting butterflies each winter.
2. Wine Tasting in Pismo Beach
Leading from the center of downtown Pismo Beach, scenic Price Canyon Road meanders a few short miles through the neighboring Santa Lucia range to the pastoral Edna Valley. An officially recognized American Viticulture Area, Edna Valley is most well known for its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.
Wine tasting rooms vary from tucked away converted barns to impressive contemporary structures, but the common thread is a warm and welcoming attitude. Standouts in the region include the Center of Effort, Claiborne & Churchill Vintners, Tolosa Winery, Wolff Vineyards, Kynsi Winery, Sextant Winery, Edna Valley Vineyard, Saucelito Canyon Vineyard and Chamisal Vineyards.
If you want to head a bit further into wine country, Paso Robles is just a 40-minute drive. Paso is well known for its heritage varietal Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Rhône-style wines. Paso Robles wine country is famous for Syrah which is a big wine with fairly low alcohol levels. It is an elegant wine, which is both sophisticated and approachable. In addition to the Syrah’s and other red varietals, the area is also now producing some top-notch white wines.
Other nearby wine-producing areas that offer tasting opportunities are the Avila and Arroyo Grande Valleys, as well as Paso Robles. Within Pismo Beach itself, several businesses offer the chance to sample locally-grown vintages, including Tastes of the Valleys, a wine bar, and store with up to 700 wines offered by the glass; San Liege Wines showcasing the talent of Curt Schalchlin and his wines made from Central Coast sourced fruit; and Vino Versato, pouring a selection of 35-40 wines by the glass while also serving as the tasting room for several local wineries, and featuring live entertainment.
Pismo Beach Fun Fact: Pismo Beach is known as the Clam Capital of the World. The city holds a Clam Festival every October, complete with clam chowder competitions and a clam-themed parade.
3. Pismo State Beach
Spanning an impressive 17 miles, the wide-open and pristine sands of Pismo State Beach extend southward from the Pismo Beach Pier to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in the distance. Offering opportunities for long walks, surfing, swimming, kayaking, fishing, camping and even horseback riding, the opportunities for outdoor recreation as well as the views are endless.
The Pismo Pier is 1,370 feet long, and is the 16th longest ocean pier in California. It is a pleasant stroll on one of the most beautiful of California’s Central Coast piers.
Central Coast Kayaks offers tours of the Central Coast, guided kayak fishing trips, rentals of kayaks, fishing kayaks, & paddleboards. After you have had your fill of the beautiful sandy beach, one of the fun things to do is get out on the water in a kayak. They are located at 1879 Shell Beach Road in Pismo Beach.
4. Shell Beach
Wondering what to do in Pismo Beach? The number one reason most people visit is the beautiful beaches. There are nine beaches in the Shell Beach area of Pismo Beach. These beaches are tucked below the cliffs of Shell Beach and are coves below steep bluffs. The best way to access shell beach is the stairway from these bluffs.
Most have tide pools that are exposed at low tides. Shell beach starts at Elmer Ross Beach (5390 Price St, Pismo Beach, CA 93449) and heading north the 8th beach South Palisades Park (198 Beachcomber Dr, Pismo Beach, CA 93449). Pirate’s Cove is the last beach and an additional one-mile walk as you head north.
This popular spot is especially fun at low tide and a perfect place to learn more about the marine life at these beaches that include sea anemones, snails, limpets, and sea urchins.
There are also several city parks found along the bluffs overlooking the ocean around Shell Beach. If you don’t want to trek down to the beach you can still enjoy spectacular ocean vistas, and a wonderful picnic area with picnic tables.
Note: Pirate’s Cove (which is technically in Avila Beach) is a clothing-optional beach and is accessible from a trail that begins in the Shell Beach area.
Winter brings ideal temperatures for tackling the varied terrain and variety of hiking options available in and near Pismo Beach. Right in town, take it easy on the Shell Beach Bluff Trail, a wheelchair-friendly paved path overlooking the water, or take the parallel Ontario Ridge Trail with a nearly 700-foot elevation gain. Combine the two for a 3 mile loop that explores the coast between Pismo Beach and Avila Beach. In July 2015, access will be available to the newly acquired Pismo Preserve, which includes 900 acres of open space. With 10 miles of existing dirt roads and single-track trails, many with spectacular ocean views, it will form a vast resource for hikers, as well as cyclists and equestrians.
San Luis Obispo County is considered a mountain biking and street biking paradise and one of the most popular Pismo Beach activities. You can bring your own or rent some wheels right in town. For a coastal tour, bike from Pismo Beach to Avila Beach, traversing a path that wanders through lush landscapes and follows an enchanting stream. Take in the wine country on a 15-mile trek through the Edna Valley AVA, or explore the hills on the region’s many mountain bike trails.
The mild climate of Pismo Beach attracts many over-wintering species and is home to many year-round bird residents. Pismo State Beach encompasses a variety of habitats for birdlife, providing serious and casual birdwatchers alike with a myriad of choices, from the freshwater lagoon adjacent to the Oceano campground and the Pismo Lake Ecological Reserve to the shorebirds found along the beach and dunes. Nearby Montaña de Oro is a great place to bird watch and Morro Bay State Park is another stellar Central California destination for birding enthusiasts.
8. Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA): Pismo Beach ATV Fun
Recognized by scientists and conservationists as the finest, most extensive coastal dunes remaining in California, Oceano Dunes are located just south of Pismo Beach. For those seeking to inject some adrenaline into their stay, it is also the location of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. A popular playground for off-roaders, with 5.5 miles of beach open for vehicle use and the surrounding 1,500 acres of dunes dedicated to off-highway vehicle use, it draws visitors from around the U.S.
The Oceano Sand Dunes are open daily from 7 a.m. to one hour past sunset for vehicle day use. Day use passes are sold on a first come first serve basis at the beach entry kiosks at Grand Avenue and Pier Avenue.
Pismo Beach ATV Rentals
There are 5.5 miles (about 3,500 acres) open to off-roaders at the Pismo Beach Sand Dune for ATV fun. You’ll find gentle slopes for beginners as well as steep inclines for those looking for an adrenaline rush. There are several Pismo Beach ATV rentals available including; Pismo Dunes ATV rentals BJ’s ATV Rentals, Inc and Steve’s ATV Rentals. A couple of hours on an ATV is one of the most exciting Pismo Beach activities any time of year.
9. Wildlife Viewing
Nearby Avila Beach offers opportunities to see California sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters and a plethora of sea birds. Rent a kayak and paddle the calm waters of the bay for a closer look at these extraordinary sea mammals, and explore the ecosystems beneath the Harford Pier to view resident anemones, sea stars and barnacles. Pay a visit to the Central Coast Aquarium, steps from the beach, to experience the region’s sea life found beneath the surface. Winter brings migrating Gray Whales, and common and bottlenose dolphins are also always a possibility.
When a dose of retail therapy is in order, Pismo Beach has just what the doctor ordered. With an impressive lineup of 40 sought after brands, including Aeropostale, Calvin Klein, Coach, Jones New York, Levi’s, Nike, Nine West, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Izod, Guess, and Sketchers, among others, the Pismo Beach Premium Outlets has something for practically everyone. Downtown Pismo Beach offers even more opportunities, with a diverse collection of boutiques, surf shops, gift and collectibles markets, and wine stores.
Day Trip from Pismo Beach
If you are looking for things to do near Pismo Beach, a drive on Highway 1, which parallels the Pacific Ocean is on of the most beautiful drives in the world. Head northan about one hour on Highway 1 and you’ll find Hearst Castle and the perfect day trip from Pismo Beach. The drive alone is worth it, but visiting the iconic castle in California is a must. It may be one of California’s most popular destinations, but the summer months can bring sold-out tours and long lines. Winter offers a perfect opportunity to explore the castle and take in some of the more off-beat tours such as Cottages & Kitchen, Upstairs Suites and the Evening Tour without the crowds. For more information: http://hearstcastle.org/
Pismo Beach Camping
Camping and beach bonfires are permitted on the State Beach which is due South of North Pismo Beach.
North Beach Campground features tent camping facilities with 103 campsites without Hook-Ups. Pay Showers Available, Restrooms, Fire Ring, Pets Allowed on Leash. The Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is also accessible from the campground.
Oceano Campground features both hook-up RV sites and tent camping sites. Visitors can access the beach from the campground as well as a freshwater lagoon.
Camping reservations must be made online at ReserveCalifornia.com or by calling Reserve California at 1-800-444-7275
Compare Hotels and Airbnbs in Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach Hotel Suggestions
Pismo hotels range from budget to luxury and you’ll be able to find everything from quaint B&B’s to beachfront lodging. The best places to stay in Pismo Beach are downtown if you want to be walking distance to restaurants and Shell Beach if you are looking for a more relaxed and quiet stay.
Luxury Hotels in Pismo Beach, CA: Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa
Shell Beach Hotels: The Cliffs Hotel and Spa
Family-Friendly Hotels: Some of the best family hotels in Pismo Beach are: Kon Tiki Inn Traveler | Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa Traveler | Inn at the Cove Traveler | SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel
Budget Hotels: Beachwalker Inn & Suites
Pismo Beach Restaurants
Where is Pismo Beach?
Pismo Beach, California is located in the southern portion of San Luis Obispo County, along the Central Coast off highway 101.
- Pismo Beach to San Francisco is about 3 hours and 45 minutes.
- Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara is about 1 hour 30 minutes.
- Pismo Beach to Los Angeles is about 3 hours.
For more about Pismo Beach please visit: http://www.classiccalifornia.com/
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Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.