Here a just a few of the reasons winter is still “prime time” to visit Pismo Beach:
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 colony is one of the largest in the nation, hosting an average of 25,000 of these enchanting butterflies each winter.
2. Wine Tasting
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 Center of Effort, Claiborne & Churchill Vintners, Tolosa Winery, Wolff Vineyards, Kynsi Winery, Sextant Winery, Edna Valley Vineyard, Saucelito Canyon Vineyard and Chamisal Vineyards. 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.
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.
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 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 shore birds found along the beach and dunes. Nearby Montaña de Oro and Morro Bay State Park are also destinations for birding enthusiasts.
7. Oceano Dunes
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.
8. 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.
10. Hearst Castle
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/
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.