I am all in when it is time to explore small, cute and unspoiled towns. And, I feel more exhilarated when those towns are along the California Coast.
After many years living in the state, I can say I have seen the ‘main’ spots along the coast. However, those big attractions (or magnets) would not necessarily make you develop a connection with the craggy bluffs, wild sea and many shades of blue.
In my opinion, a true love for the land is developed when the tiny, less popular spots on the coast are visited and surveyed.
After that short introduction, it is time to present a town located at the edge of the San Luis Obispo Bay (bypassed by the main road). That little town (officially a census designated place) is called Avila Beach.
The name Avila commemorates Miguel Ávila, who was granted Rancho San Miguelito in 1842 (during Mexican rule). The town was established, when local pioneer John Hartford built a pier in 1873 and, later, connected it with a narrow gauge railroad to link the port to the Central Coast communities.
Even though the commercial fishing pier (Hartford Pier) still exists and the inland areas have extensive apple orchards, tourism is now the main industry (we are not talking about massive tourism). The town has only about 1,600 residents.
A Town Famous Because of its Piers
The town has three piers: Avila Beach Pier (quite long at 1,685 feet) intended for tourist strolling and recreational fishing, the abovementioned Harford Pier, which is for commercial fishing boats to offload their wares, and the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly SLO) Pier, part of the university’s marine research program and not publicly accessible.
The interested thing about the Avila Beach Pier is that there are stairs that take you underneath the structure. It is the first time I see something like this. When we visited the town, the temperature was in the 90s. Now, none of that was felt under the pier. It was the perfect place to hang a hammock while enjoying the cool breeze and the fantastic views.
In addition, there is a long breakwater (which sometimes it is confused with a pier) at the edge of the bay.
Some people claim Avila Beach is the city with most piers in California (not sure if it is a valid claim).
The Main Beach
The beach itself is less than 0.5 miles (0.8 km) long (it is formed by Point San Luis on the west and Fossil Point on the east). To me, the length of the beach doesn’t matter when the views are spectacular (just look at the photos below).
The town, full of colorful and whimsical buildings, is within walking distance from the beach. That means you can maximize your time near the water. You do not need to go far to have a good meal, drink or shopping experience.
Let me also mention, there are a lot of different events taking place throughout the year. When we visited, it was farmer’s market day. The atmosphere was so festive that I felt like I was at fair by the sea.
Most of Avila Beach is undeveloped, except for a few blocks adjacent to the beach with homes, hotels, and small businesses, and a few recently built upscale housing developments inland, near a golf course.
There are few historical structures remaining; among the oldest is the Point San Luis Light, built in 1890 after a series of shipping accidents. The lighthouse can be visited on tours that take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays (more info here).
If you are in town, do not forget to hop into your car (you can bike or walk if you want) and drive to the end of Avila Beach Drive. In there, you are going to find great restaurants and the notorious Hartford Pier.
As I mentioned, this a working pier. As a consequence you are going to see several people working on their boats, cleaning fish, selling oysters, etc. Cars can drive over the pier, hence be careful when walking around.
There is another restaurant at the end of the pier (good clam chowder!). Certain platforms under the structure are filled with sea lions. Get a little close to take a good look at them. Notice I said get a little close, not too close. These seemingly innocent creatures bite. So, be careful!
Take your time because the views from the pier are great!
- Avila Beach is bypassed by the 101 Freeway. Access is thru narrow streets (be ready to exit the Freeway after Pismo and Shell Beach).
- Parking is free on the streets.
- Other places to visit:
- Pirate’s Cove
- Sea Caves
- Avila Valley Barn
- Apple Orchards
- Hot Springs
- See Canyon
- Sea Life Center
Have you visited Avila Beach?