California’s Central Coast is full of surprises. Sometimes I assume I know this part of the land very well but then, in one way or another, I discover places I have bypassed for years.
It is hard to remember how or when I became aware of Shell Beach. This small community, part of Pismo Beach, is tucked between the 101 Freeway and the Pacific Ocean.
Seeing the area from the Freeway, at 70 mph, gives you the impression that there is not much there. Ahhh, let’s just say I was under the incorrect impression. You need to get out of the car and take a walk along the cliffs to understand what this place is all about.
Let’s take a closer look at Shell Beach. Shall we?
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About Shell Beach
The neighborhood of Shell Beach was originally the site of a Chumash village and a significant archeological site was discovered while building residences (skeletons, bracelets, arrowheads, bowls and other artifacts were found). The area became agricultural land, mostly pea fields, until developer and Hollywood resident, Floyd Calvert, bought 41 acres in 1926.
At first, it was a local resort area (and booze central along with other parts of Pismo during the Prohibition). After World War II, it became primarily residential. In the late 40s, an amusement business with its own giant dinosaur was established in Shell Beach.
In 1946 (after several attempts), the area was incorporated as part of Pismo Beach. It not necessary to emphasize the interesting adventures this little community has experienced (by the way, the dinosaur was torn down in the late 50s).
How to Reach Shell Beach
Shell Beach is located north of Downtown Pismo Beach. It can be accessed by driving north (using Price Street) and turning right on Cliff Avenue. Parking is available around the Dinosaur Caves Park (it is no coincidence this park is named after the giant dinosaur which used to stand around here).
What to See in Shell Beach
After leaving the car, it is time for a cliff walk. Once you get close to the edge of the trail, you are going to be able to see a harmonious panorama composed of promontories, arches, caves and purple and yellow flowers. Harbor seals and pelicans seemed to enjoy the soft waves caressing the shore and rocks.
Even though the trail in here is short, time flies by because you want to take a closer look at every cove or photograph the rocks from different angles.
I recommend walking towards Ocean Boulevard (around the Margo Dodd Park, you will see the gazebo). This is where the scenery gets kind of surreal since about a dozen rocks, in many shapes and sizes, are scattered around the oceanfront. Don’t miss this view!
There are stairs to access the secluded beach in this area. Keep an eye on the tides. During high tide, the beach disappears.
In addition, this is a kayak launching area. Central Coast Kayaks offer guided tours that show visitors the most beautiful spots along this part of the coast. If you feel like doing your own thing, you can rent kayaks at Pismo Beach Dive Shop or Pismo Beach Surf Shop.
The area around Dinosaur Caves Park and Margo Dodd Park are the most notorious in Shell Beach. However, if you take a look at a map, you would notice Shell Beach is actually very long. You can keep exploring by visiting spots such as Eldwayen Ocean Park, Memory Park, Spyglass Park, Ebb Tide Park, and South Palisades Park.
Remember to survey the ocean to try to spot seals, sea lions, otter, and even whales. I have seen several species from different parks. Some spots are equipped with binoculars.
At the northernmost part of Shell Beach, you will find the Ontario Ridge and Shell Beach Bluff Trails. Both of these will take you to the Avila Sea Caves area. I cannot recommend these trails enough. The views are magnificent!
Shell Beach Restaurants
If you are visiting this neighborhood of Pismo Beach, you are going to be in proximity to super delicious food. Here are some of the restaurants you can visit:
Zorro’s Cafe & Cafe – So far, this is my favorite place to eat in the neighborhood. I love their chile verde, carnitas and camarones al mojo de ajo (garlic shrimp). Their menu is full of Mexican specialties, burgers, clam chowder and salads. Servers and nice and you can eat in their outdoor patio.
Seaside Cafe & Bakery – This is the place to get breakfast burritos, pineapple upside-down pancakes, Belgian waffles, French toast, bagels, and English muffins. Sounds good, right? Accompany your meal with freshly squeezed orange juice or caffeinated beverage.
Shell Beach BrewHouse – Locals seem to enjoy the burgers, salads, sandwiches, mac n’ cheese, and rock shrimp ceviche served in here. As the name implies, there are 30 beers on tap as well as local wine and cocktails.
Steaming Bean – This is the perfect spot to grab a latte, cappuccino, Americano or espresso. Offerings do not stop there. They serve tea, smoothies and yerba mate.
Depalo & Sons – As a deli, Depalo specializes in hot and cold sandwiches. The variety is astounding. It is hard to choose among the chicken curry salad, meatloaf, beef dip, trip tip, and smoked turkey sandwiches. This business is a gourmet market too. Make some time to browse around (and possibly take home some goodies).
More of Pismo Beach
Shell Beach is a great place to visit but remember this is only a fraction of what Pismo Beach and the San Luis Obispo Coast offers.
If you are interested in learning more about the region, make sure to check out my Pismo Beach detailed guide.
Avila Beach, another gorgeous, small town, is located 8 miles north of Pismo Beach. Pay a visit to enjoy apple orchards, wine tasting, hot springs, and water activities.
If you are into quaint Old Towns and wine, stop by Arroyo Grande, a city adjacent to Pismo Beach. Once again, you can check my article about this particular town.
If you are driving north Highway 101, take N Price St. exit, turn under the freeway to Price St., take a right, turn left at Cliff. If you are driving south Highway 101, take S Spyglass exit, turn left on Shell Beach Road to Cliff, turn right.
Well, buddies, this is it for now. Hope you have enjoyed this virtual tour of Shell Beach!
More of Southern California
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Get inspiration by reading my Los Angeles Ultimate Bucket List
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