Things to do in Pismo Beach.
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16 BEST Things To Do in Pismo Beach

You will not be disappointed when it comes to things to do in Pismo Beach!

Whether you want to surf or shop, take a walk along the sands or the cliffs, or explore by off-road vehicle or kayak, the options are seemingly endless.

Pismo Beach, located on the Central Coast, is a classic Californian beach town with golden sands, a thriving food scene, and the iconic Pismo Beach Pier and Promenade.

It may be a small town, but it is packed with opportunities for outdoor adventure and home to some more unique attractions, such as the Monarch Butterfly Grove and a park themed around dinosaurs! Let’s get into it…

1. Stroll Pismo Pier and Boardwalk

Pismo Beach Pier is one of the key attractions in Pismo Beach. It was originally built in 1923, but over the years, it has taken some battering, and the pier that stands there today was constructed in 2016.

Tourists standing on Pimso Beach at golden hour with a silhouette of the pier in the distance.
The old pier is still standing!

At 12,000 feet, it is long enough for a stroll to watch the waves and the surfers down below. End to end is half a mile round trip, so many people pair this with a stroll along the boardwalk that runs parallel to the beach.

The Pismo Beach Pier Plaza sits at the start of the pier, complete with colorful illuminated seven-foot-tall letters, which makes it the ideal selfie spot.

Golden hour light shining over tourists on Pismo Beach boardwalk.
The boardwalk is great to take a stroll.

All that walking is bound to make you hungry, so you can grab a bite to eat at the vintage Airstreams and finish the day with a walk along the Shell Beach Streetscape, stopping at the shops and bright cafes along the way.

2. Surf the Waves

The Central California coastline is known for many things, and surfing is definitely one of them—it also just so happens to be one of the best things to do in Pismo Beach!

Surfers preparing their boards besides a pier on Pismo Beach in California.
Getting ready to surf at golden hour.

In fact, the surf around Pismo Beach is so good that it hosts one of the World Surf League’s qualifying events in January. The surf at Pismo Beach is a good middle ground, ideal for those who are confident or still learning the waves.

Avila Beach is perfect for beginners, as the waves tend to be on the smaller side, and there is no rip to contend with. Advanced surfers tend to head to the raging breaks in Oceano, where the waves are significantly bigger.

A lone surfer hitting the waves at Pismo Beach.
A great place for beginner surfers!

The pier area also offers smaller waves for beginners, especially on the south side.

If you have not surfed before or want to get more confident on a board, the Central Coast Surf School, Shell Beach Surf Shop, and Sandbar Surf all offer lessons, or you can just rent your gear from them.

A surfer on the waves besides the pier at Pismo Beach.
The perfect sunset conditions!

3. Wander Through Town—A Good Intro to Things to Do in Pismo Beach!

Although many visitors to Pismo Beach may consider the town just a convenient place to stay while visiting the natural wonders in the local area, the town itself shouldn’t be overlooked.

The seafood here is as fresh as it comes and is served in most local restaurants.

In fact, so popular is the seafood here that in October, the town hosts the Pismo Beach Clam Festival, one of the more unique things to do in Pismo Beach, where the creamy clam chowder is partnered with lots of festivities and dancing.

The busy and retro looking main road of Pismo Beach with colorful signs and palm trees.
The retro-looking Pismo Town.

The dynamic downtown is not too far from the water and offers plenty of unique cool shops to delve into, classy places to stay, and a visitor center, so you can top up your Pismo Beach knowledge.

We almost felt like we were walking on the set of an old 80s surf movie! It’s incredibly cool and cute, so plan on getting lost for a bit around town.

👉 Accommodation in Pismo Beach

4. Take to the Trails at Pismo Preserve

Get out and about in nature at Pismo Preserve, a stunning 900-acre wilderness area that offers stunning views of the Pacific and Pismo Beach. The preserve has 11 miles of trails.

The Discovery Trail is one of the longest trails, at just over 5 miles, and it allows you to enjoy the varied landscapes. The Spring to Spring Trail is another good one, hugs the coast and climbs up and down the rolling hills.

A pathway leading down through the wild fields of Pismo Preserve towards the ocean.
Great views from Pismo Preserve.

Be aware that you will also share the trails with bikers and horseback riders.

For a very long time, the area has been used as grazing grounds for coastal cattle ranches, and although the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County bought the land, cattle still use it for grazing to this day.

5. Witness Something Incredible at Monarch Butterfly Grove

Pay a visit to Monarch Butterfly Grove in season, and there is a good chance you will never have seen so many butterflies in one place.

During the season, the area has a count of 10,000 butterflies annually, and some years, that count has even reached numbers of around 25,000.

A large group of monarch butterflies taking up all the space on the tree branches.
How many can you count?

From late October to February, the Eucalyptus trees are lit up with flashes of black and bright orange as the butterflies take to Pismo Beach as their chosen resting spot, an essential part of their migration.

If there is only one thing you will tick off your list of things to do in Pismo Beach, make it this one.

The grove is easily accessible via Highway 1, and on most days you will find knowledgeable docents at the grove, happy to tell you all you want to know about this magical occurrence.

6. Relax at South Palisades Park

Located in the Shell Beach area of Pismo Beach, South Palisades Park sits on the bluff top, with picnic tables and benches dotted along the pathways for optimum wave-watching.

A pathway snaking down the coastline of South Palisades Park with a well groomed grassy area and palm trees either side.
How beautiful is South Palisades Park?

A mile-long trail runs through the park along the bluff, which is paved, making it very accessible and ideal for those who want to get out into the air and take in the views.

There are also BBQs and grassy recreation areas for lazy days with family and friends, a playground to keep the kids entertained, basketball and tennis courts, tide-pooling, and easy access to the beach below.

7. Hit the Beaches—Most Popular Thing to Do in Pismo Beach

An essential thing to do in Pismo Beach is hit the beaches, and you will be spoilt for choice. The most well-known is Pismo Beach itself—of course!

Golden hour light glowing over Pismo State Beach in California.
Golden hour over the beautiful Pismo Beach.

The Wilmar Stairs access to Pismo Beach is a hidden gem, with fewer crowds at the quieter north end. We hung out here for a while with hardly anyone else in sight.

Access is via wooden stairs, which are needed to get down the vast white cliffs that back the beach here. If you continue to walk north on the beach, you will soon reach a unique white-walled cove, which is best explored at low tide.

Wooden stairs leading from Wilmar Road to a beach covered in drawings at golden hour.
Wilmar Stairs down to Pismo Beach.

Avila Beach offers a spacious expanse of gorgeous white sand and is everything you want from a beach.

It is popular with families thanks to its shallow, calm waves, and the SLO Creek offers further opportunities for playing in the water.

Lots of tourists relaxing on Pismo Beach at golden hour with a backdrop of hills.
Does anything beat golden hour at the beach?

Pirate Cove Beach is known for being a clothing-optional beach and its incredible sea caves.

Pirate’s Cave is a huge nearby sea cave, along with many others along this bluff, which has been dubbed Cave Landing. The beach is a bit tricky to get to due to the steep trail, which is why most people set up camp here for the whole day.

TIP: We were based at the North Beach Campground, and Pismo Beach was in our backyard. If you’re camping along the California Coast, we can’t recommend this campground enough!

8. Go Tidepooling

You don’t have to be a kid to love tidepooling—just a kid at heart, like us!

Those tiny pools give you a rare glimpse at life beneath the waves, and there are a few different locations for tide pooling in Pismo Beach.

One of the most popular is the Eldwayen Ocean Park. Head to the southern end of this beach to discover the unique rock formations, which, at low tide, hide several tide pools.

Tourists and fishermen heading down to the tidepools of Eldwayen Ocean Park with houses and mountains in the distance.
Eldwayen Ocean Park is perfect for tidepooling. We got lost roaming around here for a while.

Spyglass Beach is another tidepooling hot spot. The beach here is almost impossible to access when the tide is in, but once the ocean retracts, tide pools teeming with life remain.

The pools here are a bit trickier to reach as you have to head down the bluff on the steep trail, but that means you have more chance of having the area to yourself. You could discover scuttling hermit crabs, colorful sea stars, and sea urchins in both locations.

Stairs with metal railings leading down towards the tidepools of South Palisades Park.
Tip: There are also tidepools at South Palisades Park!

✋ HOLD UP! Don’t Forget…

You need some wheels! It’s nearly impossible to get around the USA and check out the best adventures without a car! Here are our top recommendations…

🚗 Rent a car

If you don’t have your own, renting a car is your best bet!

👉 Find Deals on Cars and SUVs

🚐 Rent a home on wheels

For the more adventurous, rent a van or RV and ditch the hotel.

👉 Find The Best Van For Your Trip

9. Explore Shell Beach Coastal Conservancy Preserve

You could easily spend a whole day at the Shell Beach Coastal Conservancy Preserve, which is better to visit at low tide.

The views are amazing, and you can explore the mini coves that make up the preserve.

A group of pelicans and cormorants perched on a sea rock at the Shell Beach Coastal Conservancy Preserve.
Check out all the pelicans and cormorants.

A haven for wildlife of all shapes and sizes, you could see pelicans diving down to get their dinner from the ocean, lots and lots of tiny hermit crabs, whales out on the horizon, and sea birds taking the skies.

Make sure you wear hiking shoes or shoes with good grip so you can clamber over the rocks for optimal adventuring. Head here at sunset and see the ocean, rocks, and sky come alive.

10. Head Back in Time at Dinosaur Caves Park

Dinosaur Cave Park is located right on the cliffs. It is an unusual park by normal standards…

Although popular with walkers and joggers, thanks to the paths that run right along the cliffs, the real draw for families is the dinosaur mixed with marine life playground.

Two cliffs creating the ocean channel that is Dinosaur Caves Park.
Dinosaur Caves Park is fun to explore kid or not!

Discover dinosaur eggs, play on giant dolphins, and scramble over dino eggs; it is the perfect family attraction. The park is dog-friendly, so your furry pal can also come along.

Browns Rock, to the south of the park, is a haven for bird life, and it is fun to watch the waves crash through the natural arches in the rocks below.

11. Get Your Adrenaline Fix at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area

The Oceano Dunes offer an incredible vista of a seemingly endless sea of dunes and have you covered when offering a huge range of recreational activities.

They are the most extensive coastal dunes currently in existence in the state, with opportunities to rent ATVs, horseback ride over the sand, hike over unspoiled landscapes, dig for clams, surf or paraglide, look out for the diverse wildlife that lives in the park and so much more.

A jeep cruising along Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area at golden hour.
This looked like a lot of fun to us!

The area certainly offers plenty of things to do in Pismo Beach. There is even a dedicated area where visitors can drive their cars along the shore.

Before heading into the park, we recommend stopping at the Oceano Dunes Visitor Center to explore the hands-on exhibits and learn more about the incredible wildlife and the area’s history.

If you have time, you should pop behind the center for a walk around the freshwater lagoon, a stark contrast to the rest of the park.

12. Check Out Point San Luis Lighthouse

Point San Luis Lighthouse is one of the most unique lighthouses you will ever visit. It is located on the north side of Port San Luis Harbor.

At first glance, you may think it is just a strange-looking house, with the lightkeepers building created in a prairie Victorian or Gothic style.

The red and white Point San Luis Lighthouse besides the ocean.
San Luis Lighthouse

Founded in 1890, it has saved many a life during its existence, and today, it is operated as a history site and is open to the public for tours, with information about its history, architecture, and the shipwrecks it has prevented included.

There are several ways to reach this historic site. You could choose the easy option and go by shuttle or hiking with Pecho Coast Trail Guides, or for a unique entrance, you can kayak from nearby Whalers Beach.

13. Delve into Coves and Caves on a Kayak

Heading out on a kayak gives you a different view of the Pismo Beach coastline. From your vantage point on the water, you can visit spots you cannot see from the land, such as rocky caves and natural arches.

Fisherman Beach is one of the most popular launch spots, and if you don’t have your own kayak, you can rent it from Avila Beach Paddlesports.

Two people sea kayaking in a red kayak in the ocean near Fishermen's Beach.
Hit the high seas!

Alternatively, if you want to have someone show you these hidden gems rather than trying to find them yourself, Central Coast Kayaks offers guided tours that last around 3 hours and are suitable for beginners.

They offer various tours depending on your interest, including a cave tour, wildlife tour, and more!

14. Visit Nearby Morro Bay

The tiny town of Morro Bay is just a short drive from Pismo Beach, located on Highway 1. The town oozes chill; it’s almost impossible to be stressed in this place.

It is distinctly beachy, with plenty of spots to head down onto the sand, enjoy beach life, go kayaking or boating, and try surfing or stand-up paddle boarding.

Morro Rock on a sunny day at Morro Rock Strand State Beach in California.
Morro Bay Strand State Beach.

Mighty Morro Rock is one of the town’s main features, and although you can’t climb it, it still has a dominant presence and is one of Morro Bay’s most iconic features. We were fascinated by the rock! Pictures do little justice.

The town sits in a natural harbor; it is a fantastic place to spot some local wildlife, like sea lions, seals, and peregrine falcons, many of which make their home on Morro Rock.

A sea otter floating in the ocean besides the Morro Bay T Pier while people on the pier are sea fishing.
Keep an eye out for the sea otters!

When you are not wildlife spotting, one of the best things to do is walk along the Embarcadero, hopping in and out of the cute shops and restaurants.

READ MORE: 16 BEST Things to Do in Morro Bay

15. Head to San Luis Obispo

Home to a huge, thriving farmers market, a retro drive-in cinema, hot springs, unique accommodations, incredible wines, and exciting history, San Luis Obispo is one of the more unique towns along Highway 1.

Nina hiking along a trail in the Terrace Hill Open Space with a view over San Luis Obispo town and beyond.
Views over San Luis Obispo from the Terrace Hill Open Space.

San Luis Obispo is charming, with a small-town atmosphere and big-town attractions, such as the historic Mission San Luis Obispo Tolosa and Fremont Theater.

We loved this town, and while it’s not on the coast, it’s well worth the quick dip inland.

16. Enjoy a Day in Denmark, I Mean… Solvang

Stepping out of your car in Solvang, you would be forgiven for thinking you have stepped right into a cute little Danish town, but with a little more sunshine.

Dutch-style windmill and other dutch building along the main street in Solvang.
The American-Danish town of Solvang.

Tucked neatly in the Santa Ynez Vally, you won’t want to leave once you get to this magical little town.

There is something so satisfying about waking up to the sweet smell of baked goods in the morning before wandering through the narrow avenues surrounded by distinctly Danish architecture.

Mermaid statue sat on top of a fountain along a road in Solvang.
Just like we saw in Denmark! Well… Kinda.

We have been to Denmark, and it was such a cute fine to see this town while on our California road trip! The gift shops are packed with Danish souvenirs, wooden shoes, traditional clothes, aebleskiver, and delicious wines.

READ MORE: 14 TOP Things to Do in Solvang

👉 Accommodation in Pismo Beach

We hope our list of things to do in Pismo Beach helped you plan your trip!

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