Just Back From

California Dreamin' in Pismo Beach

by Ingrid Bernstein
Pismo Pismo Beach. Photo by Tobias Smietana / Unsplash.

When you need a break from Los Angeles and the desert is too hot, head up the coast to Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo for easygoing, hot tubby escape in California's Central Coast.

What brought you to Pismo Beach?

We were on a long trip in Los Angles and wanted to explore the area. We really wanted to go to the high desert in California, but it was 120 degrees, so we decided to go to Pismo on the advice of an old friend in town.

What was the best tip you got before you left?

Our friend tipped us off about the hot springs at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa. The hotel, which dates back to 1886, has a maze of private hot tubs you can rent by the hour. The tubs wind up the hill under the sycamore trees and some have views across the valley.

Hot tub with a view. Photo courtesy of Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa.

How did you get there?

We drove up the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles. This is the longer route, but we wanted to visit The Getty Villa on the way there.

How did you get around?

By car for longer trips, but in Pismo we walked along the beach and stopped where we wanted to go in town. The beach runs the full length of the town.

What did you do?

We stayed at SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel for three nights, but also spent a lot of time in San Luis Obispo (SLO). On the first night we went to Arroyo Grande for dinner at Ember, a big, loft-like space with a beautiful patio and wood-burning oven. We drove back through the town of Pismo, scoping out places we’d want to go and stopped to see the new, very long pier.

The next day, we walked the beach into town and ate lunch at a spectacularly good restaurant, Ada’s Fish House. We spent the afternoon at the hot springs at Sycamore and later had dinner on the back patio of Novo in SLO next to the river. To our surprise, we were there for the Thursday evening farmers’ market. There was live music, outdoor restaurants, and incredible California produce. Of course, it attracted a massive crowd.

On our last day, we returned to the springs and in the evening went to a bar we had spotted called Puffers of Pismo — a patio bar with live music, a local clientele, and the charismatic Charlie Puffer holding court. We ate dinner at Cracked Crab, where buckets of steaming crabs are unceremoniously emptied on the table. Delicious.

On our way out the next day, we stopped in SLO for lunch at Brasserie SLO at Hotel Cerro.

Brasserie SLO. Photo courtesy of Hotel Cerro.
The SLO farmers market. Photo by Laura Prietto, @_laura_prietto / courtesy of Visit SLO CAL.

What did you know by the last day that you wish you had known on the first?

Book for restaurants a few days ahead.

This was especially great:

Brasserie SLO.

But this wasn’t:

Lunch at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort was awful.

This was touristy and worth it:

The pier in Pismo Beach.

What’s the local speciality?

Delicious and inexpensive central coast and valley wine. Strawberries everywhere.

The lobster roll at Ada's Fish House. Photo courtesy of Ada's Fish House.

Speed round of favorites.

Meal: Ada’s Fish House.

Neighborhood to explore: Mill Street Historic District in San Luis Obispo — a street of Victorian houses.

Thing you did: Sunset on the cliffs overlooking the ocean at Pismo.

Casual hangout: Puffers.

The place you wish you had gone:

The Oyster Loft restaurant in Pismo.

Any surprises?

The dramatic climate change between the coast and inland.

Sunrise on Pismo Beach. Photo by Chris Donaldson, @chrisdonaldsonphotography / courtesy of Visit SLO CAL.

What's the #1 tip you'd give a friend who wanted to go?

Visit the whole area, not just Pismo Beach.

Would you go back?

Yeah!