Places and Things to Visit In Avila Beach and the Surrounding Areas
For travelers that like to rough it a little more Avila has RV camping and dry camping right by the San Luis Harbor Pier. You just drive a little further on the same road that brings you into Avila, and it will be on your left. You can’t get any closer to nature. If you time your trip just right, you will be able to enjoy your morning coffee while you watch humpback whales breach. In 2012 and 2014 they even came right into the harbor.
There are full hookups for RVs. Prices are $40-$65 per night. They have now built a laundry room, shower room, and bathrooms. They also have an on site camp host. If you have a fear about having to drive all the way into town if you forgot something no need to worry, there is a port store with the majority of supplies someone might need. They can even launch your boat with a crane. Camping info can be found http://www.portsanluis.com/services/#rv-camping
What I might tell you might sound like a mistake but I assure you it is true and not a prank. The Hartford pier was built in 1878 by John Hartford. It is 1,320 feet long, and you can drive on it. Trust me I have done it. You will not fall through the boards. There are even about 10 parking spots towards the end of the pier to park.
This pier holds some of the best memories of my childhood. I remember crab fishing off of the lower levels late a night with my mom. We did not catch anything. My father gave me photography lessons on how to frame the boats correctly while standing on the pier. I even gave my daughters and son a close encounter with their first seal.
If you decide to walk the whole thing, you will probably realize about halfway through that the pier is much longer than it looks. Half way up on the left there is Patriot Sportfishing which is a bait shop, a place that you can book charter fishing and whale watching. It is fun to look at and see what is biting for the day. If you are interested in fishing, you can do so from the end of the pier with no fishing license needed. In the Spring, you can catch halibut, salmon, and mackerel. In the Summer and Fall rockfish, sharks, and barracudas. Even if you do not fish it is fun just to see what they are catching at the end of the piers. You can also fish from San Luis Pier in Avila without a license.
As you walk the pier who will probably hear the honking of the seals. There is a barge to the left as you are walking up that they will sometimes all gather up on, or if look over the sides of the rails or down the steps, you will can see them sunning themselves on the bottom decks. If the steps are locked that is usually a good sign there are seals down there. I had my girls look down the steps when I heard a close honk and there sitting three steps away was a seal just looking up at us with its big brown eyes. You do not want to get any closer than that trust me. I once had a very close encounter at Montana De Oro with an elephant seal.
Olde Port Fisheries and Petes Pierside cafe
There are two restaurants on the Hartford Pier the Olde Port Fisheries and Petes Pierside Cafe. I have only ever eaten at the Olde Port Fisheries and a place that is just off the pier in the parking lot Fat Cats, and they are both very good. The seafood is fresh and very good. There are fishing vessels that make port to deliver fresh catches to the restaurants and to also sell their catches. If you show up when these boats come in you can see some great ocean life. The boats will often clean their catches and throw the entrails and other pieces off the boat while it is docked. There will often be dolphins, otters, seals, sharks (not great whites, but like leopard sharks) hanging around looking for scraps. It is just a fun thing to see.
This past year 2014 and I believe in 2012 the humpback whales came into San Luis Harbor and breached right there. Humpbacks, orcas and sometimes gray whales come through the area multiple times a year. You can still see them from afar or with binoculars but barely. Rarely do they come right into the harbor but when they do WOW! There are charters that will take you out where they run.Avila Valley Barn
560 Avila Beach Drive,
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
If you have kids then, this place is a blast. It is something that they can really get involved with. They have farm animals they can pet and feed. You can pick your own vegetables and they have a deli. It’s just something that everyone can do that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
San Luis Obispo Area
SLO as the locals call it is only a hop over from Avila. They are basically the same city.
San Luis Obispo Farmers Market
6pm-9pm Thursday Nights SLO on Higuera Street
Every Thursday night from 6pm-9pm is the San Luis Obispo Farmers Market. This is the type of farmer’s markets I grew up with, I never knew anything different. When I came to the Midwest, I realized that people in California really do things differently and that farmers markets do not last all year long. In addition, I thought all Farmers Markets were like mini festivals.
At 6pm on Thursdays traffic is shut down on Higuera St and the shops all stay open. The festival like atmosphere begins. One end of the street is dedicated to produce, and the other end showcases the local merchants and restaurants. Many times the festivities spill onto side streets with bands and performing artists like face painters or cartoonists. Movies have even been played on the side of buildings for people to enjoy. If you are enjoying the farmers market be sure to walk over to the Mission San Luis Obispo. It is a beautiful nature area that is lovely to sit in and enjoy. There are several restaurants and shops you can explore.
Possibly as early as the 1960s in a narrow alleyway right off Higuera street in SLO is Bubblegum Alley. No one knows exactly how it started, maybe a graduating rite of passage or a school rivalry, but either way it has grown and grown. It has become something that any person traveling through has to do as a way to make their mark on SLO. It is just as it sounds. People take pieces of chewed gum and leave it on the walls of the alley. Some even create art with theirs. It sounds gross but it’s kinda a neat thing to see. Stop in at Powell’s Sweet Shoppe for a gum ball and leave your mark. Just don’t think about the millions of germs that cover the walls, and you’ll be fine.Madonna Inn
100 Madonna Road
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
This motel was named for Alex Madonna not the artist Madonna. What makes this motel such a site to see is the extreme extravagance on the inside. When my father used to ask where I wanted to go for my birthday dinner every year, I used to say Madonna Inn. Despite its quirky exterior, it is quite charming. Christmas time is where this place shines. Otherwise it is quite pink.
I remember walking in during the holidays and being taken away to another world. They had swags of gold dripping from the ceilings and Christmas trees peeked out of every nook and cranny. I even remember a bear swinging on a motorized swing from the ceiling. For a kid, it was an amazing site.
The males bathroom is one of the biggest tourists draw. You did read that right. The men’s bathroom is a tourist draw. Famous Hollywood set designer Harvey Allen Warren designed Madonna Inns rock waterfall urinal. It has become very famous, and many people stop just to see it. Now they have added a western theme bathroom with a copper urinal and the water comes from a water wheel. Women, all we have is a boring Victorian bathroom. I guess this is the one time the men have it better.
I have eaten at the Gold Rush Steak House and the Copper Cafe and I have enjoyed both. Although I have not eaten at either recently, my father and brother all still live in the area and eat there regularly. Interesting note all their rooms are different and named differently. If you are looking for something other than the same old hotel room then you may want to try a night here one time. Some of the rooms can be kind of crazy looking, but they are fun.San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
3450 Dairy Creek Road
Highway 1 in El Chorro Regional Park
Cleverly tucked away behind the El Chorro Regional Park is the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. Admission is free, and they offer concerts, nature tours, kid activities, a garden shop and educational garden classes.
Pismo Beach State Park and Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve
Does anyone ever remember seeing Bugs Bunny in ‘Ali Baba Bunny’ popping from the earth proclaiming “Well here we are Pismo Beach and all the clams we can eat!” This is where he was talking about. Pismo Beach used to be the clam capital of the world but over harvesting and the sea otter have depleted almost all of them. They still hold the Clam Festival every year, but all the clams are brought in. However, that’s not the reason you should visit Pismo Beach.
The Dunes. If you have ever wondered what it would feel like to be in the Sahara, these dunes might be the closest most of us will ever get. These State Parks also have opportunities for scuba diving, surfing, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, hiking, ATVs, and camping.
Avila Beach and the surrounding areas have many things to offer visitors. It is one of my favorite places in the whole world. There is no happier place for me than Harbor Pier, Avila Beach and San Luis Obispo. If you have time take a turn off of San Luis Bay Drive onto See Canyon Drive and visit an Apple Orchard. You might just end up visiting the same orchard where I spent my youth sitting in the trees eating the apples and catching blue bellied lizards.