Can a Jersey Girl Find Happiness and Monarch Butterflies on the Central California Coast?
The Ocean Calls, a Two Day Voyage to Pismo Beach, California
May 1, 2020
My sister and I are originally from the Jersey shore and although we live in a Bay Area waterfront community it doesn't offer the sights and the sounds of the ocean, any ocean. So after some research we planned a trip to the seaside town of Pismo Beach on the central California coast. Our trip was in early February, not a month with temperatures for swimming, but warm enough to enjoy a few days at the beach, south enough to be slightly warmer than in our hometown of Benicia.
We knew it would be a five hour plus drive so we started our vacation with a mid-trip stop at the Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad along the historic El Camino Real in Soledad.
The mission was filled with wonderful displays of items from the different time periods in its past. The pretty courtyard offered a shaded porch perfect for some moments of quiet contemplation and then we were on the road again.
Oh, the sound of the ocean, waves gently breaking, circling gulls calling to each other. Oh, the smell of the salt, sun and sea. And how beautiful - the blue of the water with the afternoon sun sinking over the waves, creating a path of gold.
We did our homework right because we could not have picked a nicer hotel with a better location. The SeaCrest Inn is located on a stretch of low cliff above a broad expanse of beach. The ocean view rooms overlook a large lawn area with heated pool, hot tubs, and outdoor seating groups with fire pits to sit around on a chilly night.
The first night we had dinner at Ada's Fish House. The decor was minimalist seashore rustic and the food was delicious. My sister had a lobster roll, rare in our new California hometown, but amazingly on almost every menu in the Pismo area. I had the local fish, sand dabs, prepared Piccata style. The service was great and when we questioned our server about the local area she sent over someone who was happy to suggest places to see and things to do.
The next morning we drove to the south end of town to the Monarch Butterfly Grove. February is the tail end of the monarch season, but there were still some butterflies flitting among the eucalyptus trees. The docents had telescopes set up for viewing of large kaleidoscopes (groups) of butterflies bunched higher up in the very tall trees. We were horrified to learn that the monarch population in that grove had dwindled from 150,000 years ago to just 1,000 this past winter. (Free)
A lazy afternoon was followed by one of the nicest of Pismo traditions – the sunset. Because the arc of Pismo Beach faces west, the sunsets are spectacular as the sun sets into the sea and the sky changes colors from flaming orange to soft pink to pale lavender. A perfect time of day to have a glass of wine, take some pictures, and pick a restaurant for dinner.
Our second dinner was at Rosa's, an Italian restaurant that is decorated in old school Italian style and offers homemade pasta and sauces. The chef studied in Italy and you could tell in every bite. Deliziosa!
The next day we were off to the beach at the SVRA – the State Vehicle Recreational Area. What is that you ask? Well, you can drive your car on the beach! And is it fun! You can drive for five miles within a few feet of the water, passing surfers, horseback riders, ATV rentals, and people camping. You don't have to walk across a wide beach to put your toe in the water, just drive to the water's edge and hop out. ($5.00)
We then took a quick drive to the north to the town of Avila Beach, much smaller than Pismo, but with a sheltered harbor full of boats. We admired the view as we ate lunch at Fat Cat's Cafe. It's a true cafe with a varied menu, good food, and many, many pictures of cats on the walls sent in by past diners/cat owners. There is a long pier with restaurants on the end that you can drive to. I dared to drive on the beach at Pismo, but I was far too timid to drive on the pier at Avila. (The pier at Pismo Beach was currently under renovation so I cannot offer any details.)
Before leaving town the next day we stopped in at Tastes of the Valleys, a wine shop with tastings of their wares so that you can sample a multitude of bottles all from different wineries.
It was fun to try some new varietals that I hadn't experienced before. My favorite was a local zinfandel; Pismo Beach is about an hour drive from Paso Robles, a region known for its zinfandels and cabernet sauvignons. Our stop at the wine store evolved into a lunch, as we enjoyed a nice cheese plate with several unusual offerings that paired well with our samples.
It was a great trip with hours spent looking at the ocean and listening to the ocean, enjoying breathtaking sunsets, and seeing and trying new things. We felt like we were far from home even though it was only a five hour drive. We relaxed, we refreshed, we drove home and once again we miss the ocean.
Kathleen Berry is an adventurous senior who loves to travel. She recently moved to the San Francisco Bay area from the Jersey Shore. She has traveled extensively on both shoestring budgets and go-for-broke grand scale. She is fond of cruising and has shipped out on various cruise lines from a variety of ports. She truly believes the way to find the best local food is to always ask a local.