When it comes to beaches along this stretch of the Central Coast, variety is the name of the game. There’s the fun-in-the sun spirit of balmy Avila Beach; stop by Custom House restaurant, with outdoor seating right on the beachside promenade, to check out the local catch. And there are the broad, flat sands at Pismo Beach—one of California’s best strips of coastline for long strolls at sunset—plus there’s Pismo Beach’s signature pier, stretching out some 1,600 feet/488 meters above the waves. There are the rocky coves at Piedras Blancas, home to thousands of enormous elephant seals, making the site an outstanding destination for wildlife watching. Surfing, especially for those who don’t mind riding a steady succession of beachbreaks, is popular in several locations; check out the scene at Pico Creek near San Simeon, Cayucos, or Montaña de Oro State Park, about 25 miles north of Pismo.
In springtime, take a leisurely hike along the flower-filled coastal terrace of Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, in low-key Cambria, or stroll along the boardwalk at lovely Moonstone Beach. Just north of Cayucos, Estero Bluffs State Park offers wide-open ocean views from trails skirting the bluffs—a great place for whale watching, especially December through March. For an unforgettable experience, wind through the surreal shifting landscapes of Oso Flaco Lake, where a boardwalk leads through a section of one of the world’s largest coastal dune systems. While there, look up to spot lace lichen—the West Coast version of Spanish moss—draping the branches of trees.