El Camino Real to Pismo Beach

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You’ll see signs marking the Historic El Camino Real route as you travel up the California coast.  Most are hard to reach at the edge of the road, so if you want a picture, stop at the small (and often crowded) rest area just north of Gaviota.

historic el camino real bell sign

El Camino Real is the route used by Spanish missionaries and explorers, who established outposts and missions between San Diego and San Francisco, between 1769 and 1776.  Today, US 101 roughly follows their path.

At Gaviota, US 101 and Hwy. 1 part ways, and while the Pacific Coast Highway does stay closer  to the coast, you won’t see the Pacific again for miles.  But don’t think the absence of coastline means a lack of scenery.

pacific coast highway rolling countryside

The PCH travels across rolling farm land for the next hour or so, until you approach Pismo Beach.  So enjoy the countryside.

pacific coast highway panorama
Click the panorama to view full

No sign of the Pacific along this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway.  Instead, farmland stretches out for miles.  Unfortunately, my effort to stitch together a panoramic scene didn’t work too well, thanks to those darned power lines.  But at least you can get some idea of what awaits you here.

Between Lompoc and Guadalupe, Vandenberg Air Force Base separates you from the Pacific.  There are only a couple of roads that cross over to the coast.

Pismo Beach

pismo beach flowers and hills

The ocean is a welcome sight after spending an hour or so away from the coast.  The PCH passes through the town of Pismo Beach, with plenty of small shops and a nice, wide stretch of sand.

pismo beach pier and beach, california

flowers and hills at pismo beach, california

After you’ve had your fill of sand and surf, walk up into the downtown area (at the end of the pier, directly above this flower-covered wall), and you’ll find souvenir shops and plenty of good restaurant choices.

Just south of Pismo Beach, you’ll find the Nipomo Dunes, which attract plenty of dune buggies.  From the pier at Pismo, on busy weekend days, you’ll likely be able to spot a cloud of sand that’s been stirred up by the buggies.
bird on pismo beach pier, mountains and pacific ocean

A common scene on the pier at Pismo Beach.

From the pier, you can look down on surfers, as they paddle out and try to catch some waves.

panorama from end of pismo beach pier
 Walk out to the end of the pier at Pismo Beach, and you’re rewarded with a great panorama of the ocean, the mountains, and the beach… while below you, surfers battle against the waves.

At Pismo Beach, US 101 and Hwy. 1 once again join together for the trip inland, to San Luis Obispo.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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