San Luis Obispo - California

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San Luis Obispo & Pismo Beach

San Luis Obispo County is underrated as a vacation destination, and that's too bad, for this part of the central coast offers much in the way of sightseeing and relaxed recreation.

Halfway between L.A. and San Francisco, the city of San Luis Obispo and its seaside neighbor, Pismo Beach, provide launching points for day trips to Morro Bay and Hearst Castle (to the northeast) in addition to the wine country and other attractions of the Santa Barbara area (to the south). The county is home to two of the famed Spanish missions: in the city of San Luis Obispo (Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa) and in San Miguel (Mission San Miguel Arcangel). They were the fifth and sixth in the network of twenty-one Franciscan missions.

What to See & Do

In San Luis Obispo

Slightly inland, on Highway 101, San Luis Obispo is a university and college town (Cal Poly & Cuesta College) with a lively cultural program including the San Luis Obispo Art Center and the county's Historical Museum. Founded in 1772, the mission is surrounded by a beautiful plaza, which has long been the focal point of city life. There are 40 wineries in the area -- in the Paso Robles region (north of San Luis Obispo) and the Edna Valley/Arroyo Grande wine region (south of town) offering more than a day's traveling and tasting in hill country.

On Thursday evenings, the downtown area comes to life as several streets are blocked off for the weekly and very festive farmers' market. The market is one of the places in the region where you can find the famous barbecued ribs that have become a prime attraction in several communities. The rib dinners are catered by local non-profit societies. The city is close to an amazing range of recreational attractions including Lake Nacimiento, Laguna Lake and Lopez Lake. Morro Bay Estuary (on the coast) is a birdwatchers' paradise. Montana de Oro State Park is one of California's finest.

Avila Beach, north of Pismo Beach off Hwy. 101 via a sideroad has a fine beach and the hot springs that attracted tourists in the 1800s are still used to feed mineral spas.

In Pismo Beach

Just one of a string of fine beaches along the central coast, Pismo Beach sticks in the mind as the butt of a continuing joke on the old Jack Benny Show. But Pismo is no joke! This seaside resort town, in the middle of 23 miles of expansive white sand beach, has long been a center for inexpensive family vacations. The new Pismo Beach Pier is a popular fishing and strolling spot.

Just south of the town is the one beach in California that is still open to motorists wishing to drive along the shore. While Pismo State Beach stretches 23 miles along the coast, most of the action is in the eight-mile section on which cars are permitted including the off-road excitement at Pismo Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. The dunes are deposited in waves beside the ocean with various parts of the beach accessible to cars, motorcycles, bicycles and horses. Cars and RVs are permitted on the northern section of the state beach while off-road vehicles use the southern dunes area (SVRA). Camping is permitted in parts of the dunes area. The gates for vehicle access to the beach are found in the communities of Grover City and Oceano.

Pismo Beach -- the town -- has several golf courses, and a large flock of monarch butterflies spends its winters here.

Where to Stay -- Hotel Guide

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There are many state parks which have camping including Pismo State Beach at Oceano. Private RV parks include Oceano Dunes Resort, 2220 Cienaga St. (Hwy. 1) with 140 sites (805-481-3225) and Sand & Surf RV Park, also in Oceano, with 232 spaces (805-489-2384). Avila Hot Springs Spa & RV Park has full hookups and tent sites with hot-spring baths for good measure (805-595-2359).

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