Arriving at Avila Beach

Jeff Regan
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Avila Beach is located on the California Central Coast, on the San Luis Obispo Bay, just north of Pismo Beach. We normally stay in Oceano, just south of Pismo Beach, but our friends Ron and Tony asked us to join them in Avila Beach. I only accepted once I read about a lighthouse there.

Avila Beach has shopping, hiking, kayaking, golfing, surfing, fishing, hot springs, and other things, but it was all about the lighthouse for me. We stayed at a nice two-year-old RV park perched on a terraced hill called Flying Flags Avila Beach, overlooking Port San Luis. It has full hookup sites, dry camping, tent camping, cabins, and yurts. Our level had a wonderful view of the harbor and bay with piers for years. I’ve never seen so many piers! Harford Pier is at Port San Luis. Cal Polytechnic State University now owns the adjacent pier for research purposes. Avila Beach Pier serves tourists at Avila Beach, much like the Pismo Beach Pier.

View from Flying Flags Avila Beach of San Luis Obispo Bay

Also joining Ron, Tony, Susan, and I were Mark and Edie, both retired cops. Tony is a current cop. When we were all seated around the propane fire pit with so much law enforcement, I felt compelled to confess my crimes, even if I had to make them up. Every site has a built-in propane fire pit, so the added “resort fee” is for the propane! There was also free coffee and lessons on turning on the fire pit, being seasoned RVers, and more. We took turns at each other’s fire pit to see if one was better than the other once we were shown how to use them.

Below the RV park is an off-leash dog beach, sheltered by the Point San Luis harbor, so the surf was very tame. Four of us took four dogs there. It was the first time our two puppies had been to a beach, even though we live half a mile from a few. They were very excited about being off-leash with other dogs. It was the highlight of their stay, but then we had to wash them off at the RV resort’s dog wash station.

We towed our two-seat Jeep Wrangler behind our 2018 Unity Murphy Bed, but Ron and Tony didn’t bring their Jeep behind their 40-foot diesel pusher, so we went to the same restaurant at the harbor three days a row. It was called Fat Cats, “USA Today’s Top 5 Highway 1 Restaurants,” even though it’s not near the highway. After lunch on the second day, we walked over to the Harford Pier, which has two restaurants and used to have a 3-foot narrow gauge, 10-mile railroad called the Pacific Coast Railway that took people and goods from ships to San Luis Obispo. The pier offers fishing and a seafood store with live fish in tanks, not that I went in as the smell was… well… fishy. On our walk back to the RV park, it rained on us. I blame that on not having their Jeep.

Harford Pier in Port San Luis

I then took a solo excursion to Pirates Cove to the south to look for a cool arched sea stack. It features a “clothing optional” beach, but two or three beachgoers opted for full apparel due to inclement January weather. I didn’t find the sea stack; the arch may have collapsed, but I did find a sea cave with a view of the cove and piers in the distance. I walked by many large and expensive homes on the California Coastal Trail. The street is private, but trail hikers are allowed through.

Smugglers Cave
Pirates Cove

The following afternoon, I went to the town of Avila Beach to see, wait for it, a pier. They had a nice beachfront street with a mall I didn’t venture into. It looked like a Californian’s idea of what New England-style houses should look like. There were a couple of hotels and wine-tasting spots and restaurants and stores. I’m only guessing here.

Avila Beach Pier
Downtown Avila Beach

I then went to Pismo Beach to see…a pier! I hadn’t been to downtown Pismo from a previous RV trip. I wanted to see those huge letters entering the pier, spelling out “Pismo Beach.” I don’t know what was at the pier’s end because it was excessively long. As it approached sunset, I headed to the Oceano sand dunes, the part where no vehicles are allowed (I prefer not to be run over); the trailhead I use is on the property of Pacific Dunes Ranch RV Resort. There were some court rulings about closing the Oceano Dunes SVRA State Park to vehicles in 2024, but this was ultimately overturned in 2023. I hiked to the middle and highest dune to see a great view of a large wall of rain heading straight towards me. I quickly ran back to the Jeep, having already been rained on yesterday.

Pismo Beach Pier entrance
Oceano Dunes State Park

On Saturday, I booked a guided tour of the Port San Luis Lighthouse, an 1890 Victorian home with a lighthouse tower attached to it. As it turned out, this lighthouse wasn’t easy to visit, especially with Lighthouse Road and the Pecho Coast Trailhead being just within the secure gates of PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant. They don’t appreciate unannounced visitors, whether by car, foot or boat! So we took the tour in a shuttle bus driving the narrow, hilly, curvy road. The lighthouse had been beautifully restored with great attention to detail and history. The docent imparted a sense of what it might have been like to live there, not just as a lightkeeper, but to raise children there before there was a road. One lightkeeper had three teenage daughters who took the train from the Harford Pier into San Luis Obispo frequently and were socialites covered by the local newspaper.

San Luis Lighthouse

The lighthouse offers a good view of rockets being launched from nearby Vandenburg Airbase to the south. In the ’70s, the lighthouse and fog signal was automated. The fourth-order Fresnel lens was removed from the tower, and a beacon was installed nearby. The Fresnel lens can be seen on ground-level tours in an adjacent building. The automatic fog horn was known to sound off on sunny days, but not foggy days, until it was decided that fog horn was unnecessary. You have to love technology! The guided hikes and shuttle bus tours are only available on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and reservations must be made beforehand. If you’re interested in making a reservation, you can do so here.

Lighthouse tower stairs
Fourth Order Fresnel lens

I am quite sure that Avila Beach, like its larger sibling Pismo, gets crowded in the spring and summer months, but January was very laid back and quiet, just requiring one to dodge the rain. Temperatures ranged from the low 50s to 70s. RV camping is in the harbor area hosted by the Port San Luis Harbor District, a KOA Campground nearby, and many options in Pismo Beach. San Luis Obispo, the Madonna Inn, Morro Bay, Cambria, Atascadero, and Paso Robles are not too far away. There are many places to explore, but if you like piers, you know where to find them!

Jeff and Susan touristing. Photo by Tony.

Susan’s Sidebar

I’m always interested in reading Jeff’s blog to remind myself that I was on the trip, too! Though I do not share Jeff’s passion for photography, I enjoy relaxing with friends and being in the RV with our pups. On each trip, I learn something new. For example, I think the most difficult part of RVing is packing more healthful-type foods, especially since I’m culinarily challenged, to share over dinner. On this trip, our new friend, Edie, shared her vegetarian chili with a twist: parsnips! It is a delicious and nutritious dish to add to our RV menu repertoire. What’s your dish with a twist?

Mocha and BoBear (front to back). Photo by Susan Regan
Jeff Regan

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