Pismo Beach, California, is one of the five cities that make up San Luis Obispo County. This coastal destination is famed for its pier, surfing, beaches and rugged coastline – all under sunny skies, of course. Here you can spend your days swimming, hiking and enjoying good food as you go.
The key to making the most of your Pismo Beach vacation is choosing where to stay. There are some great areas to choose from, and you’ll definitely want to find somewhere that suits your style (and budget, of course). To help you figure out where to stay, we’ve put together a detailed area guide for Pismo Beach to get you on the right track. Let’s get going!
Best Airbnb in Pismo Beach – Apartment Close to the Beach
This awesome apartment is all about the location. It’s super close to the beach itself and right in the middle of Downtown Pismo Beach, so you’ll be conveniently surrounded by everything you could ever need. The apartment itself is very clean, tastefully decorated, and has enough room to sleep up to four people – great for couples, small families, or a group of friends. Plus, it’s all a stone’s throw from the sand.
Best VRBO in Pismo Beach – Beach Condo with Ocean Views
For those of you looking to stay in Pismo Beach on a budget, this one ticks all the boxes. With room enough to sleep two, the condo has breezy modern interiors – think contemporary furnishings, high ceilings, and all topped off with amazing ocean views. Perfect for a couples’ getaway, this accommodation option is just one block away from the beach, with shops and restaurants right on your doorstep.
Best Hotel in Pismo Beach – SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel
This is a large, modern hotel right on the seafront, with five acres of beach to its name. There’s also plenty to do away from the sun, sea and sand; its garden-filled grounds boast an outdoor pool and hot-tubs, while its rooftop terrace is a perfect night hangout (or sunset spot) with its fire pits, couches and tiki lights. Rooms here are spacious and feature hardwood flooring, balconies and comfy beds.
Staying in Downtown Pismo Beach puts you pretty much where all the action is. It’s a chilled area backed by a stretch of white sandy beach (the clue’s in the name).
Further north along the coast from Downtown, away from the tourist crowds, you’ll find Shell Beach. This neighbourhood is part of Pismo Beach City but has a distinctively more local atmosphere than Downtown, and is more relaxed and quiet as a result.
Sandwiched between the quiet communities of Shell Beach and the lively buzz of Downtown, the Motel District is a laid-back Pismo Beach neighbourhood. Its location means you get all the amenities of Downtown, without having to stay right among all the other tourists.
Top 3 Neighborhoods to stay in Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach could seem like a pretty small place, but this Californian city actually stretches all along the coast as a patchwork of different neighbourhoods. Some are busy with tourists, while others are much more local in flavour. Each one is going to be better for some travellers than others, so let us run you through the best areas to stay in Pismo Beach to give you an idea.
First and foremost, there’s Downtown Pismo Beach. This is pretty much the centre of the city, and where most (if not all) tourists are drawn to. That’s thanks to its iconic pier, beach and boardwalk – and all the other amenities for visitors and locals alike.
Next door is the Motel District. Full of varied accommodation, this district of Pismo Beach is best for those who want to be walking distance from Downtown, but don’t want the tourist crowds that come with it. It’s also a good option for families and those who enjoy nature; this district is backed by the sprawling Pismo Preserve (great for hiking and jogging along its miles of trails).
Then there’s Shell Beach. Shell Beach is further north along the coast, but is still officially part of the city of Pismo Beach. It’s a much more local neighborhood, with way less going on in terms of eateries and bars, but it still has the atmosphere of a slow Cal beach town. It’s quiet, and the coastline is a little more rugged with multiple coves, coastal trails, and beaches making for the feel of an endless summer.
For a more in-depth look at these neighbourhoods, let’s cast a line and fish out the details!
Staying in Downtown Pismo Beach puts you pretty much where all the action is. It’s a chilled area backed by a stretch of white sandy beach, and it’s here where you’ll find the bustling but laid-back boardwalk, choc-a-bloc with locals out strolling, people fishing, and surfers out to catch a wave or two.
You’ll also find a good selection of eateries along here – casual places that serve up seafood, tacos and burgers (what more could you want?). It makes for an easygoing base that puts everything great about Pismo Beach at your fingertips, with a good selection of accommodation to match.
Best Apartment in Downtown – Modern Apartment Close to the Beach
Located just steps from the sand, this bright and airy Airbnb in Pismo Beach is virtually in the centre of Downtown. Location-wise, this apartment is a winner. It’s also sparkling clean, and spacious enough to sleep four people. Think whitewashed walls and colourful furnishings, as well as plenty of other touches that’ll make your stay extra special. The kitchen is nicely equipped – perfect for cooking up a storm if you want to.
Best Studio in Downtown – Luxury Studio
A great way to enjoy a stay in Pismo Beach, this studio puts you just a block from the fun of Pismo Pier and the boardwalk. Inside this comfortable condo you’ll be able to relax among the contemporary furnishings, all wrapped up with a touch of seaside aesthetic. Although it’s a studio, it’s been well laid-out to really maximise the space. The outdoor terrace complete with a grill is an added bonus.
Best Hotel in Downtown – Inn at the Pier
As the name suggests, this Pismo Beach hotel is right by the pier. As well as the epic location, this place boasts modern rooms with fresh interiors overlooking the oceanfront. Within the hotel, guests can make use of an outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre, and an onsite restaurant if you don’t fancy wandering around the boardwalk.
Things to See and Do in Downtown
- Dine at Cracked Crab for shellfish and seafood; you can crack your own!
- Watch the surfers carving it up at night from Pismo Beach Pier (or join them if you’re game).
- If you’re not a surfer, grab some lessons from Sandbar Surf School.
- Have a glass of wine or two at Taste of the Valleys Wine Bar.
- Take a selfie at the big Pismo Beach sign.
- Shop for souvenirs to take home at Ashtie’s Beach Shack.
- Rent a bike from Pismo Beach Bike Rentals and explore with pedal power.
- Treat yourself to some iconic candy from Tomasko’s Saltwater Taffy.
- Feel like a spot of pool? Go hang out at HotShots, a pool hall with 30 draft beers on tap.
- Hit up the much-loved Pismo Beach outlet stores for some bargain-hunting.
- Promenade along the boardwalk, browsing and window-shopping as you go.
- Soak up a sunset from the pier, they’re awesome from here…
- … And grab some grub from Sunsets at Pismo while you’re at it – beautiful views with a taco in hand.
#2 Shell Beach – Where to Stay in Pismo Beach on a Budget
Further north along the coast from Downtown and away from the tourist crowds, you’ll find Shell Beach. This neighbourhood is part of Pismo Beach City but has a distinctively more local atmosphere than Downtown, and is more relaxed and quiet as a result.
Shell Beach’s name is a little misleading, there are actually nine beaches along this stretch of Californian coast – so make sure to pack your beach gear. These pretty coves are small, pockmarked with tidepools, and edged by parks and greenery.
Within this friendly neighbourhood is a selection of hotels and vacation rentals – often with gorgeous ocean views. You won’t go hungry either – there are a handful of restaurants to choose from.
Best Beach House in Shell Beach – The Beach Bungalow
This bungalow in Shell Beach is situated within walking distance of a sandy beach, close to restaurants and coffee shops. It’s also around a 12-minute drive to San Luis Obispo, if you feel like exploring further afield, and a quick cruise to Downtown Pismo. Inside, there are wooden floors and a fireplace, all decorated with a neutral colour palette. This beautiful little home has room to sleep four people – and there’s even a hot tub.
Best Condo in Shell Beach – Beach Condo with Ocean Views
Want to enjoy some time out by the sea with your partner? This place might just be the perfect spot for a romantic vacation. Situated a short stroll from a beach, with some good restaurants in the vicinity, you won’t need to go far to enjoy yourself. The views from this Shell Beach condo are worth every penny. The interiors of this place are stylish and sleek and it comes with a sizable kitchen and a lush outdoor terrace.
Best Hotel in Shell Beach – Shell Beach Inn
The Shell Beach Inn is a stylish hotel with a cool aesthetic running throughout – from the lobby to the guest rooms. It’s a retro hotel that’s been renovated with care and an eye for design. Rooms here boast statement wood-panelled walls, crisp white bed linen, and a selection of houseplants. Staying here also means having access to a heated outdoor pool; this is a cool area with heaters and a firepit, decorated with tiki torches and strings of fairy lights.
Things to See and Do in Shell Beach
- Get your hiking shoes on and hit the Bluffs Trail for awesome views along the coast.
- For something a little more challenging, try out the Ontario Ridge Trail (with even more awesome views!)
- Have an adventure at Avila Sea Caves, a rocky peninsula at the end of the Bluffs Trail…
- … And check out the cool Smugglers Cave at the end of the peninsula.
- Picnic atop the bluffs with ocean views at the pretty South Palisades Park.
- Pay a visit to the very scenic San Luis Obispo Buddhist Temple.
- Go for a soak at Avila Hot Springs, a perfect place to unwind in natural mineral water.
- Stop off at the super cute Joy Shell Beach, a refreshing pitstop for fruit juice, acai bowls and smoothies.
- Enjoy Sunday brunch on a Pacific Ocean backdrop at Marisole at the Cliffs, a popular local haunt.
- Pet the animals, browse the farmer’s market and stay for lunch at Avila Valley Barn.
- Watch the sunset over the ocean at Florin Ocean Overlook.
#3 Motel District – Where to Stay in Pismo Beach for Families
Sandwiched between the quiet communities of Shell Beach and the lively buzz of Downtown, the Motel District is a more laid-back neighbourhood in Pismo Beach. Its location means you get all the amenities of Downtown, without having to stay right among all the other tourists. Plus the Motel District, as you can tell from the name, isn’t short on accommodation either.
The other bonus is the fact that the relatively large Pismo Preserve is right on the doorstep, and the other natural attractions close by are a great spot to let the kids loose in nature. There are some awesome hiking trails in California, perfect if adventure is what you’re after.
Best Condo in Motel District – Harbor View Condo
An absolutely ideal spot for a family vacation, this three-bedroom condo has just about everything you’ll need for a comfortable, convenient stay. Within, you’ll find a master bedroom with a king-sized bed, two full bathrooms, loft rooms for the kids, and enough room to sleep eight people. Location-wise, you’ll find this awesome Pismo Beach condo close to the beach – close enough that it also boasts some pretty spectacular sea views from the spacious deck (complete with grill). The onsite parking is a nice perk, too.
Best Villa in Motel District – Ultimate Beach Getaway
This condo is modern and stylishly decorated, with open-plan living spaces that mean there’s enough room for the family to stretch out (it actually sleeps up to six people). But it’s more about the outdoor spaces here: the lounge opens up with double doors that lead out onto the balcony, plus there’s also a rooftop deck with a grill. It’s the perfect place to stay for sunset cook-ups with ocean views, but it’s also within walking distance of several restaurants.
Best Hotel in Motel District – SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel
Situated right on the beach, this Pismo Beach hotel makes for a fun family vacation spot. It boasts lush grounds that lead to the beach itself, where you’ll find a swimming pool, multiple hot tubs, and an indoor-outdoor eatery. Inside the hotel, rooms are large and well-appointed, decked out with modern furnishings with a relaxed neutral colour palette; all come with balconies, some of which have beautiful ocean views. The cherry on top? A rooftop deck with fire pits and a bar. It’s the spot for evenings.
Things to See and Do in Motel District
- Hungry? Take your appetite to Zorro’s Cafe & Cantina, a Mexican-American cafe with casual (but tasty) fare.
- Visit Monarch Butterfly Grove to learn all about our fluttery friends.
- Take time to explore the 900-acre Pismo Preserve; there are 11 miles of trails, nature tours and sea views.
- Rent bikes and have an adventure mountain biking in Pismo Preserve.
- Wander at the scenic Price Historic Park along the Pismo Creek.
- Spend the day relaxing, splashing in the shallows or snoozing in the sun at SeaCrest Beach.
- Go for a picnic at Margo Dodd Park with views of the Pacific Ocean.
- Take in the scenery while you enjoy a family meal at the Latin-inspired Ventana Grill.
- Stroll around Dinosaur Caves Park, complete with playpark and dinosaur statues (spot the pelicans down below!).
- Head out for a family meal at Del’s Pizzeria; this family-run spot has been serving up mouthwatering pizza since 1973.
Final Thoughts on Where To Stay in Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach is definitely a must-go for anyone visiting California. And if you are planning on going, any of the areas above would make for a great place to base yourself. It just depends on what you want out of your trip.
One of our favourites has to be Shell Beach. It offers some pretty affordable accommodation and a beautiful coastline away from the bustling Downtown area of Pismo Beach. But Downtown does have a lot going on, so if you like a ton of choice, why not go for something like an awesome apartment close to the beach?
Don’t forget to take out Travel Insurance for your trip! I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.
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