California’s Central Coast

The Washington Post

Remember that killer blonde in high school? Sure you do — every school had one. Tall, aloof, didn’t give you a second look — or a first. The less enlightened among us might have described her as “smokin’ hot to look at but way too chilly to touch.” Well, if she ended up in Avila Beach, Calif., then she’s in the right place.

Avila and the surrounding towns of Shell and Pismo Beach sit on some of the most beautiful coastline in all of California. And that’s saying a lot. Wide beaches hug towering bluffs. The sun kisses the breaks of large, rolling waves. It makes you want to just dive right in. And I did just that, taking the leap on an impossibly bright June morning.

Ouch.

The water’s cold. Thermal wet suit cold. Not sure if the Beach Boys ever got up here. Avila Beach is four hours south of the bone-chilling beauty of the San Francisco Bay and almost as cold. But that’s not a bad thing, say the locals. “The colder water means fewer people, less pollution and easier surfing for me,” says local realtor Lance Morales.

The coast here is pretty raw and relatively undeveloped. The average ocean temperature in July is 57 degrees. In Newport Beach, more than 200 miles south, it’s about 70. What does that mean? Fewer tourists, more cows. Yeah, cows.

Just north of Avila is a beautiful strip of land overlooking the Pacific. In, say, Laguna Beach, this property, with those majestic views, would be littered with McMansions, hot tubs and Kardashians. Not here. This is ranch country. Cattle hang out in the bright sun, munch on grass, gaze into the ocean. If you’re a cow, you want this gig.

Details: California’s Central Coast

“We have beautiful beaches here, but they’re more of a backdrop,” says Jason Haas, the owner of Tablas Creek Vineyard in nearby Paso Robles. “The Central Coast isn’t really much of a beach culture.”

Not encumbered with overdevelopment, or much development at all, the area easily accommodates those wonderfully Californian pursuits of self actualization and awareness. For instance, at my hotel, free WiFi and HBO simply weren’t enough. It also offered a YogaDome, a rock-laden Meditation Labyrinth and a Healing Arts Institute. I’m still not quite sure what any of this stuff does, but I love telling people that I did it.

The aesthetic feel of the area draws people such as Michael Laboon, a celebrated local tile artist who bought a house in Shell Beach 17 years ago. “The natural beauty of the place attracts a lot of artists,” says Laboon, whose tile work appears on public areas around San Luis Obispo County. “The beach is spectacular and there’s not the traffic and crowds of Southern California. The water is really inspiring.”