Pismo Beach; all the clams you can eat, not a lot more
Sep 16, 1999
Pros: Inexpensive, relaxing, California beach town vibe
Cons: No attractions, isolated-small-town vibe
'Here we are, Pismo Beach and all the clams you can eat' -- so quoth Bugs Bunny (after taking a 'wrong turn at Albuquerque.') The town managed to lock on to this somehow; the main landmarks are large cement clams, and we actually did see a 'Wed -- All-you-can-eat clams $5.99' sign. No clamming is allowed on the beach, though. We couldn't figure that one out either.
Making reservations for a quick getaway here isn't a great necessity, it being one of the countless California towns used for a one-night sleep en route to a grander destination. Probably at a place like the 'Blue Seal Inn,' the most bizarrely amenity-free hotel I've ever seen. It was clean, and comfortable enough, but the mind boggled: no shampoo, no local guidebooks, no...remote control for the television?? Yikes.
Beat it out of there, as we did, and check into one of the nicer digs -- if you are making reservations and shooting in the dark, use 'beachfront' as necessary criteria: as usual, the dives are further from shore. (Curiously, a great deal of Pismo Beach tourist real estate is Best Western property.) The 'Kon Tiki Inn,' dated name aside, was a steal -- just upwards of $100 for a spacious room facing a pool as well as the beach, complete with coffee maker, never mind remote control.
Tourist attractions in the Pismo Beach area are scarce, so this is really only recommended as a weekend getaway for the beach-minded. A tiny alley of a street revealed some dismal tourist traps, and that was it. The locals (at risk of offending same) seemed incredibly disinterested in the tourist trade; the delineation between the natives and tourists was unusually sharp. Service is agreeable, though any 'locals'' spot seemed disinterested.
Dining opportunities are far from uniform. A brunch-type place called 'Scrambles' was fantastic; a local version of IHOP with pleasant surroundings and excellent food. 'Del's' pizzeria was good but only memorable for the odd quantity of babies in the restaurant; we speculated on the possibility of a power failure in Pismo a bit more than a year before. The complete show that is 'F. McClintock's Saloon' is worth a look: the first stop is a gift store selling bull balls (yes, testicles) cleaned out and made into purses, among other classy wares, second is your hour-long wait for a table in a room with a would-be Gordon Lightfoot playing Kingston Trio standards, third is your in-and-out meal: massive (onion rings, not bread, start you off) portions, overly efficient service (a practiced art at McClintock's is the waiters' precarious water-glass refilling: they do it from six-odd feet above your glass), fourth is back to the Gordon Lightfoot room to relax with the complimentary liqueur. The bartender told us that 'Alex's Bar' (most of sign burnt out; look for something saying 'Lex') was the locals' hang-out. It certainly was, and we went back to our hotel in no time.
Shopping is equally dodgy and unpredictable. Don't get up early to go to the 'Nippo(sp) Swap Meet,' which had worse stuff than most small garage sales, only spread out over a considerably larger area. This would've been entertaining if they hadn't had early-morning karaoke (very bad). 'Nan's' used bookstore is worth the trip if you don't mind dust and no guarantees -- I found a lot of obscure things I'd been looking for, but it took a while, and I cleaned the place out (sorry). Other highlights include two dismal neighbouring malls: one an outlet place with a very few downscale stores, the other a strip mall with big-box-blah retailers: Payless Shoes reigns supreme. We bought a pair of Birkenstocks, checked out the 'As Seen on TV' store, and left, and I advise others to do the same.
This is a nice spot; we just made the mistake of leaving our hotel too often. Don't. Take your sweetie and head for Pismo; find a nice hotel room, and relax. There isn't any 'tourist pressure.' The surf is good, the beachfront is pretty, and Del's Pizza delivers. Go to Pismo to forget about the city, and you can even come home relaxed without worrying about how much you spent -- thanks to the lack of attractions, Pismo's cheap. I've checked 'couple' below, but Pismo would be fun with friends as well. Just make sure you like your travel partner: Pismo guarantees intimacy, if only because you're unlikely to have anything else to do.
Based solely on the parts of California that I've been too (San Diego and Temecula), California gets a five star rating from me. Some of the friendliest people I've ever met were in the Temecula area, and to be honest, I never expected that from California.
Pros: A really rather pretty town Cons: Snotty attitude spoils a lot of the pros Warning to the sensitive: rants and folk song lyrics appear below. -- There is a nifty small-town feel to Ojai; it seems to have escaped the chain store rampage that's overtaken most of the continent. Small boutiques and independent stores and restaurants abound. This is a debatable advantage. Endless boutique shops with … more
Pros: Cute, distinctly foreign look, some unique shops and sights Cons: Cute, distinctly fake look, some expensive shops and sights Quotation time: "Founded in 1911 as a Danish-American colony, Solvang has developed into one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. And contrary to Disneyland and Sea World, Solvang is not an amusement park. Though it's aimed at tourists, there's a genuine Danish heritage … more