Downtown Avila Beach is just off Highway 1 and 101 on California's central coast, nearly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, about 10 minutes south of San Luis Obispo. Downtown Avila Beach has a small-town feel, and is a popular place to visit.
The half-mile long scenic beach spreads along the shore of the San Luis Obispo Bay. The beach is protected from heavy surf and winds by Point San Luis, resulting in a microclimate that is usually warmer than the other beaches on the Central Coast. Waves tend to be small, and are perfect for kids and families who want to safely body board or play in the water. Bodyboards and wetsuits are available for rent. Lifeguards are present during the summer months.
DINING & Farmers' Market
The downtown area has about a dozen restaurants, ranging from the epicurean Ocean Grill with views of the Pacific, to the iconic Avila Grocery & Deli, one of the oldest businesses on the beachfront promenade. The Hula Hut and Beach N Yogurt are especially popular with kids. KravaBowl offers a variety of acai bowls and superfoods. Some wineries, such as Croma Vera Wines, offer cheese plates and baguette sandwiches.
During the summer the popular downtown Avila Beach Farmer's Market takes place Fridays from 4-8pm on the promenade, and features live music, food, and a variety of local artisans. For 2017, the downtown Avila Beach Farmers' Markets will take place April 7 - September 29, 2017.
Over the last few years, downtown Avila Beach has become a wine tasting destination. Award winning wineries include Croma Vera Wines, Peloton Cellars, Sinor-LaValee, Silver Horse, Alapay Cellars, Morovino, and Avila Wine & Roasting Company. All feature wines from Paso Robles and Edna Valley, and are located along the Avila Wine Trail.
There are several hotels located in Downtown Avila Beach, making it possible for you to spend your entire day on foot (or bike). The beautiful Avila Lighthouse Suites offers accommodations directly across from the beach. The luxurious Avila La Fonda Hotel transports you to a 19th-century Mexican village in California. San Luis Bay Inn, a vacation ownership resort about 1/4 mile from downtown, sits high on a bluff overlooking the ocean.
If you're looking for a vacation rental, Seven Sisters Vacation Rentals has an office in downtown Avila Beach, and offers dozens of luxury and beautifully-designed rentals.
From Downtown Avila Beach you can follow the Bob Jones City-To-Sea Bike Trail about 3 miles through parks and vineyards along a the San Luis Obispo Creek to Silver Horse Winery, located in an historic old one-room schoolhouse. The trail is perfect for biking, walking and running. Pedego Avila Beach offers affordable bike and electric bike rentals, and can provide a detailed map of the many bike-friendly destinations.
There are three piers near Avila Beach. The 1,685-foot Avila Beach Pier is a favorite for fishing, sight-seeing and dolphin and walrus watching. The nearby Harford Pier is a national historic structure. Today it is used by commercial fishing boats for off-loading their catches, and you can buy fresh seafood directly from shops on the pier. The third pier is owned by CalPoly for marine research, and is not open to the public.
In recent years, the pier has become a site for whale watching as numbers of gray and humpback whales come into bays around the pier to feed. California's Central Coast is a part-time home to the Central Coast Humpback Whale, which feeds in the nutrient-rich waters of Central California from May through October, before traveling south to Mainland Mexico to mate or give birth during the winter.
On weekends during the summer the free Avila Beach Trolley connects Port San Luis, Avila Beach, Shell Beach, and Pismo Beach, with various other stops along the way.
During peak times in the summer, Avila Beach can become crowded and parking difficult to find. The limited number of free parking spaces along the streets near the beach fill quickly with early arrivals. A paid parking lot is available in Avila Beach one block from the shore. It is open from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Parking fees are $6 for the day or $3 after 4:00 PM.
TRANSIT & Parking
The name Avila commemorates Miguel Ávila, who was granted Rancho San Miguelito in 1842. The town was established in the 1870's, when it served as the main shipping port for San Luis Obispo. Around this time, Luigi Marre built a honeymoon hotel here and steamboats brought customers from San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In the 1990's the future of downtown Avila Beach became uncertain.
For nearly 100 years, Unocal Corp had pumped gasoline, diesel fuel and crude oil from a “tank farm” on the bluffs through pipes under the town's main street to the docks, where tankers transported the oil. In the 1990's, an Avila Beach resident digging in his yard discovered an oil spill that had been leaking since the 1970s, and which Unocal Corp had been aware of for many years, but had not disclosed.
More than 22,000 gallons of crude oil, diesel fuel and gasoline had quietly contaminated the soil and groundwater beneath the business district of the quaint downtown Avila Beach. Unocal paid $200 million in cleanup costs and damages, one of the largest environmental settlements in California's history at that time.
"By the late 1990s, as the cleanup began, the damage was so extensive that much of the town was simply razed... Residents were displaced as heavy equipment dug as deep as 15 feet underground in places to remove more than 300,000 cubic yards of crude-soaked earth." Source: Sacramento Bee.
Over 6,750 truckloads of contaminated material was removed from the beach, and replaced with clean sand from Guadalupe Dunes. Many of the town's homes and businesses, including several blocks of Front Street, were razed as a result of the quarter mile wide excavation. Today, new buildings, homes, businesses, modern walkways and sea motif walls and benches take their place.