Wildlife spotting at Pismo Beach

Founded in the 1890s, Pismo Beach is a seaside community and part of a greater “five cities” area – quaint yet urban. At the halfway point between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it’s a recreational destination. The coastal areas have increasingly come under protection by the state, and local government has struck a balance to keep tourism booming. Along the coast you'll find the Monarch Butterfly Grove, tide pools, extensive dunes and most famously clam beds. It’s the "Clam Capital of the World."

From migrating whales and falcons to pelicans, dolphins and sea otters, the coastal plane offers many opportunities for wild life spotting. Between forays there are also many venues for horseback riding, scuba diving, hiking, tennis, bicycling and the All-American pastime of bowling. The old downtown with its shops and eateries and the Pismo Pier are favorites.

The Monarch Butterfly Grove is a pleasure to visit anytime of the year. In the late winter, it’s the site of a massive annual migration of the butterfly, hosting, in the last five years, tens of thousands of Monarchs. A local group works hard to protect and popularize the grove. Butterflies have a four-stage life-cycle. From egg to caterpillar to cocooned pupa then to butterfly, it can be all seen at the grove.

Bird watchers flock to the area’s parks to see rare and endangered species. From the coastal parks migrating whales, sea otters and seals are often seen. Coastal access at many points allows for beach combing and exploration of the tide pools. State Park docents conduct tours throughout the year.

Pismo State Beach has world famous coastal sand dunes, and is home to many species - everything from birds to sea mammals. Songbirds and shorebirds are abundant year-round. In the winter, waterfowl, marine birds and birds of pray frequent the area. Meadow Creek is home to beavers, very rare in any part of the state. Deeper in on the trails, bobcats, coyotes and rabbits can be found.

Of special interest are the Elephant Seals. The Northern Elephant Seal, after spending up to 10 months at sea, twice a year takes landfall for mating and rest. Most are seen to the north above San Simeon. Friends of the Elephant Seal is an organization “dedicated to educating people about elephant seals and other marine life” is based in the area.

The community is strategically placed between California’s two great metropolises. Back in the day, travelers along Old Highway One stopped, often for days, to rest from what was then an arduous trip. This century-old tourist spot has an authenticity lacking in more commercial tourist oriented communities. Watching wildlife is incredibly convenient; it’s in waking distance of your car or RV.

The 2014 Amgen Tour of California will pass through Pismo Beach on May 15 in Stage 5. Read more on the all-AXS guide to Amgen.

Photo: Alan Vernon