Hot springs, wine, and… pirates? Exploring Avila Beach, CA
Where you can pick your perfect paradise
Whatever your idea of a perfect vacation looks like, it probably involves a good amount of relaxing. Relaxing doesn’t always have to equal boring; it can mean treating yourself to an invigorating hike with scenic views, or exploring a historic lighthouse. Or, of course, it might be soaking in a natural hot spring, laying out on the beach, or spending the afternoon sipping vino at a winery– whatever activity makes you feel content and at ease. That’s why Avila Beach, just off Highway 1, is a perfect vacation spot. It has all of the wineries and hot springs you could want, along with bike trails, golf courses, beach bonfires, surfing, quaint hotels and beach-front vacation rentals, whale watching, sport fishing, and more. Tucked away on the San Luis Obispo Bay, it’s a town that’s perfectly relaxing… in every sense of the word.
The Kelsey family prides itself on being hands-on in every aspect of running the Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards. Grandma and grandpa grow the Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, son and family grow a handful more, and the rest of the clan takes part in running the operation. Visit the grounds, placed right among apple orchards and near the ocean, and experience wine truly made with love! With peacocks roaming around, fresh air all around, and a glass of wine in your hands, you’ll feel right at home with the Kelseys. Be sure to give their unique apple-grape blends a try!
The Vineyards are part of the Avila Wine Trail, which features family-owned wineries in the area and gives you a complete taste of what the coast has to offer. Two other must-visit wineries along the trail are Sinor-Lavallee, which pours estate-grown wines in their bright, airy, tasting room a block from the water and Peloton Cellars, which offers flights of wines like Pinot Noirs and light whites in a storefront with an ocean view.
Going from the Ontario Road trailhead to Avila Beach, the Bob Jones ‘City to the Sea’ Trail is 2.5 miles long and a popular path for running, biking, or simply walking and enjoying nature. If you don’t have a bike of your own, no worries! There are places to rent them at both ends of the trail. The paved path follows alongside San Luis Obispo Creek, which offers stunning scenery. Bob Jones himself is a sort of legend. He worked for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for over two decades, helped found an environmental firm, and after retiring, was president of The Land Conservancy from 1988-1991. His dedication to preserving and protecting the creek alongside the trail is what inspired many to create a trail named after him. The City to the Sea trail is a charming trip for those wanting an easygoing sliver of coastal woodland.
Back in 1985, Avila Valley Barn began as a simple fruit and vegetable stand on Avila Beach Drive. It was so popular, the owners quickly began to expand, adding a large tent, and eventually, a barn. Today, travelers from all over come to the barn for its produce, bakery, deli, gifts, and activities. Pick your own apples, berries, or peaches throughout the summer, or visit for plenty of fall activity later on the year– including pumpkin picking and tractor rides. You can even enjoy a hot ear of corn directly from the on-site corn roaster! Goats, pigs, donkeys, and many other farm animals are also available for petting. Avila Valley Barn really does have it all, and is a family favorite among locals! The Avila Beach area has many other farms as well and is especially known for autumn apple picking at its many orchards.
Avila Hot Springs was discovered in 1907 by oil drillers, then developed into a natural artesian mineral hot springs welcoming visitors. Tent camping and cabins for rent provide those wanting a peaceful getaway with a perfect location– just a few miles away from the beaches and right next to the Bob Jones Trail. You can even just purchase a day pass to experience the pool and hot springs! The pool has a large double slide, so whether you want to kick back and relax in the springs or have some fun in the pool, you’re covered. Need some further relaxation? Massages are available at the springs that include a dip in the mineral pool. Need some further adventurous fun? Bike rentals are on-site.
Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort is located on 100 acres of secluded land in the Avila Valley, and it’s the perfect retreat for those looking to have a relaxing spa day. The spa is recognized globally, and offers massages and facials of all kinds, but the famous natural mineral springs are the biggest draw here. Rent a private hillside mineral water hot tub with a view, or reserve the lush Oasis Waterfall Lagoon, also boasting jade-green mineral spring water.
A natural pier is formed at Mallagh Landing, made from a 150-foot rock fixture that juts out into the bay. In the 1800s, sailor David Mallagh built a wharf at the coves, for which the landing is named. Here, visitors hike to find caves and coves of all sorts. At the base of the cliffs is Pirate’s Cove, a clothing-optional beach less than a half a mile long. This carefree beach has a laid back kind of atmosphere. The Pirate’s Cove area is a great place, whether you’re into the clothing-optional section of the beach, or want to explore some awesome hidden caves and coves.
Just a couple of steps away from Avila Beach and the boardwalk is the Central Coast Aquarium, where you can get an up-close look at the creatures in the gorgeous ocean you’ve been traveling along. Central Coast Aquarium has touch tanks and a few marine exhibits, so you have plenty of chances to learn about the sea species inside. The aquarium’s feeding demonstrations and passionate staff keep visitors and locals coming back. The aquarium is ideal for small children, and the staff does a fantastic job of involving children in reading storytime events, as well as hosting camps throughout the summer.
Keep an eye out for the Whale Trail sign at nearby Avila Beach! Once found, you’ll be able to identify any nearby whales, sea lions, and other traveling animals typically spotted in the area!
The Avila Beach Pier is a gorgeous stop for anyone exploring the sandy shores here. It was originally built in 1908, but had to continually be repaired after any major storm passed through. Later that year, Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet,” Navy service members sent out on diplomatic missions, touched down on Avila Beach. After that event brought in thousands of spectators, the pier was more permanently repaired. It’s thousands of feet long, and is fully equipped to handle tourists and fisherfolk all year long. The pier is temporarily closed, but you can still enjoy the beachside fun around it.
Traveling through the lovely valley to get to the white sand beach is a beauty in itself, but once at the ocean, you’ll enjoy swings right on the sand, a playground nearby, and even (maybe) glimpses of sea lions. Plus, the beach is steps away from the cozy little seaside town, with loads of shops worth browsing and excellent places to eat. Avila Beach has a lifeguard on duty, so this family-friendly location will put everyone’s mind at ease, and it allows dogs before 10am, so if you’re traveling with a furry friend, they can get some beach time in, too.
Since 1873, Harford Pier has handled everything from shipping commerce, smugglers transporting liquor, to (nowadays), recreational and commercial fishing. Listen to barking sea lions and the sound of waves while eating at one of the two restaurants at the pier, or simply just walk around, taking it all in. Grab a beer at a walk-up window to enjoy while you check out the sights. Parking at Harford Pier is easy and free, and even on a crowded weekend afternoon the pier feels like a calm, coastal environment. Something notable about this pier, in particular, is that it has been open to cars and other vehicles, starting with horse-drawn vehicles in the pier’s earliest days. Wanting to cook at home? You can even grab some freshly-caught seafood at the fish market. And finally, as with many of these points of interest, always keep an eye out for migrating whales in the water!
Coming from Avila to Port San Luis, you’ll stumble upon Olde Port Beach. Once across the bridge, just pull off to the shoulder and park right after you see the first cove. If you’re looking for a calm, tranquil setting, then look no further. This beach has very few amenities, but that’s what makes it less crowded and more peaceful… although it does happen to be dog-friendly. Seasonal bonfires take place right on the beach for a one-of-a-kind experience straight out of a movie, especially exciting for those of us who don’t regularly find ourselves on the coast! The fire rings at Olde Port are normally available for use March through November– so take advantage of them while you can!
Once inhabited by the Northern Chumash tribe, right off Avila Beach is the Pecho Coast Trail, known to attract hikers desiring some epic views of the coast while getting a great hike in. On the trail, you can choose between two guided hikes– the round-trip adventure to the Point San Luis Lighthouse (a little under four miles total) or the hike to Rattlesnake Canyon and back (eight miles). If you choose to hike to the lighthouse, you can even get a docent-led tour of the lighthouse for $5. The trail is known for these guided hikes; visitors can enjoy countless facts and trivia shared by docent naturalists while taking in that panoramic view of the beach! The trail does get steep in some areas, and there are narrow paths and cliffs to climb, so come prepared to possibly feel the burn! Guided hikes typically last around four hours.