Discover the best of the Central Coast in Cayucos

Discover the best of the Central Coast in Cayucos

This blog originally appeared on SF Gate by Story Studio

There are places along the Pacific coast that we find only with advanced notice. How often have we driven along Highway 1 and wondered what lies along the coast? Cayucos is just such a discovery. Named after the Native Chumash term for “kayak,” Cayucos was once home to the Chumash and Salinan Native Americans. Today, there’s a coastal village teeming with adventurers, fishermen and visitors. Whatever your reason, exploring Cayucos is a turn worth taking.

The simple seaside town is comprised of an historic pier, the Old Cayucos Tavern and several other ranching period buildings that reflect Cayucos’ colorful history. You can still catch local cowboys in town. A unique blend of antique stores, surf shops and boutiques, the dining and lodging are just as diverse, from beachfront decks above the pier, outstanding BBQ and fresh sea fare on the food front, to quaint selection of Boutique Motels, B&B’s, Inns and Vacation Rental Homes.

The curious among us like to orient ourselves when we enter a village packed with history like Cayucos. Inside the Visitor Center, the Cayucos History Museum opened just three years ago. The Cayucos Historical Society manages the rotating and permanent galleries, where visitors will find artifacts from the Chumash and Salinan people, who first inhabited this area 10,000 years ago, as well as information about the early pioneer ranchers, missionaries and other key citizens, including town founder Captain James Cass.

History buffs will want to continue on to the Cass House. Built sometime between 1867 and 1875, Captain Cass owned the whole town, including a store, warehouse, home and wharf. The timber came from San Francisco by ship, the fixtures from England.

Though Captain Cass made his career first as a rough-and-tumble merchant marine and then in the equally arduous land-and-sea trade, you might assume he was an interior designer or horticulturist given the imported etched-glass doors, well-appointed music room and expansive gardens. Now a B&B with an award-winning restaurant, guests are invited to call this important local landmark “home” during their stay in Cayucos.

More than 400 animal and bird species also call the beachside village home, at least for a little while. One reliable tourist is the gray whale that passes town on the way north every spring, often with a calf in tow. Follow the Whale Trail into Cayucos, then step out on the famous Cayucos Pier, paddle from shore in a kayak, or ascend Estero Bluffs for the best scoping perspectives.

Should you hike onto the Estero Bluffs, keep your eyes peeled for a rare peregrine falcon. What’s that blur in the sky? you ask. It might just be a peregrine swooping at 200 miles per hour into a flock of feeding and frenzied sandpipers. No bird in the world is faster than a peregrine in full dive.

The 335-acre park also provides a super vista to watch the undulating kelp forests and animated sea otters that live there. The trail makes for a great bike ride or hike beside the grasslands, above which seven species of butterflies dance and seasonal wetlands provide habitat for the quite rare California red-legged frog.

There’s no luck involved when locating one of the many tide pools that rest along this Central California coastline. Just check your tide table for low tide, put on some non-slip shoes, and head out in search of hermit crabs, sea anemones, purple sea stars and dozens of other intertidal critters. 

The Cayucos Pier provides more than a viewpoint for amateur naturalists. The 950-foot iconic wooden structure is usually populated with fishermen and ocean admirers. And they’re not just casting for rockfish; the end of the pier is one of the best land-casting positions for prized halibut from here to Alaska.

Surfers thank the pier for a fantastic break most days, their talents great entertainment for those of us who’ve chosen to take a day off from riding our boards. Several surf shops offer beginner lessons, as well as guided kayak and paddleboard tours, for interested adventurers.

Just off the historic pier, plenty of adventurous tours, cuisine and local artworks are on display. Good Clean Fun offers kayak rentals and immersive kayak tours where visitors view wildlife and learn about the natural history and heritage surrounding Cayucos. A few steps off the pier, Duckie’s Chowderhouse  is the top spot for clam chowder, beer and wine, and  Ruddell’s Smokehouse  is where you’ll find Owner & Chef, “Smoker Jim” Ruddell’s unique, savory, smoked items made only from the freshest locally produced meats & poultry, and the fish is straight from local docks.

Not all of the local artists work in studios. The sea has molded glass since well before that first message cast off in a bottle. And the community will celebrate this sublime natural sculptor during the 7th Annual Cayucos Sea Glass Festival. This year’s showcase takes place on March 11th and 12th. Visitors will be blown away by how these juried artists showcase the sea glass in their own art.

Locals say there’s no better time than after a storm to hunt for sea glass. Test the tempest by entering the $1,000 Storm Watchers Getaway. You can register online for this Cayucos Getaway, which includes a $750 lodging voucher and $250 in dining and shopping gift cards. The winner will be announced on the final day of the Cayucos Sea Glass Festival.

Finding your own sea glass is also one activity that makes up the Cayucos Beach Must-Do Vacation, an exciting contest that takes care of the winner’s lodging, meals and favorite beach activities. It’s available online, so don’t miss your chance to see “how you do Cayucos!”

The Cayucos seashore has offered respite to its inhabitants for 10,000 years. Spend a weekend surfing, watching for whales or seeking out sea glass, and you’ll find time will slow like a Pacific sunset that, by the way, looks spectacular from the historic Cayucos Pier.