The Best of CA Highway 1: Must-See Spots In Cayucos
A Beachcomber’s Paradise, A Foodie’s Nirvana, And A Vacationer’s Dream Come True
With a Rich History, Cayucos Features a White Sandy Beach, a Fishing Pier, Tide Pools, Hiking, Biking and Cool Locals
When roaming the iconic CA Highway 1 Discovery Route, be sure to take the plunge into the classic beach town of Cayucos. Just north of Morro Bay, here you will enjoy miles of pet-friendly beach, surfing, kayaking, strolling the historic pier and getting up close and personal with sea life (think adorable sea otters). With a few family-owned restaurants, and infamous local artisan goods, there’s several ‘Must–See’ experiences for you to enjoy.
Voted “the coolest small town in America” in 2009, Cayucos is a surprising gem of a town that television personality Huell Howser selected for an episode of California’s Gold, and filmed most of it strolling up the center of Ocean Avenue, marveling at its uncrowded yet ultra-desirable qualities.
Originally inhabited by the Chumash Native American people, Cayucos was officially “settled” in 1867 by Captain James Cass. The Captain, whose impeccably restored home still bears his name, recognized the excellent shipping location and built the pier, a store, and a warehouse that came to be known as Cayucos Landing. Part of an original Mexican land grant, the name Cayucos means kayak or canoe which were used to hunt sea otters along the coast. Now protected from human predators, those fun-loving sea otters are a main attraction here.
Unscathed by the big developers, the population of Cayucos is about 3,000. Despite its small size, Cayucos has an eating establishment to meet everyone’s palate, from a chowder house to five-star dining. You’ll also find fabulous antique stores, surf shops with handcrafted boards, and locally owned gift stores. For children, there are three play areas designed just for them including, picnic tables, barbecues, and a paid lifeguard during the summer. There’s even a fresh water swimming pool in the summer near Hardie Park and two lighted tennis courts, located a short walk away from the pier. Grownups looking for a bit of “spice” will find that “in spades” if you’ll forgive the pun, at The Old Cayucos Tavern, a historic bar with card-playing rooms, pool tables, dancing, and some of the best live music around.
Check out this video to see all there is to do in the cool seaside town:
Enjoy a menu featuring selectively sourced ingredients from the bounty of the Central Coast at The Grill at the Cass House. Schooners Wharf serves up the best ocean views of any restaurant in the area while embracing a nautical theme reminiscent of the early history of the Central Coast sailors and fishermen. The Sea Shanty features locals’ favorite desserts, Carolini salad and homemade ranch dressing. Featured in the New York Times, The Brown Butter Cookie Company is nationally known for its signature sea salt cookie: a melt-in-your-mouth shortbread morsel with just a touch of sea salt. Yearning for amazing smoked fish and meats? Don’t miss Ruddell’s Smokehouse, which also serves the best darn fish taco. Duckies Chowder House features some of the best clam chowder you’ve ever tasted. Relish authentic Italian cuisine and an extensive wine list at Café Della Via. .
Historic Cass House and Historical Museum
In 1875, Cayucos was composed of Captain Cass’ store, warehouse, private dwelling, and wharf, and in the distance stood a lone ranch house. Captain Cass’ house was built approximately between the time of his arrival in San Luis Obispo in 1867 and 1875. All of the building materials were transported by ship along the coast from San Francisco. Several fixtures and materials were purchased from Europe and England.
Captain Cass, born in England, made California his home in 1849, in Sacramento, as a merchant and miner. Upon his arrival at Cayucos Landing, he was soon engaged in trade and in landing and shipping merchandise. Through his enterprise and exertions the commodious wharf, warehouse and house were built. The house is a two-story wood structure with a jerkin head style roof. The interior was just as impressive with four etched glass doors imported from England and located between the music room and living room. There were beautiful kerosene light fixtures throughout the house. Captain Cass’ house was the town’s show place and social center at that period. The Historical Museum (located at the Chamber Visitor Center) has many items along with 1000 images and permanent collection of artifacts of Cayucos’ rich history.
A large variety of fish and shellfish can be caught from varying spots on the pier,with the coveted halibut being plentiful from the end of the 950-foot pier. Though the waves are unpredictable here, surfers love this surf-friendly town, finding some of the best surfboard craftsmen and surf shops in the country located here. This is also a great place to stroll, watch the surfers, and scout for dolphins, otters, seals, and birds.
Cayucos Tide Pools
This little known town in central California has some great tide pool locations to explore. They may be harder to find but the scenery and location is definitely worth the visit. These tide pools are located at the base of a long stretch of bluffs and the north side of the pier. There are large exposed rocks with high wave action along with lots of calmer water. There are plenty of barnacles, mussels and limpets in the more wave-exposed areas. The calmer waters have lots of algae, sea anemones, hermit crabs and snails.
Water Sports Abound
Sheltered from the prevailing northerly winds, Cayucos is a bit warmer than other nearby beaches, providing many days of rideable waves for the novice and veteran surfer alike. Cayucos is also an active playground for all levels of kayakers and paddle boarders to gear up, view incredible shoreline scenery, encounter all types of interesting sea life and take pleasure in the natural beauty of this region while paddling around the pier or into the secluded coves nearby!
Whale Rock Reservoir
A trip to Whale Rock Reservoir takes you away from the main roads and back in the rolling hills surrounded by the oak and sycamore trees, along with herds of cattle grazing peacefully. The area surrounding the Reservoir is prime for bird watching, especially around the Santa Rita Creek. Fishing, bicycling, hiking and hang gliding are also popular in this area. Whale Rock Dam was built in 1961, creating a 40,662-acre foot reservoir. The reservoir provides drinking water for the city of San Luis Obispo, the California Men’s Colony, Cal Poly and Cayucos. The lake is fed from Old Creek and Cottontail Creek at two northern points. The lake is surrounded by grassy rolling hills. Whale Rock Reservoir is open to the public during the trout-fishing season. The trail alongside the lake is primary used as a fishing access, but is also a beautiful area for hiking and picnicking. The easy to moderate hike is 3.8 miles out and back, taking about 2 hours.
Cayucos Mural Tour
The Cayucos Mural Society, founded in 1992, supports the painting of quality murals on historical and environmental topics which characterize Cayucos, on walls dedicated by merchants and by private citizens, involving many artists, contributing to the enhancement of our town, and increasing awareness of public art.
This tour starts in northern Cayucos at the elementary school. From there you will travel through the town’s street visiting all 9 murals, ending at a private residence on the southern tip of Cayucos. For a map and description of each mural and artists, please visit http://www.cayucos.org/muralsociety/tourmap.html
CowParade SLO – Happy Cows Cayucos
The internationally renowned public art event selected San Luis Obispo County to hold the first regional CowParade in the country. Happy Cow Cayucos, decorated by local installation artist Natellie Saia, resides at the Pasture at Shoreline Inn, 1 North Ocean Avenue.
San Luis Obispo County offers endless biking trails. Cycle Central Coast offers a Cayucos bike route. You can find everything from the flattest roads to the most steep, challenging trails. You can bike along much of scenic coastal Highways, Hwy 1 and Hwy 101. Or choose quiet country back roads along the many vineyards throughout the county. Whether you like to race, mountain bike or just cruise and admire the scenery, you’ll find a bike path to enjoy! Montaña de Oro has some of the best mountain biking on the Central Coast, with multiple trails ranging from beginner to expert. Central Coast Outdoors can also provide other recommendations.
The historic windmill is located just north of Cayucos on Highway 1. Head north on the highway and look for the landmark just before Estero Point, by San Geronimo Creek. The restored Aeromotor windmill near San Geronimo Creek is a relic of the land’s previous dairy days. The land is protected by Cayucos Land Conservancy to preserve the open space.
Estero Bluff State Park
Observe the diversity of life within the kelp forest while walking along the Estero Bluffs, north of Cayucos. Watch for sea otters playing in the kelp forest that they keep healthy. Be sure to bring your binoculars along for this self-guided hike. Estero Bluffs State Park is located north of Cayucos and west of Highway One from the intersection of North Ocean Street to Villa Creek. The park is approximately 355 acres consisting of grassland-dominated coastal terrace that slopes from Highway One to the Pacific Ocean. Download the Estero Bluffs State Park brochure here.
Wildlife Viewing and Stewardship Travel in Cayucos
As you plan your trip to Cayucos along the California Highway 1 Discovery Route, add an hour or two of fun volunteer time to your day, or schedule a travel adventure to a natural, cultural or historic site. Cayucos Stewardship Activities include:
- Cayucos Land Conservancy Bluffs & Nature Walks
- Estero Bluffs State Park
- Cayucos Estero Bluffs Clean-up
There are must-see spots along the way to become immersed in Cayucos, as well as the 9 other quaint towns that make up the CAH1DR. Discovering the hidden gems and local favorites along the route has become so popular by visitors that 10 rural road trip loops are featured on the website, making it easy to navigate by car. Download the Cayucos Rural Road Trip Map Here.