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Life in Pismo Beach is slow, simple, and rather romantic. Fewer than 10,000 people live in the easygoing oceanside enclave that’s surrounded by turquoise Pacific waters and the famed Pismo dunes, towers of sand laced with colorful coastal wildflowers, hiking trails, and local wildlife.
Travelers can surrender to the siren song of nearby wine country or simply enjoy the low-key, retro-style attractions in town, most of which revolve around Pismo Beach’s truly impressive slice of coastline. Walk along miles of protected coastal land, rent surf gear from Pismo Beach Surf Shop (the oldest shop on the Central Coast), feast on bowl after bowl of delectable clam chowder (it’s what Pismo’s known for) and catch an achingly beautiful sunset at the historic, 1,200-foot-long pier.
For the most part, lodging in Pismo Beach isn’t extravagant, though there are one or two exceptions. Rather, this iconic little beach town is known for its slew of quaint B&Bs, stunning clifftop houses, and intimate boutique hotels.
Best Overall: SeaCrest OceanFront Hotel
Nestled along the coastline, in a bustling shopping area of Pismo Beach, the SeaCrest OceanFront Hotel has been a local favorite for more than five decades. The hotel has won numerous awards over the years — including the California Lodging Industry Association’s prestigious “Excellence in Lodging and Hospitality” award — thanks to its reliably warm and friendly staff, prime location, plush accommodations, and hefty list of amenities. Stylish, contemporary design and decor abounds throughout 158 guest rooms and deluxe suites, and most rooms boast an expansive view of the glittering Pacific below. Guests get to enjoy a tasty continental breakfast (complimentary, of course), direct beach access, and a heated pool overlooking the ocean.
SeaCrest also gets an A+ for environmentalism: The hotel has recently implemented a host of sustainability initiatives, including a Green Linen Program, energy-efficient LED lighting in all rooms and buildings, low-flow water fixtures, and a commitment to using green cleaning products. Saving the world while also providing optimal comfort and style for your stay in Pismo Beach? That certainly gets our vote.
Best Budget: Dolphin Cove Motel
Of the smattering of budget-friendly hotels in the Pismo Beach area, Dolphin Cove takes the cake. The price is very, very right for this charming hotel, with its awesome location right on the Seawall. Dolphin Cove offers immediate, easy access to Pismo Beach Pier, several miles of sandy beaches, the Pismo Beach Prime Outlets, and Monarch Butterfly Grove; the hotel feels both serenely tucked away and very close to all the action, including the beach, hiking and biking trails, and a number of notable local restaurants and downtown shops.
The 21-room Dolphin Cove offers cozy, well-maintained accommodations with plenty of amenities. Each room has a flat-screen TV, cable access, free Wi-Fi, microwave, seating area, dining area, coffee and tea, comfy pillow-top bedding, and a mini-fridge; some rooms even have an ocean view. Guests will love lounging on the sprawling terrace and patio area or grilling at the communal BBQ pit as the sun sets over the Pacific. The staff is very friendly here, and there’s a 24-hour front desk.
Best Boutique: Inn at the Pier
Overlooking the sparkling white sand and blue-green waters of the Pismo Beach coastline, the Inn at the Pier is one of the most well-liked boutiques in town. Just a few steps away from the Pismo Beach Pier and boardwalk, this luxurious oceanfront retreat boats an incredible rooftop bar with panoramic views of the coastline, a year-round heated pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center, on-site beach cruiser bike rentals, and one of the best eateries in town: Blonde Restaurant and Bar.
Guestrooms here are every bit as special as the amenities; each of the 104 rooms is complete with ocean views, private patios and balconies, plush bathrobes, 55-inch flat-screen HDTVs, and Bigelow toiletries. Suites come equipped with a kitchenette, full refrigerator, Vittoria espresso machine, and double-vanity bathroom. However, you should know that there’s one drawback to staying at the Inn at the Pier: After a couple nights spent sipping refreshing cocktails on the rooftop and watching the sun go downwith — the salt-tinged breeze caressing your face — you may never want to leave.
Best for Families: Shore Cliff Hotel
For vacationing families who land in Pismo Beach, the Shore Cliff Hotel is an excellent lodging option. Offering spectacular ocean views and a variety of 100 sleek, spacious rooms — Oceanview Guestrooms, Oceanfront Guestrooms, and Deluxe Suites — the hotel is conveniently located near all the best family-friendly activities that Pismo Beach has to offer. In fact, Shore Cliff is just a 15-minute walk away from the ever-popular Dinosaur Caves Park, an 11-acre park with a huge play area that includes dinosaur-themed toys and structures, picnic tables and grassy areas.
The hotel is replete with top-of-the-line amenities that the whole family is bound to enjoy, including an outdoor pool and spa, fitness room, spa services, a delicious continental breakfast, bocce ball court, tennis courts, and easy beach access. Rooms have all the necessities, such as free Wi-Fi, a coffee maker (and plenty of Seattle’s Best Coffee), microwave, mini-fridge, Bath & Body Works toiletries, and in-room safe. Every year, countless families consistently rate Shore Cliff as their preferred place to stay.
Best for Romance: The Cliffs Hotel and Spa
The Cliffs Hotel and Spa is prettier than a picture — the property sits atop an idyllic oceanfront bluff, high above a pristine strip of sand. In addition to the scenery, lovebirds will revel in the hotel’s ample amenities, direct beach access, and warm inviting spaces. Indulge in a full-day wellness experience at the highly regarded Dia Feliz Spa, enjoy local wines and craft beers at on-site restaurant Marisol, and relax in your plush, comfy room after a day spent frolicking in the waves.
All guestrooms and suites are outfitted with gleaming Italian marble and sleek, sea-inspired decor. The Cliffs Signature Room has a private balcony with ocean views, a 42-inch HDTV, an in-room movie system, Keurig coffeemaker, and fireplace. In addition, the Cliffs has a heated oceanfront pool with expansive views and poolside service, a 24-hour fitness center and complimentary shuttle service to and from San Luis Obispo Regional Airport and Amtrak stations. Be sure to grab a drink or two at the bar inside Marisol; this local hot spot has won the New Times Reader’s Choice award for both “Best Happy Hour” and “Best Drink With a View.”
Best for Luxury: Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa
How does a soothing hot-stone massage, incredible ocean views from your own private balcony, and a decadent five-course tasting menu put on by a world-renowned chef sound? Get ready to live in the lap of luxury when you stay at the Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa, one of the most renowned resorts in all of Pismo Beach. Accommodations are swanky — guests stay in airy, light-filled suites (you can opt for one or two bedrooms) with a living room, dining room, kitchen, full laundry facilities, and balcony. The Spa at Dolphin Bay offers top-notch treatments, including custom massage therapy, infrared sauna treatment, personalized yoga sessions, and BIOTEC facials. On-site Lido is one of the best foodie spots in town, constantly churning out inventive, seasonal fare paired with local fine wines. (For a real treat, you can even have the Lido team create a gourmet picnic for you to take along for the day.) And the Dolphin is a great central base for all the best activities in the area, including surfing, checking out the famed Hearst Castle, wine tasting, shopping, and more.
Best for Nightlife: Pismo Lighthouse Suites
Lively, vibrant Pismo Lighthouse Suites is the perfect choice for travelers who’d prefer to fill their vacation with live entertainment and other nighttime activities. This charming oceanfront hotel is located just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Pismo Beach with its quaint shops, bars, and restaurants. Guests can choose from three suite types (Family, Master, and Oceanfront) which feature nautical-themed decor, luxurious linens, coffeemakers, mini-fridges, flat-screen TVs, microwaves, Bath & Body Works bath amenities, wet bars, Seattle’s Best Coffee, and a private balcony or patio. Amenities include free coffee and tea in the lobby, a complimentary continental breakfast of homemade waffles and sausage, clay tennis courts, and an oceanfront heated pool and jacuzzi.
Travelers in the mood for live music should make their way to nearby venues like SLO Brew and Vina Robles Amphitheater; the area is also home to several great playhouses and even a historic drive-in movie theater. Stop off for a nightcap at either Shell Beach Brewhouse or Frog & Peach Pub, both of which are within walking distance of Pismo Lighthouse.
Best for Business: Sandcastle Hotel on the Beach
Home to 75 newly renovated guest rooms and suites, the Sandcastle Hotel on the Beach is centrally located just off Highway 1, near the Pismo Beach Pier. For business travelers, the Sandcastle makes for the perfect place to host your next corporate retreat or hole up while you’re working; guests can enjoy the use of a spacious 24-hour lobby business center or hold meetings on the sprawling third-floor deck, complete with lounge chairs and fireplaces, while marveling at the expansive views of the coastline.
The hotel has plenty of thoughtful amenities for business travelers to take advantage of, including homemade cookies and hot coffee served every day in the lobby, widespread Wi-Fi access, and in-room extras like Keurig coffee, flat-screen TVs, bathrobes, and mini-fridges. Start your day off right with a cup of tea on your patio overlooking the shimmering Pacific, then, if you need an ice-cold beverage or snack to stay fueled for your afternoon presentation, the lobby has a wide array of food and drinks available for purchase.
Best B&B: Cottage Inn by the Sea
Quaint and charming Cottage Inn by the Sea is a local B&B favorite for many reasons. With its lovely English countryside-inspired architecture, proximity to the beach, dramatic ocean views, and long list of amenities, it’s not hard to see why tourists and locals alike prefer to stay here. Rooms are intimate and warmly decorated, with cozy fireplaces and cheery, beachy decor in the form of driftwood-inspired headboards and bright yellow accents. Standard amenities include a Keurig coffee maker, upscale Molton Brown bath amenities, Beautyrest bedding, and your choice of an ocean or garden view. All guests enjoy a free gourmet breakfast and the use of an oceanfront heated pool and spa, coffee and fruit in the lobby, free Wi-Fi and parking, a 24-hour business center, and lush landscaping with Adirondack chairs and fire pits that look over the water’s edge. The pier and downtown are just a short 10-minute walk away, though you may be content to stay in, curl up with a good book, and listen to the peaceful sounds of the waves lapping gently against the shore.