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Guest: Pismo Beach
sunset view at Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach is a place for great wine, surfing and small town charm

Wine, Waves and Whimsy
In Pismo Beach

Story and photos by Greg Aragon

ismo Beach is a gem on California’s rich central coast. With small, beach town charm, legendary surfing waves, and a burgeoning local wine industry, the city has grown into an exciting, eclectic destination for the discerning traveler.

A friend and I began a recent getaway to Pismo Beach at the ocean-front Cliffs Resort, where we checked into a modern and comfortable 4th floor suite. Overlooking the ocean, the spacious room came with a balcony pointed at the water, a soft king bed, large flat screen TV, tub and shower, small fridge, couch and lounge chair, MP3 player, and an office area with desk, chair and free wireless internet.

the pool at Cliffs Resort with the Pacific Ocean in the background
The Cliffs Resort sits on rocky cliffs, overlooking the Pacific Ocean
and pristine Shell Beach.

Beyond its 160 rooms and suites, the Cliffs Resort also boasts a state-of-the art fitness center, big heated pool, gift shop, business center, huge fake shark in lobby, more than 10,000 sq-ft of meeting space, a full-service spa, and the delicious Marisol Restaurant and Bar. The latter is where we enjoyed a scrumptious buffet breakfast each morning during our stay.

But the hotel’s best feature is its picturesque location on the rocky cliffs of Pismo Beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and pristine Shell Beach. To help take advantage of this, the hotel created a nature trail leading down to the beach and surrounding caves and tide pools.

When not relaxing at the Cliffs Resort, we explored the city. Renowned for its surfing, Pismo has now also become a hot spot for wine-lovers and connoisseurs. With a unique Mediterranean climate, helped by ocean-front hills that channel the right amount of wind and sunlight into its vineyards, the region is perfect for year-round wine tasting and wine making tours.

the writer at one of Pismo's vineyards
With a unique Mediterranean climate, Pismo’s vineyards are perfect
for wine growing.

Pismo Beach’s lush backyard includes the historic wine regions of Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande, and Avila Valley, where varietals such as Pinot Noirs, rich Chardonnays, Zinfandels, Cabernets, and velvety-smooth Merlots are produced by some of the most respected winemakers in California.

What we found engaging about the region is the intimate setting in which many of the wineries are set. Many of the facilities are family-run, with owners waiting to great guests at the front door. This is in contrast to Napa Valley, where giant wineries and crowded tours are common.

tasting Chardonnay at Center of Effort winery, Pismo Beach
Center of Effort winery in western Edna Valley is known for its distinguished Chardonnay.

One such intimate vineyard that we visited was Center of Effort, a beautiful estate pitched along south-facing slopes in the western Edna Valley, just 4.5 miles from the Pacific. The vineyard unfolds along an uplifted ancient dune, with rocky and sandy soil, allowing the vines to achieve natural balance in the ground.

The winemaking at this operation is led by Mike Sinor and Nathan Carlson, both veteran Edna Valley winemakers and long-time friends. Over the past 15 years, Mike has dedicated himself to the mastery of Burgundian varietals, and Nathan’s winemaking experience in the Edna Valley spans more than 12 years, during which time he has made Pinot Noirs among other varietals.

the writer at the Lido Restaurant and Lounge, Dolphin Bay Resort
The Lido Restaurant and Lounge at exclusive Dolphin Bay Resort offers mesmerizing ocean views and great California Coastal Cuisine.

While touring Center of Effort, Mike and Nathan told us about their handcrafted process of premium French oak barrels for aging and native fermentations. We also learned about their latest Chardonnay creation.

From Center of Effort, we drove back to Shell Beach for lunch at the Lido Restaurant and Lounge, located at the exclusive Dolphin Bay Resort. Here, against a mesmerizing ocean-front backdrop, we dined on Morro Bay oysters, shrimp cocktails, and curried shrimp with rice and veggies. While eating we met Chef, Brian Collins, who spoke of the inspiration behind his California Coastal Cuisine.

After lunch we lounged by the pool at The Cliffs Resort and then walked down the nature path to the ocean, where we studied vibrant tide pools and strolled along the sandy beach. From here we drove to downtown Pismo Beach and walked along the city’s historic 1200-ft-long wooden pier and then enjoyed a wine tasting at Tastes of the Valleys, a quaint shop with more than 600 wines by the glass. The tasting was led by owner Ash Mehta.

nature path leading to the ocean from the Cliffs Resort
The Cliffs Resort boasts a nature path leading to the ocean, vibrant tide pools and a sandy beach.

For dinner we discovered Sea Venture Restaurant, located on the 3rd floor inside the Sea Venture Resort, on the beach. With a memorable sunset view, we devoured Oysters Rockefeller with melted spinach and bacon on half shell, Cesar salad, baked salmon, and a Sea Venture signature trio of shrimp, scallops, crab cake and tossed with pancetta and a roasted red pepper sauce. The meal was complimented by local Edna Valley wine, cheese cake, and a live Jazz band.

creative seafood dishes and local wine at the Sea Venture Restaurant, Sea Venture Resort
The Sea Venture Restaurant at the Sea Venture Resort, features memorable ocean views, along with creative seafood dishes and local wine.

Besides all of its great attractions, Pismo Beach also hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. One of these is the upcoming Wine, Waves & Beyond held May 31 - June 3. This classic 4-day surf and wine event features a Movie Premiere, a "Barrel to Barrel" food and wine tasting event at The Cliffs Resort, a "Brew Masters Dinner," and a Surf Contest. For more information, visit

rocky, sandy Shell Beach
Shell Beach is Pismo’s rocky, sandy paradise

The Cliffs Resort is located at 2757 Shell Beach Road, Pismo Beach, CA 93449. For reservations, call (805)773-5000 or visit For more information on visiting Pismo Beach, and about upcoming festivals and activities, visit:

Related Articles:
Laguna Beach, Orange County Oceanfront, San Luis Obispo, Central California Coast, Catalina Island, Hotel del Coronado, San Diego

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I enjoy your newsletters -and particularly Patti Nickell's article about the 'Pudding Club' in the Cotswold's. An old friend of mine is taking a holiday there this year and plans to try their Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick - amongst many!

--- John & Maggie - UK


The way I read this article, you stayed at the "Breeze and Waves". Do you have any pictures of the cottages, and would you recommend to some first time visitors to Caramoan?

--- Richard Simons, Stockton, CA

Hi Richard,

Breeze and Waves was still under construction when I stayed there in Feb. 2010. It should be finished by now. You can see pictures of the resort on this page. We got to stay in one of the small cottages in the picture. I'll recommend it to budget travelers but you might want to look at other options. We chose it because of its location right by the beach. You can try other resorts in the Caramoan town proper (you have to get a ride to get to the beach and the jump-off point to go island-hopping but it's a relatively short distance). There are also two higher end resorts located on a cove and very near the islands: Gota Village Resort (unfortunately there is something wrong with their website right now) and its twin resort Hunongan Cove. Caramoan is a relatively new tourism development so resorts are just now being built.

You can go to this site for a good list of choices for accommodations in Caramoan.

I should add that it might be good to go to Caramoan (and almost anywhere in the Philippines) during the dry season from December to May. June to November are the typhoon months and sometimes typhoons will still come during early December.


* * * * *

Hi, I'm planning to go to Caramoan this coming May. Would you know the number of Breeze and Waves Cottages? Thanks!

--- Ann, Manila, Philippines

Hi Ann,

Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!



For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand

Hi Wendy,

In winter, Heritage Heights Apts. now offers free shuttle service to and from Queenstown 24/7 to guests without cars. We own a 7-passenger 4-wd Toyota Highlander used specifically to taxi guests up and down the hill during winter months. We also run advance purchase winter promotions which include a 4-wd rental.

If any of your readers head over this direction, I will enjoy extending Heritage Heights hospitality!!


--- Ailey, Owner, Queenstown, NZ

* * * * *

New Zealand text and pix top drawer! Almost as good as making the trip. ( but one still wants to. . . ) Full of useful detail. Only trouble with the website: It's tough figuring out which feedback goes with which article, and the more there are, the tougher it gets!

--- Ken W., Camarillo CA

Thanks Ken..."álmost" is right, you really have to experience the South Island firsthand. Granted this piece is long, but still all I can think about is how much I left out! I agree abut the relevancy factor re the feedback--it can be confusing...sometimes I have a "Wait a minute...what?" moment myself.

Thanks for writing,


* * * * *

Okay Wendy, from now on whenever you book your travel, please reserve space for me. I will carry your luggage, bring you cold drinks, massage your shoulders, and change the film in your camera (oops, I guess you don't have to do that anymore). Wonderful ideas and recommendations. Can you get to New Zealand from Boston in less than a week?

--- Carl A., South Easton, MA

Ha ha ha Carl, you're quite the comedian! But you'd be surprised how short that flight feels. I suspect Qantas isn't the only airline who's figured out that 3 movies, 2 full meals, lots of snacks and a complimentary travel pack (eye mask, warm socks and neck pillow) equals a quiet, well-behaved cabin. It really isn't bad. Just fly direct--pick the shortest flight w/ no lengthy layovers and you'll be fine. Re: signing on as my Super Sherpa...why not? I think you know I seldom travel in anything less than Party mode. There's just that pesky background check...

Thanks for writing,


For Excellence Riviera Cancun:

Wendy, I truly enjoyed your info especially since we leave in a week to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Was it necessary to make reservations at the restaurants? Was there a dress code for the restaurants? What would you recommend not missing while there? Was the spa experience worth it? Did you travel away from the resort while there? Thanks,

--- Kim P. Fuquay, Varina, NC

Hi Kim.

Sorry for the delay in had heavy competition with the holidays. Reservations at Excellence restaurants are not necessary and you will not find a wait. The dress code is basically no bathing suits and flip-flops...with a decided a mix of atmospheres. Mostly the open-air beachside spots are super casual, the rest slightly more formal. Truly, as long as you are clothed, I don't think you'd be turned away anywhere, though most people seemed to enjoy dressing up at night...I suspect more for their own pleasure than any sense of decorum.

The spa experience was worth it, though my favorite part wasn't the actual massage. The precursor was a 45 min. or so rotation from sauna to a series of (kind of wild) water jets which was very different and very cool, not just for women. In its' entirety, and with the serenity of the beach/champagne/strawberries, it was memorable.

We did not travel away from the hotel this trip, but the hotel is very helpful in arranging day excursions to fit your desires and you do not have to book these until you arrive.

Have a great time!

--- Wendy


I enjoyed Nino's contribution, since we all read about the frightening terrorist attack. Having travelled somewhat through India years ago, I am continually impressed with this country and the gentle spiritual aspects of this nation. Some day I look forward to going back. Nino has encouraged me. Thank you!

--- Yoka Y., Westlake Village, CA


Dear Mr.s/counselors Brown and Koro,

Thank you for a very informed and succinct article on motorcycle accidents and the law. It inspired me to think about getting a motorcycle, but not have an accident. But, if I do I am now well informed with the basics of what to do providing I do not perish in the accident. Any tips about that too?

--- Unnamed

Dear Rush and Chuck,

I wish I had read your article before our camping trip the Friday prior to President's Day.

My wife and I were in a car accident on our way to a camp ground. We were "rear-ended" and the impact caused our car to crash into the car in front of us. The contents of the truck that we were riding scattered onto several lanes. It's a miracle our two dogs decided to stay inside the car. My wife and I were shaken up badly but despite the mess, I was still able to walk out of the car. I got the license plate of the driver in front of me but, to my surprise, after reviewing the little damage on his car, he then sped off. I didn't know you could do that! The driver who hit me from behind gave me his information and then he too left the scene without saying good 'bye. When the police arrived all I had to go by was the little information I had jotted down which I hope was truthful. What if it was bogus? What if I had written the plate number incorrectly? How would that affect my insurance? What if we were unconscious, who would have written down all that information?

I do have one suggestion if you are injured in an accident. The police asked if my wife wanted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital but we declined the offer. I remembered when I rode an ambulance years ago that it was not a comfortable ride. I was strapped to the stretcher and there were all sorts of medical equipment dangling noisily above me. As long as you are able, it is a more relaxful ride inside a car. Besides, isn't there a fee for ambulance service?

--- Dave S. of Pasadena, CA

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