Heading South on HWY 101 from the Bay Area, the route, also known as El Camino Real (The Royal Road), has become very familiar to me over the last 25 years.
The famous road that once linked the Spanish missions, pueblos and presidios, and connected the states of California, Portland and Washington has been transformed through “progress” and now serves the appetite of the traveler. The changes have been subtle as development has taken over in many of the sleepy towns that made up the historic route. The old motels, service stations, fruit stands and family rest stops and have been replaced by outlet malls, large apartment complexes and fast food establishments. The once golden hills that turn brilliant green in the winter have been planted with hundreds of thousands of grape vines. This change has given the Central Coast region significant presence in the wine industry, producing both intriguing and up and coming wineries.
For many years, our retreat has been Pismo Beach. It takes about 3 and half hours to get there from Benicia. Time enough to unwind once you have made it through San Jose traffic. The trip goes by quickly, as long as you have satellite radio and a smartphone to stay connected. We once owned a 2nd home in Pismo; actually many different homes that were part of our “fixer upper-flip or flop” phase in life. The attraction to Pismo was that it seemed to be the last of authentic California beach towns. With its long stretches of endless beach, romantic sunsets, boardwalk and, of course, the world famous clam chowder what’s not to love?
It was bound to happen….change!
In the last few years empty downtown lots on the ocean have been developed into two first class beach resorts. The rustic boardwalk and parking lot have been transformed into a promenade with an electronic Pismo Beach sign that changes colors starting at dusk, a playground with a whale for kids to climb and a slide that takes you from the promenade to the sand in a matter of seconds. Many of the classic restaurants like Giuseppe’s, Rosa’s and the Sea Venture have thankfully survived, while other small businesses have been pushed out for more lucrative rents.
The other part of the attraction is anonymity. We really don’t know anyone in the town except the frozen yogurt store owner and maybe the waiter that we are on a first name basis with. Beach fashion is no more than sweats and sneakers. Comfort and function are key. People tend to look at you funny if you are “overdressed.”
As we pass San Luis Obispo and the road takes the turn to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean is there to greet us, rain or shine. It is one of those moments that I still am thrilled with after all this time. Pismo will always be a California beach town that you can find on the long and winding road called the 101.