Exploring the Central Coast: Pismo Beach and Ontario Ridge

Today I headed to the coast in the early afternoon. My first destination was Pismo Beach. Thanks to Bugs Bunny I’ve been aware of Pismo Beach for a long time.

The famous clams at Pismo Beach are now very difficult to find due to over-harvesting and a large sea otter population. I heard that the chamber of commerce had a Pismo Beach clam shell on display, and the town also has three large concrete clam statues, so I thought I’d stop by and see them.

The authentic clam shell at the chamber of commerce is covered in a lacquer. It sat on a shelf near tourism brochures. It looked like a clam shell.

The Pismo Beach clam shell on display at the chamber of commerce.

The Pismo Beach clam shell on display at the chamber of commerce.

One of the concrete clam statues is located right outside the chamber of commerce. At times the concrete clams in town are painted or decorated. Depending when you visit they might look like an Easter bunny, a reindeer, or a turkey. On this day the clam in town was feeling patriotic.

A Pismo Beach concrete clam painted in patriotic colors.

A Pismo Beach concrete clam painted in patriotic colors.

I drove north along to the coast to Shell Beach. I walked along the bluffs and took in the coastal views.

Looking back at Pismo Beach from the Shell Beach bluffs.

Looking back at Pismo Beach from the Shell Beach bluffs.

I continued north to the far end of Shell Beach, where I parked my car in a neighborhood containing homes worth more money than I’ll make in my lifetime. I hiked the Ontario Ridge Trail, which I’ve heard referred to as the Avila Ridge Trail. The trail quickly goes up the ridge, then moves along the crest of the ridge, providing excellent views of the coast and inland valleys. It’s very cool how the view unfolds below as the climb commences. Here is a photo from early in the climb.

A view of Shell Beach from early on the Ontario Ridge Trail.

A view of Shell Beach from early on the Ontario Ridge Trail.

I took a few panoramic photos during the hike, but they fail to capture the grandeur of the scene. These were views that prompted exclamations.

The view of Shell Beach while ascending the Ontario Ridge Trail.

The view of Shell Beach while ascending the Ontario Ridge Trail.

When I got to the top of the ridge I was impressed by the inland view as well.

The inland view from the Ontario Ridge Trail.

The inland view from the Ontario Ridge Trail.

The great thing about hiking along the top of a ridge is that the sightlines are spectacular.

Another panorama, this time from higher up.

Another panorama of Shell Beach, this time from higher up.

The highest point of the ridge there is a radio tower complex (elevation: 735 feet). Some of the towers are camouflaged by fake trees and foliage, while others are exposed. The picture below only shows part of the complex.

The radio tower complex at the peak.

The radio tower complex at the peak.

After passing the radio tower complex the view of points farther north on the coast, like Pirate’s Cove and Avila Beach, became very good.

Pirate's Cove and Avila Beach viewed from the Ontario Ridge Trail.

Avila Beach viewed from the Ontario Ridge Trail.

Just as the trail begins to descend there is an opportunity to make one last climb. A small offset trail leads to a neighboring peak (elevation: 704 feet). Of course I hiked it. As I was returning to the main trail I enjoyed the view of green and blue.

View from near the Sycamore Trail junction.

View from near the Sycamore Trail junction, from the offset peak trail.

The most difficult part of the hike was the descent to Cave Landing Road. It’s a very steep trail with few rocks and a smooth topography. If it ever snowed it would be a dream sledding hill, aside from the fact you’s be doing 150 mph by the time you got to the bottom, and then you would fly off a cliff and free fall into the Pacific Ocean. Okay, it’s not an ideal sledding hill.

Cave Landing is a very cool outcropping of rocks on the coast. Right by that site I picked up the Shell Beach Bluffs Coastal Trail and headed back toward my car. Right as I got to the trail I realized I had an open view of Pirate’s Cove. For those of you not from the Central Coast, Pirate’s Cove happens to be a clothing optional beach. I felt like a major creep taking a picture with my 300mm lens of people playing volleyball in their most formal birthday suits, but hey, how often does that opportunity arise? (And I was far away, the people looked like little naked ants.)

Pirate's Cove recreation.

Pirate’s Cove recreation.

As I continued to walk along the Shell Beach Bluffs Coastal Trail the views of Shell Beach and the ocean continued to impress me.

Shell Beach viewed from the Shell Beach Coastal Bluffs Trail.

Shell Beach viewed from the Shell Beach Coastal Bluffs Trail.

Snowy egrets were fishing in the shallow water near the coast. In the picture below the white speck is a fishing bird, do you see it?

Another view from the trail.

Another view from the trail.

The Ontario Ridge Trail is a short (~2.8 miles), rather low intensity (elevation gain of ~650 feet) hike. The coastal and inland views are spectacular. I’ll be back.

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