South of San Luis Obispo, Hwy-1 and US-101 run along the ocean past Pismo Beach (pop. 7,655), a family-oriented beach resort where the main attraction is driving or dune-buggying along the sands. Pismo was once famous for its clams, now over-harvested to the point of oblivion. While you may still see people pitchforking a few small ones out of the surf, you won’t find any on local menus.

Like the rest of Southern California, the Pismo area has grown significantly in the past two decades, thanks mainly to an influx of retired people housed in red-roofed townhouses. Price Street, the old main road running through the heart of the old small town, still offers a wide range of motels and restaurants, like the popular Cracked Crab (751 Price St., 805/773-2722), which has fish ’n’ chips and a crazy range of fresh crab and other crustaceans (almost all of which come from Alaska). For a close approximation of Pismo’s once-abundant clams, walk two blocks from the Cracked Crab, past the bowling alley, to another seafood specialist, the Splash Café (197 Pomeroy Ave., 805/773-4653), which is locally famous for clam chowder served up in edible bowls made of freshly baked bread.

While Pismo is most popular for summer fun, every winter a grove of trees just south of downtown turns into a prime gathering spot for migrating monarch butterflies. The largest groupings, numbering in the tens of thousands, though decreasing disturbingly quickly in recent years, are usually found roosting at the North Beach Campground of Pismo State Beach, along Hwy-1 off Dolliver Street.

Map of Pacific Coast through California's Central Coast.
Map of Pacific Coast through California’s Central Coast.