Over the years, the small town of Pismo Beach on California’s central coast has been associated with tasty local attributes ranging from clams to wines to waves. It’s no surprise, then, that the city not only exudes a charming surf vibe, but also a delicious seafood and winery scene.
Located about 3 hours northwest of Los Angeles, near the merge point of the 101 Freeway and the 1 Freeway, Pismo Beach enjoys a beautiful oceanfront setting. Wide sandy beaches stretch in both directions, all centered by a scenic pier that stretches 1,200 feet out into the Pacific Ocean.
Decades ago, Pismo Beach was known as the clam capital of the world, and the town is named after the pismo clam. Although clams are said to be somewhat rare on the beach these days, the town’s famous clam chowder still rules the restaurants near the pier.
Pismo Beach is also notable for the many vineyards that dot the hills to the east. Proximity to wine regions such as Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley, Avila Valley and Paso Robles makes for a wonderful blend of wine and beach cultures – so much so that Pismo Beach presents itself as offering “the perfect pairing of wine and waves.”
The scene has produced dozens of delicious restaurants, many of which are within easy walking distance of each other in the city center. Here are 9 fabulous restaurants to try in Pismo Beach.
1. Cracked crab
With a colorful beach setting, super fresh seafood and hot sourdough rolls, the crushed crab restaurant has long been a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
The seafood spot is widely known for its house specialty – “big buckets” of steamed seafood, sausages and vegetables. Buckets are filled with a choice of Dungeness crab, shrimp, mussels or clams, along with red potatoes and corn on the cob. To add to the fun atmosphere of Cracked Crab, the contents of buckets are dumped on patrons’ tables and cracking tools are provided.
Meals come with melted butter, spicy cocktail sauces and homemade triple mustard, and sourdough rolls. Large buckets are the perfect choice for socializing with family and friends, and on my recent visit I saw several large groups enjoying their buckets filled with seafood and vegetables.
I was dining alone, so I opted for a crab cocktail, which came with large chunks of tender crab and a dollop of spicy cocktail sauce, served on a bed of crispy greens. It was perfect for a late lunch.
Cracked Crab also features a San Francisco style cioppino (seafood stew), plus an array of other seafood dishes like fish and chips, crab roll, and fish tacos.
Pro Tip: I arrived at Cracked Crab mid afternoon on a winter Sunday and was seated right away. But if you come at a more popular time, be prepared to wait in line. The restaurant does not take reservations and the room tends to fill up. The good news is that it’s definitely worth the wait.
2. Giuseppe’s Italian cuisine
For a taste of Italy on the California coast, visit Giuseppe’s Italian cuisinea lovely place located just down the street from the Cracked Crab on busy Price Street.
An early proponent of the farm-to-fork philosophy, Giuseppe’s sources its vegetables and fruit from the owner’s working farm in the nearby Edna Valley. Everything from figs and olives to San Marzano tomatoes and Meyer lemons are produced on the farm.
The menu is divided into traditional Italian dishes and features popular choices like butternut squash ravioli, carbonara, and fritto misto which is fried calamari steak, shrimp, and scallops.
Giuseppe’s also offers a number of seasonal offerings, such as bruschetta with chanterelle mushrooms and local halibut gorgonzola served with whipped potatoes, sautéed vegetables, cherry tomatoes and an onion gorgonzola cream sauce red and basil.
3. The Splash Cafe
World famous clam chowder awaits you at Splash Cafe, another must-visit restaurant in downtown Pismo Beach. For over 30 years, Splash Café has been a mainstay in the community, regularly winning first prize at the annual Pismo Clam Festival.
It would be hard to miss the Splash Café while strolling along charming Pomeroy Avenue. Whimsical surf murals decorate the exterior walls, and you’ll likely encounter a line of customers waiting for the signature clam chowder served in a bowl of sourdough bread.
While chowder is the star, Splash has a varied menu that also includes fish and chips, burgers, tacos, and steamers.
Pro Tip: For a little extra, you can order your chowder with toppings like seafood, clams, bacon, scallions, and cheese (or fully loaded). The seafood garnish is the unmissable rendezvous of Splash regulars.
4. Brad’s Restaurant
Casual American meals – with not only clam chowder, but also three-point sandwiches, barbecued ribs and fish and chips – are on the menu at Brad’s Restauranta welcoming property near the beach in downtown Pismo Beach.
Known for its oak barrel barbecue, Brad’s offers pork spare ribs, prime rib, barbecue chicken and marinated tripe. In addition to a full-service dining room, Brad’s has a lovely patio for outdoor dining.
Pro tip: Brad’s also offers an extensive breakfast menu, featuring 10 different omelette choices and a hearty breakfast skillet with potatoes, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and ham, topped with cheese and two eggs.
5. Wooly’s Beach Bar & Grill
Open-air beachfront restaurants and panoramic ocean views are in store for diners to The Wooly Beach Bar and Grilla fun spot located along the Pismo Beach boardwalk and near the pier.
In addition to the stellar views and atmosphere, Wooly’s offers a variety of tacos, including everything from Baja fish tacos and Asian shrimp tacos to carnitas pork street tacos and carne asada beef tacos.
The menu also includes “Pismo favorites” like carne asada fries, chowder fries (waffle fries topped with clam chowder, cheese, bacon bits and scallions) and spicy Asian wings.
6. Oyster Loft
Located right next to Wooly’s on the beach is the seafood restaurant Oyster Loftwhere diners are treated to impeccable service, upscale cuisine and regional seafood dishes.
True to its name, Oyster Loft offers a number of oyster dishes, including fresh oysters and a small plate of grilled oysters with butter, garlic, asiago cheese, parsley and lemon. The menu also features other seafood specialties like seared scallops, grilled Skuna Bay salmon and a tuna poke tower made with diced yellowfin tuna, avocado, cucumber noodles, miso mayo and wonton chips.
Oyster Loft is also known for its extensive sake, beer, cocktail and wine list. The wine list includes many local offerings such as Arroyo Grande Valley Laetitia Brute Rosé, Santa Maria Valley Foxen Rosé de Pinot Noir and Central Coast Malene Rosé.
7. Ada’s Fish Market
Seafood with East Coast flavors is available at Ada’s fish housea family run establishment located on Price Street in Pismo Beach.
The restaurant’s website says executive chef and owner Douglas Cristallo MacMillan was born and raised in Boston and brings East Coast influence to Ada in the form of lobster rolls, clam chowder, crab cakes at New England and lime cheesecake.
The menu also includes a wide variety of seafood dishes like oysters on a half shell, steamed clams, lobster mac-n-cheese, fish and chips and seafood pasta. The Ada’s drinks menu offers an extensive selection of white, rosé, sparkling and red wines, as well as beers and cocktails.
8. Beach cookies
For a place with cookies of virtually every variety, plus a number of other breakfast favorites, plan to stop by Beach cookies.
In addition to a variety of cookie and gravy options, the fun cafe on Price Street offers cookies with scrambled eggs and cookie sandwiches with eggs, sausage, bacon and other morning toppings.
Playing off its surf theme, the Beachin’ Biscuits menu includes a “breakfast boogie board burrito”, a “tsunami burrito” (with all meats) and “knotty potatoes” (homemade potatoes topped sausage sauce and two too medium eggs). Top it all off with a mug of Beachin’ ‘candle coffee’.
9. Old West Cinnamon Rolls
Billed as a true California original, Old West Cinnamon Buns date back over 40 years when Betty Clemens of nearby Shell Beach created the recipe for her signature bread. The recipe quickly evolved into cinnamon rolls, and his creation has since become a staple at state fairs and bakeries across the United States.
The bakery’s website notes that after all this time, the cinnamon rolls are still handmade and baked daily using the original bread recipe. “Every roll we make is as juicy, luscious and delicious as the ones Betty made 40 years ago,” the website continues.
In addition to the original roll, the Old West menu includes frosted, breadcrumb, almond, raisin, walnut, pecan and raisin rolls, as well as a number of other treats such as muffins and carrot cake. Coffee, lattes and cappuccinos are also available.
Pro tip: If you prefer a fun outdoor food stand, Pismo’s World Famous Pizza and Chowder House sits on an outdoor corner lot right in the center of town. In addition to its pizza and soup of the same name, the place offers beach choices like shaved ice and curly fries.
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