The beach is why visitors flock to Pismo

jtarica@thetribunenews.comJuly 27, 2013 

Maybe I’m going to be in the minority with this opinion, but count me among those who’d like to see Pismo Beach take more than just a little spit and polish to its downtown.

The city has just begun an ambitious project to re-envision its core area, but already one prevailing sentiment seems to be a fear that this effort is some sort of master plan to rob Pismo of its trademark funkiness and turn it into Carmel, alternating wine bars and art galleries for as far as the eye can see.

This is the same kind of worry that bubbled up with Avila Beach, but if you think the tidy Avila of today is somehow inferior to the pre-oil cleanup Avila with its plywood snack shacks and shabby playground equipment, you’re nuts.

At the root of Pismo’s angst is the perception that it’s the Valley’s beach town and as such must cater to the needs and wants of that population above all others.
This theme seems to come up repeatedly when you talk about changing anything in Pismo, as though the only road ahead for the city must be lined by additional tattoo parlors and trinket shops.

Let me ask you this, lovers of Pismo Beach: Do you really think that’s why visitors from Bakersfield come here?

Do you think the flood of lucrative tourism dollars would cease if the next business to open was a classy brew pub rather than a souvenir outlet or if the pier parking lot became a pedestrian plaza, forcing visitors to stash their cars elsewhere and walk a bit?

Of course not.

There are three major reasons people come to this part of the Central Coast from the Valley, and none has anything to do with being able to buy three T-shirts for $20.

They come because of Pismo’s wide expanse of sand.

They come because that sand gives way to the glittering Pacific Ocean.

And they come because when they’re relaxing on that sand and admiring that ocean, the temperature is about 40 degrees less than wherever it is they left.

This is not a case of “if you break it, they will leave,” because no matter what the powers-that-be in Pismo do, they can’t break the beach, ocean and weather.

So really, the potential for driving away tourist dollars is slim.

Where does that leave the city as it launches this process? I’d say in just the place it is now, properly contemplating ways to improve, listening to all stakeholders, but hopefully not giving an overly large voice to any Chicken Littles who believe the blue sky will fall if the town changes a bit.

My applause goes out to new City Manager Jim Lewis and others in city government who are leading the brainstorming on all manner of ideas, from something as simple as stringing lights across the streets to the grand suggestion of a Ferris wheel and amphitheater near the pier.

A more walkable Pismo that offers a greater diversity of shopping and dining options and may include a splashy new feature or two would be a good thing for everyone, whether you live here, work here or visit here.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at or on Twitter @joetarica.

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