Whenever visitors to Pismo Beach have exited Highway 101 to drive into downtown over the past 40 years, they’ve been greeted by the site of Henry Myers’ hotel.
The Kon Tiki Inn opened for business in February 1974, when Myers was in his 30s. Myers had moved to the Central Coast a dozen years before from Idaho, when his parents became silent partners in construction of the SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel.
His family sold that hotel in 1969 and, two years later, acquired the property where the Kon Tiki now sits. At the time, Myers said, much of the east side of the freeway was a large cow pasture, and the land where the Kon Tiki was built was farmed with sugar peas.
Downtown Pismo Beach had a lot of small motels; some family-owned, others with a “colorful reputation.”
The downtown area near the pier also boasted a roller-skating rink, which had been built on top of a salt water plunge — a pool with salt water pumped in from the sea.
A building boom in the early 1980s brought many of the hotels that now sit along the coastline on Price Street.
“That definitely changed the character of Pismo Beach,” Myers said. “All of a sudden you had all kinds of hotels reaching out to visitors.”
Myers said he’s glad that city officials are planning some upgrades to the downtown area. The Pismo Beach City Council recently approved a plan that calls for minor improvements as well as larger changes, including turning the pier parking lot into a public plaza with a Ferris wheel, public fountains and slides to reach the beach below.
While running the Kon Tiki, Myers also served the community for 16 years with the Pismo Beach Fire Department (the city now contracts with Cal Fire for fire services). Myers started in 1968 as a firefighter and then served 12 years as one of two assistant chiefs.
At that time, with less development along the coastline, access to the edge of the bluffs was easier and the department was called out on numerous cliff rescues, he said.
“It’s hard to explain the satisfaction one gets out of saving someone’s life or property,” he said.
Reflecting recently on his many years in the city, Myers said despite some population growth and new development, Pismo Beach remains a small town that continues to attract thousands of Central Valley residents who come to escape the heat.
But today, the newer oceanfront hotels draw tourists from throughout California and the world. And instead of mainly visiting during the summer months, “business has been busy through the year,” Myers said.
Tourists and locals alike also patronize fine dining establishments and other businesses that line Price Street, just a few blocks up from the beach.
Myers has also been a longtime supporter of the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County and was astounded by the nonprofit’s plan to buy 900 acres just outside city limits. His hotel put up $20,000 in matching funds for the Pismo Preserve project, and Myers has led tours of the property.
The conservancy envisions a permanent open space with 10 miles of trails for hikers, cyclists and equestrians.
“It’s a wonderful amenity for the visitors,” he said. “The local residents can enjoy it too — and it won’t adversely impact downtown traffic.”
When asked whether he would say he’s enjoyed living in town — Myers lives close enough to walk to work each day — he smiled and said, “I guess I would because I’m still here.”
Pismo Beach has a small-town atmosphere where people take the time to get to know one another, he said. Plus, “It’s hard to beat the location, and the weather is wonderful.”