Pirate’s Cove is a mess, and almost no one cares

A rock at Pirate’s Cove is vandalized with graffiti.
A rock at Pirate’s Cove is vandalized with graffiti.

Last weekend, for the first time in decades, I visited the clifftop at Pirate’s Cove.

Man, what a dump.

There isn’t another spot in San Luis Obispo County that’s simultaneously so breathtaking and such a disgusting display of human disregard for nature.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Pirate’s Cove is located between Avila Beach and Shell Beach and features a crescent of sand curling around a calm bay of water at the base of steep cliffs.

It’s the county’s only clothing-optional beach, and the area above the beach is also a notorious makeout/pickup/party location.

I first visited Pirate’s Cove bluff as an 18-year-old Cal Poly freshman when I drove up to shoot some photos of the sunset, and I was interrupted by a guy in a white Mercedes who wanted to give me a Lowenbrau out of his trunk.

This time, we stopped by on the way back from bodyboarding at Avila to show our exchange students the view from the rocky promontory.

More so than the ocean, however, what they saw was trash, broken glass, beer cans, illegal campfire sites, graffiti, a topless girl, a bottomless guy and a couple of stoners sharing a joint on the ocean side of the tunnel.

I don’t remember Pirate’s Cove looking like this before.

Two years ago, the county had a plan to clean up the place and make it legit by paving the parking lot, installing restrooms and trash cans, and improving the trail.

Instead, the California Coastal Commission spiked the project.

In a Tribune report at the time, Commissioner Erik Howell, who hails from Pismo Beach, said he opposed the upgrades because they would undermine the rustic nature of the site and could disturb cultural resources.

“It’s a very special place,” he said. “If there is any development on this site, we want to make sure we get it right, and I have serious concerns.”

So, nothing was done.

Instead, the spot was allowed to continue its decline.

The parking lot is a rutted mess. You practically need a four-wheeler to get from one side to the other. Huge multicolored pieces of graffiti turn the rugged rocks into a scene out of L.A.

And then there’s the trash.

Apparently, volunteers work to pick up the refuse left by thoughtless partiers, but with a lack of any actual receptacles, many people choose to drain their Bud Lights and leave them on the rocks. I’m sure it’s a Sisyphean task keeping the place clean as one jerk after another leaves empty bottles and cans all over the place.

It’s also ridiculous, stupid and entirely unnecessary, and the Coastal Commission should be ashamed of itself for allowing this to happen to such a stunning natural resource.

I challenge Howell, who’s also a Pismo Beach city councilman, or Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes the cove, to visit the park today and explain to his constituents how the commission’s decision has been any kind of benefit.

Keeping it “rustic” only makes the area more attractive to irresponsible people who treat it like their crummy backyard on the Fourth of July.

And if you want to preserve cultural resources, how about you start by keeping punks from spraying graffiti tags on the rocks?

It’s time to revisit the decision to leave Pirate’s Cove as it is, because in its current state, the park is a despicable mess and an utter embarrassment.