Photos from the Vault

Avila Beach became a tourist destination when rail arrived in 1876

A giant slide was part of the playground equipment at Avila Beach in 1969.
A giant slide was part of the playground equipment at Avila Beach in 1969. Telegram-Tribune

Avila Beach has long been a popular vacation destination.

Hidden among war news in the Telegram-Tribune on Jan. 28, 1943, was a story on the county Planning Commission approving the purchase of frontage on Avila Beach. The Board of Supervisors prepared to enter into negotiations with C.P. Norman, owner of 850 feet of beach south of the Avila Pier; additional property was expected to be acquired from Union Oil and the Pacific Coast Coal and Lumber company.

An Aug. 20, 1941, Telegram-Tribune photo caption estimated nearly 10,000 people enjoying the sun and sand with cars lining Front Street behind them. That year the county, chamber of commerce and federal Works Progress Administration teamed up to hire the first lifeguards ever at county beaches.

For many years, a toll was required to drive to Port Harford across the bridge at San Luis Creek built by the Pacific Coast Railway. That bridge collapsed in October 1981, when it was almost 100 years old. No longer in use for cars, it was replaced in 1968 by the concrete bridge now used to get to the port and Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

Freeway billboards once advertised Avila as “California’s safest beach.” I seem to recall a similar one near Carpenteria.

Avila Beach has been a tourist destination since 1876 when the narrow gauge railroad made going to the beach from San Luis Obispo easy. The nearby hot springs has long been a tourist draw as well.

By 1969, fun at the beach looked much like it does to day.

Photographer/reporter Michael Raphael went to the beach to document Easter week. The beach was filled with gals in bikinis, guys in shorts, Frisbees, float mats, footballs and warm sun on the sand.

I recall having to wash oil glops off my feet in the 1960s with a rag that dad had dipped in gas. I don’t find oil glops on the beach today, although Union Oil isn’t pumping oil through leaky pipes from the tank farm to the pier today either.

The town was largely demolished in the late 1990s during the Big Dig and rebuilt in the wake of litigation and settlements to clean up the oil contamination. The weathered, funky town center was lost except for memories and photos.

An app for smart phones was created last fall titled “Avila Beach Historical Tour” featuring tours of Port Harford, Avila Beach, Front Street and the surrounding area. The Avila Beach Community Foundation awarded a grant to Jack San Filippo and Penny Burciaga to create the app. It is free via all app stores including Google and iTunes.