That's SLO Weird

Were there really dinosaurs on the Central Coast? How this Shell Beach park got its name

Editor’s note: “That’s SLO Weird” explores the things that make San Luis Obispo County so wonderful and so ... well ... weird. Wondering about something weird in SLO County? Send your tips to Gabby Ferreira at gferreira@thetribunenews.com or @Its_GabbyF on Twitter.

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If you’ve been to Dinosaur Caves Park in Shell Beach, you’ve probably noticed the dinosaur and dinosaur eggs in the play area.

You may have also been struck by the name: Were dinosaur bones found here? Was there some sort of major paleontological discovery?

The truth is a little more ... whimsical. It’s reminiscent of the origin story of the Cabazon Dinosaurs, the Southern California roadside attraction seen in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”

Back in 1948, a man named H. Douglas Brown started construction on a 50-foot-tall brontosaurus near the so-called “Caverns of Mystery,” sea caves that had been a tourist attraction since the early 1900s, according to Tribune archives and the city of Pismo Beach.

Brown opened a little shop nearby, and charged 25 cents a pop to enter the cave, according to the city and Tribune archives.

The dinosaur, which was visible from the highway, was supposed to help attract people to the caves and shop.

But the sculpture drew outcry from local residents, and Brown was forced to stop building the dinosaur. The massive concrete beast was left headless until it was bulldozed in the early 1960s, according to Tribune archives.

After that, the area, which had become known as Dinosaur Caves, fell into disrepair for a few decades. Described as “a dangerous garbage dump,” it was almost developed into a Hilton hotel, according to Tribune archives from 1992.

The city of Pismo Beach bought the land in 1992 for $1,600,000, and it was developed into a park at 2701 Price St. — with a name that’s a nod to its past.

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.
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