Avila Beach is a tiny paradise located on the Central Coast of California. The main beach is barely more than a half mile long and the town is equally as cozy. It is known for its mild temperatures. On a foggy day in San Louis Obispo, Avila is the first place the sun breaks through. The once unknown, defunct shipping port is now a busy vacation destination, attracting visitors both local and international.
Within its small boundaries are a plethora of activities for vacationers to do beyond the obvious beach, souvenir shops and eateries. A good portion of its space is bird sanctuary. Right alongside of this runs the three-mile long Bob Jones Hiking trail, beginning in the town of Avila Beach, next to a golf course, and ending (for my walk anyway) at the Avila Red Barn. This is an extensive produce and baked goods “stand” with a petting zoo and lunch counter. For those who don’t wish to walk, the town hosts a farmers market on Friday evenings at which local farmers and restaurants set up booths and sell their wares. Saturday brings out the artists and there are many drawn to this inspiring spot. Everyday sees water sports available-kayaking, sailing, chartered boat rides, paddle boarding. These offerings and many more are squeezed into the several square miles that make up Avila Beach.
The wildlife, which coexists with the ever increasing population, is my favorite part of an Avila Beach vacation. My husband and I forgo sleeping in (much to the chagrin of our teenagers) and meet the sunrise every morning we are there. We are rewarded with flirting Sea Lions, snowy white Egrets and the once elusive Great Blue Heron. In the late afternoons, I have kayaked up the estuary and counted as many as nine Herons in plain sight. They give me the whole show, from seeking camouflage in the cliffs and trees to announcing take off with their loud prehistoric screeches and incredible wingspans.
Just last year I was able to cross “whale watching” off my bucket list when a pod of Humpback Whales chose to come play in the bay for the whole weekend my husband and I were there for our 24th wedding anniversary. We saw them, unexpectedly, while walking on the pier, and fortunately had already booked a ride on a small boat the next day. They didn’t disappoint. From our dingy we were able to sit in awe of their majesty from a respectful three hundred feet away. We’ll never forget our front row seats to see these overwhelmingly large and timeless creatures.
My love for this beach town goes back more than 20 years. We stumbled upon it when my oldest was a toddling one year old. Unable to stand the cold mornings on the neighboring beaches, she needed something else to amuse her. We went exploring and found a small beach in a cove, called Avila. Sheltered from the sea winds, it was a warmer place. With only a convenience store and a couple of other businesses around it was very quiet in the mornings. She was able to toddle from one end of the beach to the other, exploring tide pools and collecting shells, rocks and sand dollars. We enjoyed it so much, we started regularly packing lunch and making this secret haven our main destination.
A few years later on a beach day excursion, now two children in tow, we were surprised to find bulldozers digging up piles of sand and dirt along the beach and front street. Disturbed by what we saw, yet not knowing what was going on, we were forced to leave for another beach. Later we found out that a major oil company had allowed its refinery to contaminate our beautiful beach. It would be closed indefinitely. And while my family had to find another beach to call ours, the families of Avila Beach had to engage in a difficult lawsuit to make the oil company clean up its mess and restore the beach. It took years, but the outcome created the beach town that exists today. The oil company had to clean up its contaminates and refurbish the beach and the store fronts. They built new public bathrooms, a promenade and a children’s park. Today, a new visitor would not find a hint of the hardships this town went through. Its beautiful, relatively new facilities are very welcoming.
My family has reinstated ourselves as Avila Beach regulars. We once again walk the beach, exploring tide pools and collecting shells, rocks and sand dollars. We love Avila’s new, modern look and the many happy faces of other visitors like us. But we never forget a time when Avila was an unknown haven, a secret that had not yet been let out.