Visiting SLO County beaches this summer? Here’s what you need to know

·5 min read
Laura Dickinson/

If you’re planning to head to one of San Luis Obispo County’s many beaches this summer, you’ll want to plan ahead.

Summer is always a hopping time along the Central Coast, with thousands of tourists and residents alike flocking to the region’s sandy shores for a little fun in the sun. That’s especially true during the Fourth of July and Labor Day holiday weekends.

To help you have a smooth visit, here’s The Tribune’s guide to everything you’ll want to know before visiting SLO County beaches, including parking and traffic.

What to know about beach parking

Parking is almost always tight along SLO County’s beaches — especially on holiday weekends — so make sure to plan ahead for enough time to search out a spot. Arriving earlier in the day increases your chances of getting a coveted free spot where those are available, while arriving later in the day means you’ll more likely have to pay to park.

Beaches with free parking include:

  • Avila Beach: Street parking is free, especially along Front Street, which is the closest parking you can get to the sand. You can also park along Avila Beach Drive for free, but fair warning — that can be a bit of a trek from there to the beach, and much of it does not have sidewalks so you’ll be walking along the most busy road in and out of the area.

  • Cayucos: Parking near the Cayucos Pier and street parking are all free. Parking is also available along Highway 1 to access the dog beach between Cayucos and Morro Bay.

  • Grover Beach: Parking is free in the lot at the end of Grand Avenue, which acts as a gateway for both the Oceano Dunes and Pismo State Beach.

  • Morro Bay: Parking along all beaches in Morro Bay is free, including city parking.

  • Pismo Beach: Parking is free along some side streets the farther you get from the pier, as well as the lot at the end of Addie Street.

  • Shell Beach: Street parking throughout the entirety of Shell Beach is free.

Beaches with paid parking include:

  • Avila Beach: The public parking lot along First Street offers all-day parking for $6. Just make sure to have your license plate number ready when you head to the permit machines; the Port San Luis Harbor District began cracking down on parking permit sharing back in 2017. The lot closes at 10 p.m.

  • Pismo Beach: Parking in the vicinity of the pier is all paid, including the lot at the end of Pomeroy Avenue. Rates vary depending upon the city’s occupancy levels but tend to range between $2-$5 per hour. Enforcement is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

What to know about SLO County traffic

Traffic gets heavy during summer weekends, especially along the county’s most heavily trafficked corridors, such as Highway 101 past Pismo Beach, Highway 1 from Morro Bay up to Ragged Point, and Highway 46 East to and from the Central Valley.

Delays should be expected midday along those roadways, especially during holiday weekends. Traffic bound for the Highway 46 exit can back up on Highway 101.

In Morro Bay, traffic heading to and from the Rock has increased in recent years, so expect to wait in some jams on your way back from the beach. If you’re just going for a stroll, it’s often better to park at the end of Highway 41 or near the power plant and walk to the Rock.

Because Avila Beach only has one road in and out, you can also expect delays along Avila Beach Drive during the day.

What you can and can’t do on SLO County beaches

Beaches across the county are managed by a variety of different organizations, and thus have a variety of different rules for how to legally recreate on them. Here are some of the biggest regulations you need to know.

  • Bonfires: Campfires are banned at almost all SLO County beaches, except at Pismo State Beach, which stretches between the Oceano Dunes to the North Beach Campground above Grover Beach. Campfires are prohibited north of the campground, including the beach in the vicinity of the Pismo Beach Pier. At Pismo State Beach, fires must not be greater than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet in height, and only wood and untreated wood products are allowed. Fires must be fully extinguished with water and left exposed.

  • Dogs: Dog rules vary across SLO County beaches. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed at most Morro Bay beaches, including the Sandspit, Mothers Beach and City Beach, as wekk as Spooners Cove, Pismo State Beach, Pismo Beach and Cayucos Beach. Dogs are not allowed on Avila Beach between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., and are fully prohibited on Fisherman’s Beach, Pismo Dune Preserve, Oso Flaco Lake and Montaña de Oro beaches. Dogs are allowed off-leash on Olde Port Beach and the Morro Bay Dog Beach.

  • Alcohol: Alcoholic beverages are prohibited at all SLO County beaches, though consumption is allowed at some State Parks campgrounds, so check your specific park regulations before imbibing. Otherwise, many SLO County beaches do have bars close to the water where you can enjoy a drink (responsibly, of course).

  • Barbecues: Small, hand-held propane barbecues are allowed on most beaches in SLO County. Some beaches, such as Avila Beach, also have larger, permanent barbecues available for use.

What will SLO County weather be like?

For those hoping for a super sunny vacation, we’ve got some bad news.

SLO County beaches tend to be cool and overcast during the summer, inspiring the terms “June gloom,” “no-sky July” and “Fogust.” That persistent marine layer usually doesn’t start lifting until the fall.

Those looking for a bit of sun should head to protected beaches such as Avila Beach and Cayucos, which tend to be warmer and sunnier than some of the area’s other beaches.

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