The History of Pismo Beach Unveiled

Images of America: Pismo BeachImages of America: Pismo Beach, Effie McDermott’s newest book, is the latest in a series of small-town books published by Arcadia Publishing. The fascinating history of Pismo Beach encompasses the importance of certain retired preachers, a king of bootleggers and earned its name, “Pismo Beach.”

McDermott explains that the name originated from a Chumash Indian village located near tar springs in Price Canyon known as “Pismu” meaning “tar,” which was a valuable substance the Chumash used to seal their baskets and canoes. Several variations of the name were encountered before remaining stable as Pismo Beach. These other names included Pismo Surf Landing, El Pizmo and Pizmo Beach.

McDermott goes on to address other intriguing questions that have risen from various local myths and folktales such as:

“Was Mattie frying more than chicken?”

“Is there really a tunnel in Shell Beach that hid booze during Prohibition?”

“Was there really an oil refinery in Shell Beach, and was it really destroyed by a tsunami?”

“What would Bugs Bunny have seen if he popped his head out of the sand at Pismo Beach?”

“Was Pismo Beach really won in a card game?”

About the author

McDermott graduated from Arroyo Grande High School in 1960 and re-located the short distance to Pismo Beach in 1968. She was working on her family genealogy in 1986 when she began to wonder about the history of Pismo Beach. She could find little information in the local libraries except for a biography of John Michael Price, the founder of Pismo Beach. McDermott was on a mission to collect all the information and research available on Pismo Beach. It turned into a passion that took her from the National Archives in Laguna Niguel to the Bancroft Library in Berkeley.

McDermott wanted to be able to explain the people and history behind the street names: Pomeroy, Hinds, Stimson, Dolliver, Wadsworth, Hollister, Price and Harloe. She was also intrigued as to why the streets of Pismo Heights were named after Central Valley towns.

McDermott started by publishing articles about Pismo Beach with the local historical societies such as the Time Press Recorder, the Clam Chronicle, Pismo Beach newsletters and the Friends of the Price House newsletter. Her collection of papers and photographs have become known as the “Effie McDermott Archives, Pismo Beach, California.” Alongside her research, McDermott conducted historical walking tours of Pismo Beach and took on roles at local historical societies including:

South County Historical Society in Arroyo Grande, Book Committee Chair and Parliamentarian

Friends of Price House in Pismo Beach, Secretary, Vice President and President

The History Center of San Luis Obispo County, Secretary and President

The Arcadia Publishing formula entails mostly photographs with little text. McDermott says she would like to publish a more traditional history of Pismo Beach at some point in the future, which will include more text and quoted sources.

Images of America: Pismo Beach can be found at Barnes & Noble and the Halcyon Store. Or get a signed copy at, available for a limited time.

After grabbing your copy of McDermott’s book, bring it back to SeaCrest, Pismo Beach’s OceanFront hotel for a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy this first-class collection of photos. The book will probably entice you to stay a couple more days to explore this great land of Pismo Beach and SeaCrest can satisfy all of your accommodation and amenity needs through ocean view, coastal view and pet friendly rooms along with a heated pool, three outdoor hot tubs and a barbeque and picnic area overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

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