6 Interesting Facts About the History of Pismo Beach

When you visit Pismo Beach, you step foot into a place rich in history. With quiet beginnings as a small fishing village, Pismo later evolved into a top beach destination by the early 1900s.

Here are six of our favorite historical facts about Pismo:

1. Pismo was originally inhabited by the Chumash.

Pismo’s history dates back at least 9,000 years. The land was home to the Chumash, or “seashell people,” the most widespread Native American tribe of California. The Chumash were well-adapted to coastal living with advanced canoes and fishing techniques. Their unique canoe design, called a tomol plank canoe, allowed fishermen to catch rare deepwater fish such as swordfish to offer trades with inland tribes.

Alongside fishing, the Chumash were artisans specializing in basketry and bead manufacturing.

2. The Spanish arrive in 1769.

Spanish settlers arrived to Pismo Beach in 1769 when Don Gaspar de Portola and his crew anchored to the area and walked for miles around the dunes of Pismo Beach. The land later became part of an 8,800 acre ranch, “Rancho Pismo,” which was owned by Jose Ortega in 1840.

A decade later, Pismo was bought by John Price, a rancher who purchased the land in exchange for 477 cattle. Price and his family became the first permanent settlers of the area and was also the first to take steps towards making Pismo Beach a place of tourism. In 1881, he opened a hotel, encouraging travelers to visit the area and enjoy its beautiful scenery and exceptional duck hunting.

3. Tourism in Pismo takes off by 1900.

Price’s efforts to attract tourists worked. By 1900, the town’s main hotel was buzzing so much that they had to create a “tent city” to accommodate the rising volume of guests. Known to be one of the earliest timeshares, travelers could rent tents for $8 a week. Guests would often stay for weeks, sometimes months, just to enjoy Pismo’s sunny seaside.

Tourism increased even further when Highway 2 (now known as U.S. Highway 101) routed through Pismo in 1912, putting it on the map as an accessible beach destination.

4. Shell Beach was an uninhabited field until 1926.

Shell Beach was originally the site of a Chumash village and was very different from the beach it is today. At the time when the land was bought by Floyd Calvert in 1926, it was nothing but pea fields with only about 50 residents living in the area. Calvert was so taken aback by its beauty that he purchased all 41 acres of the surrounding land.

5. The pier evolved from a commercial port to tourist attraction.

The Pismo Beach pier, built in 1881, was first established as a commercial effort intended to cut down on freight fees, primarily for lumber. Remains from the original wharf can still be seen from Main Street during very low tide.

The pier was replaced in 1924 and was so long that Navy ships could anchor and unboard sailors to come ashore. A large storm in 1983 left the pier in disrepair, and it was rebuilt two years later. That pier remains today and is one of Pismo’s top attractions thanks to its beautiful coastal views and downtown location.

6. Pismo was known for its wild scene during the roaring 1920s.

In addition to being a popular travel destination, Pismo Beach was a wild place in the roaring 1920’s. During the Prohibition Era, Pismo Beach was known as a good spot to find alcohol. The area was also infamous for its saloons, brothels, and entertainment attractions including an amusement park, a skating rink, and a dance hall.

Immerse yourself in our beautiful beach town steeped in history. Book your Pismo Beach vacation today.


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