Cayucos State Beach is right on the waterfront in the town of Cayucos, Central Coast of California. Photo via Shutterstock.

Best Things to Do in Cayucos

BY Nisha Gopalan | February 25, 2024

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a place. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Cayucos, California?”

Are escapist California beach towns your thing? Of course, they are. We’d like to introduce you to Cayucos, a last-of-its-kind, cozy coastal hamlet that you’ve probably never heard of. Located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco just off Highway 1 (aka Pacific Coast Highway or PCH), Cayucos is a chilled-out community with broad sand-and-surf views of the Pacific, in a superb location. A town of roughly 2,500, it’s more laid-back than sleepy, which means there’s plenty to do, whether you want to be adventurous or simply relax.

Once home to the Chumash and Salinan Native American peoples, Cayucos’ name means “canoe,” a nod to the indigenous people who used to venture out into the bay to fish. Today, its shoreline is a tableau peppered with surfers, sunbathers and on its vintage pier, plenty of low-key fishers. (You can’t throw a rock without finding fresh seafood.)

National Geographic Fellow and New York Times-bestselling author Dan Buettner, in his search for communities with long-living citizens, once anointed this area the “happiest place in America.” It’s not hard to see why. In addition to Cayucos’ leisurely pace of life, it’s surrounded by stunning scenery. You’ll find the curious Morro Bay (home to an unmistakable volcanic rock) to its south, the jaw-dropping Hearst Castle to its north that puts most European estates to shame, and verdant vineyards in Paso Robles eastward — all fertile locales to wonder and wander.

You’re Here for the Beach and Pier

The lifestyle here is free of the pretense that looms over more famous beach cities like Malibu and Laguna Beach.

Cayucos Pier
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Cayucos Pier. Photo via Shutterstock.

Cayucos Pier

Cayucos Pier, Pacific Avenue, Cayucos, CA, USA

Start by walking the vintage pier (built in 1872), which has postcard-worthy panoramic views, before making your way down to the beach’s white sands. If you’re a parent, there’s a playground at the foot of the pier. And if you’re a dog owner, you’re encouraged to hang-out with your leashed animal, taking in either sunrise or sunset, both of which are spectacular here.

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Good Clean Fun
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Good Clean Fun

Good Clean Fun

136 Ocean Front Ave, Cayucos, CA 93430, USA

Those in search of a Norman Rockwell-esque experience can hit the pier with rented fishing poles or other gear from Good Clean Fun, which also offers kayak rentals. The odds of a catch are in your favor with the abundance of sea life. Expect to find Surfperch, and possibly striped bass and halibut.

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Surf with Serene Waters

Cayucos Beach, Cayucos, CA, USA

And if you’re feeling amphibious, Serene Waters and the aforementioned Good Clean Fun provide surf lessons. Peaceful beaches and year-round waves make Cayucos a beloved surfing spot for a reason.

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You’re Also Here for Seafood

For a town of a little more than four square miles, Cayucos packs an impressive mix of unpretentious restaurants.

Duckie’s Chowder
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Duckie’s Chowder

Duckie’s Chowder

55 Cayucos Dr, Cayucos, CA 93430, USA

Who says the East Coast lays claim to the tastiest chowder? This award-winning spot serves exactly that, in red (Manhattan) or white (New England). Fast-casual in vibe, you know you’re in the right spot, because it’s usually filled with locals.

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Schooner’s
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Schooner’s

Schooner’s

171 N Ocean Ave, Cayucos, CA 93430, USA

The shack-chic Schooner’s serves wild-caught fish in many forms, thus making for a terrific excuse to order the fish and chips. Arrive early to grab a table out back, where you can take in a view of the pier while feasting on nautical noshes.

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Sea Shanty
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Sea Shanty

Sea Shanty

296 S Ocean Ave, Cayucos, CA 93430, USA

Ignore the dozens of baseball caps hanging from its ceiling and just trust us that Sea Shanty, which looks like a roadside bar, is actually a go-to for catch-of-the-day entrees. This is also a place where you’ll want to save room for some deliciously homey ice cream and pie desserts.

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Brown Butter Cookie Company
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Brown Butter Cookie Company

Brown Butter Cookie Company

98 N Ocean Ave, Cayucos, CA 93430, USA

If you have a sweet tooth, you won’t regret finding an excuse to visit the addictive Brown Butter Cookie Company just up the street. They sell a variety of flavors (think: cocoa mint, almond, cinnamon) that are freshly baked and available for sampling, too. 

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Not Big on Seafood?

Head out early for brunch to beat the long line at the bright, airy Hidden Kitchen. The main attractions here are the sweet or savory blue corn waffles, prepared with a New Mexico flair. However, if you are craving something greasier like a proper Mexican burrito, consider the Cayucos Gas Minimart down the street, which sells massive, California-style burritos. You can put your 7-Eleven trepidations at ease, because their food tastes like it comes straight from a taqueria. And if you’re looking for a dinner spot, make your way to the Cafe Della Via, a red-sauce pasta joint that’s a local favorite.

Shop on Ocean Avenue

Most of Cayucos’ shopping destinations can be found on Ocean Avenue, the town’s imminently strollable main drag. You’ll lose hours wading through all types of oddities in the town’s celebrated antique stores. The most satisfying of these: the endless maze that is Remember When Antiques and the sprawling Main Street Antiques. If you’re lucky enough to visit Cayucos in the Spring or Fall, time your stay with the Antique Street Faire.

Take a Road Trip Just Outside of Cayucos

Kitesurfing in the evening at Morro Bay Beach.
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Kitesurfing in the evening at Morro Bay Beach. Photo via Shutterstock.

Check out Morro Bay

Morro Bay, CA, USA

If you’re one to hike or bike, venture six miles south on PCH to the more touristy Morro Bay. The town is built around a massive volcanic rock that stretches 576 feet out of the sea. Alas, you cannot climb the rock, but you can trek a number of trails and bike paths. (Rent any type of bike imaginable at Cal Coast Adventures.) There are no bad views.

Morro Rock is also a designated sanctuary for the peregrine falcon and other species, making it a primo bird-watching destination, with tours offered by The Audubon Society or the Central Coast State Parks Association. For those who are super-serious about their avian-spotting, consider a visit during the Morro Bay Bird Festival. If mammals are more your thing, whale-watching is practically year-round via boat tours, as is observing the perfectly adorable sea-otter population, which hangs out near South T-Pier, Harbor Walk and Target Rock.

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The dual tower of Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452, USA

Craving a maximalist reprieve from all this earthy, down-home exploration? Head north about 23 miles to Hearst Castle. A National Historic Landmark, the Moorish-style mansion (technically named La Cuesta Encantada, or “Enchanted Hill”) was constructed between 1919 and 1947 over eight acres by William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy publishing tycoon and inspiration behind Citizen Kane. It’s here where Hearst once kept the largest private zoo in the world, so don’t be surprised if you spot a zebra along the way.  

The castle has 165 rooms filled with global antiquities, Greco-Roman themed pools (one indoor, one outside), and sweeping views. Speaking of, the nearby Hearst Ranch Winery is a great spot to take in that vista over a glass of wine. There are 13 tours at the Hearst Castle — start with the Grand Rooms tour — and we strongly suggest you buy tickets in advance.

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Drink Wine from Napa’s Rival

Paso Robles, roughly 25 miles north-east of Cayucos, has become a rival of Napa and Sonoma in red wines. There are countless aficionado-approved wineries, such as TOP Winery, LXV, Daou Vineyards, and Tablas Creek. (Most require reservations, so plan accordingly.) If you’d like some foodie-approved cuisine with your glass of Paso wine, try the comfort-food destination Hatch or the upscale Italian Il Cortlie. Both pour terrific vinos.

Sleep Affordably Seaside

One of the best things about Cayucos is that you can finally afford a room near the ocean.

The Pacific Motel
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The Pacific Motel

The Pacific Motel

399 S Ocean Ave, Cayucos, CA 93430, USA

The Pacific Motel is one of the newest motels in town — and also happens to be the most talked-about place to stay. Across the street from the shore, it’s a bright, spotless collection of bungalow-type rooms that has such Instagram-friendly products as Parachute sheets and FableRune bath products.

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Shoreline Inn
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Shoreline Inn

Shoreline Inn

1 N Ocean Ave, Cayucos, CA 93430, USA

A mile up from The Pacific Motel, you’ll find the recently renovated Shoreline Inn, with airy, welcoming rooms. The Shoreline claims that it’s the only beachfront hotel in the area, so expect to pay a little more for rooms with beach and pier views.

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On the Beach
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On the Beach

On the Beach

181 North Ocean Avenue, Cayucos, California, USA

Coastal Gilmore Girls more your vibe? There are plenty of B&Bs in the area too, such as the posh (if pet-free) On the Beach. It has ocean-view accommodations as well as rooms with fireplaces and balconies.

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