While this will be a post about a fun new place we found for camping, it is first going to be a post about work stress. The past couple of weeks have been genuinely rough, which is not that unusual, especially for November. But what struck me on this vacation was how much tension I’ve been carrying around without really noticing. It wasn’t until day 3 that I was able to let go of some of it, and that followed a couple weeks of night waking. The mind goes to places at 3am like: is this a heart attack? Sleep apnea? Cancer? A premonition of Bad Things? Then later, while casually having a sandwich, I just started crying, realizing it was really that string of awful meetings I never had the chance to process.
In teaching, you don’t have time to recover. Instead, you move right into putting on a show for the kids, or getting stuff done. And I can do it, all teachers can, which makes it seem like everything is just fine. But then I wake up composing emails in my head. I’m feeling anxiety now more than I ever have, so the shit’s getting kinda real here. Why do you think I take so many sunset pictures? That’s my truly present time, and it’s what I depend on to shake off the intensity from week to week. Takeaway message for me? Weekend Dory time is keeping me alive, but I gotta reinstate work week routines. Walking, exercise, yoga, mindfulness, I know what to do. Just gotta get back to doing it.
But in the meantime, I’m extremely grateful for a week off and a new place to explore. I’m also grateful for our Alto buddy, Linda, and her camper dogs. We love you, dudes! They were all set up by the time we got to Pismo. Even with an earlyish departure, we were doing several hours of darkness driving to arrive around 8. It’s about a 5 hour drive and we didn’t hit that much traffic on the way down. This area, along with Morro Bay, is great for longer breaks, but not realistic for a weekend destination.
I liked this campground a lot. Even though our site was chosen for its proximity to the dump, there was plenty of room between us and other campers. The sites along the outside of the loop, near the dunes, would be the best ones. There is a sandy ridge between the campground and the beach, which gives some shelter from the wind. There is also a lovely lagoon that separates the area from the rest of the beach goers. One thing I learned about Pismo: there are a lot of beach goers. There are also a lot of Pelicans, and they are pretty entertaining to watch, especially when one of them decides it’s time to take off and all the rest agree.
The other thing I learned about Pismo: there are a whole lot of RVs. Right next to the state park campground, there is a private place, with 400 sites for big rigs, and it was packed. And there was another place down the street. Plus many, many others in the area. I honestly have never seen that many RVs. It looked like the storage facility across the street was busy towing huge trailers over to the park and dropping them off and setting them up in sites. I guess that’s a thing you can do. Here we were in our tiny camper, all excited to have a shower. Meanwhile next to us were rigs bigger than our house. Very different vibe than Morro Bay.
Situated at the edge of the state park campground, there is a Monarch Butterfly Preserve. We weren’t even aware of the phenomenon, but arrived just at the right time of year to see thousands of them gathering. As you approach along the little trail, you start to see them flying around overhead, and think, “Oh, how cute.” But then you look closer at the branches of the Eucalyptus trees and realize a couple of them are literally covered. The butterflies hang off of branches like the petals of giant, overgrown Wisteria vines. Most of them camouflage into looking exactly like brownish leaves. But when one flaps its wings, it sets off a ripple effect and the dangling chandelier of wings comes alive in waves of orange and black. It is really, really cool and makes me want a giant, telephoto lens camera. Instead, you get blurry pictures.
At sunset, we did our traditional, craned neck selfie shot at the beach while a kind person offered to take a better picture for us. “No thanks, this is kind of our thing.” For dinner, we headed into town to a place called Chop Street. We had the best street tacos ever and took a little after dinner walk up the street to get ice cream. Parking was a little tight on a Saturday, but there’s a pay to park lot that had spaces and was walking distance to everything. The streets were full of people in festive moods and downtown is dog friendly.
The next day, Richard biked out to the Huasna Valley, and we met up in Arroyo Grande. The little town is cute and fun, making a great place for a lunch stop. We had a delicious tri tip wrap at the Branch Street Deli and a giant eclair at the Eclair Bakery (you gotta, right?). We then drove out to Avila Beach, passing through the very upscale area of Shell Beach. It’s kind of brutal going through there because of all the road work. Plus, mostly it is an area packed with resorts and expensive housing. There are a couple of tiny parks, but we bypassed that whole strip and headed for the Port San Luis Pier.
We saw RV camping all along the waterfront, but these are big rig parking slots. There are one or two reservable sites that would provide a sideways view of the bay, but really, this kind of camping is not our speed. Clearly, it was popular with multitudes of other RVers though, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The most entertaining part of the pier was watching the Sea Lions lounging on their own private floor, just under the boardwalk. I still don’t get how they got up there. There are kayak tours, both in groups, and individual, that can be rented. It was a bit too cold and adventurous sounding for me, but perhaps another time. Apparently, you can go out around the peninsula and check out some cool sea caves.
Sunday sunset found us at the beach by Oceano Dunes SVRA. We checked out the state park campground, which offers a loop with electric hookups but no dump site, and decided we really like the North Campground better. Then we went over to the beach and discovered what everyone is doing when they come to Pismo. Apparently, driving around on the beach is a whole way of life I knew nothing about. Not only can you drive your car right on the beach, but you can get a camping pass and overnight there. Plus, the OHV action all over the place is quite the spectacle, even if that’s not what you’re into. Dinner Sunday was at a place called Ember. This place features locally sourced ingredients and a lot of wood fire cooking. It was delicious. We even sat outside, near a wood burning stove and felt nice and toasty. Downside: we smelled like smoke the rest of the evening. This is why we don’t do campfires.
Weather was bearing down on the California coast, but we got in one last sunny day before the rain. We headed out to a place called Pirate’s Cove Beach. There is a dirt parking lot at the end of a steep little road where you can catch a trail for the beach, or for the tunnel that overlooks Avila Beach. Both are beautiful, but be forewarned that Pirate’s Cove is clothing optional. We did see one clothing optional guy out there with a tripod. Not sure what he was trying to capture there. We hung out until sunset, joined by several groups of selfie takers, plus a drone photographer. I’m sincerely glad none of them fell off the cliff. Drones look like fun, but very expensive, toys and we were impressed at the operator’s trust in the stated range. He flew it way out over the ocean, acknowledging that if the drone goes too far and loses the signal, it will just drop out of the sky. Pretty sure he got some amazing shots of Pelicans at sunset.
Our last day we opted to stay put, rather than try to make tracks north and avoid a long day of driving in the rain. All weather reports seemed to indicate that the storm got worse as you headed north. So instead, we checked out the Avila Valley Barn, which is a combination petting zoo and farm fresh produce stand. It was a cornucopia of scents, ranging from fresh roasted corn on the cob, fresh baked pies, to well… the smells associated with petting zoos. Richard’s first impression of the place was that everyone was walking around munching delicious lettuce samples. Then he saw the kids feeding it to the goats. Made much more sense. Dinner Tuesday wrapped up our trip at a very small Mexican place called Papi’s Grill. This was a fantastic find and we got there during Taco Tuesday Happy Hour. If you go, I recommend the chicken quesadillas and the butter beef street tacos. OMG. So good. And the chips were fresh and crispy.
The rain found us around 9pm and continued strong all night. We hitched up early and were rolling by 10. We got periods of intense downpour, but mostly long stretches of nothing. Still we got hit with holiday traffic about 50 miles from home and that added about an extra hour to the return trip. No surprises traveling the day before Thanksgiving and all in all, it was worth it.
We’ll be looking to this area again for long stays. We used the Barker once after our third night, and pulled out the generator just to top off Richard’s laptop. The service was excellent and strong enough for him to work from Dory without anyone being the wiser. It’s all paved and we could tow the Barker if need be. There was good solar, but also it is a very generator friendly place. There were big rigs and tenters at this place, but it’s a short walk to the beach, so you can feel a bit removed from the NASCAR vibe present in a lot of the rest of the area. I don’t think we’ll ever be taking Dory on the beach. But I guess never say never. It sure did look like the beach riders were enjoying themselves.
Happy Thanksgiving to all! Hope your days are filled with love and gratitude. Mindful breathing will be on my list of holiday activities. Hope yours are peaceful!
Total miles: 245.0, 5 hours 16 min, 17.8 mpg. Site 2 (near the dump). Great solar. Nice bathrooms, showers available. Excellent cell everywhere for both. Site 2. No hookups in the North Campground. I’d stay there again, but I’d try for sites: 11, 14, 16, 22, 24, 25*, 27*, 29, or 31.