A few days in Cayucos, “California’s last great beach town”
It was our first trip with the baby. We thought a destination two hours away was the sweet spot – far enough away to feel like we’d traveled but still close enough to Santa Barbara to make a quick retreat if needed. And since two hours south would put us somewhere in Los Angeles (no thanks), we looked north.
Cayucos stood out on the map. We had been to destinations all around – Hearst Castle, Cambria, Morro Bay – but never to what is called “California’s Last Great Beach Town”. So we created a playlist, packed the car with an ungodly amount of kiddie gear, and hit the road.
Our home base for the next two days was The Pacific Motel, a 1950s-style roadside inn so impeccably designed and appointed that as soon as we arrived we started stealing ideas. Operated by Central Coasters Ryan and Marisa Fortini, who live just down the street, the motel’s aesthetic owes to their respective landscaping and interior design backgrounds.
Rooms are simple and bright, with wooden floors, pops of color and texture, and artwork by regional artists. There are books placed on shelves that you really want to read, and made locally FableRune hand soap that smells so good you can’t help but study the label, then go buy some for yourself in the lobby. Outside, a blooming collection of cacti, succulents, citrus, and native palms lines two common areas with spruce new ping-pong tables, as well as fire pits and an outdoor shower. Beach access is just two blocks away. Towels are available.
The Pacific, one of the city’s first motels, reopened in September after a complete renovation down to the studs. The property has 13 rooms and a collection of six 1920s bungalows that originally served as military barracks at Camp San Luis Obispo, home of the California National Guard. We were lucky enough to catch one, the three of us unfolding on the private porch before burrowing into our king-size bed. Parachute designer linens for an afternoon siesta.
Dinner time was not long. Fortunately, the sea song The restaurant, a casual spot decorated with neon signs and trucker hats, is literally steps from the motel, so we loaded up the stroller and took the quick tour. I had the halibut and baked potato; she had the red snapper tacos. We washed it all down with a portion of strawberry shortcake which was way too big and disappeared too quickly.
Back in the room, we lit the fireplace―it was one of those days that never shed its navy coat―and put on Parachute dresses. While the baby dozed, we enjoyed a subtitled Netflix while sipping local wine, also purchased in the lobby. We looked at the neatly organized snack bar above our room’s mini fridge, but decided to calm down.
The next morning, we let the pleasures continue with breakfast at hidden kitchen, also within walking distance. Cayucos is small – very small – so everything is technically within walking distance of the Pacific, but if you want to venture a little faster or a little farther, the motel has bikes for rent.
Although we were tempted by the blue corn tacos from Hidden Kitchen, we went with the blue corn waffles, one covered in turkey, havarti cheese and caramelized onions, the other stacked with eggs from free-range hens, Niman Ranch bacon ends and avocado. It was one of those dishes so tasty, fresh and original that it will stay etched in my memory for years.
The rest of the day was spent driving around downtown, starting with swings on the beach and a walk on the pier. We visited the many antique shops, all the tempting clothes of Cayucos Surf Companyand I bought a print at Cayucos Collectivean art gallery and a personalized printing press.
After a caffeine infusion at Cayucos Coffee we headed to the Estero Cliffs, spotting a white-tailed kite above the trail and looking at the recently wrecked fishing boat on the rocks below. For dinner that night we opted for duck chowderwhich has a reputation for offering one of the best chowders around and did not disappoint.
But most of all, we enjoyed doing nothing but spending time together at the Pacific, as clean, quiet and comfortable as it is. Even without room service or the other expensive trappings of a hotel, we felt pampered and cared for.
Like, say, the next morning when we played a quick game of poker in the lobby with a communal deck of cards (gotta start the kid early) while throwing in freshly brewed local coffee and chatting with Ryan and Marisa.
On our way out, dreading the return to emails, chats, doctors and the rest of life, we stopped at the Brown Butter Cookie Company. Tearing a bag of their delicious sore cookies on the way home proved to be the perfect way to savor the final hours of the trip, and, now that we know long car journeys are possible, a reminder to get back to Cayucos .