Avila Beach aerial photos show the piers
and San Luis Bay in which they sit. The gently-rolling hills in this section
of the California coast are mostly golden in the summer until the first
rains add green color from new plant growth.
The color of the Pacific Ocean
in Avila Beach ranges from deep blue to royal shades transiting to green
and aqua. Many consider this Central Coast gem a hidden treasure they prefer
not to share with the outside world. The photographs above include
Avila Beach Pier top picture, Harford Pier in bottom left photo and town of
Avila Beach with section of Avila Beach Pier in photograph on bottom right.
Author and seaman Richard
Henry Dana visited Avila Beach's naturally-formed San Luis Bay to dock and
trade with Chumash Indians though in his eyes, it did not hold the allure of
another place. According to his book, Two Years Before the Mast, "the only
romantic spot on the coast" during his hide trading days of the 1830's was
in Southern California's Dana Point.
Visitors say they like
both places at first glance, but for those seeking peace and tranquility,
the sounds of nature are more evident in Avila Beach. You can stroll on the
old wooden wharf and watch sea lions bark or watch hungry seagulls swoop for
morsels left by fishermen cleaning their catch. Old Porte Inn on Harfor Pier
is a restaurant serving tasty hot meals, icy cocktails and million dollar
views of the bay. It's a setting you'll never forget, overlooking the
Pacific Ocean and a small mountain that wraps around the bay, creating the
protected cove where the pier sits. The scene is so serene you can image how
life was almost 200 years ago.
Even before Dana traveled up and down the California coast, Spaniards and
Portuguese frequented this protected harbor. Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo
may have rested at Port San Luis on his journey north.
Until 1849, California
was mostly farms and ranches. The Gold Rush came suddenly, attracting
hundreds of thousands of people to the promise land of riches. Around that
time another major event occurred when California broke away from Mexican
influence, declaring itself a free and independent state as part of the
United States in 1850. These two key developments brought incredible
transformation to California. Commerce and growth went hand in hand in
places such as Port San Luis where a commercial wharf was built in 1873 by
businessman seeking docks to unload cargo and goods, John Harford found the
simplest solution was to build his own pier. Selling products in San Luis
Obispo County and in Santa Barbara County to the south, he likely competed
with traders utilizing a commercial wharf 40 miles south in Casmalia. The
shipping trade was lucrative, but railroads cut into profits as rail lines
were rapidly built to connect the U.S. In San Luis Bay, Harford sold his
assets to Charles Goodall for $30,000. Goodall received not only the
wharf but all the land stretching from San Luis Creek to the port. Not so
fortunate, the Casmalia wharf lost money and faded into decay.
In 1876 Avila Beach enjoyed a fair tourist trade as travelers stayed
overnight at Marre Hotel built to lodge the ship passengers docked in town.
A narrow gage railroad was built several years later and later a federal
breakwater funded by congressional action was constructed in 1893. It provided
safe anchorage for passengers and valuable products such as cattle and agriculture goods
unloaded from ships and placed on trains headed to market.
In addition to legal
trade, smugglers brought liquor into the bay, protected by a network of
locals who helped this form of commerce succeed.
Pirate's Cove located around the bend south in a
protected cove out of view of today's Avila Pier and the historic Harford
Pier offered a hidden spot for bringing liquor ashore in the dark of night.
Other locations along the coast known for alcohol interests were Aptos -
Seaside where the cement ship was used as a gambling and party boat (it now
sits in decay in the Pacific Ocean) and Seal Beach where rum runners also
brought alcoholic beverages to the Southern California coast via boats.
When the Great Depression
arrived in the early 1900's and several world wars shifted focus from trade
to defense, all hands were on deck for a different program. Like the Cement
Ship near Santa Cruz, Harford Pier was ignored and went into disrepair. In
the 1950's it was still privately owned but was sold for use as a public
pier. An infusion of cash went into renovating the pier to again promote
commerce. While some hoped to see this protected harbor grow into a larger
venture, others fought against that effort, hoping to keep the treasure
that's tucked away a less trafficked entity.
For tourists or locals
visiting the Central California coast, Avila Beach is an enjoyable town with
a golf course, beautiful beaches and piers, dining, hotels with spectacular
ocean views, a weekly summer farmer's market, golfing and many other
activities such as an enjoyable bi-plane ride where you can see the landscape by air. You will find
Avila Beach by exiting Highway 101 north of Pismo Beach and south of San
Luis Obispo. Just follow the windy road into town and enjoy free parking
near the beach in a large public lot.