Cayucos lacks the crowds associated with California beaches; perhaps you’ve dodged shoppers and street performers while the sun beats down on Venice Beach or searched in vain for an untouched hole-in-the-wall in Santa Monica. If so, Cayucos could be the nugget of beach gold you’ve been looking for.

Eager to experience a Cali surf town minus the tourist overload? Try Cayucos. You’ll find azure surf greeting lazy beaches where the hills of San Luis Obispo watch over the town’s 2,500 residents. Activities, sights, and delectable treats abound here for those willing to seek them out. A perfect weekend getaway to Cayucos might look something like this:

Day 1, Friday: Grab a Slice, Ride Waves, and Taste Your New Favorite Treat

Lunch Overlooking the Pacific

The first thing you’ll want to do after settling in at your vacation rental is get lunch at Ocean Front Pizza. The view from the restaurant’s windows provides a teaser of the beach while you fuel up for the day’s adventures. The whole family will love their pies’ cheesy goodness—try their pesto as a base. Locals know to bring their furry friends along for the doggie pizza rolls.

Hit the Beach

Cayucos, CA All Girl Surf Competition
Cayucos surfer | Photo courtesy of Chet Williams

Once you’re full, it’s time to hit the beach. After all, that’s why you came to California! Beginner surfers can sign up for lessons at Good Clean Fun. If you know your stuff, simply rent a board and catch waves at your own pace. Catch Cayucos’ ideal waves off the right-hand side of the pier during high tide. You’ll be glad you sought out a spot away from the masses, where there’s plenty of space for every level of surfer.

Dry off on a stroll down the historic pier, constructed in 1875 as a port for steam ships. While the pier doesn’t see commercial activity anymore, it’s a hotspot for fishing—rumor has it that intrepid anglers occasionally have exceptional fortune with halibut here. Flounder and surfperch are common catches, as well. Stop by The Tidepool, a gift shop at the base of the pier, for trinkets and fishing advice.

Indulge in Your Sweet Tooth

The Brown Butter Cookie Company
Brown Butter Cookie Company | Photo courtesy of Harold Litwiller

Craving something sweet after all that salt water? Brown Butter Cookie Company, perhaps Cayucos’ most popular institution, beckons. Make sure you try the original cookie: a buttery-soft shortbread with a sprinkle of sea salt. Chocolate lovers must indulge in the rich cocoa flavor, while cocoa mint always pleases gluten-free guests.

This cookie joint landed Cayucos on the map, so it’s one of the few places in town you might expect a line. A word of caution: a taste of the Central Coast’s best dessert could have you braving the line more than once!

Day 2, Saturday: Ocean Exploration, Boutique Wine, and a Seaside Sunset

Coffee and Cliffside Views

Estero Bluffs overlooking Pacific Ocean in Cayucos, CA
Estero Bluffs in Cayucos, CA | Photo courtesy of Fred Moore

Wake up, take a breath, and follow the sound of the ocean down to Top Dog Coffee Bar, where your caffeine pick-me-up awaits. Grab a lox bagel and a latte, as well as WiFi if you need it. Cayucos is a town full of dog people, so a real-life, local canine is likely to greet you at Top Dog.

You might not be submerged in the waves today, but on Headlands Trail in Harmony Headlands State Park, you’re never far from the water. This moderate 4.3-mile hike meanders past a lake and down to the rocky shore, where stunning bluff views greet you. Headlands Trail has a reputation for remaining fairly unpopulated, so your odds of a serene encounter with nature are good. With a pinch of luck, you may spot a gray whale or pod of bottlenose dolphins.

Head back into town for Ruddell’s Smokehouse, where locals feast on smoked seafood. Join the leagues of those who swear by the smoked albacore taco, or branch out and try the smoked salmon sandwich. “Smoker Jim” Ruddell, the establishment’s owner, prides himself on the best smoked fish in town.

Wine and Dine, Cayucos Style

Cayucos Cellars
Cayucos Cellars | Photo courtesy of She_who_must

Crowds may flock to Napa, but locals know San Luis Obispo’s wineries hold their own. Taste Central California wines in an intimate setting during a January afternoon at the Cayucos Wine Festival. The town’s quaint visitors’ center hosts the tasting, where wineries like Cayucos Cellars and Full Moon Tasting Room sample boutique wines alongside appetizers. Live music sets the scene for your inner sommelier to make an appearance.

Slide into a night of dinner and drinks at Schooners, the town’s watering hole. While not quite a dive bar, the vibe is relaxed, so feel free to dress down. There’s no better place to sip a beer and admire the sun setting over the Pacific. Oh, and it’s the only place in Cayucos open ‘til 10 p.m.

Day 3, Sunday: Day Trip to Morro Bay and Dinner in Cayucos’ Secret Garden

Embark on a Kayaking Adventure

Sea kayaker in Cayucos, CA
Sea kayaker in Cayucos, CA | Photo courtesy of Pam Link

Take on the water from a different angle in a kayak in Morro Bay State Park, just a few miles down the 1. Sequestered from the breaks of the open shore (and from crowds), easy paddling leads to exploration. The Nine Sisters mountains frame the bay for a classic San Luis Obispo view. Don’t be shocked if a curious sea otter pops up near your kayak—they want in on the fun!

Experience Casual Lunch to Fine Dining

Dreaming of a burger after your kayak excursion? Find yours at House of JuJu up Embarcadero Street. Pro tip: try the Dragon Lady or any other menu item featuring their signature slaw. On your way out of town, pop in the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum to peek at the world’s second largest skateboard and chat with the owner (a skater himself, of course).

Back in Cayucos, dine surrounded by hibiscus blooms at Lunada Garden Bistro. You might want to dress up a bit here; the mood is elegant, and every meal is farm-to-table. Guests recommend the lamb chops and crab cakes at this quiet spot. Flowers, fine wine, and fresh fare: what better way to toast your final hours in Cayucos?

The quest for the small California surf town experience ends in Cayucos. You’ll certainly find a lot of character here, and hopefully a few gnarly waves. Don’t be ashamed to grab a few extra brown butter cookies on the way out—it’ll be our secret.

Featured photo courtesy of Cheryl

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Author: Katie Wojciechowski

A native Austinite, Katie misses Tex-Mex food, but has fallen in love with Portland. Iceland’s Ring Road, Maui’s Road to Hana, and a horse-trodden trail in Argentina’s wine country are some of her favorite journeys to date, but they fail to top the trip to Marfa and Big Bend she often made during her college years in West Texas.