In Shell Beach, scenic Ocean Boulevard provides access to pebbled coves beneath steep rocky bluffs. Further south is Pismo Beach, home of the famous Pismo Clam, wide-open beaches, classic car shows, and migrating butterflies. Ride horseback along the beach, scout the nearby dunes for unusual shorebirds and vegetation, or marvel at the sight of migrating monarch butterflies clustering in the nearby eucalyptus trees.
For more action, head south to Grover Beach, gateway to the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area – the only drive-on beach in California. The state park designates protected areas to safeguard fragile plant and wildlife, but allows vehicular access to miles of beach, so visitors can experience the thrill of riding All-Terrain Vehicles, dune buggies, and motorcycles along the coastline and in the dunes.
Inland, country roads travel past fruit orchards, pastoral farmlands, and hundreds of acres of premium wine grapes. Cool coastal air and warm dry days help produce some of California’s best wines (especially Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals) in the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley wine regions. Tasting rooms are located throughout the South County.
Spectacular, colorful sunsets, acres and acres of sandy beaches and huge sand dunes, and a climate that’s picture perfect year round await you in Southern San Luis Obispo County.
Pismo Beach is being used as it compromises the longest stretch of coastline and is centrally located in relation to the other Five Cities beach areas. For inland temperatures, centrally located Arroyo Grande is being used.
Five Cities History
The earliest inhabitants of the Five Cities valley and coastal area were Chumash Indians, who conducted extensive trade with other Native American tribes at considerable distance.
The first Europeans to see this stretch of coast were the crew of Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, working in the service of Spain. The Spanish Portolà expedition was the first European visit by land, passing through the area on September 4, 1769. When Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was established nearby, the Portolà trail became part of the road connecting the 21 Spanish missions (today called El Camino Real). Later, agricultural activities expanded into the area. The Arroyo Grande valley was found to have particularly fertile ground, and was given the name meaning “wide riverbed” in Spanish.
Francis Ziba Branch, originally from New York, saw the area on a hunting expedition during the period when California was part of Mexico. Branch married María Manuela Carlón, and this marriage entitled Branch to file claim for a Mexican land grant. In 1836 he and his wife and baby son moved onto Rancho Santa Manuela. They were managing a successful cattle ranching operation when California became a U.S. territory, and then a U.S. State. But some years later they suffered financial difficulties during a drought when many cattle died. They sold off smaller parcels of land to settlers.
In 1862, the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors established the township of Arroyo Grande. Businesses developed along a road called Branch Street to serve local agriculture. A railroad depot was built in 1882. The city of Arroyo Grande was incorporated on July 10, 1911.
The Five Cities area experienced rapid growth in the 1970s and 1980s, partially due to the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, under an EPA Clean Water Grant, that removed a growth constraint.
In 1867, Captain James Cass settled on 320 acres (1.29 km2) of this land, and founded the town of Cayucos. Cass began developing the area with his business partner, Captain Ingals. Cass built a 900 foot pier and a warehouse to house cargo bound for San Francisco or Los Angeles. Eventually Cass returned to life on the sea and in 1875 real estate developer C.H. Phillips subdivided and sold the remaining portions of Rancho Moro y Cayucos. The original pier was swept away by a storm but has since been rebuilt.