A Couple of Days in Cayucos, the ‘Last Great California Beach Town’

The Pacific Motel Offers Next-Level R&R Without Breaking the Bank

Credit: Chris Leschinsky

It was our first trip with the baby. We figured a destination two hours away was the sweet spot ― far enough to feel like we traveled but still close enough to Santa Barbara to make a quick retreat if necessary. And since two hours south would put us somewhere in L.A. (no thanks) we looked north.

Credit: Chris Leschinsky

Cayucos stood out on the map. We’d been to destinations all around it ― Hearst Castle, Cambria, Morro Bay ― but never to what’s been called “the last great California beach town.” So we made a playlist, packed the car with an ungodly amount of child’s gear, and hit the road. 

Our home base for the next couple of days was The Pacific Motel, a 1950s-style roadside inn so impeccably designed and appointed that immediately upon arrival we started stealing ideas. Operated by Central Coast locals Ryan and Marisa Fortini, who live right down the street, the motel’s aesthetic owes itself to their respective backgrounds in landscaping and interior design. 

The rooms are easy and bright, with wooden floors, pops of color and texture, and art by regional artists. There are books placed on shelves you actually want to read, and locally-made 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 trees, and native palms line two common areas with crisp, new ping-pong tables, as well as fire pits and an outdoor shower. Beach access is just two blocks away. Towels are available. 

Credit: Courtesy

The Pacific, one of the town’s original motels, reopened in September after a complete renovation took it down to the studs. The property features 13 guest rooms and a collection of six 1920s bungalows that were originally used as military barracks at Camp San Luis Obispo, the birthplace of the California National Guard. We were lucky enough to snag one, the three of us unfolding on the private front porch before burrowing into our king-size bed’s Parachute brand sheets for an afternoon nap. 

It wasn’t long before dinnertime. Luckily, the Sea Shanty restaurant, a down-home place decorated with neon signs and trucker hats, is a literal stone’s throw from the motel, so we loaded the stroller and made the quick walk over. I had the halibut and baked potato; she had the red snapper tacos. We washed it all down with a helping of strawberry shortcake that was way too big and disappeared way too quickly.

Back at the room we cranked up the fireplace ― it was one of those days that never shook off its marine layer ― and threw on Parachute robes. As the baby dozed we enjoyed some close-captioned Netflix while sipping on a local wine, also purchased from the lobby. We eyed the carefully curated snack bar above our room’s mini-fridge, but decided to pace ourselves.

The next morning we let the indulging 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 quicker or a little further, the motel has bikes to rent.

Though we were tempted by Hidden Kitchen’s blue corn tacos, we went with the blue corn waffles, one smothered in turkey, havarti cheese, and caramelized onion, the other piled with free range eggs, Niman Ranch bacon ends, and avocado. It was one of those meals so damn tasty, fresh, and original that it’ll stick in my mind for years.

Credit: Courtesy

The rest of the day was spent bopping around downtown, starting with swings on the beach and a walk down the pier. We checked out the abundant antique stores, all the tempting clothing at Cayucos Surf Company, and bought a print at the Cayucos Collective, an art gallery and custom print shop.

After an infusion of caffeine at Cayucos Coffee we headed up to the Estero Bluffs, spotting a white-tailed kite above the trail and gawking at the recently-wrecked fishing boat on the rocks below. For dinner that night we opted for Duckie’s Chowder House, which has a reputation for some of the best chowder around and did not disappoint. 

But mostly we enjoyed doing nothing but spending time with each other 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, for instance, the following 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 back freshly brewed local coffee and chatting with Ryan and Marisa. 

On our way out, dreading the return to email, cats, doctors, and the rest of life, we stopped at the Brown Butter Cookie Company. Tearing open a bag of their tooth-achingly delicious cookies on the drive home turned out to be the perfect way to savor the last hours of the trip, and, now that we know long car rides are possible, a reminder to get back to Cayucos.

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