Halfway between San Francisco and
Los Angeles sits a little town that's so sure of its persona, its Web address is "classiccalifornia.com."

By Susan Haynes
March 23, 2005
Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles sits a little town that’s so sure of its persona, its Web address is “classiccalifornia.com.”
Mark Gibson

Say "California coast" and an image of surf, sun, and sandtypically comes to mind. Add cute shops, divey restaurants, and abackdrop of oak-studded hills abutting vineyards just beyond viewand you've got the recipe for Pismo Beach.

The historic town, which incorporates the village of ShellBeach, lies at the heart of a cluster of adjoiningcommunities―Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Oceano, and nearbyAvila Beach. They feel more like neighborhoods than separateentities.

Massachusetts transplants Jim and Mary Zell moved to the areafour years ago. Mary had stiff requirements for a new hometown:ocean view, no humidity, close to a college, good medical services,and topography higher than 40 feet. "That last one ruled outFlorida," she says with a laugh. Jim extended the list: "Warm,affordable, not too crowded, and what will the place be like in 10years?"

Having lived in Northern California some years ago, they quicklyfastened on Central California as the perfect match. That led tothree months' traveling between Central Coast bookend citiesMonterey and Santa Barbara to find their dream, water-view homehere. "The price was right, and I think this area will still begreat years from now," Jim says.

Connie Marangi, a past president of the Five Cities Newcomers'Club, loves the gusto of the place she's called home for nineyears. "You know the bowling alley next to the saltwater taffyplace?" she asks. "My girlfriends and I meet there twice a month,and we giggle and cut up the whole time. Someone asked us the otherday, 'What are you girls drinking?' I said, 'We haven't had a drop.We're just having fun.'"

Pismo's serious side has equal appeal. Connie says that whereshe grew up "was so huge, if disaster struck, you'd read about it.In Pismo, if something happens, we'll throw a barbecue to raisefunds." Connie's energetic, altruistic side gets a real workouthere. She's a docent at the Monarch Butterfly Grove and givesinteractive talks with kids about the region's American IndianChumash culture at the Pismo Nature Center.

Real estate broker Lenny Jones never found a reason to leavethis area except for college and military service. "There's noother oceanfront [town] between Pismo and Santa Barbara," he says."It's the only place on the California coast where you can drive onthe beach [south of Grand Avenue only]. And traffic? It's 10 to 15minutes to anywhere."

Having prestigious California Polytechnic State Universitynearby also enlivens and adds value, Lenny says. If students can'tmake it here with their degrees in engineering, architecture,agriculture, et cetera, he notes, "They'll have their careerselsewhere. But after a few years, they'll call up and say, 'I'mcoming back.'"