Pismo Beach Culture

Pismo Beach Culture


The clam was once king in Pismo Beach. Chumash Indians called themselves the “First People,” and also the “Seashell People,” and had villages in the Pismo Beach area. The Chumash used the local clam shells as ornamentation, tools, and also for currency. But for the Chumash who lived near the sea, clams were a large part of their diet, too. Besides clams, they consumed mussels and abalone and hunted seals, sea lions and sea otters. Huge mounds of seashells, some as high as nine feet tall, have been found at Chumash village sites.

The Chumash were considered the finest native boat builders in California. picking up tar or pismu to seal the cracks in their twelve to thirty foot redwood plank canoes called tomols. They traveled the coast out to the Channel Islands off present day Santa Barbara, visiting and trading with other tribes. The Chumash also considered dolphin sacred and many cave paintings were done of the revered animals.

One hundred years ago there were thousands of clams on Pismo Beach. In fact there were so many that a daily limit was set in 1911 of 200 clams per person! Teams of horses were used commercially to plow the clams from the beach. The clams were loaded into wagons and used for feed for chickens and pigs. But according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, by 1948, commercial digging ended, and “the sport catch declined from 343,000 clams in 1978 to 0 in 1983,” sea otters being directly responsible for the devastation of the Pismo clam.

The Pismo clam has become entrenched in the area’s culture, from the giant, decorated clam statue on the southern entrance of the city to the largest clam shell ever found on Pismo Beach displayed in the Chamber of Commerce office, which was 7 ½ inches in diameter and 26 years old, to the ever present clam chowder on the menus of oceanfront restaurants. The Clam Festival is the city’s big annual event and draws thousands to the beachside community and even a “Miss Clam” is selected.

Even though man and otter have decimated the clam numbers, the clam is still king in Pismo Beach.





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