Pismo Beach History

Pismo Beach History


Like so much of the Central Coast of California, Pismo Beach’s beginnings are linked to the Chumash. The native Indians found tar or pismu, which washed up on the beach, to seal the cracks of their wide wooden plank canoes that they used to travel up and down the California coastline. The Chumash were spread throughout California, from the Carrizo Plain on the east to the Channel Islands, west of the coast of present day Santa Barbara. In fact, the Chumash people, or “First People,” as they called themselves, were the most widespread of any California native group. Tens of thousands of Chumash lived in an area that encompassed over 7000 square miles. It’s been said that you couldn’t travel anywhere in California, north or south without encountering their territory.

The first Spanish arrived when the 1769 Portola expedition camped in the area and walked over the dunes to Pismo Beach. What the Portola party found later became the 8,838 acre Rancho Pismo, granted to Jose Ortega in 1840. The land changed hands several times before John Price and his family became the first permanent settlers in 1850. Price was a horse and cattle rancher, who also operated the Pismo Beach Hotel, next to the new wharf, built in 1881, at the end of Main Street. “El Pismo” was shortly thereafter subdivided and became “Town El Pismo.” Besides a hotel and wharf, the new town had a livery stable and warehouse. By 1887, lots were being advertised across the United States and visitors were enticed to the come out to the beach community for clamming and “fine duck hunting in pleasant surroundings.”

Tourists came in droves to the hotel renamed “El Pizmo Inn.” By the turn of the century, the inn created a tent city for the overflow guests, providing them with 18 foot by 14 foot tents on wooden planks that were rented for $8 per week. People came for weeks, and even months, at a time to bask in the sunny, mild seaside climate. The Southern Pacific Railroad brought visitors from San Francisco for $30, the fare being applied to the down payment on the tent on arrival in Pismo Beach. This was considered to be one of the earliest timeshares. By 1912, Highway 2 (which later became U.S. Highway 101) was routed through Pismo Beach and automobile traffic started arriving in the popular beach community.

At the turn of the twentieth century, little Pismo was a wild town with multiple saloons, infamous brothels and a dance hall. More sedate entertainment was found in the ice skating rink and bowling alley. In 1911, a limit of 200 clams per person, per day was set to keep clam diggers from stripping the beach of the thousands of clams found there.

As the town grew and became more respectable, city fathers tried to incorporate Pismo Beach. The first attempt was made in 1926 but that was not successful until 1939. But in 1940, worried residents voted to un-incorporate when concerns were raised over higher taxes. Finally in 1946, Pismo Beach was permanently incorporated.





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