Pecho Coast Trail Hike and San Luis Lighthouse Tour


The Pecho Coast Trail is located in Avila Beach and features gorgeous scenic coastal views of Avila and the Pacific Ocean. It has been open for guided hikes since 1993 and is located on PG&E property, and is a joint partnership between PG&E, the California Coastal Commission and the Port San Luis Harbor District, so it can only be accessed through reservations by a guided hike which are available to do in the morning on  Wednesday for 20 people and Saturday for 40 people. Reservations are strongly encouraged and can be made on the PG&E website. This hike will ultimately take you to the Port’s Historic Point San Luis Lighthouse where you can learn the history of the property on a docent-led tour for a $5 donation.

When you arrive to Avila, there is plenty of free parking at the pier where it’s a short walk along the road to the group meeting spot at 8:45 a.m., the Fisherman’s Memorial in Port San Luis Harbor. Here, the docents will have you sign a waiver of liability and explain the itinerary of the hike. Make sure to pack some water and sunblock because even if the weather is foggy when you start the hike as it often is on the Central Coast, it will most likely warm up and be sunny by the time you leave the lighthouse.


The journey is not a particularly strenuous trek as there’s only around 400-500 feet of elevation gain, but be warned that the first part of the hike has sudden steep elevation changes as well as poison oak/tics on the trail to be mindful of. On the way up, the docent will stop the hike about every ten minutes to recollect the group and explain some of the historical and geographical information of the area.

Summer on the Central Coast = Morning fog!

The first part of the hike is a short steep climb up to a road that the trolley takes visitors on to the lighthouse. You’ll hike about half a mile along that paved road stopping along the way to be educated on the geology, biology, and history of Avila and the Pecho Coast Trail including the three piers which are visible from the access road. The closest pier is the Harford Pier at the Port San Luis, then the pier which is owned by Cal Poly for marine science purposes, and finally the Avila Pier in the distance. After walking for a bit more along the paved section of the hike, you’ll reach the official entrance to the Pecho Coast trail and descend down the bluff of the hillside. There are stairs built into the hill to make it easier to walk down.

The trail passes through an oak grove with a plaque dedicated to Patsy Stow Stebbins who was a key player in negotiating the creation of the Pecho Coast Trail and a fighter for Coastal California public access her whole life. California Coastal Access signs (a footprint with an ocean wave) can be found all over California by the beach and inform visitors and residents of places that they can gain public access to the coast. Now that I know what the sign means, I’m noticing its presence everywhere!


After more hiking along the gorgeous views of the coast, the docent will take time to explain the history of whaling in Avila and of Smith Island which is a rock just off the coast that somehow at one point housed five families (yes, on a rock in the ocean!). Then you’ll begin the final descent down the stairs where you’ll cross the same service/trolley road from earlier in the hike.

After you cross the trolley road you will have reached the trail’s end at the Point San Luis Obispo Lighthouse grounds. There are restrooms and a water fountain as well as a gift shop with small snacks and trinkets available for purchase. The grounds are free to explore once you’re there, but in order to go inside for a tour it’s a $5 donation fee which goes toward the preservation and restoration of the property. In my opinion it was completely worth it to pay the five dollars to hear the incredible history of the lighthouse.

This restored lighthouse is a two story Victorian style building which was officially decommissioned in 1974. It has been remodeled to look like it would have looked like when it was built and used back in 1890. The first building you’re taken to is the fog signal building. It’s home of the horn that was used to signal ships when the light could not reach them. You’ll get to see the extremely cool “fourth-order Fresnel lens.”

The lens is an impressive two and a half feet tall and is displayed on a turret that rotated back when it was in operation. It’s a beautiful piece of engineering and amazing to think about how important its purpose was when it was in operation. Fun fact: Different lighthouses use different intervals of time in which the beam of light rotates out to sea, to use as a signal for their specific location. For example, this lighthouse at Avila signals every 30 seconds which is how the sailer would know where he was out in the ocean: he would count the number of seconds between each beam and check his log to see where he was according to that interval of time. In 1890 this lens would send beams of light 17 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean.

Climbing into the lighthouse tower is a tight squeeze!
The view from where the Fresnel lens was located

I don’t want to give too much information about the tour away because you should definitely go take it yourself and learn all of this exciting information, but these are some photos of the inside of the lighthouse where the lighthouse keeper and his family would have lived.




Dining Room

Sitting Room

If you’re just wanting to tour the lighthouse without hiking the Pecho Coast Trail, tours are offered year round on Wednesdays at 12pm and 1 pm and on Saturdays at 12pm, 1pm, and 2pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for kids 12 and under. Children under 3 are free. The tours last about 1hr and 45 minutes, and the cost of the tickets includes the trolley ride to the lighthouse. Hiking the Pecho Coast Trail is free, with a $5 donation upon arrival to the lighthouse for a a tour. After the trek and those gorgeous views of the Central Coast ocean, you’ve earned it!

Here’s a map to the trailhead. Parking is located near Fat Cats Cafe, in the shipyard. Happy hiking!


Cal Poly’s Tranquil Hidden Gem: The Leaning Pine Arboretum


The 50+ year old Leaning Pine Arboretum is an oasis of 5 acres of plants, flowers, and scenic mountain views located right on Cal Poly’s campus. It’s in the Environmental Horticultural Science facility and is open to the public FOR FREE from 8am-5pm Monday-Saturday. Every time I go, it’s peaceful and empty! It’s a great place to go if you need a quiet place to think, read, or step back and take a moment to breathe… and it’s within walking distance from any building at Cal Poly.

The collections of plants in the arboretum are arranged by geographic nativity. There are hundreds of different plant species from the world’s five mediterranean climate regions: Australia, California, Chile, the Mediterranean basin, and South Africa. There’s also a New Zealand garden, a Dwarf and Unusual Conifer garden, a Formal garden, and displays of cycads, palms, and many different succulents. Read more about the individual gardens, by clicking here!

The exciting part about this gem is that it’s open year round, and the plants are constantly changing by season. I visited during April, and there were gorgeous flowers everywhere! You’ll never have the same experience twice.

They offer guided tours for groups as well as paper and cell phone self lead tours so that you can enjoy each section of the gardens for as long as you’d like.

The purpose of the gardens is to act as a sort of “open air classroom” for education, and to foster horticultural practices that are in harmony with nature. For example, to control pests in the area, they use non-toxic traps and environmentally friendly bait. The arboretum fertilizes only as needed and uses organic fertilizers. All green waste is recycled, and mulching lawnmowers are used to recycle clippings in harmony with the environment.

It assists Cal Poly students in their opportunity to “learn by doing” and is used mainly as a laboratory for students and classes for independent research and project studies. Students also maintain and care for the facility as volunteers, paid employees, and in their classes under the direction of a faculty member.

Since the space is a living lab for students to learn, it’s important to remember to respect the environment by staying on the path, refraining from climbing trees or any sculptures/structures in the gardens, and as tempting as it is to take one of the gorgeous flowers, fruits or succulents you must leave everything behind for future visitors to enjoy.


The one tricky part about taking time to enjoy the arboretum is that it’s difficult to find parking if you choose to drive to campus. There are a 45 minute meter spots in the area, but if you’re interested in spending more time in the gardens you’ll need to find an alternative option. Visitors can buy permits to park in designated spots around campus Monday-Friday for hourly and daily amounts of time by visiting a pay station and getting a parking pass.

Pro Tip: Parking on campus is free on the weekends, so Saturday would most likely be your best bet to enjoy the gardens for as long as possible without having to worry about paying for parking.


If you’d like a more personal experience or a group tour, you can arrange for an arboretum staff member led visit by contacting the Arboretum Manager at (805) 756-2888. Here’s a map of how to get to the gardens!

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Courtesy of the Leaning Pine Arboretum Website

Cerro Cabrillo Hike in Morro Bay

My parents just visited me in San Luis Obispo! Naturally I wanted to show them an exciting new hike, and my favorite hikes are ones with ocean views. In the past, we have gone to Avila Ridge or Montana de Oro to hike but this time we went and climbed Cerro Cabrillo in Morro Bay.


Cerro Cabrillo means “Cabrillo Hill” in Spanish. It is an out and back trail and despite and only being the 6th tallest of the nine sisters at 900 feet, it’s a moderately strenuous hike. The last 500 feet are an extremely  steep ascent involving rock scrambling.


The turn into the parking lot is off of South Bay Boulevard and when you’re driving, it comes up fast. It can be a hard turn to see from the road, once you are in the parking lot there is lots of room to park your car.

Begin your hike on the Quarry Trail which starts right at the parking lot. This trail will lead you most of the way toward the top, and is straight and flat for the most part at the beginning.

Travel along the Quarry Trail for a while, and when you reach the Live Oak trail junction, still keep on going straight.


Continue going straight until you see the trail start to curve left and up the hill toward the tiki head. If you hit the Park Ridge Trail junction you’ve gone too far.


The trail starts to get steeper here, but keep going because the view from the top is worth it.

Hi, Tiki head!

The naturally formed tiki head can be seen in the face of the rocks on the side of the hill. You’ll be hiking up past him. This starts to be the part of the path which is not maintained by the park, and you’ll have to do some scrambling in order to reach the peak.

Right before turning left to make the final ascent

The final ascent is a steep 500 feet toward the top in 4 tenths of a mile on a path which is less well-traveled. Be sure to look out for poison oak as you climb in between the rocks.

Hi mom! Featuring Hollister Peak in the background

As you ascend, you can see Hollister Peak, one of the other nine sisters off in the distance. Hiking shoes or sneakers with a good grip is helpful on this section of the hike. The sharp slope tested the traction of my dad’s shoes at times… most of the time the hill was the winner and my dad/his shoes lost.


When you complete the boulder scrambling and shoe traction testing ascent, get ready to feast your eyes on 360 degree views of the central coast including Morro Bay and Morro Rock to the North West, Montana de Oro to the South West, and the Santa Lucia Mountains to the East. YAS.

Mom, dad, and me with Morro Rock in the background

Below is a link to the parking lot at the trailhead.

The address for the trailhead is South Bay Boulevard, Morro Bay, CA 93442.

Hike to Serenity Swing from Poly Canyon Village

I remember the first time I hiked serenity swing  it was the first quarter of my freshman year on a Monday Night, in the dark, with my new friend I had just made in the Poly Escapes program. We hiked serenity swing for the first time on this random Monday night in darkness because there was supposed to be a meteor shower. You couldn’t see much of Poly or SLO in the dark… but it was still fun. And a much fun that very first time was, every time I have hike it since then still seems to get better.

Silly freshman Molly doing hikes in the pitch dark

Over the years the serenity swing has changed. People have added a second swing next to the current one, and broken the existing one only to have it be replaced for a seat with what is consistently in my opinion one of the best views in SLO.

This hike is around 4 miles long (depending on which path you take) and has about 950 feet of elevation gain.

From the top you can see Morro Rock north of SLO as well as down south of SLO the Pacific Ocean near Avila. You can see Bishops Peak between the hills of Poly Canyon, the Architecture Graveyard, and the majestic campus of Cal Poly. It’s a beautiful sight.

Two pretty sights

This trail has a strenuous climb toward the end. It will have you climbing up what personally I think has to be about a 70-75 degree slope while at the same time wind is trying to gust you away. But trust me, in the end the view and the feeling you get when you reach the top makes it worthwhile.

When I did this hike for the blog, we parked in the intramural fields by Poly Canyon Village and trekked up the trail paralleling Poly Canyon Road toward architecture graveyard called Brizzolara Creek Trail. This is why the route in the map I embedded may look slightly different than if you were to just walk along Poly Canyon Road. Ultimately as long as you find your way to the entrance to the Arch Graveyard, you can find your way the rest of the way up the trail.

The map at the entrance to Arch Graveyard

When you reach Architecture Graveyard, don’t take a left toward it, but instead turn right and walk up the path with a slight hill which will eventually lead you to a house and barn on your right. This path will lead you to the first gate which you can easily open and pass through.

Gate #1

Walk beyond the gate for a few tenths of a mile to come to a second gate. There’s usually some mud around this area shortly after is rains, so watch your shoes!

Gate #2

Once you get past the second gate keep right on the lesser steep path. You’ll be on this path for a while. If you have any confusion as to which turns to make, follow my trail on the map embedded at the bottom of the post.

Eventually you’ll reach another gate. This is the last gate you’ll go through before beginning the final ascent to the top of the hill. Turn left.

Sophia after passing through the third gate

There are two paths to climb to get to the top of the hill where serenity swing is. Both are extremely steep, so it’s best to pick the one that doesn’t have people already on it at the moment (I’m not saying you’re going to fall, but just in case someone else does it’s best to have extra room).

Both ways lead to the top

For this hike, we took the path which is shown to the left on the way up, and the path on the right on the way down.

Good thing there are footholds in the ground?

When you reach the top of the climb, go left toward the big tree. It’s the only tree in near sight and the one with the swing hanging from it. Then, go take some basic pictures. Post them to Instagram and revel in the likes. You’ve earned it.


Have another way up to serenity swing you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

Morro Strand Trail to Morro Rock

Again, I’m a sucker for beach hikes. Even though this wasn’t so much of a hike but a walk, at a level elevation 3.5 mile out and back, it was a quite the trek fighting through the sand along the beach to Morro Rock. I guess it’s always leg day for me…

Conner and I did another sunset hike, and I suggest you do this walk at sunset too, because the outline of Morro Rock on the twilight sky is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Anyway, this “Hike” starts at a park called Cloisters Park which has a big parking lot and a clearly marked walkway to start. It’s a about a tenth of a mile walk from the park to Morro Strand Trail which is the coastal route to Morro Rock.

Conner was excited about all the Pokemon in the area

The paved walking route is relatively short, and features information about the surrounding area on the side.

Area information!

When you get to Morro Strand Trail, turn right toward the beach. The area around the path is a protected Snowy Plover Nesting Area from March 1st through September 30th, so keep this in mind and respect the habitat if you’re walking through the area at this time. We did this hike in mid September, so we were extra careful to watch for the birds!

After making the right turn, you’ll walk along a paved path and quickly reach a boardwalk with views of Morro Rock and the dunes.


Turn left again when you reach the end of the roped off walkway and make your way toward Morro Rock!


The rules to the beach are posted at the end of the boardwalk, including no dogs and no glass! I guess kites aren’t allowed, either… They frighten the Snowy Plover Birds. So unfortunately, don’t go bringin’ out your fancy kite because the Snowy Plovers will think it’s a hawk and get scared…


It’s about a 1.5 mile walk to Morro Rock from the end of the boardwalk area. Be sure to take some epic Morro Rock pictures when you get there, like this.

My second mixtape is dropping soon

Or this


It’s a beautiful walk, especially in the evening with low tide and the sunset. Also for all you Pokemon fanatics out there, Conner caught a Pikachu on the beach by the rock.

I’m so romantic with my sand dollar pictures

This beach had more sand dollars on it than I have ever seen in my life. Seriously, I was consciously trying not to step on them all. So, I collected a bunch and made a Pinterest-worthy picture on the beach as seen above…


Morro Rock is known as the westernmost peak in the Morros in San Luis Obispo County. Climbing Morro rock is not allowed, but five other peaks in the Morros that you can climb include five of the volcanic peaks: Black Hill, Cerro Cabrillo, Bishop Peak, Cerro San Luis, and Islay Hill.

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The address is Coisters Park, Coral Ave, Morro Bay, CA 93442 and you can use the map to guide you to the exact coordinates here:

Valencia Peak in Montaña De Oro State Park

One of my favorite hikes in San Luis Obispo county is Valencia Peak. I’m a sucker for ocean view hikes, and if you are too then this is exactly what you’re looking for.

When I hiked Valencia peak in July, there was some fog on the coast and we felt like we were in heaven…

Montana de Oro State Park is about 25 minutes outside of San Luis Obispo and admission is free, which is perfect for when you’re looking for a quick hike with a view worth the climb. Take Los Osos Valley road until it comes to Pecho Valley Road and take this into the park. See the bottom of the post for exact trailhead coordinates!

There’s parking right in front of the trailhead, but beware that I have seen more than one minivan or sedan bottom out in attempt to park on this dusty and bumpy lot (but luckily Conner’s truck was up to the job).

The old sign saying that the trail is only 2 miles, before the route was extended and more switchbacks were added to decrease steepness.

The trail is about 2.2 miles up to the 1,347 feet peak, (about 4.5 miles roundtrip) meaning that gets very steep in some parts and also has sheer cliffside drop-offs, so watch your step. Usually when you hike you start a little ways up the hill (think Bishop’s Peak if you’re from SLO) but this hike it literally starts at sea level by the sea, so you’re hiking the full 1,000+ feet!

Favorite Hiking Buddy  ❤

In the Spring, this route has a plethora of gorgeous blooming wildflowers, but in the Summer we at least get to see what remains of them… Still pretty. About 2 tenths of a mile in, you can look down to see Islay Creek campground which fun fact: I camped there in January once and it was reeeeally cold so if you’re gonna camp there maybe do it in a warmer month.

A little ways up you’ll come to a fork in the path on the right. Follow the signage and take the trail going straighter upwards. It says it’s only one more mile to the peak but keep in mind that it’s a steep one!

Follow the signs toward the trail.
Once you see the drop-offs you wont be surprised there’s no mountain biking… or horses… allowed on the trail.

Be respectful of the parts of the trail which are closed for restoration, or roped off to restrict access. The reason they’re closed is either for your own safety, or for the preservation of the mountain itself so that everyone can continue to enjoy it in the future as well.


The beginning of the trail is extremely dusty while the following parts are covered in jagged rocks. These rocks can become loose and get dislodged so be careful to watch your step when climbing. The higher you get up the mountain the more common and steeper the rocks become.


As you’re heading up, if you’re facing west toward the ocean, off to the north-west is Morro bay and Morro rock, and South-east is toward Hazard Canyon Reef.



We did a sunset hike, but it’s a gorgeous view any time of day. There’s a false peak about halfway up the path in which my family and I thought we had reached the top the first time I hiked this trail, but then realized we were only halfway up… Keep on going and enjoying the view on both sides as you walk along the ridge.

Eventually you’ll be climbing switchbacks again. When you get to the real peak, you’ll be greeted by a sign signaling your 1,400 foot accomplishment and giving you the choice to turn either left or right to reach the 360 degree views of the ocean and the surrounding Central Coast.

I think that turning left is faster to get to the wind blown picnic table at the top, but my parents swear that going to the right is faster, and Conner chose to climb straight up the face of the rocks.

You can see to the ends of the Earth (almost)
My father looking majestic

No matter how hot the weather may be at the start of the climb, it’s bound to be windy and chilly at the top so I suggest packing a sweatshirt. As always also make sure that you have water to avoid dehydration and put on sunblock to protect your skin as well as sunglasses to protect your eyes as this hike has no shade! And enjoy the views until the next time you come back to Valencia Peak.



Trailhead address: Pecho Valley Road, Montaña de Oro State Park, Los Osos, CA 93402

Bucketlist Post #19: Hike the Avila Ridge Trail

This weekend, I hiked the Avila Ridge Trail (also known as the Shell Beach Bluff Trail/Ontario Ridge Trail) and it was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done. I was trying to find more detailed information about the trail online before going, and was confused by reading the online trail maps. So I decided to write a post about it myself, and how we navigated the hike.

It is listed on to be a 2.8 mile hike with 675 feet of elevation gain, and summits at 735 feet. It’s longer if you park along El Portal Drive, or if you make a detour to Smuggler’s Cave toward the end. It isn’t very well marked where to start on the Ontario Ridge Trail coming off of Bluff Drive, but if you would like to take that route I have circled it in red on the map below.

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Blue = the route we took, Purple = Steep grade, Green = Trail to Smuggler’s Cave, Red = Entrance of/Ontario Ridge Trail

I would recommend starting on the Ontario ridge trailhead by the highway, 101 South, as it is a less challenging incline than if you were to start at the entrance by Pirate’s Cove, called “Cave Landing Trail.” Below on the map, the red circle represents where we parked, and the blue arrows represent the official entrance to the trail.

We walked along the road El Portal Drive to the Trailhead by the freeway. There is lots of parking along the side of the road as long as you don’t disturb the residents of the neighborhood.

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The red circle is where we parked, and the red line is the route we took along El Portal Drive. The blue is the actual Ontario ridge trail that we didn’t know existed.

The hike is not an extremely long hike, but is extremely steep at parts. The beginning where we started was the steepest part going up, and there was a steady incline until we reached a plateau view of the ocean to the southwest including Grover Beach and its gigantic sand dunes.

Conner and his mom making the ascent
The view toward Pismo Beach

When you get to the top, there’s a rope swing and a couple bowls for dogs to take a drink from. In fact, we encountered many dogs on the way up. If your bring your pet, it’s important to remember to pick up after them, as it’s the last thing another hiker wants to step on.

Rope swing #1


A panoramic of the view from the top

When you continue along the trail, you’ll come to another rope swing with an even grander view of the ocean. If you’re like me, it means you’ll take 300 pictures in every possible pose/silhouette scene/different lighting/focus.


As you continue on the trail, it begins to get steeper. You can see a clear view of Pirate’s Cove now, and the slope begins to angle more sharply downward. This is another place that you can start the hike, but again I would recommend beginning at the other entrance.

It’s a very steep grade.

When you reach the bottom of the steepest hill you will ever walk down, you’ll be in the parking lot to Pirate’s Cove and it’s famous “Smuggler’s Cave.” Continue down the trail to the right to get to Smuggler’s Cave or the Pirate’s Cove beach. It’s a clothing optional beach…

“Beyond this point you may encounter clothing optional sun bathers.” What a view…

We walked down to Smuggler’s Cave and enjoyed the view from there for a while.

If you have time, go see the inside of the cave. Again, the photo op’s are priceless 😉 Especially at sunset.

Continue back up the trail to Smuggler’s Cave the way that you came in, and then turn right to get onto Shell Beach Bluff trail which turns into a boardwalk as you get closer to the water. Continue straight on this trail until you reach the end of the trail, or continue onto El Portal if that’s where you parked, like us!

This is a map to the parking lot and official trailhead. There is also street parking in the neighborhood.

Trailhead address: Indio Drive & Bluff Drive, Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Trailhead coordinates: 35.174558, -120.707748 (35° 10′ 28.40″N 120° 42′ 27.89″W)