Pismo Beach: Niche Existence due to Otherness

Pismo Beach © Renard Teipelke

By Renard Teipelke

Along the Pacific Coast, California offers hundreds of beautiful beaches. Names (or places) such as Santa Cruz, Malibu, or Coronado Island are world famous not only because they are marketed well but are actually nice, sunny, and fantastic locations for a day at the beach. So what role can much smaller, less famous beaches and their adjacent towns in California possibly play in the presence of these ‘big players?’ It comes with no surprise that the demand for beaches seems to be clearly large enough so that these less famous locations are not relegated to a negligible niche existence. But demand also refers to a certain quality of supply: How do these places attract ‘enough’ guests in order to benefit from tourist revenues which they are often seeking in the absence of other relevant fee- or tax-paying industries?

Let us take an 85-mile-ride from Santa Barbara up the coast to the town of Pismo Beach. Approximately 9,000 residents, known for its clams, the flocks of pelicans, and a pretty big gathering of classical and custom cars every June – in short: not really brilliant, super outstanding things to be famous for. In comparison to other coast regions, Pismo Beach does not offer a good infrastructure, has rather ordinary restaurants, and after 11pm the city center (i.e. the city) is deserted. So why do people come here?

Like many other locations, Pismo Beach can probably score with respect to proximity (an often very fuzzy criterion); it has a nice pier, a couple of fine spas and hotels along the coast, it is a good spot for surfing, and the sunsets are breathtaking. But there has to be something else which distinguishes Pismo Beach from the world-famous, large beaches along the California coast. And I would conclude from my in-situ observations that the previously mentioned ‘deficiencies’ made this location unique in the eyes of ‘enough’ tourists. Being less popular, underdeveloped, much more small-scale, not cool or hip, not world-famous, not bling-bling, Pismo Beach fulfills everything its guests desire. This town is kind of non-touristy and some might claim that the location’s potentials are barely tapped. However, it seems to be the case that decision-makers or the local community has (un)intentionally missed the opportunity for an extensive upgrading.

Since Pismo Beach can get pretty crowded during the high season in summer, one cannot really talk about an insider’s tip. But besides those twelve weeks, the town unfolds its natural beauty and cute backwardness – thus ensuring its distinctive niche existence next to Santa Cruz, Malibu, Coronado Island and all these other world-famous places.

Pismo Beach © Renard Teipelke

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