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We recently returned to a Central California beach town that’s changed significantly since our first visit about 20 years ago.

Avila Beach is located in San Luis Obispo County between the county seat and Pismo Beach. As a south-facing community, similar to Santa Barbara, it enjoys milder weather than other nearby towns. It’s reached via a long, winding road from Highway 101, past a series of wineries and hot springs.

Avila Beach was once known as the nearest town to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The town remained small due to a building moratorium and limited water supply. Then in 2000, Unocal agreed to undertake a massive cleanup of contaminated soil under the town, which involved demolishing all structures in a large part of town, removing the soil and rebuilding the town literally from the ground up.

When we first visited this town it reminded us of Ocean Beach. It was out of the way, a little hard to access and definitely caught in a time warp. When we returned it more closely resembled Avalon on Catalina Island, which brought mixed emotions.

One local attraction was as we remembered it. At the end of Harford Pier in nearby Port San Luis, we had a great meal at the Olde Port Inn. It boasts a 360-degree view of the area and a variety of local seafood. They’ll even prepare fish you bring in with you if it's not on their menu. A large part of the attraction for us was their extensive wine collection, including many from smaller local wineries.

For those travelling along the Central Coast, Avila Beach is worth the time to leave the highway and enjoy a small, relaxed beach community.

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