Avila Beach is a beachside town. It was subdivided in 1867 by the Miguel Avila family. Originally called just Avila, “Beach” was added to the post office name in 1955.1

Much of the town had to be demolished and rebuilt when it was found that Unocal had contaminated the soil.

Excerpt from article from greatescapes.com:

Imagine being faced with an imperative - or graced with an opportunity - to start all over again on your home. Right from scratch.

More windows. Swapping Tudor for Mission Revival. Losing this interior wall entirely. Maybe even giving the whole thing another 20 feet of setback from the road. The prospect might be liberating or terrifying, or equal parts both.

Now imagine an entire town confronted with this mandate.

It happened in Avila Beach, a sleepy little coastal village just south of San Luis Obispo. In 1989, some locals acquired building permits and began to dig foundations. "It was like 'The Beverly Hillbillies,'" said local innkeeper Michael Kidd. "They were striking oil."

Oil and fuel that had seeped into the ground over decades from leaky Unocal pipelines that ran beneath the town. It was an environmental catastrophe. But after years of legal wranglings, a solution was reached: The oil company leveled Avila's tiny business district and began scooping up and hauling off more than 200,000 tons of contaminated dirt and sand.

When the cleanup work was completed in 2000, Avila Beach was presented with a unique challenge: Re-create your community, however you conceive it.

The process has been painstaking, and the work isn't quite done yet, but the results are impressive.

The buildings of the business district were deliberately designed to follow no deliberate design. Avila had grown in fits and starts since the 1920s, and always had a funky, haphazard aspect. Though everything is new, it still does.

One block along the waterfront has been designated pedestrian-only, and has benches, tree wells holding mature palm trees, and walkways and walls with inlaid tile and replicas of tide pool treasures. Unocal paid for a park at the north end of town, which has climbing toys for the kiddies and the most scenic basketball courts this side of Laguna Beach.

Lenny Harris, co-owner of the Avila Grocery, takes pride in how his establishment represents a key cog in the town's recovery. The 1920 building was one of only two that was spared demolition (the Avila Beach Yacht Club, which sits at the foot of the pier, was the other; both were removed and stored on blocks in another part of town).

"Before it was remodeled," Harris said, "the developer brought in historians and looked at old pictures, then tried to create what it once was."

Lumber was specially milled to match the original grooves, sand was added to paint to lend a stressed look, the ice box was reconstructed, and the original Douglas fir floors - salvaged from a gymnasium in the '20s - were laid back down.

It's now back to being the community gathering place it always had been, dispensing gourmet coffee, breakfast, sandwiches and good cheer.

Avila Beach is pretty sweet. But if you want to escape the crowd and also get nakies, then go to Pirate's Cove!


  1. Mark P. Hall-Patton Memories of the land: placenames of San Luis Obispo County EZ Nature Books (1994) p. 19