A Moody, Untrampled Place

CAYUCOS, Calif. – We’re stalling a little and wondering when it’s appropriate to emerge from the guest bedroom of Alex and Jenny’s wondrous beachside home.

This is a common dilemma for me, a man who overthinks just about everything: lunch, dinner, shoe purchases.

Question: What time do you get up when staying with friends? Will the shower wake them? Will the dogs bark? Where do they keep the coffee filters?

For all those reasons, I avoid staying with friends. But Alex and Jenny are super hosts — robust in banter and generous with beer.

Suzanne and I slid in yesterday, grabbed some monster fish tacos fresh off the boat, drank too much Modelo, overshared all our little life crutches.

Revelation No. 1: “Audiences are usually so caught up in their little me-worlds, in their own concerns, that they’re really not paying attention to you at all.” Stuff like that.

Now, here we are the next morning, waiting to wake up. Finally, I emerge from our guest cave with my fly open – hello! whooooooops! — to find Alex journaling and Jenny grinding coffee.

The beach right outside their window is gray as a pickleball playoff. The Sunday surfers are out. California’s Central Coast is a moody, ghostly, untrampled place — a thin, silvery soup.

We may as well be in the Hamptons with Scott and Zelda.

By the way, what’s summer without a nymph or two?

With that in mind, I would come up here just to hang with the owners’ two pug puppies, Lucy and Milo, who fell asleep snoring on my lap. Do you have any idea how much I usually have to pay for that? Just ask Suzanne.

If you visit this town, and I insist you do, please check out Hidden Kitchen, a casual breakfast nook in downtown Cayucos.

You know all the stuff hippies put in breakfast bowls: hashbrowns, avocado, micro-greens, eggs? Well, at Hidden Kitchen, they plop those same items atop waffles the size of second base.


Another revelation: the Back Bay Inn, in nearby Los Osos. Were Alex and Jenny to ever shun us, which is sort of inevitable with me …

For instance, when I finally emerged from the bedroom with my fly open, I told them about a dream where I forgot my reporter’s notebook while covering a local parade. So I was forced to take notes on the bare shoulders of a squirmy baton twirler.

“There was a blimp overhead … clowns … my pen didn’t work … kept shaking it.

“And I said to myself: ‘It’s going to be one of those assignments, isn’t it.’”

So, yeah, I rarely get invited back.

In that case, I would next stay at the Back Bay Inn, a cozy bayside B&B about 10 minutes south of Morro Bay. If you like kayaking, and hugging big cups of coffee while wrapped in wool blankets, the Back Bay Inn is your spot.

Shhhhhh, don’t tell anybody. Don’t want to ruin it.

Neither do we want it to go away, as so many legendary places have up here in recent years. There’s the landmark saloon in Cayucos. Closed. There’s the beloved shack that served smoked albacore tacos. Closed. There’s the dreamy Victorian inn. Closed. How many of the things I love are going-going … gone?

FYI, a good life is 100 little pleasures lined up in a row: coffee, box scores, shoulder rubs, ribs.

If given the chance, I would buy up this entire town, re-open those beloved places and not change a single thing. Those little ma-and-pa motels along the main drag are total treasures. The pier? Mystical and timeless. And I could probably spend years chatting up the local scallywags over beers at Schooners.

In short, I’m crazy for Cayucos.

I think it is the scale of this place I like the most — the easy pace, the free parking, which you rarely find in California beach towns. Or, the fetching way clerks and servers look you in the eye up here, as if they are genuinely interested in helping. Can you imagine?

It’s a charm fest up here for sure. My next Hallmark pitch: “Christmas in Cayucos” starring Lacey Chabert as the cookie store temptress. 

Indeed, the local cookie shop is the town’s hottest hangout. “Brown Butter Cookies” is to Cayucos what whisky is to sportswriters.

After the fish tacos, we lingered at the table with a Brown Butter sampler. Not sure the secret of these famous little cookies. Or even what brown butter is.


Remember how Proust conjured up his childhood by dunking madeleines in hot tea? Maybe not, but that’s what he did.

And that’s exactly what these cookies do. They shake 50 years of rust from your tired mind. And amid the sand dollars, the retrievers chasing their tails on the gorgeous beach, there you are all over again, emerging out of the mist – young, freckled and full of hope.

That’s a lot from one simple cookie.

Speaking of scallywags … the Gin & Tonic Society’s summer bacchanal is almost sold out. If you’ve already RSVP’d, you made the list; details will be arriving soon. Five more slots remain for the July 22 event, which starts at 6 pm in Glendale and is free and open to everyone. For info, or to reserve a slot, please email Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. Cheers!

22 thoughts on “A Moody, Untrampled Place

  1. Sold! You had me at “gray as a pickleball playoff.” This post is as charming and evocative as you describe Cayucos to be. A friend goes there every year and now I know why. Can’t wait to visit! Thanks for the recommendations and the smiles.

  2. I so appreciate “gray as a pickle ball playoff” but was stopped in my tracks by “FYI, a good life is 100 little pleasures lined up in a row: coffee, box scores, shoulder rubs, ribs.” The truth of that statement hit me hard this morning. And, agreed.

  3. I understand your love of Cayucos. My husband and I frequented the area from SLO to Cambria when he was alive. So many things we loved are no longer there. We loved dinner at the Salty Pelican which was once next to the Back Bay Inn. Then we found a delicious little hole in the wall in Morro Bay called Abbas…gone. I could continue as I go north. Still in the area with the best strawberries ever is Okui’s in Grover Beach, Ron’s Nursery in Halcyon which is charming, and the beach at Montana de Oro. I love the area, but it’s not the same without the one you love.

  4. I’ve been at that beach spot in your photo so many times-running my springer spanier-I can’t count them. A wonderful place-especially when its misty-your wet and your dog is covered in seeweed, sand, and salt water. Then you need to get the little girl back in the car and drive to So Cal and spend a week cleaning the car. Love it. .

  5. Love Cayucos! Also love that you continue your travels, travails and tales thereof. As for box scores, I’ve finally decided to break up with the old grey lady after the latest decapitation to the sports section. All the best!

    1. I am with you Rick, after 50 years I will no longer be reading it every morning. My husband would be devastated, the sports section was always the first thing he read. I started out with the front page and then we would exchange. Now I must must mourn the loss of my two favorite morning things. Sad.

  6. Years ago, my mom and dad bought a little boat garage on 14th street which they converted into a cozy apartment with a Murphy bed. Then they set up a lovely garden on the rest of the lot and traded their Dahlias for neighbors’ vegetables. Cayucos is charming little town and Doc’s Dance Hall is the perfect local watering hole.

  7. Awww… Cayucos…. Hidden Kitchen! The height they get on their “smoothies” ( should really be called a meal). We moved to Los Osos a few months ago and I swear it’s like we’ve traveled in a time machine! Our neighbor made brownies and put a little card on top with a welcome message and their phone number in case we ever need anything??!! Who are these people?? Ha! It was amazing, people are really nice. It’s sound silly to say, but they seriously are nice. I was walking our dog the other day, a task my husband usually does, and a genteel older man said ” Ah, you must be John’s wife, I recognize the dog.”
    #1: He tipped his hat, who tips their hat when they say pleased to meet you??
    #2: Who says hi?
    #3: I love this town.
    Please keep the Back Bay Inn on the down low, I don’t want anyone else to know. But if you do come, grab some hippie sandwiches at High Street Cafe or Palapas- seriously the best Mexican food.
    There is a book store in Los Osos, that sells those little crystals you can hang from your rear view mirror. I had to have one. I said to my 10 yr old son, “Dad might think this is too hippie” my son’s reply, “Mom we live in Los Osos..” I love my sarcastically quick witted kid. We are older parents and we have created a 10 year old who loves Fleetwood Mac and is almost as sarcastic as his dad.
    In conclusion, I do drone on, Ha! I am so glad we decided to move here, I love raising my son in a town where after the little league baseball season was over, the parents played the kids in a cut throat game of whiffle ball.

    1. We moved to Cambria 2 months ago. Knew it was gonna be beautiful, knew the area was wonderful, but the quality and welcoming attitude of our neighbors and community was something we did not expect. Smartest thing we ever did was get out if Costa Mesa and move to central Cali.

  8. The word “easy” appeared in your prose and is the essence of Cayucos, and once upon a time in other charming piquant California beach towns realtors and population pressure have loaded up and taken off the rails of delight’s exquisite balance. Even some of northern California’s graying, weathered coastal pleasures have slid into a kind of flood zone of money and intensity of interest—you can love a place too much, you know, but what a terrible thought that is. Time seems to wound our memories of so many places where, in the instant, love once happened. But loss is indigenous to public places in general, especially restaurants and watering holes, so wistfulness seems to go with the traffic of re-visitation, doesn’t it? To paraphrase Thomas Wolfe, you really “ Cannot go home again”. It is one of the conundrums of the human condition. Still, it’s nice to know much real ease and natural beauty remains in Cayucos….And with the girl’s shivery , silvery presence, and all that salty, misty, sunsplit atmosphere, you’re creating a whole new chemistry of memory and desire. What else can one do in old beach towns; these days, besides dreaming along with the swishing hum of the surf?

  9. I morn the restoration of Avila LL look Beach south of SLO!! The sanitized version destroyed the little beachside village. Turned the fabled Custom House cafe into a soulless fast food outlet
    I’m praying the Cyucas can continue its role as one of the gems of our north central coast for decades to come.

  10. Not just audiences, but the players too. That was the lesson of Seinfeld. In the end, they’re trapped in a jail cell together, alone in their own worlds. Viaggiamo da soli. Here’s to Modelos and, you know, keeping your baton twirler dreams to yourself.

  11. Hold the phone there, Chris! There’s a picture of a milkshake that stands yards above the rim of the glass. Where did THAT come from?!

    1. Gonna answer for Chris …that’s a Suuperfood Smoothie, also from the Hidden Kitchen! And he didn’t even mention their delicious carnitas tacos.

  12. Love the Back Bay Inn! We’ve stayed there a number of times throughout the years. Lovely little spot and soooo peaceful. Maybe it’s time to head up there again…if it’s not sold out!!!

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