This half-mile round trip hike visits a small rock bridge at the end of a dramatic headland east of Avila Beach. The hike down Cave Landing to the natural tunnel sometimes called Pirate’s Cave provides outstanding coastal views over the beach cities of San Luis Obispo County. This is a short, easy, and enjoyable trek with 100 feet of elevation change – a perfect excursion for anyone staying in Avila.
The adventure begins from a large dirt parking area at the end of Cave Landing Road just outside Avila Beach. There are beautiful ocean views from the trailhead, and things only improve out on the trail. Pick up the southbound single track on the left side of the rocky point jutting into the Pacific. Coastal scrub lines the trail, leaving ample headroom for stunning views down the coast toward Shell Beach and Pismo Beach. After a short distance, there comes to a T-junction marked by a unique punched-out metal sign. To the left, a trail descends to Pirate’s Cove, where you may see naked bathers enjoying this clothing-optional beach. Only hit the sands if you are prepared to walk the plank (or walk the walk).
Looking down on Pirate’s Cove
Turn right to continue to the natural twenty-foot tunnel at the end of Cave Landing. Walk through Pirate’s Cave to the ocean-view balcony on the other side. Peer out over the sheer cliff at the rocky shore below. To the west is the rugged coastline of San Luis Obispo Bay including Whaler’s Rock on the far side of Avila Beach.
Graffiti and broken glass mar the beauty of this short hiking retreat. In addition to nudists, this is also a popular casting off point for local fisherman. After taking in the cave, return the way you came for a memorable fifteen-minute hike.
Nearby trails allow further exploration. There is a single track traveling down the top of the headland above the cave, and other paths venturing west across the bluffs toward Avila Beach. Shell Beach Bluff Trail heads east around Pirate’s Cove along a mansion-lined road to Shell Beach. Behind that is Ontario Ridge Trail, which explores the 700-foot ridge that rises over Cave Landing. These trails may be hiked as a loop. No fee or permit is required to visit Pirate’s Cave, so get out and enjoy.
To get to the trailhead: From the 101 Freeway seven miles south of San Luis Obispo, exit on Avila Beach Drive and head west for two miles toward Avila Beach. A mile before the beach town, turn left up Cave Landing Road. Drive half a mile to the end of the road and pull into the large dirt parking area on the left.
Trailhead address: Cave Landing Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Trailhead coordinates: 35.175773, -120.719213 (35° 10′ 32.78″N 120° 43′ 09.16″W)
Use the map below to create your own directions:
|Shell Beach Bluff Trail – Ontario Ridge Trail Loop|
This 2.8-mile loop explores the coast between Shell Beach and Avila Beach, on and below a 700-foot ridge.
|Sycamore Crest Trail|
This 1.75-mile hike departs from Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and ascends the north slope of Ontario Hill, arriving at a scenic ocean perch. Extend the hike down the ridge and create a 3.25-mile one-way hike.
|Bob Jones Bike Trail|
This easy 5-mile round trip hike or ride follows San Luis Obispo Creek to Avila Beach.
|Point San Luis Lighthouse via Pecho Coast Trail|
This docent-led 3.5-mile out and back hike crosses scenic coastal bluffs to reach the historic lighthouse on Point San Luis.
|More hikes in San Luis Obispo|
Explore other trails around San Luis Obispo including Morro Bay State Park, Montaña de Oro State Park, and the Morros.