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Romance
Avila Beach vacation would be ideal for couples

About half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco -- and about half-way between a wilderness beach and the frenetic shores of, say, Orange County — you'll find an idyllic little stretch of sand that's certainly worth a stop next time you're driving the 101. Tucked just around the bend from Pismo Beach is Avila Beach, a small but popular beach area ideal for your next couples getaway.

Not that children would be unwelcome — Avila is a playground for all ages. But the Avila Village Inn is ideal for those seeking a special romantic beach getaway. The inn has pulled out all the stops to attract couples who want to pamper themselves as much as enjoy the natural beauties of the Central California coastline.

Some of the best California beach vacations are found in this part of the state. About seven miles north of Pismo Beach the sign directs Highway 101 travelers to Avila Beach by way of a winding road that follows San Luis Creek down into a wooded ravine. About a mile before you get to the beach is Avila Village, a new development with condos, a few shops and, adjacent to the creek, the Avila Village Inn.

While not actually on the beach, the inn's wooded setting gives the property a quiet, reclusive feel. The developers of the new hotel use the word "refined" to describe the many details and amenities that have been built into the 30 guest rooms. And our impression was that, indeed, this is one of those inns where you enjoy tasting the luxurious accommodations as much as experiencing the beach and other natural surroundings. It was like a spa resort without the spa -- although there's even a major exercise facility nearby. Those who love spa vacations will get much of the same feeling here.

The Avila Beach Inn was built by a Ventura-based builder of luxury homes and it's obvious that this property has incorporated many of the design features now seen in newer upscale homes. Wet bars, granite countertops and fireplaces are in each room, while marble is used extensively throughout the shower and bathroom area. The pillow-top king beds both look and feel comfortable with down pillows, blankets and duvets. We especially enjoyed the 103-degree private spa waiting for us on our creekside balcony.

If you're so inclined, each room or suite has its own DVD player and guests are encouraged to check out free DVDs from the front desk. Those who are a little more active will welcome the fitness center that is just across the parking lot from the inn — perfect for working off those snacks, pastries and treats that are provided guests in both a welcoming basket and a breakfast basket the next day.

Other details like tasteful art, mission-style furniture and a grand, sweeping staircase in the lobby area all add up to a sense of privilege — which, of course, is what it's all about when you spend significant money to enjoy quality time with your loved one.

A couple of minutes down the road from the inn is Avila Beach, a half-mile long beach area that is growing in popularity because of its more exclusive, almost Mediterranean feel. A few older hotels are situated near the beach, adjacent to some shops that are sprinkled throughout the tiny "downtown" area. There is evidence of new construction that we hear was made necessary from some oil leaks in the area; but the beach itself and the businesses along the beach seem unaffected.

Altogether there are three piers in Avila Beach, two of them public. It's fun to walk out to the end of the pier where we enjoyed watching the surfers and dockside anglers while also taking in the spectacular views of the shoreline. During our week-day visit in January, we saw just a few visitors frolicking on the wide beach. Most people visiting seemed to be either couples, or college students from Cal Poly in nearby San Luis Obispo.

From what we could see, Avila is perfect for getting away from people — although one suspects that might change on weekends and during summer months. But even with balmy 75-degree weather, we still felt like we'd stumbled across some small, little-known beach village somewhere in the Mediterranean. This is what California beach vacations are all about.

A larger, busier beach is just south of Avila at Pismo Beach. The views from Pismo Beach are spectacular and this horseshoe shaped beach seems to stretch on for miles and miles. It's readily apparent that this isn't the kind of beach where all you do is sit and soak up the sun; ATV and bike rentals are popular, as are sea kayaking and surfing. You can ride horses here or golf — this area is a favorite with retirees who make sure those golf courses get good and used -- while fishing from the Pismo Pier also is popular.

Just up from the pier is the downtown area — much bigger than the Avila Beach shopping area — where you can find a collection of shops and a choice of restaurants. Beyond this tourist area, Pismo Beach takes on the look of most any other town, although there is a high percentage of homes that are cottage-like and probably once used as vacation getaways. Driving around Pismo we discovered several beach access points, each with its own set of breathtaking views. These are great places to view the power of nature; during our visit, the surf along Pismo was pounding so hard it seemed as loud as a freight train.

Another diversion while you're visiting the Avila-Pismo Beach area is, of course, San Luis Obispo. We made a point of visiting the downtown area and found an excellent selection of shops and outdoor cafes, yet a home-town feel that made for a comfortable afternoon of browsing and exploring. It's in San Luis Obispo that you'll find the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, one of California's historic missions. You can visit the padres' residence, which is now a museum.

San Luis Obispo is actually the hub for this area — a diverse region that includes not only the beach communities and the city, but also a group of more than 100 California wineries within reasonable driving distance. There are actually two distinct wine regions in this area — the San Luis Obispo region where the cool climate and marine sediment are conducive to growing Chardonnay grapes and, in the north, the Paso Robles region where the hot summers and limestone help grow the best Zinfandels and Rhone varietals.

But then again, many visitors to the Central California coast are content to keep a low profile, perhaps traveling as far as the beach and a good dinner before returning to a cozy fireplace and soft music. Those are the visitors, no doubt, who will find Avila Beach and the new Avila Village Inn, especially rewarding.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Avila Beach is about 200 miles north of Los Angeles and just north of Pismo Beach. Some of the best California beach vacations are found in sometimes out-of-the-way places between the major cities.

WHAT: Avila Beach is an alternative to more expansive beaches and has a quieter, more exclusive feel. Only a few hotels are in the immediate area, although many more are located in nearby Pismo Beach.

WHEN: The area has a moderate climate year-round. Summer can be hot at times, but is generally temperate. Winter is on the cool side. The area gets about 24 inches of rain per year.

WHY: Scenic, charming and seemingly remote, yet only a few miles from shopping and restaurants in nearby cities. Ideal for a romantic getaway. A large group of excellent California wineries is within a short driving distance.

HOW: For more information on the Avila Village Inn, call the hotel at 805-627-1810 or visit www.avilavillageinn.com. Ask about special travel packages or last minute travel deals. For more information on the Pismo Beach area, go to www.classiccalifornia.com.

RECOMMENDED LODGING: Here are some examples of lodging available in the Avila Beach area: Coastal Vacation Rentals; Mission Inn of Pismo Beach; Apple Farm Inn.

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If Avila Beach is your idea of a California vacation, also check out our articles on San Luis Obispo County, a romantic Central Coast getaway, Dana Point and Napa Valley.

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