Hike Shell Beach Bluff and Ontario Ridge

Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo, California, United States

  • Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

Dog Friendly
Easy Parking

Distance: 2.8 miles. Elevation gain: 675 ft. Walk along the coastline. Explore the caves of Pirate's Cove. Climb the ridge to look down on the beach.

Starting on Shell Beach Bluff Trail is the perfect way to warm up your legs before climbing Ontario Ridge. It’s a relatively flat and incredibly well maintained path that runs right along the coast. The views are simply stunning.

After walking to the parking lot that signifies the end of Shell Beach Bluff Trail, you can continue onto El Portal Drive and make your way up to Ontario Ridge.

As you arrive at the crest of the ridge, the shoreline views of Shell Beach are incredible. The top of the ridge offers views to the west of the coastline and ocean. From here, you begin heading towards the steep downhill to the parking lot, where you'll continue on to the Pirate’s Cove Trail to visit the caves.

This is a hangout for college students, so it's not always the cleanest path. That being said, the views and history of the area make it worth a trip. At the trail junction, head right, or you will end up at a “clothing optional” beach. Continue on towards the cave, and enjoy the ocean views.

Pack List

  • Hiking essentials
  • Hiking shoes
  • Water
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Also referred to as the Avila Ridge Trail, this trek is not for the out of shape. If you have plenty of time to take it slow, then moderate hikers or relatively fit folks will be fine. It undulates, with steep uphill climbs, making for a great interval workout. The views of town are gorgeous and the trail is sturdy, allowing for trail running. The north stretch has views of Avila Beach and is more of a utility road - until you get to the stretch to/from the parking lot. This is an almost-vertical slope with loose dirt and gravel in dry conditions, so take caution. If you’re up for it, it’s a great trail. You can always take the paved bike path back to cool down a bit.

2 months ago
2 months ago

Always a great hike with fantastic ocean views.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Absolutely beautiful

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Drew Robinson

trailtopeak.com // Instagram: @trailtopeak

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