Tourists overrun Cayucos during the off-season

October 25, 2020

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin.


Audrey, who owns and runs her own business of permanent and vacation rentals in town, and has done so for over 20 years, is trying to cope with an off-season that is behaving like the height of summer, when every establishment she serves is full—nonstop.

She is used to business dropping off immediately after Labor Day when kids go back to school. Like most business owners in Cayucos, she tries to make her nut during the busy seaso and then survive in the off-season on packed weekends, and a sprinkling of longtime regulars who like to visit Cayucos during the week so they can have the beach mostly to themselves.

During this lulling time, Cayucos has been described as a hidden gem and giant tranquilizer, a unique and singular personality among California beach towns that has gone on for a hundred years.

Not now. Our once hidden gem has become overrun with tourists in the middle of a national pandemic and economic collapse.

“I’m booked solid clear until the holidays, something that has never happened before,” Audrey said. “It’s taking me to the edge, what with the constant demands, with things that go wrong at some of these rentals, with nonstop answering the phone and trying to form a schedule. I mean, I shouldn’t complain, because when this pandemic started we were dead, really dead, and I wondered if it was ever going to get going and maybe I’d have to go out and get a job when there were no jobs, and I’m not really qualified to do much else besides wait tables. That’s stress. I’d rather have the kind of stress I’m going through now. I’m trying to make it while it’s hot even if it tries to kill me. And right now it has me half crazy.”

Here, in Cayucos, whether you have a business or work somewhere else or just live in retirement like I do now, we are used to our off season and feel a sense of celebration and relief when things clear out after Labor Day in September. And what is really confusing is that it worked this way when the economy was thriving. Now, with this pandemic, with people out of work and families suffering, and the stimulus money long gone, Cayucos is still going off.

On Monday evenings, several motels are packed to capacity. At noon on a weekday, a local has trouble finding a parking spot downtown just to go to the bank. People are everywhere. Where are they coming from and how do they afford it?

“They’re a different breed than the summer crowd, who are mostly working class and from places like Fresno and Visalia in the valley,” Audrey explained. “They’re now 90 percent professional people. They’re highly educated and are actually coming here to not only enjoy the beach, but work. They inquire about and often demand dual internet service, and ask about its speed. They want to conduct Zoom meetings throughout the day. They expect amenities, but amenities are out during the pandemic. One couple complained because they didn’t get a fruit basket. You have to tell them no. They don’t like it.”

I think it’s easy to spot these professional people occupying rentals. They’re in spiffy sweatsuits and jog at six or seven in the morning, and wear earpieces, and talk while jogging, and appear deeply engrossed in their conversations and see nothing but the road ahead. Both men and women. Their faces are etched with stress. They sit at tables in front of Cayucos Coffee or the Cowgirl Cafe working laptops, cloaked in headphones, impervious to their surroundings.

At one time, the sight of people like this in Cayucos would initiate a call to officialdom as to the existence of aliens.

“They’re mostly from the Bay Area and LA,”  said Dale Kaiser, Cayucos’s biggest and busiest real estate agent, when I dropped by his office.

Dale, who will have nothing to do with vacation rentals, went on when I asked him about the off-season madness. An expansive and willing raconteur, he raised his arms overhead in dramatic fashion and said, “On the Tuesday morning after Labor Day I used to always walk out on the pier and take a deep breath, and savor the special feeling of having our town back. And it wasn’t just that all the tourists were gone, it was a different vibe, with locals coming out of hiding, and visiting, petting dogs, that kind of thing.”

“Is this year the exception, or will it get worse, pandemic or no pandemic?”

“I’ve been here 44 years and that wonderful feeling I just described is becoming more and more extinct. I think there will come a day when it will become so crowded here, we’ll have these street cars bringing people in. Like up north, in Capitola near Santa Cruz. I’m torn, because from a personal standpoint I make my living selling real estate, yet, as a citizen living here, I hate the idea of so many people using their second homes as vacation rentals and money makers. It takes away from the community. For instance, at my home in town, the houses on both sides of me are vacation rentals. So I have no neighbors. Now, nine out of ten times the people who rent these places are nice, but sometimes they do crazy things like hold huge weddings, and when I call management to complain, I am the asshole, the bad guy, but they are not allowed to hold weddings, it’s in the contracts.

“The other day,” Dale continued, shaking his head, “on a Wednesday there was a line clear around the block at the Brown Butter Cookie Company. I love that place and WANT them to do a great business, and they do, but that is ridiculous.”

I walk Wilbur along the seawall mornings before the crush, when old timers like Greg, who was born and raised here, went away to college and came back as a high school teacher in San Luis Obispo and is now retired, hang out with other longtime locals.

We talked about this off-season madness, and I asked him if he felt it was ever going to change, if we were ever going to be the hidden gem again. He took off his ball cap, sighed, put it back on, and shook his head. “Sadly, no. I think it’s only going to get worse.”

So I guess Cayucos is no longer a soporific spa in which to luxuriate in utter relaxation, a therapeutic outlet for those who have come here winters for generations to do absolutely nothing but take walks through town or on the beach and watch their dogs frolic, or just sit on deck chairs watching the waves and feeling the vibe of the last outpost, the hidden gem.

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What can you do. I’ve lived on the coast for 15 years. We’re a rare case in being able to buy a house while we were in our 30’s (15 years ago). All homeowners aren’t greedy, rich, souless people. Now, we get ever increasing property tax (this year will be paying almost $700 a month) in addition to our increasing bills. We basically aren’t looking at staying here permanently as we know we can pay half of our living expenses if we move inland somewhere. One option we’ve thought of is to build a 10×12 shack in our backyard & stay there as we vrbo our house. Some of my neighbors do things like that & I don’t completely blame them. But it does stink that many longtime residents have lost their quality of life. What can you do.

Can someone explain in detail how it is legal to rent out R1 zoned properties throughout the nation by the night as if most neighborhoods were all suddenly overlaid by a Commercial / motel zone ?

This is what is known as economics as rent seeking, which is either the government subsidizing the wealth of corporations (Amazon and the USPS, PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission) or corporations exploiting some loophole in public policy to enrich themselves (Uber, AIRBNB). These corporations engaging in rent seeking need to be dismantled.

I’m sad, angry, frustrated. WE no longer get the opportunity to enjoy our own backyard. I can’t remember the last time the Grandkids and I got to spend a day on the beach without the crowds of people. I mean, I’ve even stood outside the house, watching a group of people waddle up from the beach. They pile in their van parked in My spot. Then open the side door and throw a dirty diaper out on the curb just before taking off! .

This really started a few years ago. Our own Chamber w/ thier Brilliant Adds! But Hmm they forgot to put out the extra Garbage cans!

Best day ever was PAndemic 4th!! Just like the Good ole days!

My wife and I were going to go to the Caribbean for our 30th anniversary, but for obvious reasons , we couldn’t make it. Cayucos was our 2nd choice. No ear piece , no lap top , just food , antiques and ocean swimming and beach walking. I get it , bad news , good news, I’m just a guy who visits 4-5 times a year , sometimes for days, sometimes for hours.

Dear Tpaul,

What is your address? I mean, my neighbors, myself, cousins, friends, and anyone else I may be able to convince, want to come and party at your house! Please don’t mind the noise, trash, and the fact we take your parking spaces, Leave our trash in your yard, and I know some will be rude, and disrespect your space, . ..OH please don’t mind if we take your PEACE. We just want to find a Fun place to Party, you know? And we like YOUR yard. No Big Deal!

Join the discussion…Gramelin , you are the definition of Assumption. I see from your other responses (Admittedly, I AM a Local Snob) You must be having some sort of issue with your coffee or something. You must think I am in my mid 20’s and have done everything you accused me of. My wife and I stayed in a hotel, parked in the hotel parking spot and , like you will even care , every morning I wake up in Cayucos for the last 30+ years , I walk the beach with a plastic grocery bag and pick up trash. I to am PISSED at people leaving there “stuff” all over the place , but don’t throw me into that pile of crap if you don’t know me. I will be back in Cayucos in Mid-November and if you see me walking the beach at sunrise picking up trash, introduce yourself and maybe we can vent together. .

Freaking zoo on the weekends, we just purchased a home away from the cost after living in Morro Bay, you can not even use the town you live and support in any longer. Extreme prices on the coast for living in Fresno South, go on Instagram and you will find real estate agents from the “Valley” and Los Angeles advertising homes in Cayucos and Morro Bay.

I would love it if our local communities and governments stopped bending over and cow towing for the tourism industries who are directly responsible for our hamlet being overrun by outsiders. This isn’t acceptable.

Exact same thing happing here in Pismo all week. Even the Shell Beach neighborhoods are packed on the weekends.

Bad but good. I have to have sympathy and concern for the local businesses. At least the crowds will help their cash flow after these awful months.

As the unofficial photographer for the dog beach (Toro Creek Dog Beach on Facebook) for the last 20 years, I have noticed the same thing. Around October as soon as it gets cooler in the Valley the beach would be deserted. Not so now, we don’t even go on Saturdays because chances are you will not find a parking spot. My theory is that when Orange County, Los Angeles and Monterey closed their beaches and we did not everyone discovered us. I love seeing all the new dogs, and they certainly enjoy the beach but it does make me long for the 90s when hardly anyone knew about us. Progress marches on.