A Little Avila Beach History
The name Avila commemorates Miguel Ávila, who was granted Rancho San Miguelito in 1842. The town was established in the latter half of the 19th century, when it served as the main shipping port for San Luis Obispo. Although Avila Beach still has a working commercial fishing pier and the inland areas have extensive apple orchards, tourism is now the main industry. There are few historical structures remaining; among the oldest is the Point San Luis Lighthouse, built in 1890 after a series of shipping accidents. The lighthouse at San Luis Obispo was completed in 1890 and is a 40-foot (12 m) tower attached to a Victorian style dwelling. The area was originally known as Port Harford. The area was very difficult to access by land. Supplies were brought in by steamer.
The Fresnel lens was replaced with a modern beacon in 1969 and the light was automated in 1974. In 1976, the lens was moved to the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society. After restoration, the Fresnel lens was returned to the lighthouse in 2010.
Another major part of history and still an attraction are the several wharfs still in Avila Beach. These wharfs were used mostly for freight ships and for passengers coming to the area to work in the oil industry, which was a big part of the Avila industry during World War Two.
The first wharf was called “The Original Wharf” and was built in 1855 at Cave Landing, which is now called Pirates Cove, which later became known as Mallagh’s Wharf. From this wharf, steamers could unload cargo and passengers coming into Avila Beach. Prior to the piers people would arrive via stage coaches. The wharf, called “The Peoples Wharf”, was built closer to where downtown Avila Beach is today, extended out into San Luis Bay to allow most large steamers to tie up and handle cargo. These two wharfs were busy landing several times a week with as many as 90 passengers and 200 tons of freight.
Today, the “Original Wharf” no longer exists but Avila Beach still has the downtown Avila Wharf, built in the 1900’s, the Harford Wharf (called Harford Pier with cars allowed to drive onto), and a pier leased to Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo by Unocal for their marine studies program.