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"It might take years": Shell Beach staircase to be removed and replaced

pismo beach shell beach staircase
Amanda Wernik
The lower portion of the staircase leading to Shell Beach is now unsupported, as the bluffs underneath have eroded over time.

A few miles north of the popular tourist destination, Pismo Beach, lies a small cove hidden among towering bluffs.

It's called Shell Beach, and it's beloved by locals and visitors alike — but it’s been inaccessible for more than a year now. Its only staircase is actively crumbling, meaning it won’t be open to the public anytime soon.

The lower section of the half-a-century-year-old Pier Avenue staircase now hangs in the air unsupported, as rising sea levels continue to erode the bluffs it was built on.

Pismo Assistant City Manager Jorge Garcia said the city council has decided the staircase will be removed and replaced.

“We will be removing that staircase, then simultaneously will be looking at design options to provide additional bluff protection along Ocean Boulevard between Cliff and Leeward," Garcia said.

Effie McDermott
Amanda Wernik
Effie McDermott is the author of “Pismo Beach History, the Book.”

The removal of the Pier Avenue staircase is expected to begin early next year. Whether a staircase will be reconstructed in the same location, or a slightly different one, is still unclear.

Effie McDermott is the author of “Pismo Beach History, the Book.” She said nearby residents hope to regain access to Shell Beach as soon as possible, though the staircase replacement will likely prolong that process.

"It might take years, which is going to be hard to bear," she said.

McDermott has lived on Ocean Avenue, up the street from Shell Beach, since 1958. She said for residents, the spot is more than just a beautiful beach: it’s the community’s place of gathering and belonging.

"This is our beach. All the kids have named every rock here. Every rock has a name, every outcropping has a name," she said. "People come and they honor the dead here. All of our neighbors who have passed away have had a ceremony on the beach for them, so it's our spot."

Access to Shell Beach will be restored once a new staircase is constructed. The Pismo City Council has not yet decided on a concrete time frame for the staircase's removal and reconstruction.

Amanda Wernik is a reporter and substitute announcer at KCBX. She graduated from Cal Poly with a BS in Journalism. During her time at Cal Poly, she worked as a news anchor for KCPR Radio and as an intern for the CJ Silas Show on ESPN Radio. Amanda enjoys surfing, reading, playing with her dog, traveling, and fronting her own rock band, Kiwi Kannibal.
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