El Camino Real

Path of the Padres to Pismo

A portion of the old Path of the Padres exists nearby today
in near-natural condition.

When the missions were at their zenith, the path traveled from mission to mission was designated and protected by the King of Spain. It was known as El Camino Real, the royal road, though it was little more than an ox cart road. Inter-mission travelers stuck to the road for safety and to meet fellow travelers in this lonely country.

Anza and Serra once met on the trail between Pismo and Santa Barbara. Father Serra prevailed upon the busy Anza to please linger a while to talk. Anza delayed his expedition a day. And he and Father Serra caught up on all the news of the continuing settlement of Alta California.

El Camino Reals criss-crossed Mexico. The one from Baja California to the northernmost mission in Alta California joined the twenty-one missions like a string of pearls.

As early as 1769-1770, the mission path was trod through Pismo Beach.

With the advent of modern paved highways, the roads have taken new directions and the name "El Camino Real" has followed the blacktop ribbon the length of the state. However, in many cases, the old path is nearby and in near-natural condition.

In Pismo Beach, we proudly mark El Camino Real with replicas of old bells.

However, the real el camino real,
where the padres' sandals plodded the dirt,
is safely tucked away behind the hills.

We are fortunate to have a piece of the old path, in near-natural condition,
along Cuevitas Creek in the valley behind the Shell Beach hills.

The old road is shown on very old maps as coming from Mission San Luis Obispo by way of Edna Valley (South Broad Street) about to what is now the airport. It then entered the hills at what is now Davenport Creek Road and came through a pass in the hills to a valley behind Shell Beach. Following Cuevitas Creek along the back of the Shell Beach hills it turned southerly and joined Price Canyon in the area where today you find the distinctive big curve in the road. Following the north bank of Pismo Creek from there, it went to the beach.

On old maps, it is shown variously as "La Purisima Road," "Santa Barbara Beach Road," and Santa Barbara Road." The piece behind the hills was sometimes called "Cuevitas Road." In the late 1880's the Davenport Creek section was called Sand Hills Road.

Much of the path of the old road to San Luis Obispo from the beach at Pismo is shown on old county maps as "County Road No. 5."

This pristine piece of the Footpath of the Padres is currently an unabandoned county road, locked at Davenport Creek Road and Price Canyon Road by private gates.

The map of Pismo submitted in 1840 by Jose Ortega
with his application for the land grant
showed the San Luis to Nipomo road in the location
of the old County Road No. 5 behind Shell Beach.

Miguel Avila showed the road on his map also.
He referred to it as
"the road from San Luis Obispo to La Purisima."

These maps and other documents are available at the National Archives.
The originals are in Spanish.

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Last edited September 19, 1999.