The Pacific ls a Picture-Perfect Hotel in the Best Little Beach Town on the Central Coast
The former Dolphin Inn is now a chic, California-modern destination
When most people head up and down the central coast of California, they’re looking for something that might not exist: the perfect beach town. Living in a major hub like Los Angeles or San Francisco is great, but for most Californians, the chance to get outside the city and reconnect with nature is always just a few hours away. The problem is that while there are secluded beach towns aplenty, few of them have the right mix of small-town feel, great dining options and an actually affordable — but still cute — boutique hotel.
Up until recently, Cayucos had the first two, but not the third. That’s changed with the opening of the Pacific Motel. The motel’s owner, Ryan Fortini, was born and raised in Cayucos, and his father grew up there too — so even after moving on to begin a successful career as a contractor elsewhere in California, this secluded seaside village stayed top of mind. Eventually, Fortini and his wife Marisa, an interior designer by trade, made their way back to the tiny beach community, purchased an old, rundown property called the Dolphin Inn, and began to painstakingly restore it to fit their own definition of “classic, California-modern beach hotel.”
The result is an idyllic beachside inn that’s a boon for Cayucos, which is about 20 minutes north of San Luis Obispo, and might be the “it” factor that puts this town on the map for good. The entire 20-room compound has been redesigned and re-thought from the ground up, with a high-end, retro aesthetic of dark blue and white. With a spacious, central lobby on the front end of the motel, there are boutique goods for sale, complimentary local coffee on brew in the mornings (Spearhead, natch), an ice machine, extra beach towels and other, more essential amenities, like electric vehicle chargers and complimentary beach cruisers for guests.
All that, and we haven’t even gotten to the rooms yet. Down to meticulous details like the paver stones in the parking lot, or the fire pits and blankets on offer for those who want to brave the rather cold Central Coast nights, Ryan and Marisa have designed their hotel to meet the needs of discerning visitors. This is a case of owners creating a property that they would like to stay in themselves, where every detail is finished with care, not a quick flip and a slap of paint that looks good on Instagram but doesn’t deliver on a quality level. And nothing illustrates that better than the bungalows themselves, which range from private, standalone cottages to the bulk of connected rooms, each with special features like vaulted ceilings, bath tubs and even a room with a private front porch.
Design-wise, the rooms are fairly similar, with white shiplap on the walls, sleek black fixtures and king or queen beds decked out in Parachute linen. The robes are also Parachute, and you just might need one during the cold mornings here, but definitely get into the locally made toiletries from Fablerune, a woman-owned clean skincare company. Most of the queen rooms come with a soaking tub, and the king option has a walk-in shower, so select your preferred amenity accordingly. With mini-fridges ready to be stocked to the brim with the local drink options on offer in the lobby and a similarly local-focused snack basket available, the community-focused efforts the Fortinis have made when stocking their own larder is clear — it’s also part of what adds to the motel’s inherent charm. (Do note: Although it’s mostly temperate — bordering on cold — here, there’s currently no AC in the rooms.)
And aside from the many delights to be found on this intimate motel campus, the surrounding neighborhood constitutes the rest of the draw. On the couple blocks of shops that make up the main street, there’s the Brown Butter Cookie Company, another thriving woman-owned business that serves up unbelievably great salty-sweet confections. A local leather maker, Emma Thieme, uses rescued hides from free-roaming American bison (and some cowhide) and turns them into leather goods at Maven. With capsule collections, bags, coin pouches, belts, journals, keychains and wallets, there’s a handmade tchotchke for any and everyone in this local shop.
Then there’s Hidden Kitchen, a daytime cafe so popular for their savory waffle concoctions that the line out the door is already in place promptly at 9 a.m. when they open. If you come during the week, note that they’re only open Thursday to Monday, but these waffles are so good they’re worth sticking around an extra day. Schooners is a reliable hang for a piece of fresh fish and a beer, all while sitting close enough to the beach to hear the waves crash and watch the sun go down. This is the kind of town where parking is free and there are countless trails to get down to the sand, so choose your own adventure or wander out onto the historic pier for an even better water view.
As the Central Coast continues to emerge as a destination in its own right, Cayucos will definitely not be a hidden gem town much longer, and the precision and care that went into Pacific Motel’s pristine aesthetic will be part of what draws more and more visitors here. Once a Michelin chef gets a hold of some property and begins scheming about what to put on his tasting menu, then it will really be on. Until then, book a room at the Pacific and lose yourself in an as-yet unknown seaside village for a few nights — while you still can.
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