Pismo Beach, Faux Clam Capital of California

This week's edition of the LA Times Magazine includes an article about various small towns in California that claim to be capitals for various types of food, such as Gilroy 'the garlic capital of the world', or Yuba City 'the prune capital of the U.S.' The article includes this description of Pismo Beach, which claims to be the clam capital of California:

Call it the ultimate bait and switch. The clams disappeared from this thriving seaside town, almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and L.A., about 30 years ago. Over-clamming tourists and gorging sea otters did the dirty deed. But did the city fathers of this middle-class destination resort promptly notify the governor, alert the media, then shift their promotional emphasis to, say, the annual profusion of monarch butterflies?
No way. They began importing clams from the East Coast and elsewhere, erected a few diversionary clam sculptures, kept their annual two-day Clam Festival on the fall calendar and certainly didn't discourage citizens from continuing with their clam-themed motels and seafood restaurants. You can either (1) protest this blatant hokum by patronizing nearby Avila Beach or San Luis Obispo, or (2) go along happily with the hoax by stopping at bistros such as Brad's, the Cracked Crab and Splash Cafe for some of the best clam chowder this side of--oh, never mind.

Food Places

Posted on Mon Aug 08, 2005


ha...born and raised in So. Cal and had no idea Pismo was "Clam Capitol of Cali"

I now reside in Rhode Island, home of the fictional city Quahog featured on the TV program "The Family Guy"

Quahog being an Indian word for a certain type of clam.

This bit of rambling brought to you by Pawtucket Patriot Beer 😊
Posted by Chuck  on  Tue Aug 09, 2005  at  11:48 AM
Well, they certainly DID have clams... when I was a kid my parents went to Pismo beach with some other relatives. So... the story went that my dad warned my mom not to pick clams on the beach because there are certain rules and restrictions or whatnot... anyway, mom's not one to pay attention to the rules or my dad (she's a stubborn Korean lady) and soon her and her non-English speaking Korean relatives were filling up buckets of clams...

and attracting the attention of park rangers, who wrote them a citation for a whopping $1,200! "I told you so." just didn't cut it. Anyway, the judge eventually lowered the fine to under $300. So they took claming seriously those days.
Posted by brian  on  Tue Aug 09, 2005  at  12:56 PM
Gilroy may soon join Pismo Beach on the list of towns celebrating things they don't produce anymore. I visited the Garlic capital last fall, had a great time, and came home with some Gilroy-grown garlic. But real Gilroy garlic may soon be a scarce item. I read a newspaper article last year that said that the garlic companies in Gilroy now import much more garlic from China than they grow locally. Even the horrifyingly low wages paid farmworkers in the U.S. can't compete with Chinese peasants making 50 cents a day or so.
Posted by Big Gary C in Dallas  on  Tue Aug 09, 2005  at  04:29 PM
Gilroy also now sells a lot of elephant garlic, which, technically speaking, is a leek, not garlic.
Posted by Big Gary C in Dallas  on  Tue Aug 09, 2005  at  04:30 PM
Didn't Bugs Bunny go to Pismo Beach for the clam festival?
Posted by Lizziebelle  on  Fri Aug 12, 2005  at  08:24 AM
Ahh...Potemkin clamming
Posted by kb  on  Fri Aug 12, 2005  at  10:47 PM
They have 5+ foot high statues of clams there -- or did a dozen years ago. Very peculiar.

Re: Brian's story: most places I know, you need a license to go clamming. That's probably the problem.
Posted by cvirtue  on  Sun Aug 14, 2005  at  09:31 AM
Those clam statues are still there. They are painted to reflect the holiday in each month, plus the Monarch butterfly celebration.
Posted by Will M.  on  Mon May 22, 2006  at  12:52 AM
Pismo Beach (Or the Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce, which is a private organization) *used to* claim this, but I'm pretty sure they dropped their claim. The Chamber of Commerce is now saying 'Pismo Beach, once called "The Clam Capital of the World"' at http://www.pismochamber.com/.

>>> The clams disappeared from this thriving seaside town... about 30 years ago. <<<

I lived near Pismo for most of my childhood (until 1991), and dug up my fair share of clams. I was in Pismo a year ago and saw clam shells, and saw people with baskets of clams. Were these part of the 'Hoax'?

The clams didn't disappear entirely.
Posted by Stefan Lasiewski  on  Wed Jan 02, 2008  at  06:50 PM
I too was cited by rangers for having undersized clams and had to go to small clams court.
Posted by jeff hansen  on  Thu Nov 06, 2008  at  06:59 PM
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.