Family Friendly Things to Do

Looking for fun, fresh adventures for kids and families? The towns along our unique stretch of Highway 1 have you covered. From wildlife viewing and outdoor activities to comedy, castles and white sand beaches, coastal San Luis Obispo County knows how to play. Every activity showcased here is especially suited for kids and their grownups, touching on a wide range of ages and stages. While younger kids might enjoy playgrounds and petting zoos, older kids and teens can kayak, go horseback riding, and careen down waterslides. There really is something for every kind of kid — and even kids at heart. And four-legged companions count as family! For activities that cater especially to Fido, visit our Pet-Friendly Things to Do page. There, you’ll find plenty to keep pups and their families busy. Ready to make lifelong memories and bond with the family? Check out these ideas for sharing quality time.

Table of Contents

Discover Family-Friendly Activities

Ragged Point & San Simeon are Family Friendly

Tour Hearst Castle

In 1919, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst spent much of his fortune to build a home unlike any other. The sprawling hilltop estate covered over 68,000 square feet and included 100+ bedrooms, a movie theater, and two incredible swimming pools. Populated with art and antiquities from Hearst’s world travels, Hearst Castle was as much a museum as it was a home. Celebrities like Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin frolicked here, as did Winston Churchill and Calvin Coolidge. After Hearst’s death in 1951, the estate became a California State Park, open to the public for a wide range of tours. (Seriously: book a different tour every time you vacation here to see more of Hearst Castle with the family. There are enough to keep you coming back over and over again.) As you travel Highway 1 near Hearst Ranch, and up the hill to the estate, keep an eye out for stripes: Kids love seeing zebras on the ranch. And don’t miss the famously opulent Neptune Pool, site of Hearst’s epic parties (and a Lady Gaga video!). Bonus: children under the age of 5 get in free, and children ages 5 to 12 get in at half the price of an adult ticket.

Hearst Castle Interior
Take a tour inside this historic estate

Visit the Elephant Seal Rookery

Get up close and personal with wildlife like you’ve never seen it before. The majestic Great Northern Elephant Seal migrates to a rookery just north of San Simeon each year, transforming quiet beaches into live theater. Males brawl, females give birth, and pups squeal — and visitors can watch them from a safe distance on the elevated boardwalk viewing area. Depending on the season, the elephant seals might be mating, molting, birthing or nursing their pups, all visible from the nearby viewing area. Want more? The Friends Of The Elephant Seal Visitor Center and Gift Shop lies just 8 miles south of the viewing area in San Simeon. There, you’ll find exhibits, information, merchandise, and knowledgeable docents to answer questions. Fun facts: Did you know a group of elephant seals is called a colony? Great Northern Elephant Seals can weigh as much as 8,800 pounds and extend to a length of 20 feet. At the height of the elephant season (winter and early spring), these massive creatures cover the beaches in San Simeon, mating and pupping.

Viewing Elephant Seals
See the Elephant Seals at the rookery

Whale Watch from San Simeon Bay Pier

The San Simeon Bay boasts a lot for families to do, from fishing and kayaking to visiting the Coastal Discovery Center museum and visitor center. But if you’re pressed for time, whale watching from San Simeon Bay Pier is an excellent family-friendly activity. Reaching 800 feet out across the water, the pier offers a good view of the ocean and the bay. Interpretive signs share the bay’s history and detail the wildlife that make their home here. Want to go deeper? Check out binoculars and a “Wildlife of San Simeon Bay” guide at the Coastal Discovery Center and try to see whale spouts in the distance. The pier is one of ten whale watching stations in the area, rewarding whale-seekers with views of spouts, fins, tails, and even breaching. You might see Gray whales, Minke Whales, and even the occasional Orca or Humpback Whale. It’s also a common hot spot for Harbor Seals, California Sea Lions, and adorable Southern Sea Otters. Extra fun: Walk the San Simeon Cove to San Simeon Point for a family-friendly hike. The trailhead is located just north of the pier.

Whale Photo by Danna Dykstra-Coy
View whales right from the pier

Cambria is Family Friendly

Playground at Shamel Park

Young kids (and their parents) will delight in the rambling playground at Shamel Park in Cambria. This large play structure includes twisty tunnel slides, swings, bridges, monkey bars, and places for the imagination to run free. The park also provides a huge lawn area and tables for comfortable picnicking options, as well as accessible restroom facilities. But the best feature at Shamel Park is its proximity to Moonstone Beach: the shoreline is mere steps away. This ethereal beach is named after its smooth, wave-worn “moonstones” and seaglass. Specific varieties include chalcedony, jasper and jade, all of which wash up on the beach here and are especially prevalent after storms. Search for shells, driftwood and other treasures as a family, listening to the call of seabirds and the pounding waves.

Moonstone Beach Boardwalk Family
Family fun along Moonstone Beach

Clydesdale Rides at Covell Ranch

The Covell family has bred Clydesdale horses for many years in the pine forests just outside Cambria. In 2015, they opened the ranch to the public, offering trail rides of the ranch on their 60 Clydesdale horses, or in a wagon. Sitting atop a majestic Clydesdale, with its feathered white hooves and proud posture, you can’t help but feel a little majestic yourself. Add to that the rippling views of the Pacific Ocean beyond the forests and you have a recipe for a wonderful, awe-filled day with the family. Rides can include up to eight people, and do not require any experience. Participants ages 7 and up are allowed to ride; depending on interest, riders can walk, trot or canter. All trail rides keep safety a priority, with gear like helmets on hand. For those who would rather see the 1,500-acre ranch on wheels — or who have kids younger than seven — a vehicle or wagon tour can be arranged.

Clydesdale's Cambria
Out for a ride at Covell Ranch

Cayucos is Family Friendly

Playground at the Pier

With its towering slide, bongo drums, swings and sea creature spring riders, this playground would be a fun spot in any setting. But the fact that it’s located literally on the beach — in the sand — makes it a destination all its own. Parents of little kids will understand right away what a bonus this is: every landing here is a soft one! Kids enjoy a wide assortment of activities on this beach-top playground, and grownups appreciate that it has an outdoor shower and accessible restrooms. And while Cayucos lies just steps from the safe shoreline, it also lies at Cayucos’s historic and cultural center. Stroll down the pier and watch surfers tackle picture-perfect waves below. Better yet: stop watching and get in on the action! Older kids and grownups can rent gear like wetsuits and surfboards, and even arrange for surf lessons. Afterward, walk downtown along Ocean Avenue to peruse antique stores, surf shops, cafes, and boutiques.

Cayucos State Beach on Summer Day
A day of play in Cayucos

Visit the Shipwreck at Estero Bluffs

You read that right: the beautiful Estero Bluffs State Park offers trails, coastal plans, bluff views…and a shipwreck reachable at low tide. The ship’s name is the Point Estero, a commercial fishing boat out of Morro Bay Harbor. In 2017, the ship ran aground offshore of Estero Bluffs State Park. Because the owner abandoned the vessel in a state park, neither the U.S. Coast Guard nor the State Lands Commission has authority to remove it. And because of that, visitors have a fascinating sight to see, and an unusual experience to enjoy. Find the Point Estero shipwreck, enter the rustic parking lot located at the corner of North Ocean Avenue and Highway 1. From the parking lot, take a short tree-lined path to where you can see the beached boat. Want to come aboard? Do a little research on the tides, and arrive at low tide to be able to walk to the boat. Keep in mind that because it is a grounded vessel in seawater, it bears spots of rusted metal — so take care when climbing.

Shipwreck at Estero Bluffs
Explore a shipwreck at the Estero Bluffs

Brown Butter Cookie Factory Downtown

Nobody can resist the aroma of cookies baking at the Brown Butter Cookie Factory in downtown Cayucos. The cookie bakery is the home of the brown butter sea salt cookie, a sweet-and-salty treat that’s a little like shortbread. Located in the “Big Red” building on North Ocean Avenue, the Brown Butter Cookie Factory’s flagship location bakes cookies right there, on site. Visitors can watch the process and even taste samples of Brown Butter’s famous cookies in several flavors. Expect almond, cocoa, cinnamon, pecan, and espresso varieties, plus cocoa mint gluten-free cookies. Buy them by the cookie or by the dozen for gifts or tasty treats for later. You can also pick up traditional cookies like oatmeal raisin, chocolate chunk, and snickerdoodles at the shop, plus coffee and tea. The Brown Butter Cookie Factory also sells gifts and merchandise for the sweet tooth in your life.

Brown Butter Cookie Company Cayucos
Grab a bite at Brown Butter Cookie Company

Los Osos Baywood is Family Friendly

Kayak the Estuary

With ideal waters for first-time kayakers and experienced paddlers alike, the Morro Bay National Estuary offers a special protected cove that hosts as many as 20,000 migrating sea birds annually. Some species include birds like the Marbled Godwit and Long-billed Curlew, and animals like the Western Pond Turtle, Swell Sharks and sea lions. As the meeting point of saltwater and freshwater, the estuary supports a vast population of wildlife, from sea birds and mud crabs to seals and sea otters. Rent gear from a local outfitter, or reserve your spot for a tour with an experienced guide like Central Coast Outdoors. They give tours of the Morro Bay National Estuary and even offer special morning and sunset tours. If you book a private sunset tour, they’ll even throw in a grilled dinner cooked on the dunes. Turn a simple kayak tour into a night your family will never forget.

Los Osos Kayak
On the open water in Los Osos

Explore the Elfin Forest

What is an “elfin forest”? In the case of El Moro Elfin Forest in Los Osos-Baywood Park, it is a forest of naturally small oak trees. Across the Elfin Forest’s 90 acres, these pygmy oaks reach only four to 20 feet in height, owing to their foundation in soft sand that stunts their growth. These trees have stood here at least since the age of the Chumash people, as far back as 11,000 years ago. Discover these, as well as other native plants and shrubs, along the mile-long wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that loops the preserve. Interpretive signs offer insight into the area’s indigenous people, plants and animals, including birds, mammals, reptiles and more. Visitors often find excellent birding opportunities at the platforms at Bush Lupine Point and Sienna’s View, both of which offer ideal viewing spots. Beyond them, find views of the estuary, the Morro Bay Harbor, the sandspit, and even Morro Rock.

Elfin Forest
Hiking through the Elfin Forest

Tide Pools of Montaña de Oro

In Montaña de Oro State Park, family-friendly Spooner’s Cove attracts kids of all ages with its protected beach, wade-able pretty freshwater stream, and vast tidepools. Parents appreciate that Spooner’s Cove offers a really convenient opportunity to park nearly on the beach and instantly start exploring tide pools. Find limpets, snails, barnacles, anemones, crabs and sea stars in the rocks along the shore. Visit at low tide to see even more sea life along the rocky channels. Spooner’s Cove also offers picnic tables and restroom facilities, so you really can spend the whole day exploring here. Extra fun: Just across Pecho Valley Road from Spooner’s Cove, the Spooner Ranch House acts as headquarters for Montaña de Oro State Park. Take a tour of the house, built in 1892, and visit the gift shop for old fashioned candies and souvenirs to support state parks.

Tidepool Family Exploring
A day of discovery at the tide pools

Arroyo Grande is Family Friendly

Mustang Waterslides

A family favorite for decades, the Mustang Waterpark lies 11 miles east of the Arroyo Grande Village, just beside Lopez Lake State Recreation Area. The waterpark features two 600-foot-long waterslides, complete with all the thrills, chills, spills and splashed a kid could hope for. For older kids, the half-pipe-shaped “Stampede” is an adrenaline-fueled innertube ride that drops 38 feet on each side. Take it forward, take it backward, take it as a pair, or take it alone — the choice is yours! Need to keep the littles happy? Try the two wading kiddie pools, set up specially for kids under 48” in height. The kiddie pools offer three mini-slides and two mushroom waterfalls to keep young ones cool. Parents can hang with their babes in the water, or sit on the sun deck and keep an eye on them as they play. Sit on chaise lounges around the pool, or spring for a poolside cabana for a private space for the family.

Lopez Lake Recreational Area
The Lopez Lake Recreation Area offers family fun activities

Vista Lago Adventure Park

Ready to fly? The Vista Lago Adventure Park gives visitors the chance to ride high with 50+ elements including ropes courses, zip lines and more. Adults and older kids can test their strength on one of four ropes courses: The Squirrel Zone, the Quail Trail, The Deer Run and The Black Bear. Each offers a different difficulty level and different challenges to keep participants on their toes. For younger kids, the Cub Course is a ropes course designed for ages 5 to 8 with a belay roller, swinging bridge, and rocking planks. Three ziplines total over 1800 feet long, two of which jet visitors out over the lake at high speed. True adrenaline junkies will want to take on The Ledge, a free-fall quick jump that drops 45 feet. Once you’ve given your all on the attractions, have a bite to eat and a drink at The Sipline, Vista Lago’s casual lakeside bar and grill.

Water Toys at Lopez Lake

If you don’t have your own watercraft for playing on Lopez Lake, never fear: the Lopez Lake Marina rents out all kinds of toys. For boats, choose from a number of vessels like aluminum fishing boats, pontoons, house boats, tiki boats and patio boats. (For those who didn’t get enough of waterslides at the Mustang Waterpark, there are even pontoon “funships” with water slides for rent.) The marina also rents out jet skis, wave runners, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and hydrobikes, plus all the safety gear like life vests. The marina boat ramp makes hauling in and out of the lake with your rental a cinch. Stock up on snacks and drinks at the adjacent convenience store — as well as bait and tackle, if you’re planning on fishing — and make a day of it. Your family will never forget the fun of cruising on the water together at Lopez Lake.

Fishing on Lopez Lake
Fishing along Lopez Lake

Avila Beach is Family Friendly

Pies and Petting Zoo at Avila Barn

Picture an old-timey farm stand with fruits, veggies, pies, fudge, farm animals and hayrides, and you’re definitely picturing the Avila Valley Barn. This beloved spot keeps kids of all ages and their grownups well-fed and entertained. Pick up a bag of lettuce to feed to the goats, alpacas, ponies, pigs and cows — all of which can be petted and loved on. (Don’t miss Rooftop Ralph, a Highway 1 celebrity.) Hang out in the walk-through chicken coop and marvel at the exotic chickens’ funny hairstyles and feathery feet. Inside the stand, buy berries, apples, carrots, tomatoes, grapes and more, plus irresistible pies and baked goods. During the summer, you might even be able to pick your own peaches in the orchard, or your own pumpkin in the fall. The candy shop carries old fashioned candies, ice cream and treats, while the gift shop has one of the best-stocked children’s areas around. The on-site smokehouse also serves sandwiches and BBQ plates to feed hungry bellies.

Petting Zoo Avila Valley Barn
Feeding the animals at the Avila Valley Barn

Bike the Bob Jones Trail

One of the most popular Avila Beach attractions, the Bob Jones Trail offers a two-lane flat, paved path that travels through a sycamore forest. The 3-mile roundtrip trail starts at Ontario Road and ends in downtown Avila Beach, or vice-versa. It’s perfect for walking, running, cycling or scootering, and skirts a peaceful creek that flows into an estuary near downtown Avila Beach. Don’t have your own wheels? Rent conventional and electric bikes and scooters at shops like Avila Beach Bike Rentals and BoltAbout. They have all the gear you’ll need to make a trip along the Bob Jones Trail a success. Along the path, you’ll find a park, basketball courts, horseshoe pits, and Woodstone Market, a deli and cafe with a leafy patio. You can also stop at The Secret Garden, a tucked-away spot that offers comfortable outdoor seating, a food and beer/wine truck, and peaceful surroundings.

A family bike ride along the Bob Jones Trail

Pirate Park & Aquarium

Ahoy, matey! The area at the north end of Avila Beach is a kid’s paradise, with plenty to see and do. Park downtown and head toward the Pirate Park, a fun spot where swashbuckling young ones can run, jump, and climb to their hearts’ content. The pirate-themed park and play structure are situated in a generous sand pit, making it an extra-safe place for little ones. Try to climb the crow’s nest, duck beneath the bridge, and sit atop the concrete harbor seal statues. Parents can expect restrooms, water fountains, picnic facilities and barbecues right by the park. For budding marine biologists, the Central Coast Aquarium lies just across the grass. Here, kids can touch sharks, marvel at jellyfish, and learn all about the ecology of the Avila Bay. Best of all, families can head to the beach, just a few feet away, where the sea, sun, and sand keep the fun going.

Pirates Park Avila Beach
Playing at Pirate Park by the beach

Nipomo & Oceano are Family Friendly

Butterfly Groves of Oceano

Every winter, tens of thousands of Western Monarch butterflies descend on a grove of eucalyptus trees just off Highway 1 in Oceano. It is one of California’s most populous butterfly molting areas, and it hums with energy throughout January and February. In 2022, the grove’s Western Monarch butterfly count totaled 24,000 — a phenomenal number of black and orange wings that flutter in the sunlight each morning during high season. Docents are available for questions and to help with telescopes provided for close-up butterfly viewing. They also give twice-daily talks and operate a mobile gift shop. Fun fact: did you know that a group of Monarch butterflies is called a “kaleidoscope”? And that the height of Monarch mating is usually on or around Valentine’s Day?

Monarch Butterfly Viewing
View the Monarchs at the butterfly grove

Cross the Lake into the Dunes

If you want to see the dunes of Highway 1 at their most authentic and untouched, a hike through the Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area is a must. This picturesque state park includes a 2-mile out-and-back trail that travels multiple kinds of terrain. Walk the creekside dirt path, a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that’s elevated above the lake, over soft sand dunes and onto the beach. This is an excellent spot for birding, with 200 species including peregrine falcons, Western Snowy Plovers and pelicans. Other wildlife like lizards, frogs, deer, fish, butterflies and coast garter snakes can also be seen here. Kids love tumbling down the towering sand dunes and exploring on the beach, which offers views of the entire Pismo Bay to Avila Beach. This is a terrific walk for the whole family, with plenty to keep everyone engaged from start to finish. Fun fact: In Spanish, oso flaco means “skinny bear.” It’s a name given to the area by the 1769 Gaspar de Portola expedition, whose sailors saw a skinny bear here.

Oso Flaco Boardwalk
Take a stroll on the Oso Flaco Lake boardwalk

Jeer Villains at the Melodrama

The Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville has produced professional theater in Oceano since 1975, and has developed a massive following worldwide. Plays performed at the Melodrama are unlike any other: here, vintage storylines include heroes to cheer and villains to boo. Belly laughs and grand musical numbers are inevitable — and audience participation is expected, encouraged, and irresistible! Performances are family-friendly so everyone from little ones to grandparents can get in on the action. Shows run year-round, with the Halloween show and Holiday Extravaganza being the most popular and well-known. But every show at the Melodrama offers a good time to be had by all ages and stages. Arrive early to grab dinner and drinks at the snack bar, which is staffed by the actors themselves, in full costume and makeup. And don’t forget the dates of your anniversary or family members’ birthdays: the Melodrama has a tradition of celebrating its audience’s milestones.

Oceano Melodrama Stage
Enjoy the show at the Great American Melodrama

Travel for Good

Sometimes, a place just begs to be explored further. That’s what Travel for Good is all about: connecting travelers to the heart of Highway 1. If you’re looking for ways to care for this place, its wildlife, its history, and its people, check out Travel for Good. There, you’ll discover a wide variety of activities that do good, from supporting heritage sites and cleaning beaches to conserving natural spaces and sipping wines made by local families. Every activity has a give-back component that bonds travelers to our stretch of Highway 1 for life. For more information, see the Travel for Good page.

Bob Jones Avila Beach
Set out and explore along Highway 1