Neighboring Pismo and Avila are laid-back Central California beach towns where you can find oceanfront lodging for about $200 a night and meals under $10. These San Luis Obispo (SLO) coastal towns are less crowded than most sunny SoCal beaches and warmer than the scenic, but often chilly NorCal coastline, making them a relaxing and affordable weekend beach getaway for L.A. families.
Beach Play in Central California
Year-round, family-friendly activities include tide-pooling, kayaking, bicycling and hiking. In dog-friendly Pismo, visit the 1,200-foot pier for fishing, shopping at the weekly farmers market and catching a sunset. Dogs are welcome on the left side of the pier.
It’s not often you find dinosaur play structures at the beach. Discover them at the 11-acre bluff top (and dog-friendly) Dinosaur Caves Park overlooking the Pacific. While parents take in the views or prepare a picnic, kids can climb on or crawl into various play structures, such as two concrete dolphins, Oreo the Orca Whale, a boat, three large dinosaur eggs and three seals. There’s also a tire swing and tot swing. From the park, it’s a short jaunt to tide pools at Shell Beach.
The small, intimate setting of the Central Coast Aquarium in Avila Beach enables staff and volunteers to interact with children one-on-one to teach them about local marine life. The aquarium’s 14 tanks contain sea stars, urchins, sea slugs, abalone, jelly fish, rock fish and a kelp forest, plus more. Especially popular are the touch tanks, where kids can feel small and gentle leopard and swell sharks. Two red octopi are another main attraction. These smart creatures have the mental ability of a three-year-old child and can open a jar to reach their food, and play with small toys. Animal Talks take place at 1 p.m. on weekends. The aquarium is open weekends during the school year and daily in summer.
Outside the aquarium’s door is Avila Beach, a pirate-themed park and pristine boardwalk with shops and restaurants. It’s a relaxing spot for enjoying an ice cream cone and ocean breezes.
Family Dining in California
Splash Café Pismo Beach is popular for its award-winning clam chowder, but the diverse menu includes breakfast items, fish and chips, seafood tacos, burgers, chicken and deli sandwiches. No visit to Pismo Beach is complete without a stop at Old West Cinnamon Rolls. But get there early to beat the crowds lining up for freshly baked cinnamon rolls available with various toppings.
Family-Friendly Places to Stay
Kids rule at Pismo Lighthouse Suites perched on a bluff overlooking Pismo Beach (ocean access is via a scenic pathway). When not wading in the surf, digging for treasure and collecting seashells (you can still find them in Pismo), kids can enjoy the hotel’s heated swimming pool and outdoor play deck with giant checkers, ping pong tables and a mini golf course.
The hotel comfortably accommodates families in spacious two-bedroom, two-bath suites, with some dog-friendly units available on the first floor. The Steal-A-Robe special includes lodging, continental breakfast, a child’s robe, coloring book and vouchers for Klondike Pizza. Additional children’s robes, $25 each. Nightly rates from $229.
Those who prefer to stay in Avila will find similar amenities at Avila Lighthouse Suites.