5 California Ski Resorts for Beginning Skiers

As a beginner skier or someone looking for a family-friendly ski resort in California, it can be overwhelming to choose the right place to hit the slopes. But fear not, I’ve got you covered with a list of five ski resorts in California that are perfect for beginners and families.

1. Bear Mountain – San Bernardino Mountains

Bear Mountain is known for its wide, groomed runs that are perfect for beginners. The resort also offers lessons for all ages and has a dedicated family-friendly area.

The resort offers:

  • Dedicated Beginner Areas: Bear Mountain has a variety of gentle slopes specifically designed for beginners, ensuring a safe and enjoyable learning experience.
  • Family-Friendly Programs: Their ski and snowboard school offers excellent instruction for all ages, making it easy for everyone to get started.
  • Snow Play Areas: When the kids need a break from skiing, they can enjoy snow tubing and other family-friendly activities.

Why You’ll Love It: The relaxed atmosphere and friendly instructors make Bear Mountain an ideal spot for young families looking to start their skiing adventures.

2. Northstar California – Lake Tahoe

Located near Lake Tahoe, Northstar California is renowned for its family-friendly environment:

  • Gentle Runs: Northstar features numerous beginner trails that are wide and well-groomed, perfect for gaining confidence on the slopes.
  • Children’s Programs: Their award-winning children’s ski school offers top-notch instruction, ensuring your little ones are in good hands.
  • Village Activities: The vibrant village at the base of the slopes offers ice skating, dining, and shopping, providing entertainment for the whole family.

Why You’ll Love It: The combination of excellent beginner terrain and a lively village makes Northstar a great choice for families.

3. Sierra-at-Tahoe – Near South Lake Tahoe

Located in the Eldorado National Forest, Sierra-at-Tahoe is another top-notch option for beginners:

  • Beginner Terrain: Sierra-at-Tahoe offers dedicated learning areas and gentle slopes perfect for novice skiers. Their “Easy Street” area is designed specifically for beginners.
  • Ski and Snowboard School: With professional and friendly instructors, Sierra-at-Tahoe’s ski school provides excellent lessons for beginners of all ages.
  • Family-Friendly Vibe: The resort’s welcoming atmosphere and variety of activities, including tubing and snow play areas, make it a great spot for families.

Why You’ll Love It: The laid-back, friendly environment combined with top-tier beginner facilities makes Sierra-at-Tahoe an ideal destination for families new to skiing. Hands down, this is my favorite location for beginning skiers and families!

4. China Peak – Lakeshore

Situated in the Sierra National Forest, China Peak is a hidden gem for beginner skiers:

  • Beginner Terrain: China Peak features dedicated beginner areas and gentle slopes that are perfect for newcomers to the sport. Their main green (beginner run), is a little steeper than most greens, so you may need to hit the bunny hill a few more times to feel confident.
  • Ski School: The resort’s ski and snowboard school provides comprehensive lessons tailored to beginners of all ages, ensuring everyone feels comfortable on the slopes.
  • Family-Friendly Environment: With a laid-back atmosphere and a variety of activities, China Peak is an excellent choice for a relaxed family skiing experience.

Why You’ll Love It: The picturesque setting and welcoming vibe make China Peak a great destination for families seeking a serene skiing adventure. From the top of the mountain, you’ll be able to see Huntington Lake in the distance.


Many ski resorts offer discounts for groups. We were able to attend a field trip at China Peak with a group of students (ages 5-18). The students received a lesson, rentals, and a lift ticket at a fraction of the cost. We highly recommend grabbing your friends and planning a day at the slopes to save big!

5. Badger Pass – Yosemite National Park

As California’s original ski resort, Badger Pass offers a unique and charming experience for beginners:

  • Gentle Slopes: Badger Pass features a variety of easy runs that are perfect for learning and improving your skiing skills.
  • Ski and Snowboard School: The resort’s ski school is well-regarded for its friendly and patient instructors who excel at teaching young children and beginners.
  • Family-Friendly Activities: Beyond skiing, families can enjoy snowshoeing and tubing, or simply take in the breathtaking winter scenery of Yosemite.

Why You’ll Love It: The historic charm and stunning natural beauty of Yosemite make Badger Pass a memorable and enchanting destination for a family ski trip. Badger Pass is also known for their highly skilled ski instructors and affordable lesson packages, making it a great place to learn!

Final Tips for a Family Ski Trip

  1. Plan Ahead: Book your accommodations and ski lessons in advance to ensure availability.
  2. Dress Warmly: Layering is key to staying warm and comfortable on the slopes.
  3. Remember the Sunscreen: When it’s cold outside, it’s easy to forget that the sun is shining. The reflection of the snow makes it easy to burn. That’s why we always pack our sunscreen!

Whether you’re hitting the slopes for the first time or helping your little ones find their skiing legs, these California ski resorts offer the perfect blend of beginner-friendly terrain and family-oriented amenities. So pack your bags, bundle up, and get ready for an unforgettable winter adventure!

Happy skiing, and enjoy the snow!

Top Ten Things to Do With Kids in San Simeon

If you’re looking for things to do with kids in San Simeon, California, you’ve come to the right place!

Both Allan and I grew up on the Central Coast of California and consider San Simeon and the surrounding areas to be our big “backyard”!

San Simeon is a small coastal town located north of San Luis Obispo along scenic Highway 1. It’s the perfect place to visit if you love to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy outdoor adventures!

A weekend getaway to San Simeon is the perfect way to unwind and reset! We’ll help you make the most of your time by sharing with you the top ten things to do with kids in San Simeon.

mom and daughter standing under a tree tunnel on a hiking trail at san simeon bay
girl sitting in a large tree with sprawling branches

Chill at William Randolph Hearst State Beach

One of our all-time favorite beaches on the Central Coast is Hearst State Beach. You’ll quickly see why Hearst chose to build his castle overlooking the bay.

The beautiful turquoise water speaks to your soul. A long stretch of sandy beach provides plenty of room to run and play.  

The bay also has its own little micro-climate and is usually sunny, even when the surrounding areas are shrouded in fog.

Enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, boogie board, swimming, hunting for shells and sea glass, and–if the tide is low enough–exploring the small caves at the end of the cove along the bluff.

Bathrooms are available to visitors as well as an outdoor shower for rinsing off the sand at the end of the day. There is no entrance fee for parking.

Tour Hearst Castle

There’s just something about castles that brings out the kids in all of us! School-aged kids, in particular, will enjoy a tour of California’s well-known castle–Hearst Castle! Hearst Castle is the historic attraction that put San Simeon on the map!

The castle was built by William Randolph Hearst in the early 1900s with the help of architect Julia Morgan. This 165-room architectural wonder sits up on a hill on 123 acres of gardens, pools, terraces, and paths overlooking the beautiful San Simeon Bay.

In the 1950s Hearst donated the castle to the State of California, and the estate became a Historical State Park. Every year, more than 750,000 visitors come to explore the property and take in gorgeous views.

Schedule a Tour

Visit the park website to schedule a tour. If it’s your first visit, we recommend the Grand Rooms Tour. It gives a great overview of the castle and includes some of our favorite portions the kids will love—the swimming pools!

Watch a Movie on the IMAX Screen

Included in your ticket price is a view of Building the Dream. Shown on the Visitor’s Center IMAX screen, it’s a documentary that focuses on the construction of the castle.

Usually, during the slow season (January and February), the IMAX may play a National Geographic film that young viewers typically enjoy for a nominal fee!

girls smiling while sitting in the dark near a campfire

Camp at Hearst San Simeon State Park

Just south of Hearst State Castle is a state-run campground. If you love tent camping or have an RV, it’s a great little place to spend a few nights.  


The Hearst San Simeon State Park Campground is a developed campground with flushing toilets, showers, fire pits, picnic tables, and a dump station. There are hiking trails and easy access to the beach.

Remote Campground

If you’re looking for a quieter spot, we recommend reserving a space in the Washburn Campground. Amenities are more limited, but you’ll enjoy the solitude and the stargazing at night. If you need a shower, the main campground is a short walk, bike ride, or car ride away.

teen boy walking boardwalk on the bluff trail on the fiscalini ranch preserve in cambria in california with ocean in the distance

Take a Hike

One of our favorite things to do with kids in San Simeon is to go for a hike!

Not all kids love to hike, but we somehow ended up with three kiddos who do. Even if you have to bribe and convince your young explorers to go for a hike, we have three kid-friendly trail recommendations.

San Simeon Bay Trail at Williams Randolph Hearst State Beach

This trail is one of our favorites. It’s an out and back trail that All Trails rates as moderate, but I would say is easy. The only tricky part is a short walk through the sand and up a small hill. Once you’re at the top of the bluff, the trail is completely flat.

This trail has a beautiful, sprawling tree that every kid will want to climb. There are scenic overlooks of the bay and you’ll often see elephant seals in the water or laying on the beach. We’ve spotted several bald eagles while hiking this trail. There are also a couple of tree tunnels that speak to the kid in all of us. You can simply hike to the point and back, or you can walk a full four miles (out and back).

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Trail is located in Cambria, just a few miles south of San Simeon. The Preserve is located right along the bluffs and offers accessible trails. Kids will enjoy the boardwalks and fun benches made out of driftwood.

The Preserve offers 17 easy to moderate trails. We recommend the Bluff Trail which takes you right along the water’s edge on a well-maintained boardwalk. It’s a little less than a mile, but packs a lot of punch!

Harmony Headlands

The Harmony Headlands Trail is 20 minutes south of San Simeon. The trail is wide and flat, making it an easy hike for most young adventurers. Portable restrooms are located just west of the trailhead.

This trail winds through the hills where you’re bound to see some wildlife and ends with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. For added adventure, if the tide is low enough, hike down the bluffs to the water’s edge and explore.

If you’re willing to drive a little further, and want to hike more of the Central Coast, check out our list of family-friends hikes in our post titled 10 FREE things to do with kids near Paso Robles.

young blonde girl in a pink swearshirt looking at sea life in the tide pools top 10 things to do with kids near san simeon

Go Tidepooling

Tidepooling is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. If you’re not familiar with the term tide-pooling, I’ll explain. When the ocean tide recedes twice per day, water is left in rocky crags and “pools” along the beach.

These pools are teeming with sea life. Muscles, clams, hermit crabs, sea anemones, starfish, crabs, eels, and octopuses all make their home in the protected rocks.

When the water is low, it’s a great time to explore the tidepools. Check the tides before your trip and go during low tide. And remember, always face the waves–sometimes they sneak up on you!

Best Tidepooling Places Near San Simeon

  • Cayucos, north of the pier
  • Cambria, Moonstone Beach
  • Harmony Headlands, along the bluff

Bike Ride in Cambria

Paths and boardwalks wind through Cambria and riding these paths can be a fun way to experience this quaint town. While you’re in Cambria, we highly recommend grabbing a bite to eat at Main Street Grill. We especially love their salads (add tri-tip), tri-tip sandwiches, grilled chicken sandwiches, and ABC burgers. Biggest tip: Main Street Grill french fries are TASTY. Ask for ranch dressing and bbq sauce for dipping…but they don’t even need it. 

northern elephant seals on the beach near san simeon with yellow flowers blooming

Visit the Elephant Seals

No trip to San Simeon is complete without a stop by the Elephant Seal Viewing Area just a few miles north of Hearst Castle.

If you’ve never seen an elephant seal, you’re in for a treat. Northern Elephant Seals are large and loud (and occasionally smelly–especially when they’re molting).  

The seals congregate in large numbers on the beach at a location known as the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. These creatures are entertaining to watch from the viewing area, but keep your distance! Although they look deceptively slow, they can move as fast as most people can run, weigh thousands of pounds, and have sharp teeth that can snap bones in half. In other words, they can ruin your vacation. Don’t be that person.

Watch them from a distance and chuckle at their antics. And smile, because the experience is completely free!

Drive up to Salmon Creek Falls

If you’re up for a short hike and would like to splash in a freshwater stream, then a drive up to Salmon Creek Falls is in order. The trail is all of 0.3 miles and easy. There is poison oak, so keep that in mind and bring along some Fels-Naptha soap if you have sensitive skin.

You can fish in the stream, swim, or–if the water is low enough–hike above the waterfall and climb inside!

zebra grazing

Look for Zebras

Yes, there are zebras in San Siemon.  

Williams Randolph Hearst created a zoo on the property, shipping in animals from all over the world, including African zebras. To this day, the zebras graze the grassy hillsides surrounding the castle with cattle.

We typically spot them out in the field just south of the entrance to Hearst State Castle.

Get Ice Cream in One of the World’s Smallest Towns

If you hike Harmony Headlands, it only makes sense that you stop for ice cream in the small town of Harmony.

And when we say small, we mean SMALL. The population of Harmony is 18, and there are rumors that the number includes a few cows.

Harmony Valley Creamery is located on the main drag, and you really can’t miss it. Grab a cone and walk one block to explore the remainder of the town. Don’t forget to take a picture in front of their city sign!

Enjoy your family getaway to San Simeon

We know you’ll have a wonderful time exploring this little piece of paradise on the Central Coast!

If you have any questions about an upcoming trip, drop us a line below–we’d love to help!

The Cheapest Way to Get Disney Tickets {7 Tips for Buying Dirt Cheap Disney Tickets}

One of the most asked questions Disney-loving families ask is, What is the cheapest way to get Disney Tickets?

Disneyland and Walt Disney World can add up in a hurry when you start looking at ticket prices for an entire family.  I frequently see posts and comments on social media of people saying that their family could never afford a trip to Disney.

I disagree.

A Disney vacation IS within reach for your family.  

Using my hacks and tips, most families CAN afford a trip to Disney.  Our family of five can get tickets to Disneyland for three days for $393.  That’s only $26 per person, per day! Yes, that’s dirt cheap!

family talking to buzz lightyear in toy story land at hollywood studios at walt disney world


The most bang for your buck involves a Disney credit card or two… that you pay off IMMEDIATELY and cancel as soon as you get your rewards.

Chase offers a Disney Premier credit card that gives you a $300 discount when you spend $1,000. It also charges you $49 for the annual fee.  This equates to a $251 discount, which is pretty amazing.

I got a credit card for myself and one for my husband, Allan, saving our family $502!

You can reapply for the card every two years and get this reward each time.

If you struggle with managing your impulses when it comes to credit card expenditures, however, I would recommend avoiding this method.


At certain times of the year, Disney offers discounted tickets to residents.  Purchasing a discounted resident pass is one of the cheapest ways to get Disney tickets.

Usually, from January through May, Disneyland offers a discounted 3-day ticket for Southern California residents (the entire bottom half of the state). Any California resident that lives in zip code ZIP codes 90000-93599 qualifies. If you’re willing to visit on a weekday during the first half of the year, you can score the 3-day pass for only $199 this year. 

This discounted pass is a one-park-per-day pass which means that you can only visit one park each day–no park hopping.  We aren’t big fans of park hopping.  It takes up more time, and we don’t feel it’s worth the additional cost.  This is especially true if you have young kids.

From the time you use the first day of your pass, you have 14 days to use your other two visits.

Florida residents can get similar discounts at Walt Disney World, but it applies to all residents of the entire state.

TIP: If you purchase a resident pass, be prepared to show proof of residency at the gate.  Typically, they will check your tickets against your state-issued ID.  So, you cannot purchase tickets for friends or family who are non-residents.

cinderella and prince charming on parade float at magic kingdom at walt disney world


Alternatively, you can get tickets from a reputable source like Get Away Today or Undercover Tourist for a smaller discount. 

These discounts aren’t as good as a resident discount, but if you don’t qualify for a resident discount, this is a good alternative.

Note: Ticket fraud is an unfortunate reality. Do not buy your tickets from unauthorized websites or third parties like FB Marketplace or other sites.


Purchase Disney gift cards using your Target Red Card and save 5%. You can use the gift cards to purchase your tickets on Disney’s website or in the app.

Prior to purchasing your tickets, use the Disney gift card website to combine balances on cards.  Just keep in mind that the balance of each card can’t exceed $1,000.  Also, the ticket website only allows you to use one gift card per purchase.  So, if your total ticket price is more than $1,000 you’ll need to split up your ticket purchase into multiple orders.

girl hugging bb8 star wars droid at character meet and greet in hollywood studios at walt disney world


The Rakuten app is one of my favorite money-saving tips.  It’s so easy to use!

Rakuten partners with popular businesses to provide cashback to its users.

Recently, Rakuten was offering 10% back on the Disney store. The fine print said cashback didn’t apply to gift cards (you can use the gift cards to purchase your tickets) but it worked for me. No guarantees on this tip—but you might get lucky, too.

Additionally, if you use this referral link to sign up for Rakuten, you’ll get $30 when you spend $30.  Then, if you refer someone (like your spouse), they also get $30 when they spend $30 AND you get $30.  Sounds too good to be true?  It’s not!  It’s good–and it’s true!

By taking advantage of their referral program, we were able to get Disney gift cards FOR FREE.

Here’s how it worked.  I referred my husband who bought a $50 Disney gift card.  Since it was Cyber Monday, they were giving an even better referral credit, so I got $40 and my husband got $40.  That’s a total of $80 cashback.  If you subtract the $50 I spent on the gift card, we still walked away with an extra $30.

When you’re on the hunt for the cheapest way to get Disney tickets, the Rakuten app is the way to go!

Sign up for Rakuten and get busy saving! It’s easy!


The best (cheapest) time to visit Disney is during the offseason. Any day that kids are in school there will be lower crowds and cheaper tickets.

To score the lowest cost on tickets, check the ticket calendar on Disney’s website.  Avoid weekends, holidays, and school breaks and your pocketbook will thank you.


Instead of paying extra for hopper tickets, go with the 1-park-per-day pass. 

If you only have one day at Disney and have teens, a hopper may be a good choice.  But for most families, park-hopping equals lots of walking.  And more walking means you’re spending less time enjoying the attractions and the magic of Disney!

We have always found plenty to do and have never had trouble filling up our day by staying in one park all day long.

Typically, at Disneyland, we spend two full days at Disneyland Resort and one full day at California Adventure Park.  For Disney World, it’s easy to spend a full day in each of the four parks.

The Cheapest Way to Get Disney Tickets

Using these tips and tricks will make a visit to Disney World or Disneyland within reach!  Here’s a breakdown of how our family of five can score 3-days worth of tickets to Disneyland for only $393.

1. Purchased $1,000 in gift cards from Shop Disney via the Rakuten App with a 10% cashback offer.


2. Used the gift card money to purchase 5, 3-day, 1 park per day Disneyland tickets for Southern California Residents at $995.

SAVINGS: $655+

3. Applied for the Chase Disney Premier Visa Card for both my husband and myself. Obtained a $300 credit – the $49 annual fee.

SAVINGS: $251(x2)=$502


$995 (Tickets)

-$100 (Rakuten cashback)

-$502 (Chase credit card credit)


If you have any questions about any of these tips, I’d love to help answer them.  Drop them in the comments below.

For more ways to save money at Disney, check out our post 11 Hacks to Help You Save Money on Food at Disney.

Top 10 Things to Do in Avila Beach with Kids

Looking for things to do in Avila Beach with kids? We’ve got you covered!

We’ve lived on the Central Coast for over 30 years and Avila Beach is one of our favorite places to take the kids.

Avila Beach is a quaint little beach town located halfway between Los Angles and San Francisco. While it may be small, there are plenty of family-friendly activities to enjoy in this beautiful place.

When to Visit Avila Beach

In recent years, this oceanside village has gotten increasingly popular. Especially during the COVID shutdown, visitors swarmed to check out the magic of Avila Beach.

If you want to avoid crowds, the best time to visit Avila Beach is during the off-season. When is the off-season? Whenever kids are in school.  

We like visiting on weekdays, especially in the spring and fall. However, if we do decide to visit Avila on a weekend, we typically arrive on a Sunday afternoon when the weekend crowds are starting to thin out.

Why We Love Visiting Avila Beach with Kids

If you give our kids sand and water, they play happily for hours. Kids love playing at the beach; that’s a given!

What makes Avila Beach so special is that it’s more than just a beach. There are so many things to do in Avila Beach with kids that don’t involve playing in the sand. Hiking trails, biking trails, hot springs, playgrounds, wildlife, farm animals, fishing…Avila has it all!

overlook of shell beach bluff trail hike--things to do in avila beach with kids

Go for a Hike in Avila Beach

Hiking is a great family activity to enjoy in Avila Beach. It’s free, is doable for all levels of hikers, and allows you to see the ocean from a different perspective.

Shell Beach Bluff Trail

Perfect for young legs, this easy, .9 mile, out and back trail winds along the bluffs between Avila Beach and Shell Beach. Also, it offers stunning views of the ocean on an almost completely flat trail.

Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail Loop

If you’re looking to add a little spice to your hike, combine the Ontario Ridge trail with the Shell Beach Bluff Trail! Be forewarned! The Ontario Ridge trail appears to have been designed with mountain goats in mind. There is one steep hill and another VERY steep, rocky hill. We would take our kids up this hill but likely would not take young kids or our parents.

Provided it’s a sunny, clear day, at the top of Ontario Ridge, you’ll have a jaw-dropping view of the pacific ocean that you can take in from a tree swing.

Bob Jones Trail

While you certainly can hike/walk this paved trail, we prefer to bike it. This dedicated trail is paved, making it easy to push a stroller or pull a child’s wagon. It’s a 5.2 mile, out-and-back trail with only one small hill.  

At the trailhead, you’ll find a vault toilet. You’ll want to bring a nose plug or practice your mouth breathing technique while visiting this necessary, albeit unsavory, facility.

Other Nearby Trail Options

There are many other trails within a 10-15 mile radius. Two favorites other trail options that are within the immediate vicinity are the Sycamore Crest Trail and the Johnson Ranch Loop Trail. Both of these hiking trails are rated as moderate and are more suitable for older children.

family biking on the bob jones trail -- things to do in avila beach with kids

Ride a Bike from the City to the Sea on the Bob Jones Trail

Riding the “City to the Sea Bob Jones Trail” is one of our favorite family outings. We park at the trailhead near Highway 101, pump up our bike tires, throw some water bottles in a backpack and head out!  

Because this is a dedicated bike path, and it’s paved, this trail is PERFECT for young riders. There are two street crossings: one at the start of the trail and one at the end. It’s a safe way to introduce young bike riders to sharing the road.

If your children are a little older, you can make the ride a little longer by riding north to Harmond Pier (AKA Port San Luis Pier). The road out to the pier can be busy, and there is no bike lane. It’s more suitable for older children who can be aware of the traffic and hug the side of the road.  

Combining a ride to the pier with the Bob Jones Trail will give you a relatively flat, 9-mile ride, roundtrip.

TIP: Don’t forget your helmets! Bike helmets are required by law in California for children under the age of 18 years.

sea lions laying in the sun in san luis bay--things to do in avila beach with kids

Search for Wildlife at Avila Beach

Seeing animals in their natural habit is always a treat! Seal and sea lions can regularly be seen sunbathing on floating docks, rocks, and around the pier. Sometimes, they will pop up in the water near swimmers. 

Seals, Sea Lions, and Sea Otters

The best place to catch a glimpse of these creatures is from the Port San Luis Pier. They especially like to hang out near the restaurant Mersea’s, which happens to be located near the crab market–something they love.

If you find yourself swimming in the same area as a seal, it’s best to leave that area. Seals are usually friendly but can be territorial especially if they’re protecting young. There have been instances where swimmers have been bitten by seals. It’s best to observe these wild creatures from a safe distance.

In the bay, there are also sea otters. They’re a little more difficult to spot, but they frequent the area. These cute creatures are fun to watch as they roll playfully in the water or crack open a shell.



Just north of the main beach are some rocky bluffs. When the tide is low, this is a great place to search for sea creatures like sea stars, sea anemones, muscles, hermit crabs, and more. While this isn’t a prime place for tide pooling, you’re still sure to find a few interesting creatures!

Go Whale Watching

Avila Beach made national news in 2020 when a pair of kayakers got lifted out of the water by a whale. Moral of the story: don’t kayak near ocean mammals that can be 40-50 feet in length.

From July to October of each year, humpback whales pass through the area and often can be seen in the bay. Rather than paddleboarding or kayaking out to see them, we recommend a guided whale watching tour like San Luis Obispo Tours. Often, the whales can also be seen breaching from the shore or pier.

kaykers in san luis bay -- things to do in avila beach with kids

Kayak or Paddle Board

San Luis Obispo Bay is large and usually calm (except for breaching whales in the late summer, early fall), making it a great place to explore the ocean water. There is a rental company at Port San Luis if you can’t bring your kayaks or boards. There is also a launching area a Fisherman’s Beach.

At the south end of Avila Beach, you can explore the Avila Sea Caves. These caves are located along the bluffs, just north of Pirate’s Cove, a clothing-optional beach.

Play at a Pirate Themed Playground

If you prefer to stay on land and have young adventurers, you’ll want to check out the Avila Beach Community Park located right next to the main portion of the beach in the heart of Avila. There is a pirate ship, swings, slides, and more! It’s adjacent to the Central Coast Aquarium (this is a very small aquarium).

Older kids can enjoy a game of basketball on a court that butts up to the beach, or a game of sand volleyball!

Eat Good Food

Another one of our favorite things to do in Avila Beach with kids is…eating! No trip to the beach is complete without eating some tasty seafood. My personal favorite is having chilaquiles on the patio at Custom House for brunch after a morning hike.

Additionally, Mersea’s, located on Harmond Pier (AKA Port San Luis Pier) has unmatched ambiance! Dine on fish tacos, garlic fries, and piping hot clam chowder while sitting over the water and listening to the sounds of screeching gulls and barking seals.  

free things to do with kids near Paso Robles toddler feeding goat at Avila Barn in Avila Beach

Feed Barn Animals at Avila Barn

Avila Beach has its head in the city and its toes in the sand. The town is uniquely situated, providing unusual climate benefits. In the Avila Valley, just a couple miles inland from the beach is produce heaven. Berries, apples, corn, squash, and so much more can be found growing at this little farm called Avila Valley Barn.

For a few dollars, kids will love feeding fresh romaine leaves to goats, cows, and sheep. Also, there’s an emu, cow, chickens, and more! Take a hayride, pick a basket of berries, or enjoy a hot ear of corn on the cob! If ice cream or pie is more your style, they have that, too.

Entrance to the farm is free.

Soak in a Mineral Hot Springs Tub

While this may not be a little kid-friendly activity (we highly recommend pawning them off on grandparents for an hour or two), soaking in a mineral hot spring tub is always a great idea when you’re in Avila! Older kids, aged 14-17, can join you, but if you can get an hour to yourself, I would!

The tubs at Sycamore Mineral Spring can be reserved by the hour. The tubs are located outdoors on the side of a hill and have privacy fencing. Reserve your tub online and bring your towel if you don’t want to rent one. Leave feeling refreshed and ready to be the best parent you can be!

boy digging in the sand -- things to do in avila beach with kids

Enjoy the Beach

This should go without saying, but no trip to Avila Beach is complete without actually enjoying the beach! Whether you like boogie boarding, skimboarding, building sandcastles, or relaxing in a beach towel with a book, Avila has it all!

Avila Beach (Main Beach)

Located in the heart of Avila, this beach is often the busiest. Located within walking distance of restaurants and the park, the main beach is a great place to boogie board since the waves are bigger. Younger kids will enjoy frolicking in the calmer water of the creek that feeds into the sea. Flush toilets are easily accessible and outdoor, cold showers are available for washing off all that sand before getting in the car.

Olde Port Beach (Dog Beach)

Located just north of the main beach, this stretch of sand welcomes furry friends! The waves are smaller, but there’s plenty of room for Fido to run and meet new friends. There is a vault toilet located at the head of the stair leading down to the beach.

Pirate’s Cove (Nudist Beach)

While Pirate’s Cove is not at the top of the list when it comes to family-friendly activities in Avila Beach (it’s a clothing-optional beach), it’s always good to know these things. Pirate’s Cove is off the beaten path at the south end of Avila. It’s at the base of the Shell Beach Bluff Trail.

Fisherman’s Beach (Kayak Beach)

We don’t often see anyone fishing at the beach, but it is a great place to spend the afternoon! The water is very calm in this part of the bay. Located south of Port San Luis Pier and north of Olde Port Beach. It’s a great place to launch kayaks and paddleboards! This beach is the smallest of the four, but it’s also usually the least crowded. It’s also conveniently located near a restroom with flush toilets and hot showers.

There Are So Many Great Things to Do In Avila Beach with Kids

Avila Beach is a great place to explore and adventure with a family! If you need help planning an Avila Beach trip, let me know! Drop me a question below; I’d love to help answer it.

If you’re looking for other free activities for kids on the Central Coast, there are so many options.

Have you been to Avila Beach before? What activities did you enjoy the most?

7 Disney Trip Planning Mistakes to Avoid

If you like saving time and saving money, here are seven Disney trip planning mistakes you’ll want to avoid. Whether you’re in California at Disneyland Park or California Adventure Park, or in Florida visiting Walt Disney World, these are essential.

If you want to make the most of your time in the parks and make happy memories, these seven tips will help make your trip to Disney run a little smoother.

Mistake #1:  Buying Heavily Discounted Tickets from a Third Party (unless it’s at Costco or Target)

Just don’t do it. I get it. Disney is expensive. When you’re buying tickets for a whole family, it can be tempting to want to cut corners.

There’s nothing wrong with cutting corners on your Disney budget, but you just don’t want to cut them using this method.

Disney Ticket Scalping is Both Illegal and Risky

Buying Disneyland or Disney World tickets on Facebook Marketplace, NextDoor, Craigslist, or any other third-party app can be tempting. The tickets may be cheap, but they’re likely cheap for a reason. Chances are, they’re a scam.

Instead…Buy Slightly Discounted Tickets from Target or Costco

Costco has Disney ticket packages for their members that are available for purchase. At Target, you can use your Redcard to purchase Disney gift cards, saving 5%. Those gift cards can then be used to purchase your Disney tickets online or from Disney’s park apps.

Don’t Forget, Residents Can Buy Discounted Tickets

Southern California residents can buy discounted multi-day tickets for Disneyland. Florida residents are also eligible for discounted multi-day tickets for Walt Disney World. This is BY FAR the best way to save money on Disney tickets, providing the largest savings on tickets.  

Note: You will be asked to show proof of residency (usually a government-issued photo ID) at the gate. So, only buy a resident pass if your primary residence is located within the required area.

In addition to purchasing a resident ticket, another great way to cut corners at Disney is to use these 11 hacks to save money on food

minnie mouse giving smiling girl wearning frozen ears a hug and kiss

Mistake #2: Assuming You Can See it All

Unless you’re planning on spending at least two days in each park, it’s almost impossible to see it all. I’m ok with not seeing it all…it gives me a good reason to come back!

While some planning is necessary, planning every second of every day will suck all the magic right out of your vacation.

Between rides, attractions, character meet and greets, shows, shops, parades, and food, there’s so much to see, do, and taste! Go with the mindset of enjoying whatever you do see, and you’ll feel satisfied!

Mistake #3: Thinking You Don’t Need a “Must-See, Must-Do” List

Knowing that it’s impossible to see and do it all, we usually create a “must-see, must-do” list before visiting Walt Disney World and Disneyland. These don’t have to be fancy spreadsheets (but I’ve done that before, too).

Make a “Top Three” List for Each Member of Your Party

Just grab a pen and paper and ask everyone who will be joining you to name three things that they HAVE to experience. Also, have them name one or two special treat/food items that they want to try if that’s important to your family.

Having a list, even if we don’t take it with us, gives us a good idea about which attractions we want to make a priority during our day. This is especially helpful if you are traveling with different age groups. Your teen will likely have a different list than a younger sibling. If everyone gets to participate in the planning, it ensures everyone will have a good time!

Mistake #4: Expecting Your Children to be Happy All the Time

While Disneyland may be the “Happiest Place on Earth” and Walt Disney World may be the “Most Magical Place on Earth”, you can be sure that young children may be, at times, neither happy nor magical.

This unrealistic expectation was the biggest miscalculation I made when we visited Disneyland for the first time with kids–talk about Disney trip planning mistakes!

Disney is incredibly fun, but there is a lot going on. Too much of a good thing is still too much.  

Inadequate food and rest are the two main reasons my kids have meltdowns. Having healthy snacks on hand helps.  Fried foods and sugary treats are tasty but can mess with your body.  If a child needs some downtime, head back to the hotel for the afternoon, or escape for an hour to a quieter spot like Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland Park or Magic Kingdom.

Above all, expect some hiccups in your day. If you’re expecting some difficult moments, they’re not nearly as frustrating. Even if your day is peppered with a meltdown or two, your trip isn’t ruined!  We have found that the magical moments stick with everyone the longest, creating the best of memories.

happy dad spinning kids on tea cups ride at disneyland kids aren't always happy at disney - disney trip planning mistakes

Mistake #5: Not Creating a Trip Budget

As much fun as it is to say, “Who cares how much I spend?! I’m on vacation!”, lack of financial planning before a Disney trip could lead to a money catastrophe after the trip.

I love budgeting for trips. It’s just a way for us to choose ahead of time what’s most important to us! Save yourself some stress and draft a budget. If you need help getting started, check out these 9 easy steps to create a foolproof trip budget.

Mistake #6: Arriving Right Before or Right After Park Opening

As tempting as it is to sleep in while visiting the parks, you can always get the most done in the parks during the first couple of hours. Crowds are typically the lowest first thing in the morning, making lines the shortest!

It takes time to go through security and get through the gate, so we like to plan to be at the park 40-60 minutes before the park opens. With COVID, things are a little different, so 30 minutes may be adequate.  

When Disney states a park opening time, that time is the time the rides and attractions begin working. You can often enter the park up to an hour before the park technically opens! Sometimes, Disney will start allowing guests into attractions before their scheduled opening time, so it pays to get there early!

screenshot of disneyland app for common disney planning trip mistakes

Mistake #7: Forgetting to Download the Disney Park App Ahead of Time

You don’t want to forget to download the park app! If you’re visiting Disneyland, look for the Disneyland app on Google Store or the Apple Store. If you’re going to Walt Disney World, download the My Disney Experience app.

Not only can you purchase tickets directly from the app, but you can also use it to look up ride wait times, reserve dining, view menus, order food, find characters, discover parade and shows, locate restrooms, and more!

Avoid These Mistakes to Have a Magical Time at Disney

Make the best of memories on your next Disney vacation when you avoid these common Disney trip planning mistakes!  You’ll save time and money (and headaches), allowing you to focus on what’s most important.  

Have you learned from your mistakes at Disneyland or Walt Disney World?  Share them below!  Planning a trip to Disney and have a question?  Ask it!  I love hearing from my readers.

What Should I Bring to Disney? (15 Things You Should Pack in Your Backback)

If you’re headed to Disneyland in California or Walt Disney World in Florida, you’re probably asking, “What things should I bring to Disney?”

I’ve been to both Disneyland and Disney World, and I always pack these 15 items in my backpack.

Backpacks may not be uber fashionable, but they’re very functional. I opt to take a small one with me whenever I visit an amusement park.

There are two main reasons I opt for a backpack on every trip:

  • It saves time (no trips to a locker or vehicle)
  • It saves money (snacks, water, rain ponchos…they all add up, and these items are EXTRA expensive in the park!)

Use this checklist to pack a perfect backpack on every trip to Disney!

1. Cell Phone

Your cell phone is one of the most important things to bring to Disney. I like keeping my phone in my backpack as much as possible.

I use my phone too frequently to keep it in the backpack all of the time, but it’s a great place to store it during rides or when you’re not using it.

Random Story: Once, after riding Matterhorn, I realized I no longer had my phone. I had it in my back pocket during the ride and didn’t realize it had fallen out during the ride (those bobsleds are crazy bumpy!).

I stood there while the cast members checked each bobsled that came in, and I got lucky. There it was, lying on the floor of one of the bobsleds!

Before You Visit Disney Download the App on Your Phone

Each park has its own app!  These apps are absolutely essential when visiting the park.  You can use it to purchase tickets, get FastPasses, order food, check wait times, find restrooms, locate characters, and so much more.

For Disney World, download My Disney Experience, and for Disneyland, download the Disneyland app from the Apple or Google store.

2. External Phone Charger

Even if you have a great battery, after a long, 12+ hour day at Disney, you might need a recharge. My phone is older than dirt, so it usually needs a pick-me-up by late afternoon or evening.  

While they have external chargers that you can rent in the park, I like having my own (it saves time and money–are you noticing a pattern?), so I use a charger that I got on Amazon. 

3. Credit Cards/Cash/Wallet

Thanks to the ingenuity of the Disney app creators, you can link your Disney gift card, credit card, rewards card, or debit card in the app to pay for any in-app purchases like food, drinks, tickets, MaxPass, or Memory Maker.

However, I usually throw in one card, or some cash, just in case!

4. Identification (Driver’s License)

You’ll need your ID to get into the park or to purchase any alcoholic beverages.

One time, when we were waiting to get into Disneyland Park, Allan realized he had forgotten his ID. Or maybe I forgot mine. I conveniently don’t remember which one of us was the guilty party.

He had to run all the way back to the hotel to grab the ID. Ooops. It was a little over a mile roundtrip. I think he felt like he was in middle school P.E. all over again, although I don’t think he was able to muster up a 6-minute mile. Such an invigorating way to start the day.

5. Snacks

It’s always nice to have a little something in your backpack, just in case. If you have young kids, extra (cheap) food is one of the most important things to bring to Disney.

Keep those blood sugar levels stable and keep everyone happy. Nobody wants to have a hanger melt-down at “The Happiest Place on Earth”.

6. Refillable Water Bottle

Disney is wonderful about letting guests bring in outside food and drinks, provided it meets their requirements. Refillable water bottles are great for your wallet and our planet!  

There are refilling stations located throughout the parks or you can get a free cup of water from any quick-service restaurant!

7. Rain Poncho

I always like taking a rain poncho to Disney. In California, we don’t really need to for the rain (it’s more sunny than rainy), but it’s certainly handy if you’re expecting some afternoon thunderstorms in Florida at Disney World.

The main reason I pack a rain poncho in California is for the water-based rides. If it’s not a blazing hot day, it’s not terribly fun to walk around in dripping wet clothes that don’t dry. It’s nice to have for Splash Mountain, Grizzly River Run, or Kali River Rapids.

You can grab one for $1 at the dollar store or get them in bulk online.

8. Flip Flops or extra Socks

I also like wearing flip-flops on water-based rides. Walking around with wet socks and shoes is a good way to get blisters. When you’re walking 8+ miles per day, you want your feet to be happy.

For that reason, I like to have a pair of flip-flops in my backpack or a dry pair of socks.

9. Zipped Plastic Bag for Wet Items

If you have a wet poncho or socks, you can place them in a zipped plastic bag so that everything else stays dry!

10. Sunglasses

If it’s dark when you head to the park, be sure to pack your sunglasses in your backpack! Did you know that you can get melanoma in your eyes? It’s also nice to not be squinting all day long.

11. Sweatshirt

You’ll especially want a sweatshirt if you’re headed to Disneyland. Even when daytime temps are high, it almost always cools off at night. It’s not uncommon to have a 40-50 degree change between day and night.  Add it to your list of things to bring to Disney!

12. Sunscreen

Pavement can reflect sun rays and increase the chance of sunburn. I like carrying a small bottle or stick of sunscreen in my backpack to use in the parks.

13. Wipes/Hand Sanitizer

Honestly, I never carry either of these items. The alcohol in the hand sanitizer and wipes makes my skin go crazy. If I’m desperate, I’d rather use a little water from my water bottle, but mostly I use the sinks in the restroom.

But, I would guess that most people would want this in their backpack, so I’m adding it to the list.

14. Chapstick

I truly have nothing to say about this one other than it’s always a good idea to keep some chapstick nearby.

15. Extra Mask

A year ago, this wouldn’t be in my backpack, but things have changed. Having an extra in your backpack just in case one falls on the ground–or (heaven forbid) in the toilet–is a wise choice.


There may be a few other items you may want to bring to Disney in your backpack (like make-up, medications, trading pins, or autograph books), but this list will get you started!

Being prepared gives you more time to do what’s important—rides, attractions, and snacking!  If you want to learn more about Disney tips and tricks, check out 11 Hacks To Help You Save Money on Food at Disney or How Many Rides Can You ride in One Day at Disneyland? (more than 18 if you follow these tips)

Do you typically take a backpack to the parks? Is there anything in your backpack that’s not in mine? Tell me about it in the comments section!