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!

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?