You’re planning an amazing getaway to one of your favorite wine country destinations in California: Paso Robles. However, you’re bringing the whole family along and need some free things to do with kids near Paso Robles.
You’re in luck!
Paso Robles and the surrounding area have some unique opportunities that kids will enjoy.
Here’s a list of some of our favorite ways to make memories on the Central Coast of California…for free!
See the Elephant Seals (and Zebras)
If you have animal lovers in your family, drive up the coast to visit the elephant seals just north of Heart Castle in San Simeon.
These hefty mammals can be up to 16 feet long and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. That’s a lot of blubber. But don’t be fooled by their large size…they can move fast. It’s best to observe these long-nosed creatures from a distance.
The elephant seals gather on small beaches year-round near Piedras Blancas. During mating and birthing season, December through February, male seals (bulls) engage in dominance fights. I’m not sure what’s more amazing: watching these creatures grunt and honking and vying for female attention or watching the baby seal (calves) flopping their way across the sand.
There is a parking lot with an accessible trail with signage where you can learn more about these ocean and beach-loving creatures.
Look for Zebras on the Hearst Ranch
While you’re passing by Hearst Castle on Highway 1, the Hearst Ranch butts up to the road and you can frequently catch a glimpse of the herd of zebras grazing on the hillside. If you see people pulled off the side of the road with their cameras facing the hills, chances are there’s a zebra (or two or twenty) close by.
TIP: While you’re in the area, enjoy a picnic lunch and an afternoon at Hearst State Beach (one of my favorite beaches on the Central Coast).
Go Boogie or Body Boarding
No trip to Paso Robles is complete without spending time at the beach! Kids of all ages love playing in ocean water. If you have your own boogie board and wetsuit (or skimboard), this activity will provide hours of free fun.
If you don’t have a board or wetsuit you can rent one in most beach towns for a half or whole day (but it won’t be free). Wetsuits are generally advised in this area, as the water can be chilly. (If you want warmer water, you would need to travel an hour or two south to Santa Barbara–another great place to adventure with kids!)
For those who are exceptionally brave, they can body surf without a wetsuit. Just know that you should probably enjoy freezing your tushie off. The ocean water temperature typically ranges from the mid-50s to the mid-60s, year-round.
Skimboarding in Morro Bay, California
View the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach
Visiting the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach is also high on the list of free things to do with kids near Paso Robles. Unfortunately, in recent years the population of migrating butterflies has dwindled. The numbers can fluctuate from year to year, so you never know when you might get lucky!
Every year, between November and February, thousands and thousands of monarch butterflies migrate south and make a temporary home in the warmer climate of the Central Coast.
Kids will enjoy walking through a grove of eucalyptus trees trying to spot large clusters of butterflies hanging from the branches.
Park rangers can frequently be found in the grove, educating visitors about the delicate yet resilient Monarch butterflies. They often have small telescopes out for kids to use to view the butterflies better.
Of course, this is a seasonal occurrence, and the migration timing changes from year to year. You can learn more about the Monarch Butterfly Grove including current count numbers before you visit.
Explore Tide Pools at Montaña de Oro
One of our kids’ favorite free activities is tide pooling. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, it’s hunting for sea creatures in the rocks when the tide is low.
Children, and adults, love searching for sea stars (starfish), sea anemones, sea urchins, muscles, crabs, hermit crabs, and sometimes octopus.
Check the ocean tide table to determine the best time of day to visit the tide pools.
Montaña de Oro State Beach offers great tide pooling opportunities as well as shell and rock hunting.
Take a Hike
Hiking is always a great way to get rid of some excess energy! The Central Coast has a variety of trails suited for younger (or older) children.
Centennial Park Walkway
This paved path in Paso Robles can be found at Centennial Park. Ride a scooter or walk on this accessible path. It’s about a mile long (two miles round trip), and young explorers will enjoy running along this path.
Jim Green Trail
Located in Atascadero, just 15 minutes from Paso Robles, this 1.6-mile loop trail winds its way through rolling hills and oaks…and has a resting bench overlooking a golf course. If you keep your eyes peeled as you walk, you’ll likely spot a deer.
Three Bridges Trail
Also located in Atascadero, this 3.5-mile trail passes over a small creek and winds its way through natural grasses and oak-tree covered hillsides. Kids especially enjoy taking an extra long break at the creek to explore.
Estero Trail to Cayucos Point
Located just north of Cayucos, this trail winds along the bluff and offers beach access at many points along the trail. It’s also another great place to tidepool or rock hunt.
Harmony Headlands Trail
The trailhead to Harmony Headlands can be found between Cayucos and Cambria, near a small town called Harmony. The trail is wide and flat enough for study, heavy-duty strollers. It starts near the highway and ends overlooking the beach. Wildlife is abundant. Keep an eye out for hawks, eagles, coyotes, and snakes.
Reservoir Canyon Creek Bypass Trail
The trailhead to Reservoir Canyon can be found at the base of “the grade”, in San Luis Obispo. While hiking the entire canyon loop is 5+ miles and for more advanced hikers, there is a shorter trail (marked in blue) that wraps around the creek. Near the parking lot, you’ll also spot a small waterfall and cave.
Hiking Reservoir Canyon Trail, San Luis Obispo
Bike the Bob Jones Trail
If you want to do something that doesn’t involve hiking, try biking the Bob Jones Trail near Avila Beach. It’s 5.2 miles round trip with only one minor incline, making it perfect for young legs.
This popular, paved trail and meanders along a creek, through a golf course, ending at the beach.
Feed the Animals at Avila Barn
If you have young kids or toddlers, pair your bike ride with a stop by Avila Barn in Avila Beach. This country store offers a collection of farm-fresh produce and good, grilled corn ears, ice cream, and a collection of farm animals…that kids can feed themselves! Heads of lettuce are available for a nominal fee. Young guests will love interacting with goats, chickens, and cows.
Slide Down a Hill at Shinsiemer Park
While there are a variety of great parks in Paso Robles and the surrounding areas, my kids’ favorite park is located in San Luis Obispo.
This park is home to the SLO Blues Baseball team and has a disc golf course, tennis courts, a pool, and a sand volleyball court.
But the star feature of this park is the playground. In addition to a normal play structure, this park has a small “zip line” and a large hill with artificial grass that kids slide down on cardboard.
There are generally enough cardboard pieces at the park for everyone, so there’s no need to bring your own.
Fish at Barney Schwartz Park
Fishing for kids under 16 is always free in California. If your child has a fishing pole, grab some worms from Walmart and head over to Barney Schwartz Park in Paso Robles.
There’s a small pond stocked with fish. My kids enjoying fishing here with friends, since it’s almost guaranteed you’ll catch a fish within minutes of throwing your line. Often, they’re bluegill measuring 3-4”, but the kids don’t care!
Watch the Sea Otters and Seals in Morro Bay Harbor
If the adults in the party need a fish and chips fix, head out to Morro Bay! After enjoying some clam chowder overlooking the water, walk along the boardwalk the lines the bay.
Young kids enjoy watching the boats, kayaks, and paddleboards in the harbor, and they’re sure to see some marine life! Seals like to hang out in the bay, as do sea otters. The otters are adorable, tied up in the kelp.
Some of the otters in the bay have been rehabilitated by Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you walk near Morro Rock, near the kelp bed where the otters hang out, you may get lucky enough to meet up with a docent and a telescope so you can get a close-up view of these fun-loving, furry mammals.
ENJOY YOUR FAMILY VACATION IN PASO ROBLES!
You may have come to Paso Robles for the wine, but there are plenty of ways to make memories, for free, that the kids will enjoy, too!
If you have any questions about free things to do with kids near Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo, drop me a comment below! I would love to hear from you!