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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?