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Top 10 Free Things to do on the Central Coast

Taking a vacation doesn’t have to break the bank, especially here on the Central Coast. In addition to our vast open spaces and stunning ocean cliffs – which are gorgeous and completely free – we have a bevy of cost-effective and even free organizations where you can learn about history, science, and art. Our Central Coast hotels in Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, and Paso Robles place you close to many of these activities, and we can help you plan and organize your itinerary once you arrive. Let these 10 fun activities inspire and encourage you to take a carefree, exciting, and inexpensive trip to the Central Coast!

1. Watch Elephant Seals in San Simeon

Not only are these creatures adorable, they’re also hilarious to watch. Sometimes male elephant seals will fight or yell at each other, while baby seals innocently flop through the sand. You’ll feel like a biologist while observing these interesting creatures, who congregate in San Simeon for months out of the year. For more information on the current season, visit Friends of the Elephant Seal.

Elephant Seals
Elephant Seals in the small coastal community of San Simeon, near Hearst Castle


2. Explore Montana de Oro State Park

Montana de Oro is one of the best kept secrets of the Central Coast. Even though it is phenomenally beautiful, its many caves, hikes, and lookout points are usually uncrowded and serene. This 8,000 acre natural area has forested groves, sandy beaches, streams, and more. This park is the perfect escape for the natural enthusiast or lover of beauty, and it’s completely free.

Montana de Oro – aka “Mountain of Gold” – got its name from the thousands of golden flowers that populate this coastal paradise


3. Go to the Monarch Butterfly Grove

Monarch Butterfly season lasts from November through February, and a trip to the Central Coast wouldn’t be complete without marveling at these beauties. They stay in the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Preserve by the thousands, and docents can offer you informational tours and other activities when you visit. Find out more at their webpage.

Western Monarch Day 2
MonarchButterfly2 This gathering of butterflies is the largest in California. Come and see for yourself!


4. Free Wine Tasting at Eberle, J Lohr, & more

Paso Robles is gaining speed and reputation as one of the best wine regions in the state, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy the area! Many wineries include free wine tasting with snacks, including Eberle Winery, where you can enjoy the view of rolling vineyards under the California sunshine. Eberle also offers a free Cave Tour, to learn more about the process of wine-making. Other wineries that offer free tasting include J Lohr and Le Vigne.


Paso Robles can offer you a premier wine tasting adventure


5. Farmer’s Market in SLO & Pismo

Thursday night Farmer’s Market in San Luis Obispo is the largest consistent community event in the city, and is beloved by college students and families alike. When you go, you’ll find much more than produce, including BBQ booths with long and spirited lines, free entertainment from local musicians, and delicious desserts like caramel apples. There are other farmer’s markets in the area, including one at the Pismo Beach Pier on Wednesdays from 2 pm – 5 pm.


You don’t have to buy much, or anything, to enjoy the energy and vibrancy of Thursday night Farmer’s Market

6. Learn at the Central Coast Aquarium

This Aquarium is an important part of the cultural scene in San Luis Obispo County, in a phenomenal location just steps from the sandy Avila Beach (and real-life wild animals, like harbor seals). The aquarium offers interactive exhibits, outdoor activities, and events for adults and children alike. While admission is $8, children two and under are completely free! Find out more at their website.

The Aquarium is located a block away from our resort hotel, Avila Lighthouse Suites


7. Visit the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

This completely free museum features different exhibits every few months, showcasing the work of local artists. Docent led tours are always available, and the museum also has a commitment to art education for all ages. The museum is in the downtown area of San Luis Obispo, and is a convenient and cultural way to spend an afternoon, leaving you with a greater understanding of art as well as the region of the Central Coast.

Photo: Slo Museum of Art Website


8. Bike on Bob Jones Trail in Avila

Bob Jones Trail brings you on a beautiful adventure through the lush and forested areas of Avila Beach. Take a leisurely bike ride or stroll along this three mile “City to the Sea” trail, ending up in quaint Avila Beach, where you can eat lunch or play in the sea and sand. You’ll see why this non-strenuous, pristine, and scenic trail is a popular favorite for locals and tourists alike.

bob jones
Bob Jones Trail is appropriate for the whole family, dogs included


9. Tour the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded by Father Junipero Serra on September 1st, 1772, over one hundred years before San Luis Obispo was actually incorporated as a city. The Mission has stood strong through the development of San Luis Obispo county and the surrounding areas from Los Osos to Pismo, so it is an ideal museum to learn more about the fascinating local history. The Mission is still the heart of San Luis Obispo, with cultural events often occurring in the plaza that overlooks the San Luis Creek. Spend some time at this fascinating piece of CA Central Coast history!

Mission Plaza in front of the Mission, including a California inspired fountain


10. Check out some cute animals at Avila Valley Barn

Avila Valley Barn is free family fun throughout the entire year. They offer a farm pet area for children and adults to enjoy. You can buy a bag of pet food to feed the animals, including goats, pigs, horses, sheep, alpacas, emus, chickens, donkeys, and ponies. Additionally, if you’ve got a craving for local food, their Fruit & Vegetable Stand is stocked with seasonal produce and the Sweet Shoppe is filled with options for those with a sweet tooth. For the winter, The barn is open Thursday-Monday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.


Feeding animals is always a fun adventure for the kids


We love making your travel plans easier. We’ve also compiled some itineraries, located at the bottom of our home page, to help guide your Central Coast vacation plans according to what kind of trip you’re looking forward to! Take the pressure off, relax, and let us help you enjoy the best of the Central Coast!

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