One of the simple pleasures of life and living on the Central Coast of California is its proximity to over 800 miles of sunny coastlines just waiting to be experienced. From high activity beaches with parks & play areas to secluded coves and dog-friendly stretches of sand, a visit to any one of the following family-friendly beaches makes for a perfect day.
1. Avila Beach
Avila Beach, California
This family-friendly beach town is a perfect place to enjoy a day in the sun. The protected beach features a half-mile stretch of sand, gentle surf, tide pools, a lifeguard, and nearby facilities which include barbecue pits, volleyball courts, a basketball court, kids play area, a grassy area with picnic tables, clean bathrooms, and a popular fishing pier, which is open 24 hours. Dogs are allowed on-leash before 10 AM and after 5 PM. Finding an open parking spot can be a bit of a challenge at this popular beach, so give yourself plenty of time.
Volleyball, Basketball, Biking, Skating, Fishing
Fishing Pier, Restrooms, Lifeguard, Picnic Tables, BBQs, Shops, Grass Park, Basketball Court, Aquarium, Kids Play Area, Tide Pools
Dogs allowed on-leash before 10 am and after 5 pm
Things To Do: Kickstart your vacation with a walk or scenic bike ride along the Bob Jones Trail into Avila Beach or consider grabbing a cup of morning Joe at Kraken Coffee or a delicious acai bowl snack at Kravabowl to start, fill or end your day. Make your way down to the sand to find the prime lounging spot and spend the day tanning, splashing in the water, or jumping into a game of beach volleyball. The town beyond is complete with lodging, a fine selection of restaurants, beach shops, wine shops, coffee shops, tasting rooms, art galleries, and more.
Take a mid-afternoon break with the whole family and explore the marine life at the Central Coast Aquarium.
The Avila Valley Barn offers a great family fun attraction for all ages with their animal feeding and petting zoo, pony and tractor rides. Be sure to shop the fruit and vegetable stand, freshly baked goods, the fudge & gourmet Sweet Shoppe and other specialty foods available for purchase.
Tip: Be sure to try their delicious roasted corn on the cob when it’s in season.
Enjoy a glass of wine at PierFront Wine & Brew or dinner on the patio at Custom House as you enjoy the ocean waves and watch the sunset behind the hills. Mr. Ricks offers cocktails, pool tables, and live music for those 21 and over.
2. Carmel Beach
Carmel beach features more than a mile of cream-colored sand and chilly ocean surf. Expect to find cypress trees and cliffs, seagulls, dolphins, otters, beach walkers, sunbathers, surfers looking to catch a perfect wave, fishing, a game of volleyball, children at play, bonfires, and dogs on and off-leash. It’s gorgeous weather, scenery, quaint village setting, and fine selection of restaurants & shops downtown make it the perfect getaway destination for all who venture. The town’s charming eateries feature a little bit of everything from international, regional and local cuisine.
Sunbathing, Surfing, Surf Lessons, Beach Walking, Fishing, Wildlife Watching, Bonfires, Volleyball
Restrooms, Volleyball Courts
Dogs allowed off-leash
3. Cayucos State Beach
Located directly on the waterfront in the quiet cozy coastal town of Cayucos rests Cayucos State Beach with its family-friendly sands and secluded coves. Activities include surfing, boogie/body boarding, fishing, swimming, and tide-pooling. Dogs are allowed on leash. The Cayucos Pier, built in 1875, offers stunning views of Cayucos, the Pacific Ocean and Morro Rock in the distance. The pier is also open to the public for fishing. No license required.
Things to Do: Some of the nearby attractions, shops and restaurants include Estero Bluffs State Park, Good Clean Fun Surf & Sport, Remember When Too, Cayucos Collective, Duckies Chowder House, Sea Shanty, Martins Restaurant, Brown Butter Cookie Company, Cafe Dell Via, Ruddell’s Smokehouse, Schooners, Hoppes Garden Bistro, and Ocean Front Pizza.
Surfing, Boogie Boarding, Fishing, Swimming, Tidepooling
Fishing Pier, Lifeguard, Picnic Tables, Restrooms, Showers, Kids Play Area
Dogs allowed on leash
Directions: From Highway 101 South, take the 13th Street exit. Turn right on South Ocean Avenue for a leisurely drive down Cayucos’ main drag. Parking is available on Ocean Front Avenue and Ocean Avenue.
4. East Beach
Santa Barbara, California
Family-friendly East Beach in Santa Barbara is located along the waterfront east of State Street and the Stearns Wharf Pier area. Most of the activity can be found on the east end with its numerous sand volleyball courts, picnic tables on a grassy park, paved bike path, kids play area, skate park, restrooms, and arts pavilion. Rent a bike at Wheel Fun Rentals and enjoy a cool breeze as you cruise along Cabrillo Blvd. Parking for East Beach can be found along East Cabrillo Boulevard and also in lots located at Ninos Drive, Corona Del Mar Drive, and Garden Street.
Volleyball, Biking, Sunbathing, Walking, Running, Skating, Picnicking
Lifeguard, Volleyball Courts, Paved Bike Path, Skate Park, Grass Park, Picnic Tables, Restrooms, Kids Play Area, Restaurant, Accessible Features
No dogs allowed on the beach
5. Goleta Beach Park
Plan an entire day or kick start your weekend with a barbecue at this playful beachfront located next to the University of California Santa Barbara campus (UCSB). It features more amenities than you can fit into one day. Experience picnic and grilling areas along with volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, restrooms, paved bike trail, a grassy park, kids play area, fishing pier, boat launch, and nearby restaurants to experience. Dogs are allowed on leash, so bring your furry friend too! The bike path runs behind the park and extends all the way to Santa Barbara making it a great spot to park and ride.
The 1500-foot long fishing pier offers great views and pleasant fishing. Boats may also launch at this location along with kayakers and stand up paddleboarders with rentals on site.
Directions: From Highway 101 take the Hwy 217 exit toward the Airport and UCSB then follow it to Sandspit Road and look for signs pointing to Goleta Beach Park.
Fishing, Birdwatching, Biking, Walking, Sunbathing, Volleyball, Picnicking, Boating, Kayaking, Stand-Up Paddleboarding
Fishing Pier, Restrooms, Picnic Tables, BBQs, Paved Bike Trail, Grass Park, Kids Play Area, Restaurant, Boat Launch, Volleyball Courts
6. Morro Rock Beach
Morro Bay, California
Morro Bay offers up some premium stretches of sand. Choose between the iconic Morro Rock Beach (a personal favorite) with its massive 580-foot rock, Morro Rock Jetty Beach just south of Morro Rock, North Point Beach, Morro Strand State Beach which is divided between the cities of Morro Bay and Cuyocus or Toro Creek Dog Beach (the dog-friendly 1-mile-long gap between the north and south sections of Morro Bay State Beach between Morro Bay and Cayucos). The Morro Rock Beach has quick and easy access and decent parking. Enjoy building sandcastles, collecting shells, birdwatching, dog walking (on leash), photography, or simply watching some of the expert surfers hit the waves. Amenities include restrooms and picnic tables. If you’re hitting the beach early consider stopping off at the Breakfast Buzz Cafe. The breakfast burritos shine at this buzzy cafe.
Surfing, Birdwatching, Photography, Fishing
Restrooms, Picnic Tables
Dogs allowed on leash
7. Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach, California
Pismo Beach, a hot spot for surfing, boogie boarding, biking, and fishing, is located just 13 miles south of Downtown San Luis Obispo off the highway 101. Make your way down Pomeroy Avenue and grab a cup of clam chowder from Splash Cafe or Brad’s before heading down to the pier or beach.Pismo Beach features one of the most popular fishing piers on the Central Coast complete with nearby facilities and easy beach access. Visitors may camp in one of two campgrounds within walking distance of the beach. If you time your beach visit in June or July you might experience the Classic Car Show or 4th of July fireworks show. The Clam Festival in October is another local favorite.
Surfing, Fishing, Bodyboarding, Stand-Up Paddleboarding, Volleyball, Walking, Beach Walking, Sunbathing, Swimming, Kiteboarding, Birdwatching, Clam Digging
Fishing Pier, Boardwalk, Picnic Tables, Restrooms, Showers, Lifeguard, Volleyball Courts, Kids Play Area, Benches, Rentals
Dogs allowed on leash on the beach, but not on the pier
That concludes our Top 7 Family-Friendly Central Coast Beach Bucket List. Did any of our selections make your list? If so, which ones? Which Central Coast beaches have you and your family enjoyed spending time at?