The historic city of San Luis Obispo lies on the Central Coast of California on a major highway. To the east of the city are the rugged San Lucia Mountains, and to the west is the vast Pacific Ocean. San Luis Obispo vacation rentals grant easy access to outdoor activities such as swimming, water sports, hiking, and cycling. The numerous area attractions include museums, botanical gardens, a fascinating zoo, and an iconic lighthouse. Here are the top things to do with children in and around San Luis Obispo.

1. Enjoy the Beaches

San Luis Obispo is only a few minutes away from numerous pristine Pacific Coast beaches where you can swim, sunbathe, build sandcastles, go beachcombing, and play water sports. To the northwest, Morro Bay has a three-mile family-friendly stretch of beach known as the Strand where you can fly kites, have picnics, fish, and try windsurfing. Farther north, a charming beach town faces Cayucos State Beach, which offers a fishing pier, picnic tables, play equipment, and tide pools that the kids can explore. South of San Luis Obispo are the famous Avila Beach and Pismo Beach, where you can learn to boogie board and surf. For some rugged beach fun, head for Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreational Area just south of Pismo Beach, where you can ride recreational vehicles through the most extensive sand dunes on the California Coast.

2. Hike the Trails

San Luis Obispo is full of open spaces with great hiking trails suitable for the whole family. In the spring, blossoming wildflowers are a spectacular bonus. Laguna Lake Park features a two-mile loop trail along a lovely lake shore, an exercise course, and a disc golf course. Johnson Ranch Open Space has both short and long hiking trails through beautiful rolling hills. If you hike the trails at Islay Hill, Irish Hills, or South Hills, panoramic photo-worthy views reward you. For longer, more rugged hikes through scenic wilderness, try the Bob Jones Trail and Ontario Ridge Trail at Avila Beach, the lakeside trail at Lopez Lake, and the trails through sand dunes and eucalyptus groves at Montana De Oro State Park.

3. Ride a Bike

The year-round sunshine and gorgeous landscapes of San Luis Obispo create perfect conditions for cycling and mountain biking. Well-marked urban cycling trails such as the Madonna Inn Bike Path and the Railroad Bicycle Trail connect the historic downtown area with various points in the city. The Bob Jones City to Sea Trail runs along San Luis Obispo Creek and allows you to cycle to Avila Beach. You can find more challenging trails for mountain bikes at Irish Hills Natural Reserve, Lopez Lake Regional Park, Montana De Oro State Park, and other nearby locations. Numerous shops rent bikes and repair them, and throughout the spring, summer, and fall San Luis Obispo hosts many cycling events that you can watch or participate in.

Find the perfect San Luis Obispo vacation rental on is the world's #1 vacation rental search engine with over 10 million properties!

4. Go Shopping

Your San Luis Obispo vacation rental provides easy access to the city’s historic downtown shopping area, where you can peruse the offerings in boutiques, jewelry stores, souvenir shops, antique shops, and other establishments. Don’t miss the Farmer’s Markets that take place every day of the week in and around the city. You can shop for fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, delicious freshly-cooked food, and local handicrafts while enjoying live entertainment. The Avila Valley Barn between San Luis Obispo and Avila Beach features farm-fresh produce, bakery items, and a farm animal petting zoo for the kids.

5. Learn Local History

For insight into the region’s history, visit the world-famous Mission San Luis Obispo De Tolosa in the city center. It was founded in 1772 and is still an active church. A tour of the museum and mission gardens is free. The History Center Museum offers exhibits that highlight local history. North of San Luis Obispo at San Simeon is the amazing Hearst Castle. Built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the site has a magnificent main building. It has also several elaborate guest cottages, a huge outdoor Neptune pool, and 127 acres of gardens.

6. Visit the Children’s Museum

The San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum is a terrific place for younger kids to explore and enjoy hands-on exhibits. The upstairs has imagination areas with child-sized grocery stores, fire trucks, trains, and other environments. Other areas offer opportunities for dress-up and role playing, building with blocks, performing scientific experiments, playing musical instruments, and painting.

7. Tour the Lighthouse

The Point San Luis Lighthouse and Light Station Park sits on a hillside near Avila Beach. It has a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean and its rugged coast. Although it is still has a working light, you can tour the lighthouse building and grounds. You can also tour the 30-acre nature preserve that surrounds the site. Guided excursions include a tour by historic trolley, an exploration of the hiking trails, and a kayak trip to nearby Whaler’s Beach.

8. Marvel at the Botanical Gardens

The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is an ongoing project that highlights plants and flowers from five world eco-regions with Mediterranean climates. These include California woodlands and chaparral, the Mediterranean basin, southwest Australia, central Chile, and South Africa. You can stroll through the gardens, join nature tours, and watch for birds. The special Children’s Garden offers a hands-on, educational experience in which kids learn to appreciate and care for plants.

9. Observe Wildlife at the Zoo

Your San Luis Obispo vacation rental offers convenient access to Charles Paddock Zoo in nearby Atascadero. Located in lovely Atascadero Lake Park, the zoo features five acres of grounds and hundreds of species of animals. It includes Malayan tigers, two-toed sloths, red pandas, spider monkeys, and Channel Island foxes. Its large collection of birds has flamboyant species such as scarlet ibises, emus, Caribbean flamingos, scarlet macaws, and Amazon parrots. If you book it ahead of time, your child can participate in a class, camp, or educational program.

Ready to go? Check out these amazing San Luis Obispo vacation rentals on