Avila Beach is a small beach town on the central coast of California nestled in between Pismo Beach and Morro Bay. I ended up spending an afternoon here recently during my mid pandemic road trip (more on that here) and absolutely loved it. I really wanted to extend my stay, but all of the hotels in Avila Beach were booked so I only had an afternoon to explore. Thankfully, there are plenty of things to do in Avila Beach for when you’re short on time!
But before we get to what to do in Avila Beach, let’s talk logistics.
Where is Avila Beach
As I mentioned above Avila Beach in the central coast of California just a few miles off of Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo County. It’s about a 15-minute drive from Pismo Beach and a 20-minute drive from downtown San Luis Obispo making it a perfect day trip.
Weather in Avila Beach
You can expect the weather in Avila Beach to be around 60-70o throughout the year with the temperatures dipping into the 50os in the winter months.
Plan for fog in the morning that burns off as the day goes on!
My Biggest Tip for Avila Beach
Get there early for a better parking spot. The one thing that I noticed as I drove through town at 8:30 am on a Saturday morning was that there were already people parking along Avila Beach Dr, the main road through town.
Initially I parked at the parking lot at Harford Pier because that’s where I was going Kayaking, side note, it’s also near Fat Cat’s one of the most popular restaurants in Avila Beach.
After I returned from Kayaking, I decided to drive to the center of town so I didn’t have to walk. That’s when I realized my mistake. The only other parking lot in town was full so I had to drive the streets hoping for street parking, which I did eventually find.
So if you’re planning to visit Avila Beach in the busy summer months, plan to get there early to snag your parking spot or just bring some extra patience.
Alright, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to it!
The Best Things to Do in Avila Beach, CA for Half a Day
Go Kayaking or Paddle Boarding to Point San Luis Lighthouse
Kayaking or Stand Up Paddle Boarding in San Luis Obispo Bay is a great way to start your day in Avila Beach. Rent your kayak or SUP from Avila Beach Paddlesports located on Harford Pier. Vince, the owner, will make sure you know exactly where to paddle so you can see the otters and safely make it to Point Luis Lighthouse. They’ll also advise you on whether a kayak or a SUP is better for the day based on the weather.
I intended to use a SUP, but the wind had other ideas, so they swapped me out for a single kayak and I was on my way.
The otters are so adorable and you can get fairly close to them, however, after my trip to the Galapagos Islands, I learned to give animals their space. There is a bit of kelp that the otters weren’t using so I held on to it while watching them watch me. Each time I moved their cute little heads popped to attention to monitor my movements. There were even little baby otters. So adorable.
After leaving the otters, you’ll paddle under Harford Pier and hug the coastline, to reduce wind interference, until you reach a beach with stairs. Pull your kayak or SUP onto shore, put on your sandals, and head up the stairs to check out the Point San Luis Lighthouse.
The views from this lighthouse are gorgeous, there is a swing you can swing on, and more importantly, restrooms. The Lighthouse is only open for tours three times per week and reservations are required in advance. During the current pandemic, however, all tours are cancelled.
Feel free to return to the beach and relax a bit. The only other people here are other kayakers and SUPers. There are also small beaches along the coast on the way back if you really want to indulge your inner introvert and practice social distancing like a pro!
Enjoy a Kravabowl Acai Bowl from Avila Market
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time for some food! Head into town for an acai bowl from Avila Market. Avila Market, located directly across the street from Avila Beach, is not only a restaurant offering typical Californian cuisine, but it’s also a mercantile store. Just head downstairs for anything you might need for a day at the beach. They have beach blankets, beer, wine, and sand toys if you fancy a sandcastle competition for one.
But the real reason I’m sending you here is for their Acai bowls. Their menu offers four options to choose from or you can build your own. I got the Probowl which I highly recommend. While you wait, head downstairs for anything you might need for the beach. Because once your Acai Bowl is ready, you’re going to take it to Avila Beach.
Relax at Avila Beach
Avila Beach is the perfect beach in Avila to relax as it is sheltered from the winds you may have experienced earlier in the day at the other side of town. There is also plenty of space so you don’t feel as if you’re on top of other beachgoers and you can respect social distancing measures.
The waves here are mild as well, so you may enjoy a bit of a swim, but be prepared, the water here is quite chilly! If you need shade, as my Irish skin usually does, try to find a spot under the Avila Beach Pier.
Refresh with a Matcha from Kraken Coffee Roasters
Once you’ve had your fill of sunshine and are in need of another refresher, head across the street to Kraken Coffee Roasters. When I visited, they’d just re-opened 3 days prior and were taking orders from the door. However, a quick peek inside assured me that this cafe is the kind of place I could sit and work from for hours, in non pandemic times. Especially with the view of the ocean from the windows.
However, these are pandemic times and while you can’t sit inside, they do have tables for you to enjoy your matcha on the sidewalk. This was the first matcha I had made from a legit cafe in three months and let me tell you, sipping it while staring at the ocean and soaking in some Vitamin D was restorative for my soul!
Shop at Avila Valley Barn
Located on the way into downtown Avila is Avila Barn, directly across from Avila Hot Springs. This is the place to stop if you’re looking for unique gifts, freshly baked goodies, or farm-fresh fruits and veggies. There are also a variety of farm animals here that you can feed lettuce to.
To be totally honest with you though, Avila Barn just didn’t hit it with me. I went on a Saturday and found it incredibly crowded with people who did not social distance well. Even though masks were required to enter the main part of the barn, it is quite small for the amount of people perusing the shop.
If You Have Extra Time in Avila Beach
If you have extra time in Avila Beach, there are definitely more activities than I was able to accomplish in my short afternoon there. You could also add on:
- Avila Hot Springs for a few relaxing hours in their mineral pool
- Pirates Cove Nude Beach for a swim in the buff (if you’ve never done it before, it’s incredibly freeing, I highly recommend it)
- There are actually caves here as well that you can explore
- Bob Jones Bike Trail for a bike ride or walk alongside San Luis Obispo Creek
- Paso Robles day trip for wine tasting at gorgeous wineries!
I didn’t have the opportunity to do those activities mentioned above, but they are top of the list for my next trip there.
And there will be another trip, I really enjoyed this tiny beach town and already scoped out a few places to stay in Avila Beach
Places to Stay in Avila Beach
Hotels in Avila Beach
There are a few hotels located in Avila Beach that I have my eye on for a bit of a treat yo’self kind of beach vacation. The first is the Inn at Avila Beach, this one caught my eye as it’s directly across the street from the beach – perfect sunset views! The second is Avila Lighthouse Suites which is absolutely gorgeous and has a pool in case the ocean is too chilly. This one I have my eye for an offseason mid week getaway as the prices are more in my budget during that time!
Vacation Rentals in Avila Beach
If you’re able to stay in Avila Beach for more than a weekend, I suggest considering a vacation rental. An Airbnb or something similar will allow you to cook for yourself and will also help with social distancing if you’re traveling there during the pandemic.
Camping Near Avila Beach
There are also campgrounds near Avila Hot Springs for a budget-friendly option. The Avila Campgrounds offer cabins and full RV hookups, however, no tent camping.
I am a big proponent taking your time with travel and that is just what you can do in Avila Beach. I think that you’ll have the best time here by picking only a handful of things to do in Avila Beach and really relishing in them. This will allow you to relax and enjoy your trip without feeling rushed to check off all of the things! If you have more time, I recommend choosing one of the outdoor activities for the day and then spend the rest of your trip relaxing on the beach!