Fast Times in SLO Country

When you and your little sister live at opposite ends of the Golden State, you spend a lot of weekends rendezvousing in the middle.  And though our weekends together always seem to fly by, this year’s spring break trip to the Central Coast was especially fast.




The Oceano Dunes at Pismo Beach near the college town of San Luis Obispo – often called SLO (“slow”) – is the only State Park left in California where you can drive vehicles on the beach. When we realized our gray early spring weather wasn’t going to enable a typical beach stay, we went looking for a bit of adventure.




sea pano

It didn’t take long to find it. Our Hummer adventure summited dunes at least a few stories tall and plummeted down into sand valleys  – sometimes free falling sideways or even backwards! The drivers were experts and the Hummers were wide, low and built for sand. Simply put: It was awesome!

hummer wave

The next day we rounded up the cousins again and headed into quiet little Santa Margarita for a loud zipline experience – right through the oak trees and over the vineyards at Santa Margarita Ranch.  

zip zoom

If you think that wine country is gorgeous from the ground, you really need to check it out from the air – just beautiful!  The “Pinot Express” flies 1,800 feet across a valley at a height of about 125 feet – and they’ve got a 2,800-foot run coming soon.








Even though we were the last group of the day, the zipline staff was still full of energy, humor and professionalism. The excitement was contagious. Everyone from kids to parents felt safe and had a blast!

In between adrenalin rushes, we fit in a bit of tidepooling. Truly, it was hands-on nature at its finest –  even my 16 year-old wasn’t remotely bored! The shore beyond The Cliffs Resort in Pismo Beach is open to the public and we just about had the place to ourselves.

Each pool was full of tidal treasures: Mussels, more anemones than I could count, giant starfish, sea slugs and even some dolphins and otter at play in the waves.  Between pools there were lots of rocks and giant crevasses to climb around on… Never a slow moment for these cousins.


The ROAM Report : Pismo Beach

Travelers : The “Carpenter” sisters, husbands and kids (aged 16, 14, 12 and 11 years)

Date : April 2016

Itinerary : Three nights in Pismo Beach

Budget : $359/night (AAA Rate) for an ocean view, double queen room with breakfast. 

Good to Know 

Hummer Time  Although renting dirt bikes or ATVs was an option for exploring the dunes, we had a blast with Xtreme Hummer Adventures.  Even though you can legally drive in the sand, the area is shared with local wildlife and some endangered shorebirds so having experienced drivers who respect their habitat and know the safest way to have a wild time was a bonus.

Zip Time  We zipped over Santa Margarita Ranch with Margarita Adventures. The two-hour adventure includes a ride to the ranch (peppered with a bit of history and laughs along the way), and zips on five separate lines (1,800-, 1,200-, 800-, 600-, and 430-feet long). Tip: They were adding a new 2,800 foot line at the time we zipped. All lines have an auto braking system so I felt it was a safe and fun activity for all ages.

Beach Time  Pismo Beach bills itself as the Classic California beach experience. We like the small town feel, light Central Coast crowds, wide beach and great bodysurfable waves. It’s a great halfway point if you’re driving Highway One between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Cottage Time  – We loved Cottage Inn by the Sea. The oceanfront views are more than beautiful and their rates include breakfasts which is always a big help when traveling with kids. My sister’s family enjoyed the recently remodeled Spyglass Inn.  

cottage sea

Dinner Time – Dinner at Shell Beach Brewhouse was great. The food was tasty and the service was spot on: Even with our table of 8 – they got it all right.
Next Time – There are monarch butterfly weekends, sand castle contests, clam festivals and many more active adventures nearby, like kayaking, horseback riding and even wine tasting (!)


Kelly Dietz, May 2016


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Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, pismo beach vacation, san luis obispo vacation, pismo beach weekend, pismo beach with kids, central coast family vacation, central coast with kids


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