Get out and play

The new boardwalk extension at the elephant seal viewing area near San Simeon gives visitors a better view of the seals.
The new boardwalk extension at the elephant seal viewing area near San Simeon gives visitors a better view of the seals.

You’ve unwrapped the presents, emptied the stockings and gobbled down the last of Christmas dinner. Now what?

Rather than succumb to holiday doldrums, why not pick activities that will keep you, your family and any visiting friends and relatives entertained?

Here are a few local suggestions for young and old alike, all of them free or relatively inexpensive.


Use your noodle

Winter break doesn’t mean taking a break from learning.

Education is fun at the Exploration Station in Grover Beach, home to the Children’s Interactive Center.

In addition to permanent displays about electricity, the human body and weather, the center offers rotating science-themed exhibits and activities.

Meanwhile, the Paso Robles Children’s Museum and the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum both offer oodles of learning-based fun.

In Paso Robles, children can climb an enormous oak tree, jump in a grape-stomping pit and serve up imaginary slices at a pizza parlor.

Visitors to the San Luis Obispo museum can dig for fossils, climb a two-story clock and explore Zoomtown, a miniature city complete with a diner, fire station and farmers market.

Walk on the wild side

Winter brings a wave of non-human visitors to the Central Coast.

Pregnant elephant seals start arriving at the Piedras Blancas rookery off Highway 1 north of San Simeon in mid-December, according to non-profit group Friends of the Elephant Seal. These amazing animals, which grow up to 12 feet and 1,800 pounds, come ashore to give birth to their pups.

December is also a busy time for Monarch butterflies.

Seeking shelter from harsh weather farther north, thousands of vibrant orange-and-black butterflies migrate yearly to Pismo State Beach on Highway 1 south of Pismo Beach.

Free docent-led tours are available daily during Monarch season, which lasts until February.

Seeking something more exotic? The Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero is home to meerkats, spider monkeys and a Malayan tiger.

Get wet

Off the coasts of San Luis Obispo County lies a watery world of discovery.

Marine science is the focus at the Avila Beach Sea Life Center, which has an array of touch tanks, wave tanks, aquariums and Avila Beach history displays.

The Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History helps visitors learn about the ecology of the Morro Bay estuary with interactive displays about sand dunes, the water system and other subjects.

Families can stop by the old-fashioned Morro Bay Aquarium to feed the sea lions and check out sharks, sea anemones, octopi and eels.

Of course, the simplest way to experience Central Coast sealife is to head to the beach. What could be more fun than splashing in the waves and exploring tide pools?

Strap on your skates

What could be a better way to celebrate the season than ice skating?

Frozen lakes are a rarity on the sunny Central Coast of California, but there’s another option. Mega Holiday Ice Skating has opened an outdoor ice skating rink at the Santa Maria Town Center.

Skaters can take a spin on the rink daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., through Jan. 9. In addition to open skate sessions, the 40-by-85-foot rink can be rented for private parties and corporate events.

Still learning? Group ice skating lessons and skate rentals are included in the price of admission.

Now go work off those holiday calories.


Taste the county’s bounty

Whether you’re looking for the perfect pinot noir or a classic chardonnay, the Central Coast is the place for you.

Great grapes and wonderful wines are available at hundreds of wineries stretching from San Miguel in the north to Arroyo Grande in the south.

Plus, unlike the higher-profile Napa Valley and Sonoma regions, most area wineries offer free or inexpensive tastings. Navigate the vineyard-rich North County region, sample San Luis Obispo vintages or explore the Edna Valley.

If you’re in the mood for a holiday drive, you can even trek down to the Santa Ynez Valley, where the intoxicating comedy “Sideways” was filmed.

Salute the past

From the Chumash Indians to the Mission era to modern times, the Central Coast has a rich, complicated history.

Check out “The Catch: Stories of Local Fisherman,” an exhibit highlighting county fishermen in the 1970s, at the History Center of San Luis Obispo County.

Farmers and ranchers are honored at the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum. And the I.O.O.F Historic Hall in Arroyo Grande currently has two exhibits about the region’s past residents.

Military-minded museum goers will want to visit the Estrella Warbird Museum in Paso Robles, dedicated to preserving military aircraft, vehicles and other treasures.

More military memorabilia can be found at the Central Coast Veteran’s Memorial Museum in San Luis Obispo. Current exhibits include weapons, uniforms and battle maps dating from World War I to the Iraq War.

Take a hike

Surrounded as we are by natural splendor, it’s a wonder we Central Coast residents don’t spend every waking moment outside.

The best way to enjoy all this breathtaking scenery is to take a hike. Seen on foot, the region’s sandy beaches, lush eucalyptus groves and rolling, oak-covered hills appear even more magnificent.

Options range from a hillside climb up one of the area’s many peaks -- such as Bishop’s Peak in San Luis Obispo or Cerro Alto near Atascadero -- to a more leisurely stroll down the Bob Jones Bike Path in Avila Beach or Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos.

Looking for something less taxing? Try a self-guided walking tour through downtown San Luis Obispo or the historic Village of Arroyo Grande.

Go on a mission

It’s safe to say that, without Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, there’d be no San Luis Obispo.

Founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1772, the mission takes its name from Saint Louis of Toulouse, a medieval French bishop. Today, the Spanish-style adobe structure and the adjoining Mission Plaza are among the most recognizable landmarks in town.

Heading north on Highway 101, you’ll find Mission San Miguel, founded in 1797. It’s currently undergoing a $14.8 million restoration project to repair damage from the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake.

Thankfully, most of the mission -- including the church, cemetery and museum – is once again open to the public. The nearby Rios-Caledonia Adobe, a century-old inn and stage coach stop, is also worth a visit.