So, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, and you’re feeling guilty about gorging yourself on turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes the day before.
To make matters worse, the family and friends staying with you over the long holiday weekend are getting antsy and are bugging you for something to do. You need to find some kid-friendly activities to get everyone out of the house and, hopefully, burn off some calories from the Thanksgiving feast.
Here are five suggestions for fun and interesting things that you can do that will keep you from going stir-crazy — and maybe even let you learn something new about San Luis Obispo County’s diverse and spectacular environment.
1. Go see the monarch butterflies
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The winter aggregation of monarch butterflies along the coast is rightly described as one of the most spectacular natural spectacles.
The monarch grove on Highway 1 in Pismo Beach is one of the best places to see tens of thousands of the colorful insects hanging like so much orange foliage from eucalyptus trees. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
The butterflies began arriving in September, but Thanksgiving marks the peak of the season, which lasts through early January. A count conducted on Saturday recorded 19,800 butterflies, but naturalists are predicting a normal season at the park, which typically attracts from 28,000 to 34,000 butterflies.
Trained and knowledgeable docents are on hand daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to talk about the amazing life cycle and migration routes of the butterflies. Although you won’t burn off too many calories watching the monarchs, it’s a spectacle that’s not to be missed. Bring your camera.
2. Go tide pooling
Tide pools are another colorful and amazing natural phenomenon.
Tide pools are those areas of the rocky coastline that twice a day, every day, are alternately submerged under pounding surf during high tides and exposed during low tides. It is unbelievable that anything could live in such a harsh and extreme environment, but the fact that tide pools are teeming with life is a moving testament to nature’s diversity and resiliency.
Tide pools can be found in just about every coastal area in San Luis Obispo County, from Piedras Blancas to Shell Beach. But the premier tide pool location is Corallina Cove in Montaña de Oro State Park near Los Osos.
Named after the red coralline algae that cover many of the rocks, the cove has plenty of deep pools and crevices that are perfect for harboring tide pool creatures which include sea urchins, sea anemones, crabs and turban snails.
Sadly, one of the largest and most beloved tide pool denizens is likely to be missing — ochre sea stars. These purple and orange starfish have been decimated by a mysterious disease called sea star withering syndrome.
Tide pools are fascinating at any time, but for maximum enjoyment, time your trip for low tide, which changes each day. This weekend, tides reach their lowest points before sunrise and after sunset, so morning and late afternoons would be a good time to go. Tide pools are fragile ecosystems, so watch where you step and leave everything where you found it.
3. Go for a hike
One of the main reasons San Luis Obispo County has such a high quality of life is the fact that it has such an abundance and diversity of hiking opportunities, everything from leisurely coastal strolls to longer hikes through oak woodlands and chaparral-covered hills.
The 6,500 acres of open space surrounding San Luis Obispo alone offer more than 40 miles of hiking trails. Add in all the trails found in the string of coastal State Parks, in county parks and Los Padres National Forest in the county and there is truly something for every interest and fitness level.
Here are a couple of hikes of varying lengths that take you through oak woodlands and offer spectacular views of inland and coastal areas of the county.
The Duna Vista Trail at Lopez Lake is a moderately difficult, 7.2-mile loop that is part of the county park system. It takes you from Camp Mabel French along an arm of the lake and then ascends through hillsides studded with huge, ancient, gnarly oaks to a ridge that is surrounded on three sides by Lopez Lake.
The Sycamore Crest Trail is a shorter and easier but no less spectacular hike. The trailhead is behind Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila Valley. A well-maintained dirt road wends through coast live oaks and manzanita up to Ontario Ridge, which overlooks Avila Beach, Pirates Cove, Port San Luis and south to Oceano Dunes. The out-and-back hike is about 1.75 miles.
4. Go for a walk on the beach
It is almost a cliché to say that everyone loves to walk on the beach, and out-of-town visitors are sure to have a trip to the beach high on their to-do list.
If you’re looking for wide sandy beaches, Pismo State Beach, Morro Strand State Beach north of Morro Rock and the Morro Bay Sand Spit are your best bets. Dress warmly and wear shorts so you can wade into the surf and feel the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean swirl around your ankles.
Another excellent choice is Hearst San Simeon State Park. Start at the pier and head south. This beach is interesting because it includes both sandy beaches and numerous large rocks rising out of the surf.
Here, you get the best of both worlds: walking on the beach and exploring these rock outcroppings that harbor many of the same creatures you find in tide pools. Although low tide is after sunset this weekend, if you go in late afternoon you may be lucky enough to find one of the more unusual tide pool creatures: a gumboot chiton, leathery reddish brown mollusks that can reach 14 inches in length.
The park also contains many areas where sandy beaches give way to coastal bluffs and rocky shoreline. This gives you another way to enjoy the coastline.
5. Take a drive up Highway 1
Starting in Morro Bay and heading up the coast on Highway 1 offers enough entertainment for the entire Thanksgiving Day weekend. Here are some of the highlights to enjoy.
▪ Visit awe-inspiring Morro Rock and stroll along the Embarcadero in Morro Bay. Stop off in the quaint beach town of Cayucos and walk down the newly refurbished Cayucos Pier, which recently reopened after a $3.5 million restoration.
▪ Continue up the coast to Cambria, the picturesque seaside village nestled among Monterey pine forests where you’ll find dozens of quaint shops and restaurants.
▪ A trip up the coast is not complete without a tour of Hearst Castle, the opulent residence of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and a crown jewel of the California State Parks system. Three separate tours of the monument are available daily, along with handicapped-accessible tours and seasonal tours. The park’s visitor center also features the Hearst Castle Theater, showing the 40-minute film “Hearst Castle — Building the Dream” continuously throughout the day.
▪ As you continue up the coast, you will enter Big Sur, one of the nation’s most spectacular and rugged coastlines, dotted with many state park and national forest hiking trails. One of the most popular is Salmon Creek Falls, located just north of the Monterey County line at a sharp hairpin curve in the road. The falls are located less than a third of a mile from the highway along a well-marked, easy trail. Water cascades 120 feet down a rock face and into a large turquoise pool. Salmon Creek Falls alone is worth a day trip.