Located along the central coast of California in northern San Luis Obispo County is Lake Nacimiento. Often referred to as “Dragon Lake” due to its shape, it’s one of the best boating lakes in the state’s center. Our family has been visiting for years and we love relaxing here and having a day out on the water.
Here’s more about Lake Nacimiento as well as things to do in the surrounding area.
Note: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, please check the Lake Nacimiento website for updates. As of a few weeks ago when we visited, there were limits to number of cars allowed into the facility and number of people allowed on boats. Camping is also restricted right now.
Things to Do at Lake Nacimiento
With 5,370 surface acres, Lake Nacimiento is the perfect place to enjoy water sports. There’s lots of space for wakeboarding, paddle boarding, kayaking and jet skiing. And when the water levels are high enough, the marina has a slalom course for water skiing.
If you’d like to explore in your boat or watercraft, there are plenty of coves to discover along the 165 miles of shoreline. You can also head out on the boat to go fishing – the big biters here are white bass and largemouth bass. Fishing licenses are required and available at the marina’s general store.
The average temperature of the lake in the summer is about 77 degrees. Air temperature during the summer is regularly in the 90s and above, making that water very refreshing! The water is flat most days, so it’s a great place to spend the day. The maximum depth of the lake is 200 feet.
The area is full of views of the mountains, forests, waterfalls and lots of wildlife. The perfect opportunity to explore this beauty is the Lake Nacimiento Shoreline Trail. An almost 5-mile loop, the trail lets you see local wildlife including BALD EAGLES! Yes there is a colony of bald eagles here, and we’ve seen them grab fish straight from the lake with their talons. The word majestic describes them perfectly, and a word I seldom use to describe things.
Places to Stay Around Lake Nacimiento
Located right on the lake is the Lake Nacimiento Resort. The resort is where the marina, general store and ski slalom course are. The resort offers lodge rentals and the option to bring your RV on site. In addition to camping at the resort, there are campgrounds all around the lake’s east side.
18 miles southeast of the lake is Paso Robles. Once home to the largest concentration of almond farms globally, it’s now a popular wine destination. Vineyards stretch for miles and miles, and the wineries are award winning. Its popularity doesn’t take away from the city’s charm or make it lose its history, though. You’ll still find plenty of charm along with a warm welcome from the locals.
Things to Do in the Area
Discover the agricultural history of the area by taking a tour of the farms near Paso Robles. Try an outing at Mt. Olive Organic Farm, Olivas de Oro Oliva Ranch, The Groves on 41 olive farm and Jack Creek Farms.
Paso Robles isn’t just wine. There are lots of activities for families with children. The Ravine waterpark has slides, a wave pool, a kiddie pool and cabana rentals. Visit Pioneer Museum to discover what life there was like in the 1800s and early 1900s. Head for a nature walk on the Salinas River Walk. Or head to see historic military vehicles and old automobiles at the Estrella Warbird Museum. There’s even a conservation zoo you can visit to get up-close with some of the animals that live there.
Day Trips from Lake Nacimiento
No matter where you’re staying while visiting Lake Nacimiento, there are plenty of great places to visit during a day trip.
Located 52 miles from Lake Nacimiento and 40 miles from Paso Robles is Hearst Castle. Built between 1919 and 1947, it was the estate of billionaire William Randolph Hearst. The complex, which includes the main house and guest houses, has 42 bedrooms, over 120 acres of gardens, swimming pools and a movie theater.
Nowadays, Hearst Castle is both a California Historical Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. Park of the California parks system since 1957, Hearst Castle offers multiple tours and is a great place to visit with kids.
Avila Beach is 54 miles southwest of Lake Nacimiento and 40 miles from Paso Robles. Known for its gorgeous beaches, it’s a lowkey place with a small-town feel.
Whale watching is a common activity in Avila Beach. Take a catamaran tour to see the humpback whales or, if you’re courageous, head out in a kayak to find them up close and personal. You can also sometimes see the whales from the Avila Beach Pier.
On land, schedule a tour of Point San Luis Lighthouse. Visit the Central Coast Aquarium to learn about sea life in the area. And when you’re ready to take a break from all the walking, there are plenty of restaurants, breweries and wine shops to explore.
And don’t miss Gopher Glen Apple Farm. Started 40 years ago, the farm offers a variety of apples and other fruits like tomatoes, nectarines and squash. They’ve even launched a hard cider company and offer events throughout the year.
Down the highway is Pismo Beach. Visit Dinosaur Caves Park to get a glimpse of sea lions and seals. Head to the beach to surf, relax or ride an ATV over the dunes. There’s also a children’s museum and Pismo Preserve for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
If you visit between October and February, be sure not to miss the Monarch Butterfly Grove. The butterflies migrate to Pismo State Beach for the winter and, at times, averages 25,000 butterflies.
Spectacular views, six miles of beach and a fishing village make up Morro Bay.
Take a walk up Black Hill, one of the nine volcanic plugs between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. Enjoy the exhibits at Art Center Morro Bay or wander around one of the art galleries in town. Rent an electric boat and explore the bay. Take a visit to Morro Bay State Park to see the other volcanic plug in the city, Morro Rock. You’ll find plenty to do on your day trip to Morro Bay.
San Luis Obispo
Even if you feel it’s too far to spend the night while visiting Lake Nacimiento, don’t hesitate to take a day trip to the city of San Luis Obispo. Nicknamed as one of the “Happiest Places in America,” it’s known for its outdoor lifestyle and top-notch wine region.
Hikers will enjoy the hilly area that has ten trails to explore. Don’t miss Bowden Ranch & Reservoir Canyon Trail, which offers a 5-mile hike to see a waterfall, river and eucalyptus groves. Bikers will find 20 trails to explore in the city. There’s also a golf course and horseback riding to keep the outdoors lovers occupied.
History lovers will want to visit Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. A working church it’s also open for tours. And take a trip to the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. The 10 acres currently used feature plants that grow in a Mediterranean climate.
Have you visited Lake Nacimiento? What’s your favorite thing to do on the lake and in the surrounding area?