One of the most common things we hear from visitors to Arroyo Grande is how our community has a wonderful “small-town feel.” We owe much of that charm to thoughtful planners and builders over the decades who committed to maintaining welcoming open spaces, in particular our public parks. 

July is Parks Make Life Better Month, so we thought this was the perfect time to highlight our city parks system and give you a few hints of what special features to look out for in each location. This list is by no means the entire list of Arroyo Grande’s parks, which also include many beloved little pocket parks and neighborhood respites, but these represent some of the largest and most popular spots.

Strother Park

1150 Huasna Rd.

Can’t-Miss Features: Arroyo Grande Creek, basketball court mural

Situated along the bank of Arroyo Grande Creek on the east side of town, Strother Park is spacious and beautiful, with mature trees and a Chumash Reservation Site. In addition to ample green spaces, this park also features barbecue pits and party areas available for rent, plus two large play structures for preschool and big kids. 

There’s also a softball area with a backstop, frisbee golf, horseshoe pits, grass volleyball and a basketball court that was painted and resurfaced beautifully as a public art project in 2022. This large park really is a gem on this side of town, perfect for parties, picnics and pick-up games.

Elm Street Park

1221 Ash St.

Can’t-Miss Features: Award-winning inclusive playground, dog park

On the west side of town, visitors and locals alike flock to Elm Street Park. Surrounded by residential blocks, this park has a real family feel. It offers the only off-leash dog park in the Five Cities area that includes Arroyo Grande and our neighbor communities. The dog park has separate fenced areas for small and large dogs, which both have mulch, benches and other amenities. 

The other star of this park is the Kiwanis Inclusive Playground, which was the first one in the nation to receive four National Demonstration Site Accreditations. Opened in November 2022, the playground features inclusive play equipment, musical elements, signage that teaches kids about nature and exercise, and many other cool features. 

Adjacent to the Soto Sports Complex and also containing a Community Garden with rentable plots, this park is often the epicenter of family fun. You can also enjoy regular city events there such as Art in the Park and holiday celebrations.

Heritage Square Park

201 Nelson St.

Can’t-Miss Features: Rotary Bandstand for community events and concerts

The central location and large bandstand at Heritage Square Park make it one of the most popular in Arroyo Grande. It features a play structure for preschool-aged children, but the majority of the park is a beautiful flat grass area. It’s the perfect picnic spot, surrounded by some of the oldest Victorian homes in the city and flanked by multiple local museums.
This park also is also the site of many community events thanks to the large Rotary Bandstand. It has long been home to the free summer concert series, Fourth of July celebrations and lots of other fun events.

Centennial Park

200 Olohan Alley

Can’t-Miss Features: Historic Swinging Bridge, beloved local roosters

Although Centennial Park is small and narrow, it’s the place to be just about any weekend in Arroyo Grande! It runs alongside the Arroyo Grande Creek through the heart of the Village, our community’s beloved and bustling downtown. It’s also the home of our popular roosters, who live and nest in the trees and shrubs along the area.

Along the creek, you can find picnic tables and benches, as well as the Swinging Bridge. Built in 1875, it’s one of the only historical swinging bridges in California. The bridge is closed to pedestrians while it undergoes repairs in summer 2024, expected to reopen in September. The iconic and distinctive-looking green bridge can still be viewed from the park, however, and is a treasure of the community.

Centennial Park is also home to the Centennial Gazebo, often filled with local musicians entertaining shoppers at the Farmers Market that occurs in the park each Saturday from 12:30-2:30 p.m. Keep your eyes peeled for the Centennial Time Capsule in the gazebo, installed there in 2011 on Arroyo Grande’s 100th birthday and to be opened in 2111.

Soto Sports Complex

1375 Ash St.

Can’t-Miss Features: Top-of-the-line outdoor sports complex

The Soto Sports Complex, as its name suggests, is one heck of an outdoor sports complex! The 18-acre space includes lighted tennis and pickleball courts, different sized baseball and softball fields, and major grass fields for football and soccer. 

With ample parking and multiple restrooms, this huge complex has played host to thousands of athletes of all ages over the years. If you’re traveling to Arroyo Grande to watch your child’s tournament, it may very well be at popular Soto. This sporting destination is also adjacent to Elm Street Park, so be sure to stroll over there with the family while you’re visiting.

Lopez Lake

6800 Lopez Drive

Can’t-Miss Features: Boating, Ziplines, Waterpark

Although it’s not technically a part of the Arroyo Grande parks system, we would be remiss to not devote some time to Lopez Lake Recreation Area. Located just east of town, this gorgeous destination for camping, hiking, biking, fishing, day use and more is part of the San Luis Obispo County parks system

It all surrounds Lopez Lake, a natural mountain reservoir that was dammed in 1969 and now provides water to our community. It offers 22 miles of shoreline and is home to over 175 species of flowers and more than 150 species of birds, as well as deer and even the occasional bear. The lake itself is especially popular for bountiful fishing, pleasure boat rentals and windsurfing, thanks to the constant wind streams in certain coves.
Also at Lopez Lake, visitors and thrill seekers will find Vista Lago Adventure Park, which includes ziplines adventure-style elevated ropes courses and more. Their Sipline Bar & Grill is also a fun spot for a cold beer or glass of wine and live local bands. And just around the lake is Mustang Waterpark, too! This family-friendly park has pools, slides, private cabanas and other features that are designed for all ages.

Next time you’re in Arroyo Grande, we invite you to explore our beautiful parks. Not only are they a great peek into our unique natural setting, but they’re also a part of so many of our community’s most treasured memories. 

Photos courtesy of the City of Arroyo Grande.