Learn how to get the most out of this chill-vibes-only town, while entertaining little people who are wholly incapable of chillin'.
Walking on the dirt roads of Dominical, Costa Rica, passing barefoot, sun-soaked surfers and kids trying to scarf down ice cream before the sun devours it, smelling a mix of salt, eco-conscious bug spray and sunscreen, and regularly floating in water that is always just right, seems to require folks slow down and chill the f out. It's as though Dominical has an unspoken pact with everyone who enters its mellow energy field to say no to email, take a nap, catch a wave, or just sit and stare at the Costa Rican beauty blossoming out of every corner in this little town.
As someone who is not skilled at "just sitting and staring," I was shocked when this special spot melted away my need to stay on the hamster wheel of productivity, and helped me become cool with making friends with a cold beer and extra-cheese nachos, whilst my son made friends with a slow, stray kitten he named Flash. (Yes, we hand-sanitized.)
If you would like to press pause, reconnect with family, and remember what it feels like to for-real relax, check out our sleep, eat and play recommendations for this beachside community that serves up the ultimate travel trifecta of Fun-Safe-Affordable.
And don't forget to bring your good camera, as the sunsets here look like cotton candy + orange sorbet exploded in the sky.
Where to Sleep
With a choice of "nests, lofts, coves, lodges, and roosts," this 3-star resort can accommodate any assortment of family. And for those that don't want to eat all meals out, they provide accommodations with kitchens. Family-friendly amenities include a decent-sized pool, plenty of lush patches of grass, and a mellow beach nearby.
Located on the edge of Playa Dominicalito, this spot is a 5-minute drive, or 15-minute beach walk, into town. If you're keen to post up in this sweet spot and only leave when absolutely necessary, you'll be pleased. But if you'd like to frequently explore Dominical, and would rather watch non-stop Wishenpoof than shlep your kids into the car, or across a long stretch of beach every time you want to go into town, consider the option below.
If you're a stay-in-towner, this is a clean, affordable, family-friendly option you'll enjoy. There is a communal kitchen for those hoping to prepare some of their own meals - but be sure to label your goods, preventing drunk midnight snackers from using your breastmilk for their cereal... Just sayin'.
If you'd rather skip the kitchen, there is a simple, tasty restaurant across the street that serves classic Costa Rican fare, such as Gallo Pinto (rice mixed with black beans and seasoning), served with sour cream, scrambled eggs, and fried plantains. Ample fresh fruit, juice, and monkey sightings are also available. As you'll see below, there are numerous other affordable and tasty nosh options (noptions?)
Where to Eat
Coffee, the source of many parents' superpowers, is done the right way here. Combine your caffeine concoction of choice with vegetarian-friendly breakfast and lunch fare that includes favorites such as pineapple french toast, avocado smash, GF quinoa brekkie bowl, empanadas, falafel wraps, and plenty of other options that will please all varieties of picky eaters. And their smoothies... divine - they're the perfect way to trick your kids into eating fruits and veggies.
As the name suggests, this spot is phat, and Thai-inspired. Beyond being a delicious dinner choice after a busy day of swimming, putting sunscreen on children, exploring, and begging said children to smile for photos ("a real smile, not the fake one please"), your health is a top-priority for this quality eatery. Conscious eaters can rest assured that Phat only uses ocean-wise seafood, free-range, hormone-free chicken and local beef, in addition to fluoride-free sea salt, zero MSG, and house-made curry pastes and desserts.
The go-to choice for real-deal Tico food (and pancakes!), this is a prime choice for those wanting to weave authentic Costa Rican culture into their travels. A few of our favorite dishes include the Especial Breakfast, tropical pancakes, sweet plantains with sour cream, Casado with fried chicken, and the whole red snapper (for the adventurous eaters.) Hudson's Top Choices: French fries, quesadilla, and garlic bread...
A fixture in Dominical, Tortilla Flats was the source of our first meal after surviving off peanuts and power bars for 24-hours... it was one of the best meals we've ever had. This place provides heaping portions of beach-side staples like fish tacos, nachos, ceviche, and cold drinks - say yes to a passion fruit basil margarita. As a sort of hub for the community, this is also a fun spot to chat up locals and get the inside scoop on the area, or just hear stranger-than-fiction travel stories.
Where to Play
If surfing, boogie boarding, and beach play is your jam, Dominical's main beach is where you want to go. This wide expanse of sand dissolves into protected surf that breaks left to right over a sandy bottom. While this is a good spot for beginners, it's best to not paddle into the outermost breaks (unless you're experienced), as this is where the more intense waves live. The strongest waves break pretty far out, so there is plenty of calm water for littles to tinker around in.
As Hudson says, looking back on photos of this animal oasis, "Everything is so so cute and fluffy!" And he's not wrong. But beyond the cute-factor, this sanctuary is committed to protecting and rehabilitating animals like spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, sloths, anteaters, raccoons, parrots, toucans, raptors, porcupines and kinkajous.
In addition, they educate guests on the history, biology and conservation needs of the various species they nurture. So you'll not only score ample sightings of adorable critters, but your kids will learn the value of animal advocacy. There are multiple 1 to 1.5 hour tours offered daily (with the exception of Mondays.) And because they're a non-profit, all tour fees support the cause.
This series of waterfalls and pools is so mystical you half expect to see some fairies fossicking around. To access the falls you'll need to drive to the trailhead about 10 kms outside of Dominical (map below) and pay the $3 to park, and $8 per person to hike to the falls. While the walk is doable for children, it isn't the easiest under wet conditions, so take into consideration the age and stamina of your kiddos before setting off.
If your little ones are willing to stay close to you, and accept your support, you should be good. But if you, like us, have a child that has occasional bouts of extreme willfulness, consider sticking them in a backpack, or skipping the falls in favor of the beach.
Once you reach the falls, hang with any kids that can't swim in the calm, shallow pools - our tiny skinny dipper didn't want to leave.
If you're willing to make the 15-minute drive to nearby Uvita, Bodhi Surf + Yoga allows you to book a private family yoga session. And yes, I understand this activity might sound like bliss to some families, and total hell to others. Consider the temperament of all members of your family before booking, and just bypass the family option in favor of a private session, or adults-only class, if you have kids that are more likely to climb on you during downward dog, than calmly participate beside you.