From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
The city of San Luis Obispo, or SLO for short, lies in Southern California's Central Coast region. It’s one of California's oldest European-founded communities and is perhaps most famous for its Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, which is a 1700s Spanish mission with a museum, as well as the quirky and colorful Bubblegum Alley.
San Luis Obispo is known for its relaxed pace, sprawling greenery, and thriving arts and dining districts. Whether you’ve lived in SLO your whole life, are a recently new transplant to the city, or are planning on visiting the region sometime in the near future, San Luis Obispo offers an exciting new experience in almost any direction you look.
Read on to start your San Luis Obispo, California adventure!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
SLO and its surrounding area are home to multiple state parks and national parks, helping you to get back to nature and leave behind the hustle and bustle of the city – even if only for a couple of hours. Here are our top picks within the region.
Less than 10 minutes’ drive from the city center is Irish Hills Natural Reserve, a large natural area featuring diverse habitats over 8 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking. The region has a rich mining history and offers a variety of landscapes to admire, providing the perfect afternoon escape.
A 20-minute drive south of the city will take you to Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve, an oceanfront sand dune complex which is just one of several OHV areas administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. You can also enjoy recreational activities such as swimming, surfing, surf fishing, camping, and hiking.
Just under a 20-minute drive north-west of SLO is Morro Bay State Park, a picturesque location featuring a lagoon and natural bay habitat, as well as the famous Morro Rock. An onsite park museum features exhibits about Native American life, geology, and oceanography. Along with recreational activities such as sailing, fishing, hiking, and bird watching, visitors can also enjoy a marina and an 18-hole public golf course.
Further north along the coastline is Hearst San Simeon State Park, which offers some of the most beautiful views within the region, including coastal bluffs, scenic overlooks, and a unique opportunity to view northern elephant seals. The park also includes the Santa Rosa Creek Natural Preserve, the San Simeon Natural Preserve and the Pa-nu Cultural Preserve.
Around a 15-minute drive south of SLO is Pismo Preserve, which covers 880 acres of exceptional and diverse recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, such as hiking, biking, and horse riding. There are also a number of other parks and reserves in the surrounding area, offering a whole day of exploring and adventure.
One of the best ways to truly experience SLO is by foot, so luckily, there are plenty of hiking trails in or near the city. These are some of our favorites!
The Bob Jones Trail is known as the "City to the Sea" bike trail, shared by hikers, joggers, and bicycle riders. This scenic trail winds through the forested valley alongside San Luis Obispo Creek towards Avila Beach, making it one of the most-loved trails within the region.
Bishop Peak is the tallest of the "Nine Sisters" peaks (or Morros peaks), offering the most stunning and panoramic views within San Luis Obispo. As locals will tell you, the single-track trail to the 1,559-foot summit is demanding but rewarding. The more popular trailhead is found at the top of Highland Drive.
Whether you’re craving a casual spot for lunch or the luxury of fine dining, San Luis Obispo is filled to the brim with eateries worth noting. Here are our favorites!
It’s famously known around town as the “home of the Tri Tip sandwich since 1995”, so you know Firestone Grill is the real deal. From juicy burgers and mouth-watering barbeque dishes, to scrumptious salads and a popular kids menu – a visit to this mainstay is certainly in order!
With its “farm to table” mantra and incredible seasonal menu, Big Sky Café has been recognized by multiple publications and platforms as one of the top restaurants within the region. The restaurant is housed in a brick and weathered steel façade building, giving it a historic look, and is in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo.
Nicknamed “SLO county’s best Santa Maria style BBQ”, the Old San Luis Barbecue Company certainly won’t disappoint. What’s unique about this place is that patrons can walk up to their window to place their orders, making it a fun and casual dining option the whole family will love. Don’t forget to check out their awesome collection of craft beer too!
Locals and travelers alike turn to Woodstock’s Pizza for their dose of deliciousness, with the restaurant being in operation in SLO since 1980, but the franchise dating back to 1977. It has been voted the “Best Pizza” in New Times Reader’s Poll not one, but 30 times! Worth a try? We think so!
If you’re looking for a place with all-American food, the best craft beer selection and the best whiskey bar in San Luis Obispo, then Eureka! is recommended by many locals. They use locally sourced produce and offer a rotating craft beer and beverage program like no other. Their burgers are legendary, so give them a try!
After filling up on delicious food and enjoying all that the hiking trails and state parks have to offer, you may be wondering: “what’s next?” Well, when it comes to SLO’s attractions and activities, you’re only just getting started. Here are some of the most fun things on offer in and around the city!
If you and your family are looking for a way to pass the day, look no further than these activities!
Madonna Inn is renowned for its 110 distinct guest rooms, whimsical charm, and unique amenities and activities. Even if you’re unable to stay at the Inn, we recommend visiting the incredible place for its spa, shops, dining, and bakery. Madonna Inn’s 1,000 acres of valleys and hilltops also provide an invigorating hike, while you can even partake in horseback trail rides for a day of adventure.
The mission of the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum is to inspire learning through play. There are hands-on exhibits and programs, as well as three floors and an outside playscape, which are jam packed with exhibits for children ages 1-10. Plus, they offer free moonlight hours every third Thursday from 5-8 pm.
What should you do in SLO once the sun goes down? We’re glad you asked! Here are our suggested night-time attractions.
Why not catch a post-dinner move at the nostalgic Sunset Drive-In? Here, you’ll find movies both old and new screening, plus there’s a full snack bar of goodies to keep your appetite at bay. So, grab a blanket, a comfy camping chair, or a pillow and enjoy a movie in SLO in complete comfort!
Every Wednesday from 6 - 8 pm, you can enjoy live music at the SeaVenture Restaurant within the hotel. Take your special someone (or your family), sit back, grab a bite to eat or a beverage, and relax to the sounds of a live band. Could there be a better way to end your week?
Looking to save a dollar or two during your SLO excursion? There are plenty of activities and attractions that can be visited on a budget, helping you to get the most out of your time spent in the city.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded in 1772 and is one of the most famous attractions within the region. Come along for a day spent at the Spanish mission exploring the gardens, museum, and gift shop. You can also learn all about the mission’s history through a guided tour. Technically, admission is free, but since the mission relies heavily on donations, these are recommended.
You’ll find the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art (or SLOMA) on the west end of Mission Plaza. Here, you can admire numerous exhibitions and collections, as well as take part in educational programs or events. It’s a great way to pass a few hours in your day, while learning about artists both local and from afar.
Looking to get the most out of your time spent within the city of San Luis Obispo? Whether you want a fun way to waste away a Sunday afternoon or a date idea that won’t break the budget – here are our most recommended things to do in SLO that won’t cost you a cent.
Bubblegum Alley attracts hundreds of thousands of people a year who leave their mark with chewed gum on the walls. It’s one of the city’s most popular and famous unofficial attractions and is located off Higuera Street in downtown SLO. Nearly two million pieces of gum adorn the 70-foot-long alleyway, and trust us, it’s a sight worth seeing!
The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is located near the Pacific Ocean on the Central Coast of California, making it one of the most scenic gardens you’ll ever visit. Take a garden tour to learn more about the unique flora and fauna within the garden, or find a nice and quiet spot to read a book and escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
By now, you’ve probably been on your feet all day exploring the sights and delights that San Luis Obispo has to offer. If you’re craving some rest and relaxation, or even a bit of pampering, these are two of the best spas in the region.
As the region’s go-to, Sloco Massage + Wellness Spa assists you to support your immune system, decrease inflammation, relieve pain, manage stress, and sleep better. You can treat yourself to services such as dry salt therapy, massage therapy, Somadome meditation, organic facials, infrared sauna, and whole-body cryotherapy.
Remember how we mentioned Madonna Inn earlier in this guide? The attraction also has one of the highest-rated spas within the city, offering people a whimsical and unique place to sit back, relax, and rejuvenate. They offer a variety of massages and each treatment includes complementary aromatherapy.
If rejuvenation for you is less about deep relaxation and more about sweating it out, then you’re in luck. San Luis Obispo is home to some of the highest-rated gyms and yoga studios within the region.
At Spark Yoga, you’re encouraged to be curious, let go of self-doubt, and celebrate YOU in a space free of judgement, ego, and negativity. All of their classes are in heated or warm conditions, and are based on principles such as restore, yin, flow, sculpt, and more.
Kennedy Club Fitness has been voted the #1 Health Club in San Luis Obispo County for years now, so if you’re keen for a workout, we recommend you look no further. They offer 300 group exercise classes each week, providing you with the flexibility and motivation you need to reach your fitness goals.
Looking to fulfill your wanderlust by heading outside of the region for a day? You could spend decades within San Luis Obispo without barely scratching the surface of all there is to do in this city, but consider these day trips next time you fancy a new adventure.
The popular tourist city of Arroyo Grande is less than a 20-minute drive from the city center, but trust us, you’ll want to spend all day - if not a weekend - in this historic village alone. Firstly, the location is known for its old world charm, with quaint architecture, antique shops, museums, and vintage boutiques. It hosts a Strawberry Festival over the Memorial Day weekend and runs a Farmers Market on Saturday afternoons.
Just over an hour’s drive south of SLO will have you feeling as though you’ve landed in a charming Dutch village. Solvang is known as the "Little Denmark" of California's Central Coast and features authentic Danish bakeries, as well as a traditional windmill. Other notable attractions include the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, the Elverhøj Museum of Danish-American History & Art, and the historic Old Santa Inés Mission.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in San Luis Obispo that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in San Luis Obispo? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.