San Luis Obispo, California lies halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Often referred to as SLO, it possesses a comfortable Mediterranean climate resulting in 315 days of sunshine a year. Maybe that is why it constantly being voted as “Happy Town” USA and one of the best places in to live America. I love visiting new places and since my daughter Taylor and I were traveling from Carmel to Irvine, I chose this as the place I wanted to get familiar with for a few days along the way. I found it to be the perfect choice.
Recently, San Luis Obispo played host to my daughter Taylor and I. We loved the laid-back charm and energy of this place which made us not want to leave. Nature lovers will be in “tall cotton” getting to know the area that is flanked by lush, rolling mountains and steep hills on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Temperatures never exceed 90 degrees, so the climate is an attractive factor for outdoor adventurers. Nestled in the middle, the town of SLO is historic, trendy, culturally relevant, and possesses a California ease that I had never experienced. San Luis Obispo is the vacation spot for families, outdoor enthusiasts, shoppers, friends, romantic getaways, culture junkies, and history buffs.
The Lamplighter Inn & Suites was where Taylor and I stayed. It had stunning views of the gorgeous Nine Sisters, a chain of volcanic mountains. Comfortable and convenient best describe this hotel, which also included free WIFI, breakfast, parking, and a friendly staff. Lamplighter Inn & Suites is located within walking distance of the popular downtown area which was a huge plus. Our room had an in-room safe, microwave, mini-fridge, and small balcony overlooking the pool. This was a perfect budget conscious choice for accommodations in SLO, but if you wish to splurge for something unusual, the Madonna Inn is the place to stay.
Downtown San Luis Obispo consists of 7 blocks and 5 streets packed full of thriving businesses housed in historic buildings. There is such an eclectic fashion to the setting, no rhyme or reason to the stores (which I love), and a huge selection of awesome restaurants. SLO has a little of everything. I would describe the city’s people as an older crowd of hipsters who are all very socially conscious. The locals I met said that SLO residents help each other and have a strong sense of community.
What was there to do in SLO?
Taylor and I were given the opportunity to attend SLO’s international film festival, and we loved it! The festival is in its 22nd year and runs like a well oiled machine. The Fremont Theatre, an 1840 art deco movie house downtown, is the epitome for hosting the event and other local theaters participate as well. We attended the opening night party where we got to mix and mingle with both producers and directors. The only film that we had time to see was “Our Little Sister” at the Pam Theatre, but the crowds (even daytime and week day) were impressive. The SLO community very much supports the arts and I liked that. Be sure to drive by the Fremont after dark to see the brilliant pastel neon lights in this restored beauty. Other features at the Fremont include a children’s theater a history museum.
Shopping the surf, clothing, thrift, art, and locally owned stores are great ways to see SLO. Cool cafes, trendy restaurants, and fine dining blot the canvas to more than satisfy your taste buds. For those choosing to enjoy the climate and outdoor opportunities, mountain biking, golf, surfing, whale watching, windsurfing, birding, hiking, and sailing are popular activities, but certainly not the only. Favorite hiking spots include the Reservoir Canyon and the San Luis Mountain. Maps to use for your hike can be found here.
History lovers will want to visit the San Luis Obispo Mission, the 5th of the California Spanish Missions that were comprised of 21 religious outposts between 1769 and 1833. These missions were used to expand Christianity among the Native Americans. The guides, called docents, narrate traveling tales and highlight the mission’s daily life and accomplishments. Another cool historic feature is that the railroad station, where the city began, contains the font that is used for all the street signs, which appeared Gaelic to me. I was surprised that SLO is not a sister city to a location in Ireland or Scotland.
Taylor and I explored our artsy side at The Station, a wine bar that doubles as an art studio. We took a class on learning how to channel our creative energies into mandala’s and zentangles under the direction of instructor Sadie. We were provided a step by step guide showing us how to make the cool drawings and relaxed with a complimentary glass of wine while fine tuning our masterpieces.
Where did we eat in SLO?
San Luis Obispo is food lovers dream. With craft beer spots, ethnic eats, local farm-to-table restaurants, upscale eateries and breweries, plus a mega famous Thursday night farmers market, it is easy to see why. I did not have one thing in SLO that was not good enough to write home about.
My favorite breakfast was Big Sky Cafe. This is a serious foodie spot and local favorite that also serves lunch and dinner. The food was so good that I feel quite sure it will make my “Top Eats of 2016” list. I tried both the Devil’s Mess and Traditional New Mexican Pozole (hey, I am a food blogger, too, do not judge) and my eyes rolled back in my head from the deliciousness. Big Sky Cafe also has choices of coffee cake, jalapeño corn muffins, or toast for your bread options. The tasteful and creative artwork on the walls is for sale, so you can also take home a souvenir.
Luna Red, located one block from the SLO Mission, features globally inspired cuisine and has live music with an attractive outdoor setting. This is the perfect place for cocktails after work and unwinding with sangria or hand-crafted cocktails and small plate tapas. I recommend the roasted beets (topped with sweet, crunchy honeycomb) and the pickled eggs. Oh my, they were yummy! Luna Red also has a weekend brunch that I heard rave reviews about.For lunch, why not try the California sensation, The Habit, for a char burger combo under $8. If you would rather stay local, the Splash Cafe has noteworthy clam chowder in a bread bowl. They also have an artisan bakery with gorgeous pastries, cookies, and cakes.
After traveling to other parts of California, I think that San Luis Obispo might be the best bang for your buck and is certainly an affordable vacation destination. It is also near the epic Pacific Coast Highway 1 drive along the rocky and drop-dead gorgeous California coast and the infamous Hearst Castle. I am still in awe of this adorable town and how on Earth it just came across my radar.
FYI: If you need help getting around, you can hop aboard the Old SLO Trolley for 50 cents a ride.
FYI: This is a college town, home to Cuesta College and Cal Poly, an engineering, architecture, and agriculture school.
Need More: Drive south and hit Pismo or Shell Beaches.
Do Not Miss: Bubble Gum Alley- a fun tourist attraction that is a small alley in the center of town where visitors leave their mark by placing their gum on the walls. Yes, this is a real thing.
Fact: SLO County (which includes San Simeon, the home of the iconic Hearst Castle) is home to a population of over 250,000 and 45,000 live in the city of San Luis Obispo.
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Though San Luis Obispo sponsored our trip, all opinions and reviews are 100% our own and unbiased.