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. Since my daughter, Taylor, and I were traveling from Carmel to Irvine, we chose San Luis Obispo as the place we wanted to get familiar with for a few days along the way. I found it to be the perfect choice.
Taylor and I loved the laid-back charm and energy of San Luis Obispo, 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 was an attractive factor for outdoor adventurers.
Nestled in the middle, the town of SLO is historic, trendy, and culturally relevant. It possessed a California ease that I had never experienced. San Luis Obispo was a great vacation spot for families, outdoor enthusiasts, shoppers, friends, romantic getaways, culture junkies, and history buffs.
Where Did We Stay in SLO?
The Lamplighter Inn & Suites was where Taylor and I stayed in San Luis Obispo. It had stunning views of the gorgeous Nine Sisters, a chain of volcanic mountains. Comfort and convenient best described this hotel, which also included free WIFI, breakfast, parking, and a friendly staff. Lamplighter Inn & Suites was located within walking distance of the popular downtown area which was a huge bonus. Our room had an in-room safe, microwave, mini-fridge, and small balcony overlooking the pool. It was a perfect budget conscious choice for accommodations in SLO, but if you wish to splurge for something unusual, the Madonna Inn is a great alternative.
Downtown San Luis Obispo consisted of 7 blocks and 5 streets packed full of thriving businesses housed in historic buildings. There was 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 offered 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 had a strong sense of community.
What was there to do in SLO?
Taylor and I attended SLO’s international film festival, and we loved it! The festival was in its 22nd year and ran like a well oiled machine. The Fremont Theatre, an 1840 art deco movie house downtown, was the epitome for hosting the event and other local theaters participated 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 supported the arts and I appreciated that. Make sure to drive by the Fremont after dark to see the brilliant pastel neon lights in this restored beauty. Other features at the Fremont included a children’s theater a history museum.
Shopping the surf, clothing, thrift, art, and locally owned stores were great ways to experience SLO. Cool cafes, trendy restaurants, and fine dining blotted 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 were popular activities, but certainly not the only. Favorite hiking spots included the Reservoir Canyon and the San Luis Mountain. Maps 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 (docents) narrate traveling tales and highlight the mission’s daily life and accomplishments. Another cool historic feature was that the railroad station, where the city began. It contained the font that was 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.
Putting Our Hands to Work
Taylor and I explored our artsy side at The Station, a wine bar that doubles as an art studio. We engaged in 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 on how to make the cool drawings while we relaxed with a complimentary glass of wine. I enjoyed learning something new.
Where did we eat in SLO?
San Luis Obispo was a food lovers dreamscape. With craft beer spots, ethnic eats, local farm-to-table restaurants, upscale eateries and breweries, plus a mega famous Thursday night farmers market, it was 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 at the Big Sky Cafe. This was a serious foodie spot and local favorite that also served 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. They featured live music in an attractive outdoor setting. Luna Red was 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, were they yummy! Luna Red also had 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 had an artisan bakery with gorgeous pastries, cookies, and cakes.
SLO Won Me Over!
After traveling to other parts of California, I think that San Luis Obispo might be the best bang for your buck and was certainly an affordable vacation destination. It also lies 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.