Short on time? Follow this link to a Google Maps version of weekend guide to the best things to do in San Luis Obispo with all of our favorite spots labeled! You can “follow” the guide, and the saved locations will automatically transfer to your own Google Maps account.
The following is a love letter to San Luis Obispo.
But first, here’s why we are posting this.
We love traveling internationally. We love hearing new languages, experiencing different cultures, exploring beautiful areas that we’ve never seen.
But, like most, we have jobs. We can’t just pick up whenever we want. (Hence the reason why we are so nuts about making sure we make the most of every second when we do manage to escape.)
Luckily for us, though, we live in California, the land of a million getaways.
Just a couple hours in the car on a Friday evening, and BAM! We are set for the weekend doing whatever we want–wine tasting, soaking up the sun on the beach, skiing on a snow-capped mountain (but let’s be real, drinking a dirty chai at the bottom of that snow-capped mountain), hiking, biking, you get it. I’ll stop bragging soon, I promise.
In between our international posts, we are going to pause to appreciate and document the glorious state of California.
To kick this effort off, we are going to start with the best things to do in San Luis Obispo.
We are a **little** biased when it comes to San Luis Obispo (or SLO, as the SLOcals like to call it).
We both went to school there. And yes, it’s where we met and fell in love. Nostalgia aside, though, San Luis Obispo is one of the prettiest places in California. It’s on the central coast, right in between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
It’s a ten-minute drive from the beach and boasts a long list of stunning hikes that we didn’t get through even in four years of living there. SLO has a coffee shop for every single mood you could ever be in, so much good food, and a diverse lineup of frat-infested bars that will never disappoint you.
AND it’s known as the happiest town in America. Thanks, Oprah.
You know when you look back on your eighth-grade Washington, D.C. trip and shake your head because your gangly, hormonal self didn’t appreciate a single thing you did? This is how we feel about San Luis Obispo. We absolutely loved living there in college. But now that we are stuck in the godforsaken Silicon Valley, we know that we did not take full advantage of living in that perfect slice of heaven on the Central Coast.
A few weeks ago, we came back for the weekend and did all of our favorite things. And it was fantastic.
We stayed at the Apple Farm. This adorable hotel is just around the corner from the Cal Poly campus. It is a ten-minute walk to downtown and is the perfect base for exploring.
All of that rain that we Californians were in hysterics about this winter turned out to be a huge win. The entire central coast is BRIGHT green right now. So it’s THE perfect time to escape to SLO for a weekend. Go, go, go!!
We are going to break down the best things to do in San Luis Obispo so you, too, can live it up.
IF you are so lucky as to make it by Thursday evening, definitely go to the Farmer’s Market downtown. This is my favorite street fair. I mean…fresh flowers, warm kettle corn, locally-grown strawberries and avocados, AND baked potatoes with all the right toppings?? Talk about a flawless combo.
But if your weekend starts on Friday…
Walk downtown and hop in line at Firestone, home of the world’s (yes, world’s) most amazing tri-tip sandwich. Don’t be thrown off by the long line. They move pretty quickly, and those lovely moments of anticipation make the meal all the more satisfying. Order a side of fries to accompany the sandwich to beat all sandwiches (a “side” is more than enough for two people PROMISE, and a “basket” is perfect for a big group).
After dinner, mosey down the street to the Blast 825 Taproom. Try not to panic as you choose from 43 self-serve taps. The friendly staff helped me find my new favorite beer (Barrelhouse Juicy IPA, to be specific). It’s crowded but fun, and we hear the build-your-own pizza is incredible.
If you are an early riser (a kind of human I will always envy but never understand), head to Sally Loo’s. If you come after 9am, your day is done for. They are slow as molasses, but I keep coming back for the acai bowls and ridiculously perfect black coffee.
Tyler would like me to point out that there are other amazing things to order at Sally Loo’s besides the acai bowl. For example, he got the breakfast burrito when we went this time and was obsessed.
This place is always crowded, so you might have trouble finding a table. If that’s the case, order to-go and take your food to the top of Terrace Hill, right across the train tracks. It’s a fun place to picnic with a great view of SLO.
Another fun breakfast option is Big Sky which is slightly less pretentious and has bigger portions than Sally’s.
(This just in: I learned two minutes ago that what we refer to as “Madonna Mountain” is actually called Cerro San Luis. Check out this helpful guide for a better overview of the hikes you can choose from).
If you aren’t up to scaling a peak, opt for a low-key walk back to Poly Canyon. Park in the open parking here, and walk back down the down the road, turn right, and then walk until you hit the trail head. Follow the road about a mile, and you’ll find yourself in a sea of rolling hills (again, plugging the bright green currently happening right NOW). Take a left at the fork about a mile down and check out the “architecture graveyard” (where Cal Poly architecture projects retire). If you go right, follow the trail all the way up to Serenity Swing.
Drive out to Edna Valley, just minutes south of SLO for a little wine tour. Our favorite tasting room is at Baileyana.
We love the wine and views of sprawling vineyards outside. Pack a blanket, buy a glass of the “stone egg” albariño, and relax on the lawn. If you’re feeling extra classy, play some bocce ball.
Most tasting rooms in Edna Valley close at 5pm. If you want to keep the party going a little longer, head to Tolosa and post up on their outdoor patio until 6pm.
Not into wine? Pack a snack or beverage of choice, and climb the water tower near campus (if you’re down for trespassing and can do a pull-up). This is a fun place to relax and take in an amazing view of San Luis Obispo.
While Friday night Firestone is non-negotiable for us, there are several options to choose from for Saturday night dinner. A few of our top picks are: Sidecar (I go for the appetizers), Eureka (get the Fresno Fig Burger), Petra (the chicken gyro plate is amazing), and Aisuru (just pick literally any roll on the menu).
Let’s be honest. You’re gonna need coffee.
Hit up Black Horse if you need a no-nonsense dark roast and an almond croissant, Scout if you need an almond milk vanilla latte and an instagram, or Kreuzburg if you need to brood on a vintage armchair with a double espresso.
Once the caffeine kicks in, make your way to Avila Beach where you can either kayak or lounge on a towel with a good book.
We recommend packing a lunch because there aren’t a ton of options in Avila (unless of course you call shaved ice an option–who am I kidding, of course it’s an option).
Honestly, you can’t really go wrong in San Luis Obispo. If you’ve been, let us know if we missed anything crucial on this itinerary. And if you haven’t, go now!!