San Luis Obispo, or SLO, as locals call it, is tucked between the green hills of Santa Lucia Mountains along California’s Coast. It boasts year-round sunshine, buzzing cultural scene and tons of recreational opportunities.
When you spend a bit of time in San Luis Obispo, you understand why it has been nicknamed “The Happiest City in America.”
If you want visit this Central California town, I’m here to tell you about all the fun things to do San Luis Obispo!
San Luis Obispo is about 190 miles north of Los Angeles and 170 miles south of the iconic Big Sur. However, this town should be treated as more than just a pit stop along your itinerary. It’s a perfect place to relax and have a great time before hitting the road again.
PRO TIP: San Luis Obispo sits 106 miles north of Santa Barbara, a glamorous town known for its wineries, colonial architecture and celebrities who live there.
While Santa Barbara is one of the most popular places along California’s Central Coast, I recommend you visit both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, because these two cities are different and have so much to offer!
Before you plan your trip to San Luis Obispo, consider sparing a day for a trip to the nearby Paso Robles, a unique California town famous for its wineries scattered along the rolling hills and lush olive groves.
But it’s not just wine and pretty landscapes: The City of Paso Robles boasts a great dining scene, museums, galleries and a charming downtown square to keep you busy all day long! If you are short on time, consider booking a tour of Paso Robles to see one of California’s top producing wine regions.
San Luis Obispo Airport
San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport is about 2.5 miles south of downtown SLO. The fastest way to get to the city from the airport is by Uber.
How to get around San Luis Obispo
If you want to explore beyond downtown SLO, hop on the RTA bus which stops across from the Government Center at Palm Street and Osos Street.
From there, you can also get to get to Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, and Morro Bay. And don’t forget to bring cash, because this bus doesn’t accept credit cards! Most of the time, you can’t get change either, so prepare 5 or 1-dollar bills for your trip.
You can also check the RTA bus schedule online.
San Luis Obispo Downtown
Starting your trip with a visit to the historic downtown San Luis Obispo is an excellent idea.
The heart of the city was built around Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and today it boasts a bunch of landmarks along the beautiful tree-lined streets.To get a taste of the city, take a walk along Higuera Street, the busiest street in San Luis Obispo downtown where you will find vintage stores, restaurants, and cafes.
Grab a bite and sit down at the SLO Creek Wall, a venue with cool public art that provides a nice atmosphere for a quick picnic.
Located right off Higuera Street, this accepted act of public nuisance is one of the most fun places in downtown SLO.
Like it or not, but Bubblegum Alley is a draw for many tourists who come here to snap a shot in front of one of the walls plastered with thousands of pieces of chewed-up bubble gum.
Visiting the famous Bubblegum Alley has become somewhat of a rite of passage, so get some gum and join the ranks!
San Luis Obispo History Center and Museum
If you want to learn about the history of San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo County, head to the history center that houses a gallery, a bookstore and a research room dedicated to the history of the region.
San Luis Obispo History Center and Museum are located at 696 Monterey Street.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
San Luis Obispo de Tolosa that was founded in 1772 by Father Junipero Serra. It’s the fifth California mission that was established to bring the Catholic religion to the native people of Alta, California.
If you are a history buff, it’s one of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo!
Part of the city’s heritage, San Luis Obispo Mission offers group and individual tours where visitors can learn about the history of San Luis Obispo. It also has a beautiful garden, museum, and a gift shop that sells jewelry and artworks.
The museum is free and is open from 9 p.m.-5 p.m.
San Luis Obispo Museum of Art
San Luis Obispo is a hiker’s dream.
The famous “Nine Sisters,” a chain of volcanic mountains stretching from SLO to the iconic Morro Bay that provide tons of opportunities for recreation such as hiking, mountain biking and running.
One of the most popular hikes in SLO is the Bishop Peak.
It’s a 3,5 miles round-trip hike with an elevation of 1,000 feet. Although the hike is considered to be moderate, you can do it even if you are not an advanced hiker. Bishop Peak is especially famous for its sunrise and sunset views, and while a lot of people try to make it to the peak to catch the sunset, sunrises are typically a lot less crowded.
So get your hiking boots on, to check out the best things to do in San Luis Obispo!
Cerro San Luis Obispo
I hiked a smaller mountain called Cerro San Luis Obispo (or Madonna Mountain) from where you can get a pretty good view of the Bishop Peak (See the above photo).
Hiking the 4-mile loop trail takes about 1,5-2 hours and opens a sprawling view of the city. The best part is that you can access Cerro San Luis Obispo on foot right from the downtown.
San Luis Obispo Beaches
SLO isn’t on the coast, however, it offers a quick access to several beaches where you can relax and catch the wave. Here are a few options if you are looking to spend a day at the beach:
The town of Avila Beach has a quaint downtown with surf shops, organic cafes, and restaurants along the waterfront.
Protected by the hills of SLO Bay, Avila Beach provides a good place to learn how to surf and paddle board. It is about 15 minutes away from downtown SLO by car and about 30 minutes by bus if you take one from the SLO’s Government Center.
Another small coastal community, Shell Beach is part of Pismo Beach between Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean.
How to find Shell Beach
Shell Beach sits just north of downtown Pismo Beach and is easily accessible via Price Street.
If you want to explore the area, head to Dinosaur Caves Park and Margo Dodd Park for stunning views and wildlife sights.
It’s not uncommon to spot sea lions and otters in Dinosaur Caves Park. And if you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a whale! When you stop at Shell Beach, don’t forget to pay a visit to Joy Shell Beach, a good place to grab an acai bowl and other vegan goodies!
Things to do in Pismo Beach
San Luis Obispo Hotels
If you are looking for quick access to some of the best cultural landmarks, consider staying in one of downtown SLO hotels.
The Cliffs Hotel and Spa
Quality Suites Downtown San Luis Obispo
La Quinta San Luis Obispo
La Quinta San Luis Obispo is another great place to stay near the city’s downtown. It has continental breakfast, big rooms and it is located within a walking distance from major San Luis Obispo landmarks.
Madonna Inn is not your typical hotel.
This candy-colored hotel is not only an awesome place to stay at, it’s also one of the most popular landmarks in this Central California city.
The hotel features pink decors and is known for its Madonna champagne cakes. Each room at Madonna Inn is decorated with a whimsy theme. Even if you don’t plan on staying at Madonna Inn, you should make a stop here to check it out!
Other California places to visit
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