It's almost impossible not to fall in love with a city as beautiful as San Luis Obispo. Located around halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo couldn't be more different from its larger cousins.
The first thing that draws visitors in is the sheer beauty of their surroundings. San Luis Obispo is situated at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains, which reach down to the Pacific, just a few miles away.
Explore the hiking paths or mountain biking trails of the mountains, rent kayaks and cruise the coast of the Montana de Oro State Park or stay in town and wander arm in arm through the city's Botanical Garden in El Churro. Take wine tasting tours with the guidance of local wine experts, dine at bistros like Novo and round off your day with a drive-in movie in the warm California evening.
With a mixture of natural beauty, classy wineries, great food and entertainment, it's easy to fall in love with this charming Californian destination.
San Luis Obispo offers a fine balance of urban appeal and raw natural beauty. Some of the most stunning local scenery can be found in the Santa Lucia Mountains, but it's also worth driving to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa to see Big Falls if you have the time.
San Luis Obispo is located around 15 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, so it only takes around half an hour to reach the sea. Take kayaks to explore the sea caves at Pismo Beach, hike at Montana de Oro or just laze on beaches like Avila.
San Luis Obispo is also right on the doorstep of the Edna Valley, one of California's elite wine growing regions. Stay in town and sample local vintages as bars like the Wine Shed or take tours with the experts at Breakaway Tours.
San Luis Obispo has a beautifully redeveloped pedestrianized city center that is packed with intriguing vintage stores like Finders Keepers and Ruby Rose and apparel boutiques like Blackwater and Contessa, along with more familiar names. Whatever you love to buy, there will be something for you.
San Luis Obispo has a very long history, with the first mission being founded by Spanish friars in 1772. Today, visitors can tour the original Mission, which is right at the center of town and then cross the road to History Center of San Luis Obispo County to find out everything they need to know about the city's fascinating past.
Above all else, San Luis Obispo is an outdoors destination, with hundreds of miles of trails in the dramatic Santa Lucia Mountains just a short drive from the city center. If you are up for a challenge, try to conquer the peaks known as the "Nine Sisters" or rent a bike and test yourself against the trails at Cerro San Luis.
San Luis Obispo is also just 13 miles east of the stunning coastal scenery of Montana de Oro State Park. See the Pacific crash against the rocks or climb Oats Peak for an even better view of the mid-California coastline. It's a fantastic place to get away from it all.
Because San Luis Obispo is so close to the coast, it's possible to enjoy a wide range of ocean-based activities. For example, you can rent kayaks from companies like Poly Escapes, strap them to your rental vehicle and take them to locations like Pismo Beach (which features a network of caves for kayakers to explore).
A trip to California would hardly be complete without visiting at least one winery, and the Edna Valley near San Luis Obispo has plenty. This underrated wine region is a designated American Viticultural Area and is known for the crisp, complex flavors of its vintages.
Drive-In movies used to be a staple of American life, but these days they are thin on the ground in many parts of the country. Not in San Luis Obispo, however. Take your vehicle to the Sunset Drive-In to watch movies the way they should be - in the open air, with a giant screen and snacks whenever you need them.
The climate in San Luis Obispo is mild almost all year-round (although the town experiences more rain from November through March). A good time to go is late spring, in May or early June, when the temperatures average around 75 degrees, and the crowds won't be too large.Summer is also great as it sees the area hosting most of its food and wine festivals, which can be a big draw as well. Book ahead if you plan a summer vacation, as accommodation can be snapped up quickly.
San Luis Obispo's small airport has connections to San Francisco and Los Angeles, while charter flights may also be available from cities like San Diego or Phoenix at certain times of year. When you get to the airport, you can either choose to take a taxi, limousine or shuttle bus
Catching the train is an excellent way to travel to San Luis Obispo from other cities in California. The city is a stop on both the Coast Starlight route (from Seattle to Los Angeles) and the Pacific Surfliner (from San Diego to San Luis Obispo).
Reaching San Luis Obispo from the north or south is simple thanks to California Highways 1 or 101, which pass through the town and connect it to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Intercity bus services into San Luis Obispo are provided by Greyhound, whose local stop is located at 2975 Rockview Place, in the southern part of town.
The various communities that make up San Luis Obispo offer a dizzying variety of accommodation options, with budget, midrange and luxury hotels to choose from. At the higher end of the scale, the Petit Soleil Bed & Breakfast offers comfortable rooms and a superb breakfast. The Madonna Inn has exotically furnished boutique rooms, while Apple Farm is a rural retreat-style resort just outside the city. Popular, cheaper alternatives include the Avenue Inn Downtown and the family-oriented La Cuesta Inn.
Downtown – As the center of a city that bills itself "the happiest town in America", you'd expect Downtown San Luis Obispo to be a fun place to spend time, and you won't be disappointed. Higuera Street offers boutique shopping and fine dining experiences, as well as historical sights like the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
The Railroad District – Recently redeveloped, the Railroad District is becoming San Luis Obispo's creative center. Filled with studios and modern bars, it's home to nightspots like the Meze Wine Bar and has excellent cycling connections to the Downtown neighborhood thanks to the Railroad Bike Path. It's a great place for couples and younger travelers to stay.
Chorro – Located a short distance north of the city center and right next to the California State Polytechnic Campus, Chorro is the gateway to some gorgeous countryside. It's home to the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden and El Chorro Regional Park, which dominates the neighborhood and offers everything from climbing to golf courses.
Buses in San Luis Obispo are provided by SLO Transit and run until 10pm on weekdays, 6 p.m. on weekends. Regular fares are just $1.25, day passes are $3 and week passes are $14, so it's an affordable system.
If you are staying at rural ranches or need to reach wineries in the area, taxis may sometimes be your best option. Rates aren't cheap, though, with a meter drop of $3, then $3.50 every mile after that. Uber could be a way to save money on transportation, with their cheapest UberX vehicles costing $1.40 as the initial charge, then $2 per mile.
Many visitors to San Luis Obispo choose to rent a vehicle, for obvious reasons. Having your own car allows you to reach the coast with ease, access remote trailheads and zip between local attractions. Parking is cheap, at $1 per hour in the city center, and there shouldn't be any problems getting around town.
Higuera Street in Downtown San Luis Obispo is the city's main shopping street. This pedestrianized precinct is full of apparel stores like Fanny Wrappers and Finders Keepers, jewelry stores like Kevin Main and vintage stores like Ruby Rose (as well as major chains like Apple and Gap). Slightly to the south, you might also check out Madonna Plaza, which hosts stores like Sears, Men's Warehouse and Applebee's.
San Luis Obispo offers plenty of grocery shopping options, including Trader Joe's, Ralph's, Vons, Whole Foods and Food 4 Less, as well as smaller delis like Sidewalk Market. The cost of living is around average for the USA, with a gallon of milk costing $3.80 and 12 eggs about $3.50.
Dining in San Luis Obispo tends to be two things: high-quality and relatively expensive. If you love gourmet bistros, you've come to the right place, with local favorites including Novo, Luna Red, and Koberl. However, you can get a good honest burger at Eureka Burger, healthy salads at Jaffa's Cafe and excellent Asian dishes at Thai Classic, so the city offers plenty of choice for diners. Expect to pay $15-20 for a midrange burger or salad, and over $40 at higher end restaurants.