Nicknamed the “Happiest Place in America,” San Luis Obispo should definitely be on your list of places in California to visit! With an adorable downtown area, incredible historical sites, and beautiful wineries, there is something for everyone in San Luis Obispo! Keep reading to discover 15 of the best things to do in San Luis Obispo, California.
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15 of the Best Things to Do in San Luis Obispo, California
Where to Stay in San Luis Obispo
The Madonna Inn is a world-renowned hotel and resort that offers guest-themed rooms, restaurants, a bar, a bakery, a spa, a pool, shopping, and horseback riding, so you will never get bored.
Read More: Madonna Inn Review
Granada Hotel & Bistro
Granada Hotel & Bistro only has 17 rooms, so you can expect an extra-intimate experience. This boutique hotel is located within walking distance of fantastic downtown shops and restaurants, perfect for visiting wine country, and has its own on-property restaurant.
Read More: My Granada Hotel & Bistro Review
Hotel Cerro is nestled in a red brick building on a downtown street, amenities include a rooftop deck with a pool and bar, an open-air cafe, a bakery, an edible garden, and a lovely French restaurant.
With sleek architecture and beautiful decor, Hotel San Luis Obispo is the epitome of a contemporary urban resort. Surrounded by rolling hills, rooms are bright and airy with earthy tones and amazing attention to detail.
San Luis Creek Lodge
Situated in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, San Luis Creek Lodge combines a modern farmhouse with a bohemian and coastal vibe. Beautiful rooms with incredible amenities like huge bathrooms and fireplaces make for an extra comfortable stay.
Where to Eat in San Luis Obispo
The trendy Scout Coffee offers homemade baked goods, fantastic coffee, and a vibrant atmosphere. Enjoy freshly baked croissants, homemade muffins, and delicious scones. Pair all of that deliciousness with a latte, coffee, cold brew, or a steamer.
High Street Market & Deli
Established in 1927, High Street Market & Deli used to sell milk, butter, tobacco, and everyday goods. Today, this Market & Deli offers a variety of incredible sandwiches, like hot pastrami, Italian subs, or turkey pesto.
Beautiful exposed brick, a lovely patio, and an outdoor fireplace combine to create a trendy French restaurant. Brasserie SLO uses produce from their own Edible Gardens, so every dish is sure to be as fresh as possible.
This popular downtown joint has been around since 1995. Serving delicious tri-tip, incredible BBQ, and perfectly-cooked burgers, it’s no wonder why Firestone Grill is so popular!
Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House at the Madonna Inn
Located in the Madonna Inn, Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House provides a dining experience like no other. Covered from top to bottom in pink, this restaurant prepares steaks that are cooked over an oak-wood pit. As you enjoy your meal, the hot pink walls, floral patterned carpet, and ornate gold chandeliers are sure to impress.
Granada Hotel & Bistro
Open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, Granada Hotel & Bistro prepares classic French bistro entrees and elevates them with unique flavors and modern cooking techniques. While you’re here, don’t forget to order a glass of wine or a handcrafted cocktail, like the Casoni Sour, made with gin, Campari, Contratto, grapefruit, and egg white.
Founded in 1984, Linnea’s Cafe offers live music, garden seating, tables by the window, and great food. Serving breakfast and lunch, this charming restaurant is best known for its homemade cupcakes. Make sure to order the spicy vanilla house chai, one of the most popular drinks on the menu. You can also order breakfast burritos and breakfast granola, along with vegan and gluten-free options.
Old San Luis BBQ
Specializing in authentic Santa Maria-style cuisine, several menu items at Old San Luis BBQ are created from family recipes dating back almost a century. This restaurant uses hand-trimmed tri-tip, high-quality Angus beef, and grills all their meat over red oak wood.
Whether you sit inside or outside, Ember has a friendly and warm environment decorated with plenty of string lights. While the wood-fired pizza is delicious, the locals particularly love the ribeye and filet mignon. Don’t forget to save room for dessert! The marshmallow ice cream cocoa cake is a must-try.
This lively and laid-back pizza joint has been around since 1977, when the first Woodstock’s Pizza opened in Corvallis, Oregon. Three years later, another location opened in San Luis Obispo. Currently ranked number one among independent pizzerias nationwide, you can find many different kinds of pizza, salad, appetizers, desserts, and beer on the menu.
Try some award-winning clam chowder at Splash Cafe! A Pismo Beach staple for years, the restaurant opened a second location in downtown SLO. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
What to Do in San Luis Obispo
Add Some Gum to the Famous Bubble Gum Alley
As one of the most popular unofficial landmarks in San Luis Obispo, this famous alleyway attracts As one of the most popular unofficial landmarks in San Luis Obispo, this famous alleyway attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Every visitor leaves their mark by sticking a piece of chewed-up gum on the walls, and it is estimated that nearly two million pieces of gum currently call this alley their home.
Feel Nostalgic at the Sunset Drive-In
This cash-only Sunset Drive-In movie theater is the perfect spot to bring the whole family to watch movies and relish in drive-in theater nostalgia. Don’t forget to grab some popcorn and candy from the snack bar during intermission!
See a Show at the Fremont Theater
The Fremont Theater was built in 1941 and is situated in the heart of San Luis Obispo. Today, this theater boasts plenty of live concerts and comedy shows every year. Architecturally, the theater has over one hundred feet of interior murals showcasing flowers, horses, and women in gowns. If you love live shows, then definitely check their calendar to see if there’s something you’d like to see during your planned visit!
Eat Cake at Madonna Inn
Most notable for the over-the-top pink dining room, quirky decor, and themed guest rooms, the Madonna Inn is a historic hotel that opened in 1958. Today, this inn offers more than just guest rooms; you can enjoy the spa, restaurants, shops, and, most importantly, the bakery. The bakery offers incredible cake flavors, like carrot cake, German chocolate, and lemon coconut, but the star of the show is the Pink Champagne Cake and your taste buds are sure to agree!
Downtown San Louis Obispo boasts tree-lined streets, fantastic local businesses, trendy cafes, and intriguing attractions. The 1772 Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is most notable, boasting an ornate interior, a small museum, and a beautiful garden. You can also check out Phoenix Books, a charming used bookstore where you might accidentally spend the entire afternoon. And right next door is Boo Boo Records. After a day of shopping and sightseeing, grab dinner at Woodstock Pizza, offering pizza, salads, and beer, the Splash Cafe for some award-winning clam chowder, or Granada Hotel & Bistro for dinner.
See The Dorn Pyramid
In the early 1900s, a wealthy landowner lost his wife and son during childbirth and erected a pyramid tomb to honor them. As of 2018, this mysterious tomb is sealed, but you can still view it from the outside, where you will read the words “DISTVRB NOT THE SLEEP OF DEATH.” Find it at the San Luis Cemetery.
Visit the Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard
Located next to California Polytechnic State University, the Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard is a spot for architecture students to play with environmental design and build experimental structures. While you’re here, you will notice small and quirky structures, unlike anything you have seen elsewhere. It’s a hike to get to it, so go prepared!
Swing on the Serenity Swing
At the end of a 3.5-mile trail, enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding hills by swinging on a tree swing. The Serenity Swing. This trail is moderately difficult, and you can expect to see many wildflowers along the way.
Ride a Pony at Avila Valley Barn
There are plenty of things to do at the family-owned Avila Family Barn! With a hay maze, pony rides, and tractor rides, the kids are sure to love Avila Valley Barn. You can also stock up on local produce, handcrafted baked goods, and eat barbecue at the onsite Chicken Shack and Smoke House.
Hike Bishop Peak
As the most famous summit in San Luis Obispo, Bishop Peak is the tallest of the Nine Sisters, the incredible volcanic Morros that stretch across this area. The demanding hike treks up to the 1,500-foot summit, but hikers will be rewarded with spectacular mountain views upon completion.
Relax and Soak in Some Hot Springs
Relax at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, where you can choose from three types of natural hot spring pools, hillside hot tubs, in-room hot tubs, and the Oasis Waterfall Lagoon. Here, you can also get relaxing massages or stay overnight in a guest room.
Smell the Flowers at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
Nestled on the rolling hills of El Chorro Regional Park, the non-profit San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden showcases plants from the five Mediterranean climate regions of the world.
Go Wine Tasting
San Luis Obispo is home to plenty of beautiful wineries.
Start at Chamisal Vineyards, where you can do an outdoor wine tasting or explore the vines.
Calcareous is another fabulous winery where you can enjoy 180-degree views from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
At Tablas Creek Vineyards, you won’t only get to try excellent wine, but you also might see some free-roaming alpacas on the property.
For a unique wine-tasting experience, check out Eberle Winery, which offers cave tours underneath the grounds.
Be Enchanted at Light at Sensorio in Paso Robles
Not located in SLO, but a 40-minute drive north on Highway 101, Light at Sensario boasts two dazzling installations from artist Bruce Munro. This 15-acre walk-through experience is lit up by thousands of glowing lights illuminating the evening landscape. This isn’t just art, it’s an experience!
Read More: Read about my experience in my Light at Sensorio blog post!
Explore at Hearst Castle
Formally named La Cuesta Encantada (“The Enchanted Hill) by William Randolph Hearst, Hearst Castle is an incredible historic estate that overlooks the village of San Simeon. Today, you can tour this elegant castle and the surrounding grounds.
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Golden State Getaways wants to acknowledge that we live, operate, gather, and benefit everyday on the traditional stolen lands of several Indigenous peoples and nations including the Tongva (Gabrieleno), Kizh (Gabrieleno), Chumash, Popeloutchom (Amah Mutsun), Ohlone, Awaswas, and Fernandeño Tataviam peoples who have stewarded the lands and waterways throughout their many generations in what is now the state of California.
I wanted to personally acknowledge these Indigenous people and nations and both their commitment and current contributions to the land with a donation to the American Indian College Fund because acknowledgment without action does not begin to address the systemic issues facing Indigenous people. If you feel as though you benefit from the land you’re living on or traveling to and you have the means, I kindly ask that you donate at least $1 to a Native-led organization such as the Native American Rights Fund or the American Indian College Fund.
San Luis Obispo is on Chumash and Obispeño land. You can learn more about the Indigenous land you’re living on or traveling to by visiting the Native Lands website.