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6 Best Things to Do in San Luis Obispo

Best things to do in San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo is old California. Filled with history and very close to amazing California beaches and coastline, San Luis Obispo (SLO) is a one of the best destinations on the California Central Coast. Southern California locals prefer driving to SLO instead of driving South to Los Angeles and San Diego. The San Luis Obispo area boasts very little traffic, smaller towns, wineries and a large university. This combination makes San Luis Obispo an ideal location for exploring all this richness in a relaxed way. Come along with me as we explore the best things to do in San Luis Obispo.

San Luis Obispo, shortly called SLO, has grown around the old Mission. With old adobe style buildings mixed with newer buildings, old town SLO is charming and yet very laid back. Put on some comfortable shoes and let’s walk together and explore a few fun things to do in San Luis Obispo.

My Favorite Things to Do in San Luis Obispo

Depending on how much time you have available you can plan a beautiful trip to San Luis Obispo. However, if you are limited on time and want to enjoy the essential things to do in San Luis Obispo I would make sure stroll through old town around the Mission, especially the San Luis Obispo Creek trail. Also, with so many great restaurants, enjoying some local cuisine in old town San Luis Obispo or at the quirky Madonna Inn will delight you.
However, I would make sure I allow plenty of time for the gorgeous day trips from San Luis Obispo either South towards Avila Beach or North, towards Cambria. These portions of the California coast are simply stunning.

1. Visit the San Luis Obispo Mission

Visiting San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Mission is one of the best things to do in San Luis Obispo
The old San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Mission
See my photos from San Luis Obispo

We start our list of best things to do in San Luis Obispo with a visit to the old Mission. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded in 1772 and it has been restored over the years. A lovely Spanish style building, the Mission is a beautiful place to visit. Full of history and boasting a beautiful garden, visiting the old Mission should be on your list of things to do in San Luis Obispo.
During the mornings, especially on the weekends you can see yoga classes or various groups gathering in the large square in front of the Mission. From the Mission you can easily start walking through the old town.

2. Walk Around Old Town San Luis Obispo

Palm trees and flowers surrounding SLO old town restaurant
Palm trees and flowers surrounding SLO old town restaurant
See my photos from San Luis Obispo

Second on our list of best thigs to do in San Luis Obispo comes the old town itself. Old town San Luis Obispo stretches a few blocks to the East, West and South from the Mission. Old town SLO is filled with trendy shops and many restaurants. So, stretch your legs and do some walking in this beautiful town. Since, SLO is a university town you will see lots of young people running, biking or simply hanging out. Walking around old town should be on your list of favorite things to do in San Luis Obispo.

3. Walk the San Luis Obispo Creek Trail

Walking the San Luis Obispo Creek Trail is one of the favorite things to do in San Luis Obispo
Walking the San Luis Obispo Creek Trail
See my photos from San Luis Obispo

Thirdly on the list of best things to do in San Luis Obispo comes the relaxing walking trail right by the creek bearing the same name as the city itself. The San Luis Obispo Creek runs right in front of the old Mission building. The city has turned a short portion of San Luis Obispo Creek into a natural oasis surrounded by beautiful trees and lined up by walking paths on both sides. Picking it up right in front of the Mission building, the San Luis Obispo Creek Trail takes you quickly through a shady walkway a block away at the Museum of Art and continues to the Children’s Museum. There are a few spots where you can get down to the water level and rest on a rock and dip your feet into the refreshing water.

The side of the trail near Higuera Street has a few restaurants with outside sitting areas right next to the beautiful creek making for a very relaxing dining experience. Modern restaurants like Luna Red and Novo have beautiful outside seating right by San Luis Obispo Creek. This short trail one of my favorite relaxing things to do in San Luis Obispo.

4. Visit Local Museums

The History Center of San Luis Obispo County
The History Center of San Luis Obispo County
See my photos from San Luis Obispo

Right in the heart of old town SLO, you can find three small local museum that can give you a taste of local history and art. Should you visit the local museums in San Luis Obispo? Well, it all depends on how much time you have to spend in San Luis Obispo. Here is a list with San Luis Obispo museums, all located within 5 minutes walking distance from the Old Mission. Visiting a local museum might turn out to be one of the cool things to do in San Luis Obispo for you and your family.

5. Madonna Inn

Beautiful and quirky Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo
Beautiful and quirky Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo
See my photos from San Luis Obispo

A five minute drive from Old Town San Luis Obispo, the Madonna Inn is located at the bottom of a beautiful hill covered with green grass and flowers especially in the spring. With a fairy tale cottage style exterior and a combination of pink and kitschy the Madonna Inn has become a local icon. You can stay at the Madonna Inn or simply have lunch or dinner  at one of Madonna Inn’s restaurants.  Another sweet option is to sample their amazing pastries at the Madonna Inn Bakery or enjoy local wines in their wine tasting room.  You have to plan your dinner in advance as their restaurants book very fast since they offer a unique experience.

A slow walk through the Madonna Inn lobby area and the small Secret Garden will give you ample opportunities for beautiful pictures featuring the beautiful quicky buildings or the rolling hills in the backgrounds.

6. Take A Day Trip from San Luis Obispo

Lastly on our list of best things to do in San Luis Obispo comes a beautiful day trip. Boasting a central location, San Luis Obispo is the perfect location for exploring the gorgeous California Coast.  Either you drive North or South of San Luis Obispo, you can easily reach quintessential California beach towns and simply enjoy the California beach experience without any of the crowds of Los Angeles or San Francisco. If you have extra time in San Luis Obispo taking a day trip will certainly become one of your favorite things to do in San Luis Obispo.

Drive South from San Luis Obispo

Pismo Beach is a popular day trip from San Luis Obispo
Pismo Beach is a popular day trip from San Luis Obispo
See my photos from Pismo Beach

Taking a day trip South from San Luis Obispo will quickly bring you to two quintessential California beach towns and the wine country surrounding SLO. From Pismo Beach to Avila Beach you will experience pristine beaches and gorgeous coastline.

  • Avila Beach is the small and quaint beach town located only 15 minutes drive from old town San Luis Obispo. Situated at the end of a windy canyon in Port San Luis Harbor, Avila Beach is the postcard perfect California coastal spot perfect for families with small kids.
  • Pismo Beach is located only a short 20 minutes drive South from downtown SLO and only 5 more minutes South of Avila Beach. Pismo Beach is the quintessential California beach town with a vibrant pier area filled with restaurants and gorgeous beaches in Pismo and neighboring Shell Beach.
  • Edna Valley is a gorgeous area with rolling hills and vineries located in the hills above Avila Beach. Pick up Price Canyon Road from Pismo Beach and turn right on Carpenter Canyon Road stopping at many of the local wineries.

Drive North from San Luis Obispo

Cambria is a popular day trip from San Luis Obispo
Cambria is a popular day trip from San Luis Obispo
See my photos from Cambria

Driving North from San Luis Obispo on Highway 1 (the famous Pacific Coast Highway) you will quickly reach 3 small California beach towns. Small, quaint and quiet, the coast from Morro Bay to San Simeon is simply gorgeous and worth your time.

  • Cambria has developed around the gorgeous Moonstone Beach boasting a gorgeous section of the California coastline.  One of my favorite spots on the coast, Cambria is located only 45 minutes drive from San Luis Obispo and provides a quiet retreat with plenty of coastal walkways and beautiful local restaurants.
  • San Simeon is home to the famous Hearst Castle and one of the largest elephant seal colonies.  In addition, San Simeon is a small beach jewel that is definitely worth your time especially if you come to Cambria, being only an additional 5 minutes drive North.
  • Morro Bay is situated right next to San Luis Obispo at only 15 minutes drive, Morro Bay is famous for the enormous Morro Rock jutting right out of the ocean and being full of birds. Boasting a small harbor with few restaurants famous for fresh seafood, Morro Bay is a beautiful stop on the way to Cambrian and San Simeon.

Is San Luis Obispo Worth Visiting?

We loved visiting San Luis Obispo on every occasion we had. The old town coupled with the gorgeous day trips opened a beautiful section of Central California coast that is surprising, quaint and simply gorgeous. If you plan your trip to San Luis Obispo to include one or two extra days, it will become one of your favorite California experiences.

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