San Luis Obispo can be found in the heart of San Luis Obispo County along Highway 101 in California, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along the central coast. As the largest city in in the county in both size and population, this college town experiences cool coastal weather with beaches to the north and south only 15 minutes away, but also sees temperate winters due to the mountains, hills, and defunct volcanoes insulating the city from the harshest storms. San Luis Obispo (or SLO as we locals call it) is also a short 30-minute drive away from Paso Robles where visitors and locals can enjoy over 200 wineries, and some of the sunniest weather in the county. This perfect location gives locals and visitors alike the chance to stay, play, eat, drink, and enjoy everything SLO and SLO County have to offer, and experience why people call this area the Happiest Place on Earth.
San Luis Obispo County is still relatively small compared to other cities and counties in California, with 272,177 people living in the entire county as of the 2010 census. Of the total population, 17% live in the city of San Luis Obispo (approx. 45,451 individuals). This number can vary greatly, depending on when Cal Poly (the local university) is in session. From fall through spring college students can be found everywhere, but are replaced with the tourists in the summer once finals are done and students have gone home.
Most Known For
If you are lucky enough to find yourself in San Luis Obispo, there are five places you just can’t miss as you make your way through the city:
San Luis Obispo is also home to California State Polytechnic University, or Cal Poly as we locals like to say, and you will know it the moment you walk through downtown.
Cal Poly Pride runs deep in SLO, and it is worthwhile to see the campus or visit the gift shop and show off your Cal Poly Pride too.
The Madonna Inn is one of the most unique hotels in the entire county, and not because of an association with the singer.
The Madonna family are long-time residents of SLO county, and their hotel has been a landmark on the central coast since it opened in 1958.
Stop by for a piece of their pink champagne cake, or stay in one of their 110 individually decorated rooms…and maybe sneak a peek at the waterfall urinal in the men’s restroom!
San Luis Obispo Mission
San Luis Obispo is home to one of the 21 Spanish missions located in California.
Built in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra, this hidden gem in downtown SLO is still open to the public for tours, mass, and special events.
Locals and visitors alike can stroll through the gardens, visit the cemetery, or play by the fountains on hot summer days and celebrate the history and beauty the Mission brings to our city.
If you love hiking like most locals in SLO, then a visit to Bishop Peak is a must on your list of things to do. The 1,546 foot tall mountain rises high above San Luis Obispo, and offers stunning views of the city and surrounding areas from the top. Bishop Peak is also part of the chain of “Nine Sisters”, which are basically similar peaks that run from SLO to Morro Bay. Next time you find yourself in SLO make sure to make time for this hike, and then go celebrate with a piece of pink champagne cake at the Madonna Inn Bakery!
There is an alley in Downtown San Luis Obispo that is covered in bubblegum. Literally covered top to bottom in bubblegum.
Locals and visitors alike take their chewed up gum and add it to this 15-foot high by 70-foot long alley for all the world to see, sometimes making it into shapes or their name as an added mark.
As gross as some people find it we locals take great pride in our Bubblegum Alley, so next time you are in SLO stop by and add your gum to the mix!
San Luis Obispo County is already well known for their wines, especially the Paso Robles area where over 200 wineries call home. What visitors (and many locals) don’t realize, though, is that San Luis Obispo and the surrounding region are also home to some incredible wineries that produce some amazing varietals.
SLO technically falls within the Edna Valley wine region within San Luis Obispo County, and is home to 15 individual wineries. The Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande wine regions are more well-known for their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, crafted with grapes grown closer to the coast than those in Paso Robles grown in the heat and sun. As you drive south from SLO on the 101 it is easy to see the vineyards lining the highway, and if you are lucky enough you’ll even get to watch the harvesters in the fall.
There are also several companies within SLO county that host wine tours specifically in Edna Valley. You and a group of friends can easily join places like SLO Safe Ride or San Luis Obispo Wine Tours for shared or private tours, and enjoy as many glasses as you like without the fear of driving back to your hotel.
To find out more about the Wineries of San Luis Obispo click on any of the wineries listed below, or visit our main Wineries page and consider a trip up to Paso Robles too!
5450 Edna Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
5828 Orcutt Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
Biddle Ranch Vineyard|
2050 Biddle Ranch Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
Center of Effort
2195 Corbett Canyon Road, Arroyo Grande, CA
7525 Orcutt Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
Claiborne & Churchill
2649 Carpenter Canyon Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
Croma Vera Wines
3592 Broad Street, Suite 106, San Luis Obispo, CA
Edna Valley Vineyard
2585 Biddle Ranch Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
1850 Calle Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, CA
Saucelito Canyon Vineyard
3080 Biddle Ranch Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
1653 Old Price Canyon Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
Stephen Ross Wine Cellars
178 Suburban Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
225 E. Branch Street, Arroyo Grande, CA
4910 Edna Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
6238 Orcutt Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
The food scene in San Luis Obispo can be described as an eclectic mix of college food meeting fine dining, crafted with some of the freshest seafood, produce, meats, and dairy available. The vast majority of restaurants are found in the downtown core of SLO, but as the city expands we are finding more and more food and drink sprinkled throughout the city. Below are just a few highlights of the more popular restaurants in SLO, but make sure to check out our Food & Drink page for even more information on all the great places to eat and drink in the county.
BBQ Tri-tip rules this county, and no one does it better than Firestone Grill in downtown San Luis Obispo. Be prepared to stand in line for your meal, but it will be so worth it when you’re scarfing down some of the juciest, tender, flavorful tri-tip sandwiches ever.
Novo is a new-American restaurant also located in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Situated along the creek, this is the perfect spot for weekend brunch or a romantic dinner for two.
Make sure to try the Bloody Mary while you’re there and enjoy the crispy bacon in your drink!
Korbel at Blue
Korbel at Blue is the fine dining restaurant in San Luis Obispo.
Offering stunning views of the city, one of the best wine lists, and an incredible menu, you won’t go wrong eating here and celebrating those special occasions in life.
High Street Market & Deli
High Street Market & Deli has become a bit of a legend in SLO, and is one of the few restaurants not in the downtown core.
High Street’s sandwiches are enormous, delicious, and completely reasonably priced making them a perfect stop for the college kids and locals alike.
Plus there are so many options I’m not sure you could try them all in a lifetime. We are definitely going to try though, and hope you do too!
Woodstock’s is another of SLO’s legendary eateries with college kids, tourists, and locals alike flocking for a slice or a whole pie.
Located in the heart of the downtown core of SLO Woodstock’s is an easy stop after a long day at the coast, and won’t kill your wallet either!
With perfect weather almost year-round, San Luis Obispo is a natural home for outdoor events. Whether you are looking for live music, food festivals, or athletic events SLO has it all in some form or another. Make sure to check out a few of the signature events below, and visit our events page for everything happening in San Luis Obispo!
There is never a shortage of live music to enjoy in San Luis Obispo. Whether you catch your new favorite band at SLO Brew, attend one of the concerts in the park by the Mission, or go to any other show playing at the bars, restaurants, and wineries in the city you’ll find something you love to listen to while you watch the world go by.
Beer & Wine Festivals
There are a lot of wineries, breweries, and distilleries throughout San Luis Obispo County, and do we love to celebrate that fact. During the year you will find everything from beer festivals at Madonna Inn to wine grape stomping at the Mission in the fall, and even more events celebrating every milestone, season, and variety of drink crafted with love in SLO.
SLO isn’t just called the Happiest Place on Earth because we have good food and drink. We also love the outdoors in San Luis Obispo, and host several athletic events throughout the year. Just in SLO you’ll find 5K fundraiser races for everything from the schools to animals to ending homelessness, not to mention the larger bike races and marathons / triathlons that make their way through the city.
There are so many ways to have fun in San Luis Obispo. From the beautiful hikes to live music and shopping in downtown SLO this city has something for everyone to enjoy.
Just within San Luis Obispo there are 30 hiking trails ranging from difficult to easy and family friendly. If you only have time for one make sure to try Bishop Peak, SLO’s most famous hike and one that offers some of the best views of the city
The bars in downtown SLO often host local and more well-known bands, offering live music throughout the week. During the summer months the San Luis Obispo Mission also hosts free concerts offering a fun free way for the public to enjoy great music and everything downtown has to offer.
The downtown core of San Luis Obispo is where you will find the majority of retail shopping. From local shops like Avenatti and Central Coast Surfboards to national retailers like Sephora, H&M, and Williams and Sonoma, visitors and locals alike are able to enjoy the beauty and good food of downtown SLO while finding that next perfect pair of shoes.
Drive-In Movie Theater
San Luis Obispo is home to several movie theaters, including one of the few drive-in theaters on the central coast.
Sunset Drive-In is located just south of downtown, and offers two movie showings a night.
Just about every Thursday downtown San Luis Obispo shuts down for the weekly Farmers Market.
Blocks upon blocks are full of fresh produce, prepared foods, retail vendors, fresh breads and cheeses, flowers, and live music.
Even if you don’t buy any produce at the market it is so fun to go eat, drink, and listen to some great music while enjoying the perfect night in SLO.
San Luis Obispo Mission
The Mission in San Luis Obispo is our own piece of history on the Central Coast.
Built in 1772 by Father Junipero Serra, the Mission still stands today and offers church services and mass regularly.
The Mission Museum is also open to visitors, and docent tours are available most days at 1:15 p.m.
If you are visiting San Luis Obispo for the first time there are several great hotels to choose from, and several more under construction in the downtown core. Below are a few of the more popular options in SLO.
The Madonna Inn has over 100 rooms, each individually decorated with over the top whimsy and decor.
The hotel also has a bakery on-site, famous for their pink champagne cake. To top it off the men’s restroom also has a waterfall urinal making this place a must on anyone’s vacation.
Contrary to the name the Apple Farm doesn’t actually have an apple grove on site, but they do have some of the best apple pie in the county at their on-site restaurant.
As you explore the grounds you can find everything from a working water wheel to a meditative garden, and some of the best mementos in their gift shop.
Even More Hotels
There are several hotels along Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo, and even more being built downtown. This allows visitors a great place to stay no matter where you are visiting — Cal Poly, Downtown SLO, or hopping on Highway 101 to explore everything this county has to offer.