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Getaway Guide: San Luis Obispo

Getaway Guide: San Luis Obispo

Here's your guide to San Luis Obispo, a Central Coast gem featuring a mix of beach culture, metropolitan sensibilities, and rich farmland.

Roubina Al Abashian


6 min read

July 17, 2019

Disclaimer: is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article. 

Salty Mediterranean air fills your lungs as the luscious landscape of the surrounding regions displays the best of land and sea: Welcome to San Luis Obispo. Tucked halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo (SLO) boasts rich farmlands, scenic coastline, relaxed beach-town ambiance, and a metropolitan lifestyle—without the rapid pace. As a college town, SLO always has a lot going on, making it an ideal weekend getaway. From hiking mountainous peaks; leaving your mark with a piece of bubble gum; checking out the art scene; or dining at delectable eateries, you’ll discover plenty of things to do in San Luis Obispo without ever getting bored. 

Bubblegum Alley, a 15-foot-high and 70-foot-long alleyway lined with chewed gum is one of San Luis Obispo's most popular attractions.

Getting to SLO

After exploring all that Big Sur has to offer, head south on Highway 1, continuing past the iconic Hearst Castle until you come upon the quaint town of San Luis Obispo. Take the time to make your way through the tree-lined downtown shopping district. Meander along Higuera Street to get a sense of the town’s culture through its local boutiques and eateries before visiting one of the weirdest places in California: Bubblegum Alley

San Luis Obispo’s Bubblegum Alley attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, leading to approximately two million pieces of gum left behind on the 70-foot-long walls of the Higuera Street alleyway. With important decisions to make—which color of gum to choose, what gum design to create, and where your creation should be placed—take some time to wander through the area’s unique shops to find the right pieces of gum with which to make your mark. 


For an afternoon pick-me-up head to Scout Coffee Co. and choose from an array of lattes, affogatos, mochas, locally roasted coffee, and house-made pas

Once your crowning accomplishment is documented with numerous gum-wall photos, some caffeine is in order. Walk right across the street to the mustard-yellow wallpapered walls of Scout Coffee Co. and allow the sweet scent of freshly roasted coffee to fill your soul with joy. The wooden tables and outdoor greenery fill the space with warmth, while a single sip of a latte exemplifies the care and intention put into each step—from locally roasted beans and house-made almond milk to gorgeous latte art.

With a new pep in your step, head over to the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) campus for a hike in the Architecture Graveyard. This unusual San Luis Obispo attraction features design projects from previous architecture and engineering students along the three-mile round-trip route. Make sure to bring water and a camera for this relatively easy trek. Not only are the structures Insta-worthy, but the hills also provide the perfect opportunity for watching the soaring birds and other local wildlife. 


Dine like royalty at Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steak House, a pink-accented restaurant specializing in steaks cooked over an oak-wood pit.

After a full day of exploring, it’s time to figure out where to stay in San Luis Obispo. If you’re looking for the most memorable lodging anyone can think of, check in to the quirky Madonna Inn. Deemed one of the best places to stay in San Luis Obispo, this unique boutique hotel is not just a place to lay your head at night, it is a whole experience. Choose between the 110 specially designed rooms—all of which boast a distinct theme such as antique cars and desert sands. Take the time to indulge in a luxurious spa treatment, and live your best life. 

Head down to Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House to dine in plush pink booths surrounded by elaborate chandeliers, stone pillars, and foliage as you sip from goblets like royalty. Start with the artisanal cheese plate to savor an array of decadent morsels hand-selected by the chef alongside sweet honeycomb, candied pecans, Greek olives, and fresh grapes. If you’re craving something more, order the cheese and fig crostini. The goat cheese perfectly complements the fig compote and the pistachios sprinkled on top add a nice textural component. For your entrée, order the steak and lobster to truly feel like a beloved royal; perfectly seared filet mignon is accompanied by succulent lobster, fresh lemon, and drawn butter. Make sure to stop by the bakery for one of the incredible—and gorgeous—specialty cakes that are almost too stunning to eat. 

Once satiated, head back to your room and settle in for the night at this magical hotel as your first day in San Luis Obispo draws to a close. 

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Revel in the great outdoors while completing the 3.5-mile trail up Bishop Peak. With a height of 1,546 feet, it is the highest peak of the Morros .

Start your first morning in SLO right with a trip to one of California’s best donut shops, SloDoCo Donuts. Open 24/7, this town staple has earned every bit of its fame, offering 100 varieties of creative and delicious doughnuts daily. Try the favorites such as the Circus Animal Cookie, a mint-chocolate-chip devil’s food cake, or the lavender-raised doughnut.  They even have out-of-this-world Star Wars bars.

With your hunger at bay—and a nice sugar rush—head to Bishop Peak, the highest of the Nine Sisters in SLO County. The 1.7-mile uphill San Luis Obispo hike sees heavy traffic and shows off the beautiful panoramas and hillsides of the city — making it worth every tough switchback. The peak was created by volcanic magma around 20 million years ago and features colorful wildflowers and sandstone boulders today. The entire out-and-back hike covers a distance of nearly 3.5 miles and provides the perfect morning activity. 


As you tour the gorgeous gardens of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, don’t forget to search for the three displayed bells.

After your strenuous hike, you’ve likely worked up quite an appetite. It is time to hit up one of the best restaurants in the city: Firestone Grill. This California classic features some of the best BBQ on the entire Central Coast. Pick up the famous tri-tip sandwich or opt for the special shredded pork sandwich, both of which come highly recommended. Stay awhile to meet the locals and soak in all the mouthwatering barbecue scents before planning what to do next in San Luis Obispo. 

A walk across the street leads you to the historic Fremont Theater, where the architecture is striking and the upcoming event calendar ever-growing. With such an eclectic collection of shows always happening, this stop might determine when you will return to SLO. 

Once you’ve taken a couple of photos, head over to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa to check out California’s fifth-oldest mission. Located on El Camino Real, the mission was founded in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra and now offers docent-led museum tours and beautifully landscaped gardens. 


You shouldn’t leave SLO before having one of Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab flavorful ice creams.

With a better understanding of the city’s rich history, saunter on over toward the main drag to satisfy your sugar cravings at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab. Not only does the creamery craft interesting ice-cream flavors—like Butterfinger Blast and monthly specials such as bananas foster—but its colorful, quirky interiors transport you to a whole new world. Featuring unique decor from floor to ceiling, Doc Burnstein’s provides you with numerous trinkets and installations to look at while you savor every bite of sea salt caramel.

When you’re ready for dinner, walk a few blocks southeast to get some take-out from Big Sky Cafe. Order the lentil hummus and crab cakes for appetizers, and follow them up with the organic chicken and goat cheese croquette salad or the vegan Spanish paella. Grab plenty of napkins and silverware, and then hit the road. It’s movie time. 

Drive down Higuera Street, continuing past the Madonna Inn, until you reach the fork in the road. Turn right, and follow Elks Lane to the Sunset Drive-In. With fewer than 20 drive-in movie theaters left in California, this is sure to be a memorable stop. The Sunset Drive-In is special. The venue shows double features of new movies starting at 8:30 p.m., so make sure to come prepared with blankets. There are also classic movie snacks like candy and popcorn available, so stock up when you arrive and settle in for hours of enjoyment. 

The intimate San Luis Obispo Museum of Art hosts special events regularly and features painting, sculpture, and photography exhibits.

With a few long, exciting days in the books and plenty of things left to do near San Luis Obispo, it is just a matter of time before you return. Next time, the Thursday night farmers market, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, and Firefly Gallery ought to be on the list for a trip that will make you feel less like a tourist and more like a local.

Before heading back home, consider stopping by a few more attractions in SLO County. The soft sand and sapphire waves of Pismo Beach; the campgrounds, trails, and water sports of Lopez Lake; and the elegant cuisine of Ember Restaurant are calling.

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