San Luis Obispo, California

10 Best things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]an Luis Obispo (SLO), California, is located on the central coast. It offers a wealth of things to do, foods to eat and places to explore. With golden beaches to rocky hikes, you will never be short of amazing adventures in this idyllic Californian town. After having the pleasure of studying and living in SLO for the past year, here are my top 10 things that everyone must do whilst there!

San Luis Obispo, California
View of California Polytechnic State University


1. Eat at Slo Do Co

When first arriving in San Luis Obispo, everyone told me about this magical donut shop called Slo donut company. Located on Foothill Blvd near Cal Poly. It has a host of crazy flavors and is open 24/7! It has even been featured on the insider deserts facebook page! Unfortunately, I suffer from celiac disease and assumed I would never be able to sample any of these amazing donuts. How wrong I was! Soon after arriving there, Slo Do Co started making Gluten Free donuts which are available everyday. To top this, they are also free of other allergens making them 100% Vegan as well.

Side note: they also do vegan donuts that aren’t gluten free. 

A good tip if you want to purchase the Gluten Free donuts would be to go in the morning as they sometimes sell out. My personal favorites are the maple and raspberry.


2. Hike Bishop’s peak

On entering the city of San Luis Obispo, you can’t help but notice all the amazing hills and peaks surrounding it, one of the most noticeable and prominent being Bishop’s peak. For a long time, I wondered why it was called this, but after viewing it from a certain angle you can see that the rock formation at the top looks like a Bishop’s crown.

Bishop’s peak is the highest Mountain out of the 9 in SLO and gives incredible panoramic views of not only the city, but the surrounding scenery as well. The trail head starts at the top of Highland Drive and it’s a 3.5 mile round trip to the summit climbing 950 feet. It is a challenging hike with some parts of the path rough, rocky, steep and muddy (with rain), but the views at the top are well worth the effort.

Once at the top, the trail ends, however many people choose to climb up onto the rocks where there are flatter rocks you can sit on to enjoy the view. It is a bit of a tricky climb, but if you’re sensible and careful it is manageable. Be careful!

Bishop's Peak
Breathtaking views from atop Bishop’s Peak

At the peak, you may also see people doing other sports, such as rock climbing or slack lining. So sit awhile and take in the views and the relaxing, adventurous environment.

A perfect time to climb Bishop’s  Peak can be either during sunrise (in which you can often be above the clouds leaving spectacular views) and during sunset.

Check out this page for more information on this amazing hike

Sunrise at Bishops Peak
Above the clouds at sunrise

3. Farmers Market

Every Thursday night from 6:00pm-9:00pm, the main street of Down town San Luis Obispo, Higuera street, hosts a vibrant and lively farmers market. Here you can taste foods from lots vendors, such as Bliss Cafe, Mother’s tavern and Marstons. Two foods you will notice being eaten a lot are the freshly cooked corn on the cobs and a tri tip sandwich (check out the best places in SLO to get these). The queues for these stalls are often huge, but well worth the wait!

Farmers market, San Luis Obispo
Enjoying a freshly cooked Corn on the cob

Whilst at farmers, for children there is entertainment such a bouncy castle. There are also lots of live music and other stalls selling things like jewellery, soap, flowers, and herbs etc. One of the best aspects for me, is the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables you can buy there directly from the local farmers.

During peak times, for example, the first and last one of the school quarters can be very busy. For information about parking, directions, events during the market and for dates and times see Down Town SLO Farmer’s market.


4. Watch Live Music

Whilst being in San Luis Obispo, I unfortunately only managed to get out and see live music twice. Both times were such amazing and fun experiences.

The first place I went to see music was at Slo Do Co. As well as offering delicious donuts, they also put on fun events including game nights, book readings, comedy and live music. All the events are free which is a massive bonus. You can just show up on the day/night and enjoy what’s on offer. It is a nice, intimate setting to hear under the radar bands who are just starting out. So grab your dancing shoes and a donut and hit Slo Do Co for a fun evening of entertainment.

Another great venue for music is Slo Brew, located in Down Town. The event I went to there was lively, with lots of people dancing and having a great time. The lay out of the stage and dance floor is very effective and they also have huge booths and tables if you want a more relaxed evening. The price for entry is around $15-$20 and you have to be over 18 to enter (ID is required).

As well as offering fun events they also serve food and beer (which they make themselves in their own brewery).


5. Go to the many beaches

Where to start with the beaches of San Luis Obispo! This county is teaming with beautiful stretches of golden sand and blue waters you won’t be able to resist swimming in. One of my favourite beaches to visit is Avila Beach. It is reasonably small but with magnificent cliffs surrounding the sides. It’s the perfect place to top up your tan, with a little town behind it offering beach accessories, cocktails and food. It can get busy at times, but if you wander down to the left, you can usually find a nice secluded spot amongst the rocks. There is even a farmers market here, and a swing set for children (or adults) to play on.

Avila Beach
Swinging high at Avila beach

Another popular beach in SLO is Pismo beach. This beach is slightly larger than Avila thus offering more space, but it doesn’t have such beautiful scenery. The sun set from Pismo beach can be absolutely stunning and there are large piers where you can hang a hammock and chill out! You are allowed to have fire pits meaning you can make smores and watch the sun set on the beautiful central coast  Side note: the sand is also incredibly soft!!  In the area surrounding Pismo Beach there is an ‘In n Out’ and an outlet shopping mall area so you can shop to your hearts content!

Pismo Beach
Beautiful sunsets at Pismo Beach

This final beach I will talk about is probably my ultimate favourite. It is basically deserted, I visited twice and both times I only saw a few other couples. Imagine having a whole beach cove to yourself!! It is in Cayucos. Along the Ca 1 there are many pull offs to this area, so find one you like the look of and stop. Walk along the trail at the top of the cliffs with a stunning view of the ocean, or be adventurous and try and find a path down (which is what we did). In doing so you will have a secluded little piece of the Californian Coast all to yourself. Be careful though because the tide can come up leaving you a little stranded in the cove. However, this never happened to me as you get plenty of warning. So take your bathing suits and go to this tranquil beach to read a book, sunbathe or even take a nap like we did.

There are Plenty of other beaches to explore including Spooner’s cove in the Montana de oro state park (check out our post on this beautiful beach). Here is San Luis Obispo’s own guide to the best 12 beaches!


6. Hike Madonna Mountain

A second incredible hike on offer in San Luis Obispo is to the top of Madonna Mountain. The trail starts off very steep but it turns into a undulating path through trees whilst still offering beautiful views of SLO county when you peak out. In winter the path can get a little muddy so wear appropriate footwear. The final climb to the peak is a wide rocky trail that gets steep again near the top. There is a wooden platform when you reach the peak, however there is a little extra climb to the very top offering amazing views of SLO. During Christmas time, they put lights in the shape of a Christmas tree on the top, which, once it gets dark can be seen from all around SLO. This hike is a great way to get stunning views whilst being slightly easier than Bishop’s peak. You also get a great view of Bishop’s peak as the two mountains are located side by side!

Madonna Mountain
“Christmas tree” lights on top of Madonna

For more information on the whole host of hikes available in SLO visit this Hikespeak page.


7. Take a trip into Poly Canyon

Accessible via the California Polytechnic State University campus, Poly Canyon is a breathtaking area with a whole host of things on offer. It is the perfect place to get away to after a hard day of studying, or to get some exercise and enjoy some of the incredible things Mother Earth has to offer.

The path into the canyon goes along a river. On the narrower, undulating left hand side path there are little areas in which you can go down to the river, sit, read a book and embrace the relaxing sounds of the little waterfalls. Once out of this tranquil wooded area you enter the vast open space of the canyon. To the left there is the trail to architecture graveyard, where you can wander round students old art projects, including one that looks like the front of a boat, or a little house.

Serenity Swing
Sunrise at Serenity Swing

If you carry on along the trail, you can turn up towards serenity swing, a little tree swing on the top of one of the tall peaks in the canyon. The hike there is relatively moderate, however the climbs start to get steeper as you approach, with the final push being fairly challenging. The hard work is much rewarded once you reach the top and have an incredible view and a lovely tree swing to sit on and enjoy. Many people often do this hike for sunrise or sunset. From the entrance to Poly canyon it is a reasonably short walk – 2 hours max, depending on how long you stay at the top. It’s a super easy way to get a little insight into the beauty that San Luis Obispo has to offer.

Poly Canyon
Admiring the golden views of Poly Canyon

The canyon itself is massive and there are many trails I never got the chance to explore, so head in (with plenty of water) and take a little adventure.

8. Bubblegum Alley

In the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, on Higuera street between Broad and Garden, there is a little alley way with bubblegum stuck on either side! The walls are full of the colourful sticky (slightly gross) gum. Despite it being somewhat unhygienic, it is a must see/do attraction in SLO. Some of the stores around the alley have bubblegum machines where you can purchase some. Chew it and then go and have your right of passage by sticking it onto the wall!

9. Avila Valley Barn

Near Avila beach is Avila Valley Barn.  There are many exciting activities on offer. It is perfect for children as they have a little farm where you can pet farm animals such as goats and tractor rides. For the adults they have a farmers market and store where you can buy locally produced food which is super yummy. In the Fall they also have a great little pumpkin patch you can visit. Nearby is also the tranquil Sycamore mineral springs and of course the beach!

Avila Valley Barn
Collecting Pumpkins at Avila Valley Barn

10. Morro Bay

Although Morro Bay also has a beach, I decided to write about this one separately as there are also a hole host of other cool activities to do there. You can take a boat trip out, or rent a kayak and explore the ocean in a more intimate way. Travel around the huge Morro Rock and get up close and personal with the Sea Lions that live there.  Morro Bay also offers a beautiful beach where surfers often choose to go, if the water isn’t for you there are also a tonne of Sand Dollars to collect whilst walking along the golden shore. If you get hungry, or want to have a shop, Morro bay has many ocean side restaurants and also a lot of shops to browse.

Morro Bay
Sea lions taking a rest on a sunny day

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