San Luis Obispo travel guide

San Luis Obispo Tourism | San Luis Obispo Guide

You're Going to Love San Luis Obispo

It's almost impossible not to fall in love with a city as beautiful as San Luis Obispo. Located around halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo couldn't be more different from its larger cousins.

The first thing that draws visitors in is the sheer beauty of their surroundings. San Luis Obispo is situated at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains, which reach down to the Pacific, just a few miles away.

Explore the hiking paths or mountain biking trails of the mountains, rent kayaks and cruise the coast of the Montana de Oro State Park or stay in town and wander arm in arm through the city's Botanical Garden in El Churro. Take wine tasting tours with the guidance of local wine experts, dine at bistros like Novo and round off your day with a drive-in movie in the warm California evening.

With a mixture of natural beauty, classy wineries, great food and entertainment, it's easy to fall in love with this charming Californian destination.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit San Luis Obispo

Gorgeous Mountain Scenery

San Luis Obispo offers a fine balance of urban appeal and raw natural beauty. Some of the most stunning local scenery can be found in the Santa Lucia Mountains, but it's also worth driving to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa to see Big Falls if you have the time.

The Pacific Coast is Easily Within Reach

San Luis Obispo is located around 15 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, so it only takes around half an hour to reach the sea. Take kayaks to explore the sea caves at Pismo Beach, hike at Montana de Oro or just laze on beaches like Avila.

Superb Wine Country

San Luis Obispo is also right on the doorstep of the Edna Valley, one of California's elite wine growing regions. Stay in town and sample local vintages as bars like the Wine Shed or take tours with the experts at Breakaway Tours.

Shopping Opportunities for Everyone to Enjoy

San Luis Obispo has a beautifully redeveloped pedestrianized city center that is packed with intriguing vintage stores like Finders Keepers and Ruby Rose and apparel boutiques like Blackwater and Contessa, along with more familiar names. Whatever you love to buy, there will be something for you.

Historical Attractions and Museums

San Luis Obispo has a very long history, with the first mission being founded by Spanish friars in 1772. Today, visitors can tour the original Mission, which is right at the center of town and then cross the road to History Center of San Luis Obispo County to find out everything they need to know about the city's fascinating past.

What to do in San Luis Obispo

1. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa: Revisiting California's Roots

Visit a monument older than the United States at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, founded in 1772. The State of California is littered with old Spanish-style Catholic Missions taking you back to California's roots. Today the Mission is a parish church of the Diocese of Monterey, offering regular mass and confession services. Visitors should take advantage of the Mission's many guided tours through the grounds, church, and common rooms.

2. Pismo Beach: Sand, Surf, and Fun in the Sun

Grab your swimsuit, blast those Beach Boys tunes, and prepare for a lazy day with your toes in the sand at Pismo Beach! The sandy sprawl is filled with visitors and locals alike enjoying the many volleyball, rollerblading, surfing, and swimming activities. The boardwalk is also filled with restaurants and bars offering a convenient respite from the Southern California heat. Refuel tip: after a long afternoon of swimming, grab a plate of ribs and a cold beer at Mo's Smokehouse BBQ just down the main boardwalk strip. We promise, your stomach will thank you.

3. Fremont Theater: Release Your Inner Thespian

While you're still a far cry from Hollywood, Fremont Theater in downtown San Luis Obispo gives you that same old film nostalgia. Fremont Theater has been a citywide institution since 1942 and was designed by famed architect S. Charles Lee in the Streamline Moderne style. However, the historic movie theater does more than just show the latest releases. There are also regular film-throwbacks showing famous titles like E.T, Casablanca, and Bonnie and Clyde as well as live performances by The Metropolitan Metro.

4. Dallidet Adobe and Gardens: A Tranquil Retreat

Feel like you've stepped into a secret garden when you visit the Dallidet Adobe and Gardens. The Gardens are located in the heart of downtown, comprised of an old, historic house and carefully manicured gardens which once belonged to a French vintner and his family. There are occasional talks and public events held at the site to help educate visitors about plant varieties, sustainability, and historic California. To avoid the crowds and snap that instagram-worthy pic, try reserving your docent-lead tour beforehand or visiting the Dallidet Adboe and Gardens during the week: the weekends are usually packed with dozens of newlyweds posing happily among the roses.

5. San Luis Obispo Museum of Art: The Heart of Modern Art

Nothing helps you to understand the heartbeat of a city like taking the time to appreciate the local art. The San Luis Obispo of Modern Art is one of the most popular venues in the city with a commitment to community values and preservation. The museum's many exhibits place a special emphasis on showcasing contemporary artwork by living California residents. The San Luis Obispo museum is free to enter and often hosts art-themed parties, concerts, art talks, and more. In addition, there are several art classes, plus summer camps for teens and youth to practice their technique.

1. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa: Revisiting California's Roots

Visit a monument older than the United States at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, founded in 1772. The State of California is littered with old Spanish-style Catholic Missions taking you back to California's roots. Today the Mission is a parish church of the Diocese of Monterey, offering regular mass and confession services. Visitors should take advantage of the Mission's many guided tours through the grounds, church, and common rooms.

2. Pismo Beach: Sand, Surf, and Fun in the Sun

Grab your swimsuit, blast those Beach Boys tunes, and prepare for a lazy day with your toes in the sand at Pismo Beach! The sandy sprawl is filled with visitors and locals alike enjoying the many volleyball, rollerblading, surfing, and swimming activities. The boardwalk is also filled with restaurants and bars offering a convenient respite from the Southern California heat. Refuel tip: after a long afternoon of swimming, grab a plate of ribs and a cold beer at Mo's Smokehouse BBQ just down the main boardwalk strip. We promise, your stomach will thank you.

3. Fremont Theater: Release Your Inner Thespian

While you're still a far cry from Hollywood, Fremont Theater in downtown San Luis Obispo gives you that same old film nostalgia. Fremont Theater has been a citywide institution since 1942 and was designed by famed architect S. Charles Lee in the Streamline Moderne style. However, the historic movie theater does more than just show the latest releases. There are also regular film-throwbacks showing famous titles like E.T, Casablanca, and Bonnie and Clyde as well as live performances by The Metropolitan Metro.

4. Dallidet Adobe and Gardens: A Tranquil Retreat

Feel like you've stepped into a secret garden when you visit the Dallidet Adobe and Gardens. The Gardens are located in the heart of downtown, comprised of an old, historic house and carefully manicured gardens which once belonged to a French vintner and his family. There are occasional talks and public events held at the site to help educate visitors about plant varieties, sustainability, and historic California. To avoid the crowds and snap that instagram-worthy pic, try reserving your docent-lead tour beforehand or visiting the Dallidet Adboe and Gardens during the week: the weekends are usually packed with dozens of newlyweds posing happily among the roses.

5. San Luis Obispo Museum of Art: The Heart of Modern Art

Nothing helps you to understand the heartbeat of a city like taking the time to appreciate the local art. The San Luis Obispo of Modern Art is one of the most popular venues in the city with a commitment to community values and preservation. The museum's many exhibits place a special emphasis on showcasing contemporary artwork by living California residents. The San Luis Obispo museum is free to enter and often hosts art-themed parties, concerts, art talks, and more. In addition, there are several art classes, plus summer camps for teens and youth to practice their technique.

Where to Eat in San Luis Obispo

Dining in San Luis Obispo tends to be two things: high-quality and relatively expensive. If you love gourmet bistros, you've come to the right place, with local favorites including Novo, Luna Red, and Koberl. However, you can get a good honest burger at Eureka Burger, healthy salads at Jaffa's Cafe and excellent Asian dishes at Thai Classic, so the city offers plenty of choice for diners. Expect to pay $15-20 for a midrange burger or salad, and over $40 at higher end restaurants.

When to visit San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo in January
Estimated hotel price
$158
1 night at 3-star hotel
San Luis Obispo in January
Estimated hotel price
$158
1 night at 3-star hotel

The climate in San Luis Obispo is mild almost all year-round (although the town experiences more rain from November through March). A good time to go is late spring, in May or early June, when the temperatures average around 75 degrees, and the crowds won't be too large.Summer is also great as it sees the area hosting most of its food and wine festivals, which can be a big draw as well. Book ahead if you plan a summer vacation, as accommodation can be snapped up quickly.

Data provided by weatherbase
Temperatures
Temperatures
Average
Celcius (°C)
Data provided by weatherbase

How to Get to San Luis Obispo

Plane

San Luis Obispo's small airport has connections to San Francisco and Los Angeles, while charter flights may also be available from cities like San Diego or Phoenix at certain times of year. When you get to the airport, you can either choose to take a taxi, limousine or shuttle bus

Train

Catching the train is an excellent way to travel to San Luis Obispo from other cities in California. The city is a stop on both the Coast Starlight route (from Seattle to Los Angeles) and the Pacific Surfliner (from San Diego to San Luis Obispo).

Car

Reaching San Luis Obispo from the north or south is simple thanks to California Highways 1 or 101, which pass through the town and connect it to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Bus

Intercity bus services into San Luis Obispo are provided by Greyhound, whose local stop is located at 2975 Rockview Place, in the southern part of town.

Airlines serving San Luis Obispo

United Airlines
Good (2,640 reviews)
Lufthansa
Good (1,799 reviews)
American Airlines
Good (4,105 reviews)
Qatar Airways
Good (1,035 reviews)
Air Canada
Good (1,012 reviews)
Austrian Airlines
Good (246 reviews)
Finnair
Good (587 reviews)
Alaska Airlines
Excellent (2,296 reviews)
Avianca
Good (749 reviews)
Southwest
Good (1,537 reviews)
Copa Airlines
Good (487 reviews)
Air New Zealand
Excellent (42 reviews)
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Where to stay in San Luis Obispo

Downtown – As the center of a city that bills itself "the happiest town in America", you'd expect Downtown San Luis Obispo to be a fun place to spend time, and you won't be disappointed. Higuera Street offers boutique shopping and fine dining experiences, as well as historical sights like the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

Popular Neighborhoods in San Luis Obispo

The Railroad District – Recently redeveloped, the Railroad District is becoming San Luis Obispo's creative center. Filled with studios and modern bars, it's home to nightspots like the Meze Wine Bar and has excellent cycling connections to the Downtown neighborhood thanks to the Railroad Bike Path. It's a great place for couples and younger travelers to stay.

Chorro – Located a short distance north of the city center and right next to the California State Polytechnic Campus, Chorro is the gateway to some gorgeous countryside. It's home to the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden and El Chorro Regional Park, which dominates the neighborhood and offers everything from climbing to golf courses.

Where to stay in popular areas of San Luis Obispo

Most booked hotels in San Luis Obispo

San Luis Creek Lodge
Excellent (9.1, Excellent reviews)
$405+
Apple Farm Inn
Excellent (8.6, Excellent reviews)
$289+
Hampton Inn & Suites San Luis Obispo
Good (7.9, Good reviews)
$352+
Inn at San Luis Obispo
Good (7.3, Good reviews)
$164+
See all hotels

How to Get Around San Luis Obispo

Public Transportation

Buses in San Luis Obispo are provided by SLO Transit and run until 10pm on weekdays, 6 p.m. on weekends. Regular fares are just $1.25, day passes are $3 and week passes are $14, so it's an affordable system.

Taxis

If you are staying at rural ranches or need to reach wineries in the area, taxis may sometimes be your best option. Rates aren't cheap, though, with a meter drop of $3, then $3.50 every mile after that. Uber could be a way to save money on transportation, with their cheapest UberX vehicles costing $1.40 as the initial charge, then $2 per mile.

Car

Many visitors to San Luis Obispo choose to rent a vehicle, for obvious reasons. Having your own car allows you to reach the coast with ease, access remote trailheads and zip between local attractions. Parking is cheap, at $1 per hour in the city center, and there shouldn't be any problems getting around town.

The Cost of Living in San Luis Obispo

Shopping Streets

Higuera Street in Downtown San Luis Obispo is the city's main shopping street. This pedestrianized precinct is full of apparel stores like Fanny Wrappers and Finders Keepers, jewelry stores like Kevin Main and vintage stores like Ruby Rose (as well as major chains like Apple and Gap). Slightly to the south, you might also check out Madonna Plaza, which hosts stores like Sears, Men's Warehouse and Applebee's.

Groceries and Other

San Luis Obispo offers plenty of grocery shopping options, including Trader Joe's, Ralph's, Vons, Whole Foods and Food 4 Less, as well as smaller delis like Sidewalk Market. The cost of living is around average for the USA, with a gallon of milk costing $3.80 and 12 eggs about $3.50.

Cheap meal
$19.38
A pair of jeans
$59.90
Single public transport ticket
$2.65
Cappuccino
$6.93