Whether you live nearby or are planning an out of town getaway, San Luis Obispo is well worth a visit. Named one of the happiest cities in America by National Geographic, this must-see location is positioned between Los Angeles and San Francisco and offers something for everyone. From exciting city life activities, beautiful coastal regions, picturesque nature trails, popular attractions, fine dining, and more, San Luis Obispo is an adventure and a relaxing experience wrapped up in one beautiful location. With its vast amount of amazing experiences to discover, we have compiled a list of our Favorite Things to do in San Luis Obispo so you will be sure to have an exceptional time visiting the hot spots that capture the essence of this sunny California coastal city. Dive in and have fun planning your San Luis Obispo gateway!
Exceptional Coastal View Hiking
With its perfect weather that California is known for, San Luis Obispo makes for a great hiking destination all year round. It can be wonderful for the outdoor enthusiast that enjoys a casual walk with breathtaking views, or the serious hiker looking for challenging terrain to explore. With that being said, SLO offers something for every level of hiking. For those of you that are determined to make it to the top of your hiking destination, the views are stunning and worth the climb! We have a few recommendations for prime hiking spots that will help you get the most out what San Luis Obispo hiking is known for.
Bob Jones Trail
Whether by bicycle, attached to a dog, or simply an easy walk, Bob Jones Trail provides a roomy path to traverse. We love heading over to the Avila Market for a delicious lunch at Woodside Deli and going for an extended walk to the beach. The walk along San Luis Creek and Avila Bay golf course is beautiful. The end point at Avila Beach just adds to the fun.
Hiking Reservoir Canyon / High School Hill
High School Hill is one of the most strenuous and steep hikes on the central coast, but also offers one of the most complete panoramic views of San Luis Obispo. On a clear day, you can see a number of the “7 sisters” lined up along the coast towards Morro Bay. The “7 sisters” are extinct volcano peaks that have long been known as icons of SLO. This spectacular location is so perfect that couples travel from afar for their marriage proposals. Yes, it’s that nice!
Valencia Peak Trail
This impressive hiking spot is located within Montaña de Oro State Park and offers one of the highest summit climbing experiences in the park. It is on this journey that you will find epic ocean views and scenic terrain. The Valencia Peak Trail will provide you with unforgettable 360-degree views. The peak is a 1,347-feet high and the trek is 4.5 miles round trip, so pack a few snacks for the trip, and be sure to bring plenty of water.
The Bluff Trail, also located within San Luis Obispo’s Montana de Oro State Park, features picturesque ocean views and tidepools full of crabs and other crustacean sea life right off the trail. If you have the time, take a trip to this area during different times of the day to see the various tides and surf conditions which all bring about a truly unique scenic experience. Keep your camera handy, you may just spot a seal or two.
Beach and Bay Area State Parks
If you are visiting San Luis Obispo, visit their state parks to enjoy a day of ocean views, energetic hiking, and remarkable sightseeing! This area offers some of the most beautiful state parks in California, and it will prove to be an unforgettable experience.
Montana de Oro State Park
San Luis Obispo is the home of Montana de Oro State Park, a popular vacation destination for nature lovers, as well as sightseeing enthusiasts. With 8,000 acres of land occupied by sandy beaches, beautiful coastal plains, flowing streams, rugged cliffs, coves, and tidepools, you could easily spend a few days exploring. This remarkable park offers its visitors a chance to catch a glimpse at whales swimming by any time of the year, although your chances are better December through early April. This central coast location is also the home of many dolphins, sea otters, and seals that just might make an appearance. It provides fantastic hiking opportunities, and mountain biking, as well as equestrian trails. Make sure to stop by Corallina Cove before leaving the park to view its magnificent tidepools where you will find sea stars and other marine creatures. If you would like to make it a fun overnight experience, this park offers camping at the Islay Creek Campground.
Pismo Beach State Park
This particular state beach park is 17 miles long and provides opportunities for swimming, surfing, fishing, hiking, and camping. Need to plan an exciting afternoon, ATV rentals are available for you and your family. Additionally, if you are looking to have an exceptionally fun evening, gather with some friends around a bonfire on the beach, roast some marshmallows and enjoy the ocean air. This beautiful state park houses many marine creatures such as sea urchins, crabs, kelp and many others. For those bird watchers out there, you will most likely spot the great blue heron and a few pelicans near the beach’s tree-lined dunes. This beach is most famous for its large and stunning monarch butterfly population. These brilliant butterflies migrate from October through February. There are informative docents who will fill you in on everything there is to know about these amazing butterflies.
Morro Bay State Park
Have a fun afternoon kayaking, sailing, or fishing in Morro Bay where you may spot a dolphin, sea lion, or sea otter! This state park supports a very large bird population that also provides a world-class bird watching experience. Along with this, you can visit the park’s museum to learn more about Morro Bay’s oceanography, geology, and history. If you enjoy activities out in the ocean air, make a stop over to the park’s public golf course! Before leaving, try to catch a glimpse of the two volcanic peaks that are within viewing distance. Have fun and make sure not to get caught in the mud!
If you are looking forward to enjoying some live theater or music during your stay in San Luis Obispo, you are in luck! SLO offers fantastic live performances all year round. From sandy beach musical concerts to engaging live theater, SLO has got you covered. Take a look at the local listings and see what’s going on at the time of your visit, you might just find a must-see ballet or a comedy show to get the night started! We are pointing out two live performance venues that get rave reviews and are certainly worth a visit.
The Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville
While you are in the SLO area, you really should see at least one live theater performance, and the Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville is the place to see it! This intimate theater has been going strong since 1975 with standing ovation performances that keep it going all year round. Its fun performances are suitable for adults and children alike. Nightly shows offer two-act plays so you are essentially getting two shows for the price of one. Their entertaining shows are filled with music, comedy, dancing, and more. In addition to this, the theater offers an in-house pub where you can enjoy snacks, beer, and wine
Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
The performing arts center hosts everything from Broadway shows to comedians. The entertainment is always top notch. Check out their website.
The Clark Center also provides a variety of shows and is well worth checking out.
Avila Beach hosts varied concerts, cuisine, and beer festivals throughout the year.
Family Fun Attractions
If you are ready to have some extra fun and see more of what SLO has to offer, than let’s take a look at three very popular tourist attractions. This would include taking a trip to an amazing Aquarium, visiting and learning about the areas extraordinary elephant seals, along with having a seat while catching a movie at a solar-powered movie theater!
Central Coast Aquarium
Located off Avila Beach of the San Luis Obispo Bay, this exciting aquarium, formally called the Sea Life Center, is an adventure in itself. The Central Coast Aquarium offers fun touch labs where you can get up close and personal with marine life such as purple sea urchins, sea stars, hermit crabs and more. You will have a chance to temporarily become a marine biologist while on their floating lab! They offer many exhibits that provide close views of red octopus, rockfish, and other unique creatures. If you feel you are brave enough, visit the shark touch tank. After all, it’s not very often that you are given the opportunity to actually touch a shark! Friendly trained staff and volunteers love to answer questions, so get ready to learn more about the San Luis Obispo ocean life.
Visit the Elephant Seals in San Simeon
Everyone should visit the elephant seals in San Simeon, it’s a San Luis Obispo County favorite! An area called Piedras Blancas is the best place to view these incredible marine mammals. The northern elephant seal openly play, as well as rest, it’s a definitely a sight to see. December through March is the peak-viewing season, so mark your calendar! Stop by the Friends of the Elephant Seal visitor center and gift shop, it’s just 8 miles south of the viewing area, and worth the short drive.
Catch a Movie at the Palm Theater
SLO’s oldest and only independent movie theater is a fun and affordable setting to see the best independent films. The Palm Theater has the charm of a small town theater with inexpensive popcorn and friendly staff. Plus, it’s run exclusively by solar power! It was actually the very first movie theater in the United States to become fully solar-powered. So take a seat and enjoy the show!
Built on a hill overlooking San Simeon, the majestic Hearst Castle was built by William Randolph Hearst. It houses treasures from all over the world and is well worth any of the several tours. Tickets may be purchased ahead of time online.
Experience the Art of SLO
Are you a lover of all things creative, if so, then you will want to visit some of San Luis Obispo’s favorite art hot spots! SLO has a thriving art community that offers a variety of mediums and subjects. Most visitors adore the local coastal art since it enables them to bring home a little reminder of the relaxing coastal life environment. We recommend stopping by the areas most talked about art event and museum, they are visited by thousands of people every year.
SLO Museum of Art
The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art offers many intriguing exhibits that include paintings, photography, fine art, sculpture and more. You will even be given an orientation tour so you can get the most out of your visit. In addition to this, the SLO Museum of Art also presents lectures, films, and classes to its visitors. Check out their website for current exhibit information and hours.
Art After Dark in SLO
If you want to take a walk and experience art after hours, you won’t want to miss Art After Dark in SLO. From 6 pm to 9 pm, the first Friday of every month, a vast amount of art is displayed in the galleries and non-traditional exhibit spaces in downtown San Luis Obispo. This event showcases local artist as well as renowned artist from around the world. Complimentary refreshments are often offered, and many casual and fine dining opportunities are available if you want to stop for a bite to eat. This event will provide you with hours of enjoyable entertainment!
Stop by a Winery or Brewery – Always a Good Time
Experience the central coast’s well-known breweries and wineries that will allow you to enjoy good company and well-crafted drinks while you’re in the area. If fine beer is your specialty, then you will have plenty of options since SLO boasts dozens of quality breweries. If a glass of wine is your forte, you’re in for an unforgettable experience. Oceanfront wineries are what make this wine country so favored and you will want to visit one or two for the experience of it! We have a few crowd favorites that are highly recommended. So stop on by, have a drink, and say hello to the locals, you’re in for a great time!
A Few Great Breweries
Our personal favorites are Central Coast Brewing and the Tap It Brewing Company; both offer beer equal in quality and taste. Central Coast Brewing is located in the bustling downtown area of San Luis Obispo and is known for being one of the area’s premier brewing companies. This famous brewery offers outstanding varieties of handcrafted specialty ales and lagers. They always have something interesting going on, from holiday parties to great bands, so you are guaranteed to have a great time. Just as fun is the Tap It Brewing Company, a laid-back brewery that offers traditional and creative beers. They showcase their famous draft beer in the Tap Room, a social room where you can experience beer the way it was meant to be. This brewery often has live entertainment that kicks the fun up a notch.
SLO Wine Country Favorites
Edna Valley, located on California central coast, is home to many wineries that host visitors from all over the world. This picturesque area of San Luis Obispo is where all fun happens. The wineries in this coastal area provide great live entertainment and events, so be sure to check their calendars when planning your visit so you won’t miss out. Let’s start with the Edna Valley Winery, which offers breathtaking views and fine wines. Visit their tasting room to enjoy one of these award-winning wines. They specialize in crafting Chardonnay wines, but also offer a variety of other types. Nearby is Saucelito Canyon Winery, maker of outstanding Zinfandels. This winery’s tasting room is situated in the middle of beautiful rolling hills and endless vineyards. Also worth mentioning is Kynsi Winery, a family operated vineyard that is a local favorite. Here you will experience ocean breezes, blue skies, and spectacular scenery as you sip your wine among friends and family. They often present limited-edition wines in their renowned tasting room. While you are on the Edna Valley wine trail, stop by Wolff Winery to visit their fun tasting room, complete with picnic benches. They offer several great wines and a fabulous panoramic view! Do not overlook Baileyana Winery for a special treats.
San Luis Obispo is a world-famous vacation spot and provides everything you would need for an ideal getaway! We hope our list of Favorite Things to do in San Luis Obispo has you excited about all the possibilities this exceptional area has to offer. Start making your plans and we will see you there!