San Luis Obispo is located on California’s central coast, roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s a beautiful city known for its charming downtown, outdoor activities and proximity to gorgeous beaches. There is a strong sense of community and a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere for all who visit. The city ranks highly in surveys for quality of life and is known for its friendly residents. There is plenty of culture and history here, as well, which makes for a perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Immersing yourself in this city will make you feel like a local who never wants to leave. From its historic and cultural landmarks to seemingly endless opportunities for wine tasting, and of course, the famous (or infamous, depending on the person) Bubblegum Alley, there are plenty of things to do in San Luis Obispo.
Visit Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
Start your exploration with a visit to the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. This Spanish mission, founded in 1772, is a cultural and historical landmark. It is the fifth of the 21 California Missions founded by the Franciscan order, and it holds a significant place in the history and heritage of California. The mission was founded on September 1, 1772, by Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan friar who played a crucial role in establishing the California Mission system.
The mission has undergone several periods of restoration and reconstruction over the years to preserve its historical integrity. Visitors can see both original and restored elements of the mission. Visitors are also welcome to explore the mission’s historical and cultural aspects. On top of everything else, the mission has a museum that displays artifacts and exhibits related to its history.
Stroll Through Downtown San Luis Obispo
Explore the downtown area, which is filled with shops, restaurants and galleries. Higuera Street is the main drag and offers a variety of boutiques and eateries. This ranges from casual eateries to upscale restaurants. You can find a variety of dining options serving everything from local cuisine to international flavors. Mission Plaza, a lovely public space with gardens, a fountain and benches is also around here. It’s a great place to relax and soak in the surroundings.
Peruse the Farmers’ Market
If you’re in town on a Thursday evening, don’t miss the famous Farmers’ Market on Higuera Street. It’s a lively event with local produce, food vendors, live music and a festive atmosphere. It is San Luis Obispo’s most popular local event and travelers can find themselves staying here all evening with everything it has to offer.
Hike Bishop Peak
For outdoor enthusiasts, Bishop Peak is a popular hiking destination with panoramic views of the surrounding area. The trailhead is easily accessible, and the hike offers varying levels of difficulty. It is a great way to see the beautiful landscape of central coast California, no matter the hiking difficulty you choose.
Explore Madonna Inn
The Madonna Inn is a quirky and iconic local landmark. Each room in this eccentric hotel is uniquely decorated, and the Inn itself features a pink exterior and eclectic interior. The hotel’s Copper Cafe is a popular spot for a meal or dessert. This hotel is also a very short drive from downtown, where most of the city’s action is.
Relax at Avila Beach
When you think of California, the first thing that comes to mind is probably its beaches. San Luis Obispo has access to some of the best beaches. Take a short drive to Avila Beach, a charming seaside town just a few miles from San Luis Obispo. Enjoy the sandy beaches, take a walk on the pier or rent a kayak to explore the bay.
Wine Tasting in Edna Valley
San Luis Obispo is surrounded by wine country, and Edna Valley is known for its vineyards and wineries. The city boasts a temperate climate perfect for growing the ripest fruits to make wine. Take a wine tour and enjoy some of the region’s best vintages.
Visit Morro Bay
Morro Bay is a picturesque coastal town known for Morro Rock, a volcanic peak that rises dramatically from the ocean. Explore the waterfront, go kayaking or enjoy fresh seafood at one of the local restaurants. Morro Bay’s website details even more activities you can enjoy there like ocean-side golf, hiking, fishing, biking, bird watching, kite flying, shopping and more.
Blow a Bubble at Bubblegum Alley
For a quirky experience, check out Bubblegum Alley on Higuera Street. It’s a local landmark where visitors have been sticking their chewed gum for decades. The exact person or event that initiated Bubblegum Alley is not known. It’s likely that the alley’s fame grew over time through word of mouth and local culture. Some believe that students of nearby California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) began sticking chewed gum to the walls of the narrow alley as a playful and unconventional way of leaving a mark on the city.
Over time, the alley became a local tradition, and the act of adding gum to the walls gained popularity. Take a moment to add your mark on tradition with a bit of already-been-chewed gum.
Watch the Sun Set at Terrace Hill
End your day with a beautiful sunset view from Terrace Hill. It offers a panoramic view of San Luis Obispo and the surrounding hills. The picturesque view you get from reaching the top will make the estimated 20-minute journey hiking through it even more rewarding. Terrace Hill is dog-friendly, so bring your pet with you if you travel with one. Or bring food and a blanket on your way up to enjoy the perfect picnic.
Now that you have a good idea of the best things to do in San Luis Obispo, enjoy your time there.