Published: October 2009Best Adventure Towns
San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, California

Plan a long weekend getaway with our San Luis Obispo adventure guide, featuring great outdoor escapes, where to stay, and where to eat. Then chime in with your picks.

Photograph courtesy of David E. Garth Photography

Pop. 44,174
GPS: 35°16’N; 120°40’W

The old mission town of San Luis Obispo, or SLO, has a certain something other Cali burgs sorely lack. Maybe it’s the slow-growth policy keeping malls at bay. Or the 30 miles of trails crammed inside city limits and the natural wonders that push beyond them: The city is ringed by a chain of trail-scratched Morros, long-dormant volcanoes that extend to the rolling Santa Lucia Range and the Pacific coast. There’s also the weather. The town is close enough to the shore (10 miles) to stay cool in the summer, but far enough inland to avoid chilly coastal fog. But most likely it’s the small-town feel and lack of crowds—except on Thursdays, when a raucous farmers market invades downtown. “There’s more time in your day,” says Scott Smith, owner of Art’s Cyclery, “because you’re not sitting in traffic.” Factor in SLO’s six bike clubs, California Polytechnic State University’s groundbreaking sustainable agriculture program, and a general trend toward the irreverent (said university’s most famous alum? Weird Al Yankovic) and you’ll see what locals already know: SLO is on the move.

Your Turn: Tell us about your favorite San Luis Obispo adventures, restaurants, and hotels in the comments section below.

PLAY
Hike, bike, or climb your way up 1,493-foot Bishop Peak for bird’s-eye views of the city below. Grab a mountain bike at Art’s Cyclery ($30 a day for rental; artscyclery.com) for Montaña de Oro State Park’s 25 miles of challenging singletrack, or kayak nearby Morro Bay State Park’s protected wetlands ($65 for a guided one-day tour; centralcoastoutdoors.com/spm).

EAT
Locals clamor for eclectic comfort food such as Thai-style marinated catfish at Big Sky Cafe (bigskycafe.com). After dinner head to Downtown Brewing Company to raise a glass of ultrahoppy, awardwinning IPA while reggae bands play (downtownbrew.com).

SLEEP
San Luis Obispo is cluttered with many garden-variety bed-and-breakfasts (read: potpourri and lace), but the Sanitarium ($190; thesanitariumspa.com) is an exception. The converted hospital offers wood-burning stoves in each room, local artwork, and Moroccan soaking baths. Campers, meanwhile, can pitch a tent at Montaña de Oro State Park (from $20 a day; slostateparks.com), 15 miles west of town.

email a friend iconprinter friendly icon   |   
Join the discussion

National Geographic Adventure is pleased to provide this opportunity for you to share your comments about this article. Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Recent Comments
  • Tons of great wineries!
  • Are you kidding me on the eats? Firestone Grill is where it's at. MMMMM Tri-Tip sandwiches.
  • Great article. I've found "SLO Town" to be one of the most charming and fun places I've ever visited…
  • San Luis is a great town to have a long weekend. Its kind of like Boulder. We stayed just south of …
  • San Luis is a great town to have a long weekend. Its kind of like Boulder. We stayed just south of …
Read All »