The BEST things to do in San Luis Obispo, California (+ a 3 day itinerary!)

Looking for the best things to do in San Luis Obispo? In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before visiting this gem of an area, plus where to stay, and so much more!

San Luis Obispo (SLO) is said to be the “happiest place in America” and although we haven’t visited every small town and city in America, with 43 of the 50 states under our belt, we can definitely agree that some of our happiest moments traveling were in San Luis Obispo!

We first visited this gorgeous region of California’s central coast as a quick stop on a cross country road trip back in early 2019 (before we even had our van!) and instantly fell in love with the area. So as soon as we knew we’d be driving through California again in 2022 for our big Journey to Alaska, we put revisiting San Luis Obispo at the top of our bucket list for the drive!

Montaña de Oro State Park | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

We wondered if we’d feel the same magical feeling on a second visit and not only was the feeling still there, but it was even stronger than before! Instead of an afternoon trip, we spent about a week and a half in the area this time and it fully confirmed how much we love this area. In fact, it’s quite possibly our favorite spot on the entire California coast!

Watch our video exploring San Luis Obispo County, including eating delicious local foods, hiking, and more!

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why we love SLO so much, but with the beautiful Pacific Ocean only a few miles away, a charming downtown, plus other fun towns nearby, tons of hiking trails, wineries, and a relaxed and chill vibe, San Luis Obsipo really has it all to make you happy! 

And in this guide we’re sharing the best things to do in San Luis Obispo, including a bunch of spots in the general San Luis Obispo County area, plus a three day itinerary to help you plan your own adventure in this slice of coastal California heaven!

Looking for more things to do in California? Check out these guides & videos:

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About San Luis Obispo, California

Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

San Luis Obispo was founded by the Spanish in 1772 as Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the 5th in a chain of 21 Spanish missions in California. However, its history dates back even further than that, with the Chumash people calling this greater area home for centuries and utilized its natural marine resources.

By 1810, the Mexican War of Independence from Spain began and over the next few decades the area went through some turmoil. Much of the area around the mission was split into plots of land called ranchos, which focused on raising cattle. And after America gained control of California in the late 1800s, San Luis Obispo (SLO) joined the newly formed San Luis Obispo County, which is a county made up of a bunch of different towns and communities, both on the coast and tucked into the neighboring hills and mountains.

Over time different industries, like the railroad, began to set in and as the car industry boomed and the construction of Highway 101 was complete, San Luis Obispo became a popular stop along the drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

Today, SLO boasts tons of historic architecture, vineyards, farms, outdoor recreation, California Polytechnic University, loads of delicious food options, shopping, and so much more! For us, it’s the perfect sized city, with a small town and more local feel that makes you just think “I could totally live here.”

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors. 

Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

There is truly something for everyone in San Luis Obispo and with so many things to do in San Luis Obispo and in the neighboring towns in San Luis Obispo County, it will take many return trips for us to experience it all, but here are our favorite things we have done so far. Plus a few spots that came highly recommended to us that are at the top of the list for next time!

Check out a local coffee shop

Scout Coffee | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

What is the best way to kick off exploring a new city? Coffee, of course! It’s no secret we love checking out local coffee shops and one of our favorite coffee shops ever just happens to be in San Luis Obispo…Scout Coffee Co! This coffee shop is gorgeous inside, with a mix of brick, wood, and a vibrant floral wallpaper, plus a very cool area with local items to purchase! But beyond its aesthetic, the coffee is top notch, with homemade syrups (an extra 10 points from us!) in their delicious lattes.

Beyond Scout Coffee, SLO also has some other great local coffee shops, if you’d like to try a new one every day, including Field Day Coffee, Kin Coffee Bar, Libertine Coffee Bar (the breakfast burritos are said to be top notch!), and Active Coffee Co.

Visit Bubblegum Alley

Bubblegum Alley | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

Just like in our former home city of Seattle, SLO has a gum wall! And it’s just as gross! 

There are a few theories on how this gum wall came to be. Some believe that it started after WWII as a San Luis Obispo High School graduating class event, while another theory is that it started in the 50s as a rivalry between San Luis Obispo High School students and Cal Poly students. The university students thought the high school kids were trying to outdo them, so they stepped up their game with the gum wall. 

It’s been cleaned a few times over the years and in 1996 they tried to have it cleaned again, but it didn’t happen, so the gum wall was here to stay. This may be one of the grossest things to do in San Luis Obispo County, but for both the gum lovers and the brave, it makes for a very unique activity.

See the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Mission

Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

When this part of California was under Spanish control in the 1760s, the Spanish began building 21 missions from what is now San Diego to Sonoma in order to colonize the territory and convert the Native Americans to Christianity. And you can still visit these missions today along California’s Missions Trail.

While the purpose of these missions and the negative impact on Native Americans is something we do not condone, these missions did play a big role in turning California into what it is today and are a good way to learn the history (both positive and negative) of the area. 

And right in downtown San Luis Obispo is the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, which was founded in 1772 and is named after Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, France. It was the 5th California mission founded and still stands in the same place it originated, making it one of the few that hasn’t had to relocate, but it has gone through some modern upgrades to make the structure more stable. 

If you’d like to visit the mission, the public is allowed inside, where you can check out a free museum (donations appreciated!) or take a docent led tour, which is offered year round, Monday-Saturday at 1:15 PM and on Sundays at 2 PM. 

Try iconic San Luis Obispo Foods

California as a whole is known for a variety of foods and the San Luis Obispo area is no exception! While there are many local favorites when it comes to restaurants, there are two food items in particular that we consider a “must-try” when in SLO.

Tri-Tip Sandwich Firestone Grill | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

Tri-tip sandwich

For the meat eaters out there, one iconic food item you must try in SLO is the tri-tip sandwich. Tri-tip is a cut of beef that gets its name because it is located at the tip of the sirloin and when cut, is in a triangular shape. And it’s very popular all over California!

It gained popularity back in the 1950s, when a man named Bob Shutz first introduced it to locals at his shop. Before this, the cut had been mainly used for ground meat or stew meat because you only get two of these from one cow and store owners thought it was a waste of space to only display a few of these in their counter for customers to buy. Over the years, locals and tourists loved the cut and the popularity grew from there, giving it the nickname “California’s cut.”

A popular way to have it is on a sandwich and we had our first tri-tip sandwich at Firestone Grill. They have sold over 10,000,000 of these hand cut tri-tip sandwiches, which are served with homemade BBQ sauce on a French bun. 

We were nervous that it would be a bit too simple of a sandwich…it’s just meat and sauce afterall, but we absolutely LOVED the sandwich! It was loaded with flavor and the meat was so juicy, tender, and the smokiness of it mixed perfectly with the slightly sweet sauce. It definitely proved that simple does not mean boring!

Another popular spot to try a tri-tip sandwich in San Luis Obispo is Old Slo BBQ Co. From our research, many locals will debate which of the two is better, so you may want to try them both and see what you think!

Clam chowder at Splash Cafe

Back in the 1950s, SLO’s neighbor, Pismo Beach, adopted the name “Clam Capital of the World,” but unfortunately over time, the clam population has disappeared. Despite this, the area still holds an annual Clam Festival and clam chowder is a popular food item to eat.

One of the best places to try clam chowder in the SLO area is at Splash Cafe. This is a mega popular place and for good reason…they make some of the best clam chowder in the nation! And they not only have a location in Pismo Beach (which is right by the beach and we highly recommend going to), but they have a location in SLO too.

The clam chowder is loaded with clams and has an amazing, creamy flavor. Even the more seafood skeptical one of us (Kathryn) enjoyed it! While delicious by itself, make sure to get it in a bread bowl, which has a buttered and toasted top, and get it fully loaded (with bacon, seafood, clams, cheese, and green onions on top), which takes it to the next level.

Other places to eat in San Luis Obispo

If you’re looking for more places to eat, San Luis Obispo has tons of other great restaurants from many different cuisines. On our first visit we checked out Petra Mediterranean Pizza and Grill and loved it! High Street Market & Deli (two locations), Flour House, and Novo also came highly recommended to us.

Hike one of the Nine Sisters

Bishop Peak | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

The area around San Luis Obispo County is home to a unique geologic feature nicknamed Morros, which are volcanic plugs that were created over 20 million years ago when liquid magma welled up and solidified inside softer rock. 

The softer rock has since eroded away leaving behind these peaks, which jut up from the ground and are seen all around the area. There are 23 of them total, but the nine “major” ones are called the Nine Sisters or Nine Morros. And hiking at least one of these is a must when in SLO! 

Bishop Peak

Miles (roundtrip): 3.4 
Elevation (feet): 1,131
Reviews & Current Conditions

Bishop Peak is the tallest of all the Nine Sisters at 1,559 feet. While some of the morros are on private property, Bishop Peak is open to the public, located in Bishop Peak Nature Reserve and you can hike to the top!

There are several places you can access the trailhead and we started from Patricia Drive. Dogs are allowed on this hike, but they must be on leash (which is noted by many signs). They even have leashes you can borrow at the trailhead and as someone with a reactive pup (that loves to hike!), we super appreciated this!

Bishop Peak | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

Along the trail you have almost nonstop amazing views of the area below, including the Cal Poly campus, the surrounding mountains, the ocean, and other morros. It’s a steep hike and once you get to the top, you’ll be met with a bench, which marks the end of the trail. You can go past the bench for more views, but you’ll have to do some scrambling over large boulders. If you aren’t comfortable doing that then the views from the bench are spectacular in themselves and the whole hike is more than worth the effort! 

One thing to note is that besides being steep, this is a pretty dusty and exposed hike, so be sure to pack some sun protection and bring plenty of water. We also suggest downloading the AllTrails map, as there are a few different trails that connect along the way and you’ll want to make sure you go the right way, although I do believe we had cell service the entire hike, since it’s right in town.

Bishop Peak | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

Cerro San Luis Obispo

Miles (roundtrip): 3.9 
Elevation (feet): 931
Reviews & Current Conditions

Another popular hike in the area is Cerro San Luis Obispo, another one of the Nine Sisters. While we haven’t personally hiked this trail, it looks to be a similar experience to Bishop Peak, just slightly less elevation gain. From the top you can see the ocean, Bishop Peak, and Laguna Lake. 

Islay Hill

Miles (roundtrip): 1.5 
Elevation (feet): 482
Reviews & Current Conditions

This is the easternmost hill of the Nine Sisters and is about half the distance and elevation of Bishop Peak and Cerro San Luis Obispo. It is still steep in some sections, but this is a great option if you’re looking for something shorter and easier.

You’ll have a good laugh when you get to the top as well! There is a massive fiberglass cow that looks like it has climbed up a telephone pole looking through binoculars. We have to check this one out next time!

Shop at the Downtown SLO Farmers Market

Photo Credit: https://downtownslo.com/farmers-market/visit

The Downtown SLO Farmers Market is a year round market that offers 5 blocks of fresh produce, delicious food, and live entertainment and is open every Thursday, except Thanksgiving and federal holidays, from 6 PM to 9 PM (March-October) and 6 PM to 8:30 PM (November-February).

We wanted to visit this market so badly, but unfortunately the timing didn’t work out for us this past trip. But if you can’t make it to the farmers market, Avila Valley Barn is another fun option! They offer fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, bakery items, and lunch items at their Chicken Shack & Smoke House, including a very delicious looking tri-tip sandwich!

Check out the Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard

San Luis Obispo is home to California Polytechnic University, also called Cal Poly, and WOW what an epic area to go to college in. Random fact: I had a friend in high school who decided to go here and I never knew why (since I hadn’t heard of the area), but now I get it!

And located in Poly Canyon on the Cal Poly campus is the “Experimental Structures Laboratory” also known as the Architecture Graveyard. For those who enjoy combining unique art with nature…this is your place! 

This attraction is the perfect example of Cal Poly’s philosophy, “learn by doing.” The architecture graveyard is an outdoor experimental laboratory with a unique collection of experimental structures built by architectural, engineering, and design students over the last few decades, with some of the structures here dating all the way back to 1964. 

It’s a pretty large area and there are lots of unique and fun structures to walk around and see. And one of the best parts is that dogs are allowed too!

Note: Parking for this is not very well advertised. We parked in this parking lot on campus and purchased a parking pass at one of the machines in the parking lot. From the parking lot, we walked north on Klamath Road, turned right on Village Drive, then right on Poly Canyon Road to get to Poly Canyon.

Visit Montaña de Oro State Park

Montaña de Oro State Park | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

Montana de Oro State Park is an absolute gem of a park with gorgeous, rugged coastlines, sandy beaches, streams and canyons, mountains, and some great hiking. We have been here on both visits to the San Luis Obispo area and have loved it both times!

On our most recent visit we hiked to Valencia Peak, which is a 4.4 mile hike with almost 1,300 feet of gain. We went early in the morning, which helped us beat the crowds and also gave us the chance to see the area light up with soft golden light. It’s a fun hike that will give you a great workout, but the views from the top, as well as the whole way, make it very much worth it! 

Another incredible trail in the park is Bluff Trail, which as the name implies, skirts along the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s a beautiful, easy walk where you can see up and down the California coast, enjoy the views of the hills, and possibly see some sealife. On our visit we saw sea otters playing in the water, plus saw a natural blowhole spewing out water!

We suggest combining this hike with Valencia Peak, for the ultimate hike in the park. Together, these trails equal about 7.75 miles and you can see our route (including where we started/parked) here.

Besides hiking trails, there are also biking and equestrian trails, plus a campground and some backcountry environmental campsites (which look amazing!). And since it is the California coast, you can’t forget about the beach! 

Spooner’s Cove, which is right across from the campground, is the most popular beach area and it is gorgeous! Just don’t expect a super sandy beach, it is a tad rocky. For a sandier beach, head to Sandspit Beach, which is a long beach that goes all the way to Morro Bay. You will have to hike down to this beach though, just FYI!

Note: There is NO fee to visit Montaña de Oro State Park, unless you’re camping. Dogs are also only allowed in the campground and at Spooner’s Cove (on a leash) and are not allowed on trails or at Sandspit Beach.

See a killer sunset!

Being on the west coast, the sunsets in San Luis Obispo are hard to beat! And there are tons of places to enjoy one, from the beaches in the nearby towns, Montaña de Oro State Park, and from the hikes we listed above.

But for an extra special spot, which includes both beach, valley, morro, and mountain scenery, we suggest taking a little drive up TV Tower Road (suitable for any vehicle, minus large RVs) for a sweeping view of the area. We saw some of the BEST sunsets of our lives (including some cool cloud inversions) from up here and this was also our favorite camping spot in California, which we will share more about later.

Check out the Madonna Inn

Photo Credit: Madonna Inn

The Madonna Inn is a San Luis Obispo landmark that has been open since 1958. It is a very unique hotel that is decorated very extravagantly, including an all pink steakhouse and over 100 uniquely decorated rooms!

While staying here would be a fun treat, even if just for a night, you don’t have to stay here to be able to marvel at what makes it unique! You can eat a meal at the all pink steakhouse or have a drink in the Silver Bar to get a glimpse of the inside and see the grounds. 

Visit a vineyard

Love wine? You’re in luck in SLO! One of the most popular things to do in San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo County is to visit a local winery. While we don’t drink and did not partake in this activity, it’s a must-do for the vinos out there. And since we cannot speak from experience, you can find a list of all wineries in the area here, plus recommendations from Elise, a wine loving blogger at What the Fab, here!

But if you want a quick list, these five wineries have come highly recommended: Kelsey See, Canyon Vineyards, Edna Valley Vineyards, Chamisal Vineyards, Tolosa, and Kynsi Winery.

Explore the nearby towns and beaches in San Luis Obispo County

Pismo Beach | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

San Luis Obispo County is home to a handful of different cities and towns, all of which are beautiful, but have their own vibe and unique things to offer.

One important thing to know about San Luis Obispo is that it is NOT on the ocean, so you will need to drive around 15 minutes to get to the nearest beach. Each of these towns below are on the water and have beaches to check out, so if you’d like to visit a beach, we suggest heading to one of these spots!

Pismo Beach | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

Pismo Beach

After spending just one morning in Pismo Beach, Adam declared it one of his favorite small towns in America! It has that classic beach town vibe, with a strip of shops and restaurants that end at the beach, plus a giant pier where you can watch surfers and admire the area. Here are a few must-dos, based on our time in Pismo Beach!

Visit the Pismo Beach Pier Plaza
The Pismo Beach Pier Plaza is a fun area right by the ocean with shops, restaurants, cool play areas for kids (or adults that pretend they are kids), and colorful, illuminated 7 foot tall letters that spell out Pismo Beach. You didn’t visit Pismo Beach if you didn’t get a photo with it!

And right at the end of the plaza is the pier! The Pismo Beach pier has 3 diamond shaped areas along the way to the end of the pier, where you can stand further out on the water, as well as 3 renovated Airstream trailers that offer different things. One is a little snack shack and another is Sheldon’s Bait Shack, which is a family owned shack that has been on the pier for many decades and they sell and rent fishing poles, bait, candy, snacks, and lots more!

Pismo Beach | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

Eat local foods!
We covered the clam chowder from Splash Cafe earlier, but there are other amazing places to eat too, like Old West Cinnamon Rolls, Surfside Donuts and Coffee, and Beachin’ Biscuits.  

Monarch Butterfly Grove
Between late October and early February, thousands of monarch butterflies flock to Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach! If you visit during these months, make sure to add this to your list to see an impressive amount of butterflies all in one place. It is also FREE to visit…woo!

Pismo Beach | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

Dinosaur Caves Park
Dinosaur Caves Park is a gorgeous, cliffside 11 acre park with insane coastal views and a nice walking path to enjoy. It got its name from a 50 ft brontosaurus statue that H. Douglas Brown was building in the 1940s to lure passersby to his cave attraction. However, neighbors did not care for the giant dinosaur and construction was halted, but you can still find some fun nods to its dinosaur name!

Morro Rock | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

Morro Bay

The town of Morro Bay is home to the iconic Morro Rock, one of the Nine Sisters, towering 576 feet over the beach below. It is extremely striking and reminds us so much of Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach in Oregon. While this rock has served as navigational aid for hundreds of years, it is also home to many birds, which you can see flying around the rock, including Peregrine Falcons and Western Snowy Plovers. We highly recommend coming here for a sunset!

But beyond Morro Rock, Morro Bay is also unique compared to other towns in the area because it lies right on both a bay and the ocean, which means it offers a variety of activity options, like surfing on waves, but also kayaking in a more protected area. There is also an estuary to explore, plus shops and restaurants. 

Avila Beach

Another small coastal town in the area is Avila Beach. We received lots of recommendations to go, but just didn’t have time when we were in the area. Everyone told us it was like Pismo Beach, but even better!

This community is tucked into a cove on San Luis Obispo Bay and looks like a super relaxing place to spend a few days. Some popular things to do here are riding the Bob Jones City to the Sea Bike Trail, hiking the Ontario Ridge Trail, hanging out at the beach, strolling on the boardwalk, and visiting the Avila Valley Barn, which we mentioned earlier.

Visit the Hearst Castle

Located about 50 minutes northwest of San Luis Obispo is the Hearst Castle, which is a stunning mansion up in the hills built by William Randolph Hearst in the early 1900s. It has ornate architecture, both on the exterior and interior, and is open to the public to visit through a variety of tour options, which will take you to different rooms, depending on the tour you choose.

Unfortunately during our visit it was closed, but if you’d like to visit, tours are offered daily and tickets start at $30 per adult and $15 per child. You can book your tours here!

Take a Highway 1 Road Trip

A road trip that should be on everyone’s bucket list is up and down the California coast on Highway 1! With dramatic cliffs, beautiful hikes, cute towns, and stunning beaches, the California coast has it all.

San Luis Obispo is situated directly along this fantastic drive and it makes for a perfect base to get to the Big Sur section of Highway 1. Head north toward Monterey, only a 3 hour 15 minute drive if you don’t stop, which is next to impossible, and along the way you’ll see countless viewpoints, McWay Falls, the iconic Bixby Bridge, and so much more!

If you have a full day to spend, this is a great addition to your time in San Luis Obispo, or a great separate trip to add on, as you could spend days driving up Big Sur!

To see more of Big Sur, watch our video of our road trip and also read our detailed guide to road tripping Big Sur!

3 Day San Luis Obispo Itinerary

Montaña de Oro State Park | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

As you can see, there are quite a few things to do in San Luis Obispo and you could easily spend a whole week in the area checking out different hikes, visiting nearby towns, and eating local foods, but if you’re like us and have limited time to explore, here is how we’d spend 3 days in San Luis Obispo!

Note: This itinerary is meant for those who want to get out and explore the area vs. spend a lot of time at beaches, but feel free to modify to meet your own ideal travel style!

Day 1

  • Start the day with coffee at Scout Coffee in downtown SLO!
  • Wander around downtown. Make sure to check out Bubblegum Alley!
  • Head to the Cal Poly campus and visit the Architecture Graveyard.
  • For lunch, grab tri-tip sandwiches at Firestone Grill.
  • Spend the rest of the afternoon hiking up Bishop Peak. 
  • Enjoy a gorgeous sunset from either a nearby beach or TV Tower Road!
  • Have dinner at Petra Mediterranean Pizza and Grill, Novo, or Flour House.

Day 2

  • Start the morning in Pismo Beach with some Old West Cinnamon Rolls! 
  • After devouring your cinnamon roll, enjoy the paths at Dinosaur Park, to help work up an appetite again, and then spend time at Pismo Beach and on the pier!
  • Grab clam chowder at Splash Cafe! We suggest taking it to-go to eat at the beach. 
  • Head to Montaña de Oro State Park and spend the rest of the afternoon hiking and watch the sunset. We suggest grabbing sandwiches from High Street Deli (they have a location near the park) to take with you to the park!

Day 3

  • Start the morning with breakfast burritos and coffee at Libertine Coffee Bar in SLO.
  • We suggest spending the majority of the day driving Highway 1, stopping at Hearst Castle and any other spots that interest you. This would also be a good day to visit some wineries in the area!
  • After a fun day of seeing the coast, end the day with sunset at Morro Rock and then grab dinner either in Morro Bay or back in SLO at one of our suggested spots.

Getting to + around San Luis Obispo, California

Convinced to visit San Luis Obispo?! Now it’s time to plan the logistics of your trip, including how to get there. San Luis Obispo County is located on California’s Central Coast, roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, making it relatively easy to get to in California. 

Flying to San Luis Obispo, California

Despite not being a very large city, San Luis Opisbo does have an airport! The San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP) offers direct flights to and from many major cities like Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, LA, and San Francisco through Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and United. 

If you can’t find a convenient flight to SLO, then LAX or SFO will be your next best options. Just be prepared to drive a bit, especially with that California traffic!

Pismo Beach

Driving to San Luis Obispo, California

If you choose to drive to San Luis Obispo you’ll be able to access SLO by Highway 101, which runs north and south through the county or by Highway 1, which runs directly along the coastline.

Here is how long you can expect to drive from nearby popular areas. Note: some of these routes may have tolls. Make sure to turn off tolls on Google Maps to avoid them if you don’t want to pay, but do expect a longer drive that way.

  • Los Angeles, California: 3.5 hours (189 miles)
  • San Francisco, California: 3.74 hours (237 miles)
  • San Diego, California: 6 hours (333 miles)
  • Las Vegas, Nevada: 6.5 hours (422 miles)
  • Phoenix, Arizona: 9 hours (562 miles)

How to get around San Luis Obispo, California

Once in SLO, you have some options of how to get around. If you plan to just explore in town, you could get away with Uber or Lyft. But if you want to follow our itinerary suggestion and explore outside of town (which we highly recommend!), you will want to either have your own car or rent a car. Any type of car will work!

As for parking, we had no issues parking our longer Sprinter van downtown! You may have to pay for parking, but we don’t recall it being too expensive. 

When to visit San Luis Obispo, California

Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

San Luis Obispo is a great place to visit any time of year. It boasts one of the most comfortable climates you’ll find in the US, so much so that air conditioners aren’t needed in most homes. 

The summers are warm and dry with highs typically in the 80s in July, August, and September, which is perfect for trips to the beach. When fall rolls around, the temperatures drop a tad and the winter temperatures don’t get much lower than the 40s and 50s at night, with highs in the 60s and 70s during the day.

If you’re looking to hang out at the beach, we’d definitely suggest visiting in the summer, but if you want cooler hiking temperatures and plan to mostly check out wineries, small towns, and other attractions, this makes for a great winter getaway in the US! 

Regardless of when you visit, be sure to pack layers for your trip to this area. The days can get warm, but are sandwiched by cool mornings and evenings.

Where to stay in San Luis Obispo, California

Being a fairly large town, San Luis Obispo has plenty of accommodation options and for different budgets. Below are just a handful of suggestions of amazing places to stay while in San Luis Obispo! 

Airbnbs

Modern Private Cottage (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This cottage is located just a mile outside of downtown SLO. It comes equipped with a full kitchen and everything you’ll need for a comfortable stay. It’s located at the back of the property and has its own private entrance and patio space.

Grand Oak Cottage (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): Located a couple minutes from Avila Beach, this guest suite has a minimalistic and industrial vibe to it that makes for a unique looking space. It is on a farm with 14 chickens, 2 dogs, and 2 horses. The mornings might be so peaceful you might not even want to leave! 

Private, modern, music inspired home (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms): This small home is perfect for 2 couples or a small family. It comes with an equipped kitchenette, your own parking spot, and everything you’ll need for a quiet, relaxing stay.

Tranquility & Ambiance in the heart of downtown (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): Located just a two minute walk to downtown, this recently renovated cottage has mountain views, full kitchen, washer and dryer, and free parking! 

Hotels

San Luis Obispo has many of your usual mainstay hotels as well as some trendy boutique hotels in old, historic buildings. Here are a range of hotels to choose from!

Garden Street Inn 
Madonna Inn
Courtyard by Marriott
The Butler Hotel
The Kinney
Granada Hotel & Bistro

Boondocking

Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

As full time vanlifers, boondocking is how we prefer to travel, as it’s free. However, boondocking in coastal California is ROUGH! There are many laws in the coastal California cities against sleeping in a vehicle, so parking lots (like Walmart) tend to be a no-go and there isn’t a ton of public land close to the towns themselves.

However, in SLO, there is one boondocking option that happens to be one of our favorites ever…TV Tower Road!

We mentioned this spot earlier as an epic sunset spot, but if you have a van, truck camper, or want to sleep in your SUV, this is a perfect spot to boondock. Located just a short drive from town, but up a very steep and windy road (we do NOT suggest this for big RVs or trailers), is a pullout area that can fit up to 8 (our best guess) rigs, with one of the best views we have ever had from our van.

From here you can see the valley and town below, several of the area’s morros, the ocean, and if you’re lucky like we were, you’ll experience a cloud inversion at sunset where you’re above the clouds!

Besides this spot NOT being big rig or trailer friendly, one important thing to know about it is that it can be VERY windy, since it’s super exposed. While not ideal, it didn’t bother us too much, but for that reason, we’d suggest not sleeping in a tent up here, as it may be super uncomfortable and annoying. This is also a very popular spot for locals, especially for sunset, but most nights that we slept there we were the only campers.

Just like every other boondocking spot, PLEASE leave no trace, but especially at this spot! We saw quite a bit of broken glass and trash here, which makes us even hesitant to share it. So please pick up after yourself and leave it better than you found it. Amazing spots like this are normally not open for overnight sleeping, so don’t be the one to ruin it for everyone else!

Campgrounds

Montaña de Oro State Park | Things to do in San Luis Obispo, California

If you want or need a more established campsite, there are a few options near SLO!

Montaña de Oro State Park
This state park campground is in a beautiful setting surrounded by the coastal hills and is walking distance to Spooner’s Cove. It is hard to beat that, especially considering the pretty low nightly rate. There are no showers, the campsites are a little small, and there’s no cell service, but you do have tons of hiking, beautiful views, and easy access back to “civilization” should you need it. We have stayed here twice over the years and it has worked well for us both times!

El Chorro Regional Park
We stayed at El Chorro Regional Park in mid March and it was a good spot for a night (or more)! It is one of the cheaper non-RV park campgrounds in the area and is in a fantastic location with cell service, many sites with hookups, and coin-operated showers.

A couple other campgrounds to check out are Oceano Campground and San Simeon Creek Campground. Make sure you reserve any campgrounds in advance, especially if visiting on a weekend. Things can get busy in this area, especially around spring break!

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Harvest Hosts

If you’re a Harvest Host member you’ve got lots of opportunities for some fun stays in and near San Luis Obispo! 

Not sure what Harvest Hosts is? It is a paid membership for self contained RVers that lets you stay at farms, breweries, wineries, golf courses, and other spots for FREE, with the expectation that you will support the business. While this means you do need to spend some money and it’s not totally free, it’s usually a unique experience and you get to support a local business. 

The San Luis Obispo area offers multiple farms and wineries to camp at, plus a golf course. During our time in San Luis Obispo we stayed at a golf course near Morro Bay, which was awesome! Adam got to play 9 holes and they offered us power, which is a rarity with Harvest Host! 

Want to join Harvest Hosts? Use our link to get 15% off on your membership (make sure to add the code HHFRIENDS15 too!)!

Ready to explore San Luis Obispo, California?

Pin this guide with the best things to do in San Luis Obispo, California to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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