Your Laid-Back Coastal Getaway Awaits: The Best Things to Do in San Luis Obispo
For a coastal Cali weekend getaway that’s as smooth and chill as a Lana Del Rey song, drive a few hours north of L.A. to San Luis Obispo (that’s SLO for short). This little coastal town has a smattering of college cool thanks to California Polytechnic, a special place in the natural world thanks to the monarch butterflies that winter here and a rave-worthy wine scene—after all, it sits right in the middle of prime pinot and chardonnay terroir. Here’s our short list of Central Coast must-sees in and around SLO.
1. Sleep in a Happy Place
Catering to the families of nearby California Polytechnic State University, the Kinney SLO hotel is close to downtown and has a heated pool and happening lobby bar. Order a locally brewed beer and fantasize about how you’re living the dream, just like the people in the surf posters all over the hotel.
1800 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo; 805-544-8600 or thekinneyslo.com
2. Stargaze in a Mineral Spring
The naturally heated mineral spring water at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa is sourced from more than 100 acres of natural underground resources. This means you’re getting traces of sulfur (which your body needs to make collagen), boron, magnesium, potassium and sodium. Stay overnight and have your own bathtub full of it, or slip into the hot tubs or the Waterfall Lagoon. Whichever you choose, a big soak is great for relieving stress, soothing aching muscles and encouraging better sleep.
1215 Avila Beach Dr., San Luis Obispo; 805-595-7302 or sycamoresprings.com
3. See All the Monarch Butterflies
There’s a little cluster of eucalyptus trees off Highway 1 at the south end of Pismo Beach. It’s called Monarch Butterfly Grove because every year from October through March, 25,000 of these large orange-and-black insects migrate to seek shelter from the freezing northern winters. They gather in shingle formation, weighing down the boughs of the trees in a natural phenomenon that is equal parts children’s Cinderella dream and creepy bug nightmare. Starting in early November, volunteer docents will guide you to the best trees and answer your questions; other times, the Museum of Natural History in Morro Bay has tons of butterfly info.
400 S. Dolliver St., Pismo Beach; experiencepismobeach.
4. Toast to the Edna Valley
Located just outside downtown San Luis Obispo, the Edna Valley is closer to the ocean than any other appellation in California. The cooler climate makes it perfect for raising chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. This means that a number of vineyards (including the Biddle Ranch estate, which looks like a set piece by Joanna Gaines) create wines from grapes that benefit from the early-morning fog that sweeps into the valley, the cool ocean breezes that blow it back out and the lingering sunny afternoons that ripen fruit on the vine. There are tasting rooms aplenty, so grab that designated driver and make an afternoon of it.
2050 Biddle Ranch Rd., San Luis Obispo; 805-543-2399 or biddleranch.com
5. Browse the Shell Shop
The sweetest old-timey beach town experience ever, this business was opened in 1955 by a commercial fisherman to sell the by-product of his trade. It has been owned by the same family ever since, and now imports shells from working fishermen around the world. Whether you take home a cluster of mega-barnacles as a shelfie accent or a few scallop shells to use for crafts with your kids, you’ll find something to love here.
590 Embarcadero, Morro Bay; 805-772-8014 or theshellshop.net
6. Experience Environmental Art
Sorry, Mother Nature—Central Cali’s most Instagrammable moment comes at Field of Light: Sensario, the 15-acre art installation in Paso Robles. Walk through artist Bruce Munro’s solar-powered collection of 58,800 color-changing fiber-optic stemmed spheres. Imagine the California super bloom represented in an episode of sci-fi hit Black Mirror and you’ll get the idea. Buy tickets to the VIP experience, which includes dinner on a terrace that lets you see the fields as a whole, plus drinks from a retrofitted Airstream.
4380 CA-46, Paso Robles; sensoriopaso.com
7. Hike a Gorgeous Ocean Overlook
You didn’t leave home for a hike along the usual dusty fire road—you want to be dazzled. So commit to the Avila Ridge Trail, which rewards some steep climbing sections (let’s just say you won’t be sprinting) with 180-degree views of San Luis Bay and Avila Beach in the north to Oceano Dunes down south. It’s only a three-mile loop, and the ocean breezes keep you from sweltering. Bonus: You can bring your dog, who will be eternally grateful.
Avila Ridge Trail; hikeslo.com
8. Ride a Giant Horse
Horse breeder Ralph Covell has raised prized Clydesdale horses at his Cambria ranch for 40 years, and visitors can enjoy watching the lumbering herd, now 80 horses strong, from an ATV or even in the saddle. It’s a great way to get a close-up view of the region’s endangered Monterey pine forest and rolling California hills. Or, as one of the ranchers says, once you’re six feet up in the saddle of one of these gentle giants, it’s like off-roading on a sofa.
Cambria; 805-975-7332 or covellsclydesdaleranch.com