35.2828° N, 120.6596° W
EXPLORE OUR TRAVEL GUIDE ON THE BEAUTIFUL TOWN OF SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIFORNIA - HOME TO CAL POLY, HISTORIC SPANISH MISSIONS, AND LOTS OF OUTDOOR ADVENTURES.
Located in the heart of Central Coast California, the lively and scenic town of San Luis Obispo might just be the perfect place to head to for a fun weekend away or long-term adventure. Thanks to its central location within California (it's at almost the exact halfway point between San Francisco and Los Angeles), San Luis Obispo - or simply SLO - has over the years become one of the best places to base yourself for a wide range of activities. This includes such adventures as mountain biking, hiking, surfing, scuba diving, road biking and wine tasting.
Plus, thanks to it being the home of Cal Poly University (where Luke actually graduated from way back in 2018), the town has a nice hip and exciting atmosphere. This can easily be felt in SLO's colorful downtown, its large array of tasty cafes and its focus on being outside having fun.
Our San Luis Obispo Travel Guide covers everything you need to know about this exciting and beautiful city; including, how to get there, where to stay, where to eat, and what hidden gems you need to uncover. So without further ado, here is the ultimate guide to the beautiful town of San Luis Obispo, California.
HOW TO GET TO SAN LUIS OBISPO
San Luis Obispo is located at almost the exact halfway point between the metropolises of San Francisco (in the north) and Los Angeles (in the south). The city is located right on Highway 101, which is one of the major highways that goes north and south across the entire state of California. Similarly, San Luis Obispo is also right at the intersection of Highway 101 and the famously scenic Highway 1. From SLO, it is roughly one hour to the start of the scenic drive along the Big Sur coastline.
SAN LUIS OBISPO TO SAN FRANCISCO: 232 miles, 3.5 hours
SAN LUIS OBISPO TO LOS ANGELES: 189 miles, 3 hours and 20 minutes
While you can easily drive to San Luis Obispo, if planning to visit, you also have the option to fly into their small regional airport or take the Amtrak train up from Los Angeles or down from San Francisco. Both train routes are incredibly scenic and are definitely worth considering if you want to see the beautiful coastline that makes California such a popular travel destination.
Find your train route to SLO here.
📣 PLANNING TO DRIVE FROM SAN LUIS OBISPO TO SAN FRANCISCO?
If you are thinking of doing the absolutely beautiful drive from San Luis Obispo up north to San Francisco via the famous Highway 1, and want to learn more about the natural and human history of the area (including the history of such places as Hearst Castle, Carmel and Monterey) then consider downloading this audio tour from GetYourGuide.
Download the in-depth audio guide here.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SAN LUIS OBISPO
San Luis Obispo experiences a very mild Mediterranean-like climate - meaning that no matter the time of year, you can likely expect plenty of sun and warm temperatures. During the summer, when the town is quite busy, daily highs are usually in the mid-90s (though over 100° temperatures are not exactly rare). Similarly, between May and September, you are more likely to find mornings slightly foggy thanks to the nearby Pacific Ocean.
If you are looking to visit San Luis Obispo and are hoping to spend a good deal amount of time outside (like hiking, mountain biking or hanging at the beach), then we suggest visiting during the summer months, especially in May and June. Plus, during this time of year, you have a good chance of seeing some late spring wildflowers.
EXPLORE MORE | 7 WAYS TO REALLY SEE BIG SUR IN CALIFORNIA
WHERE TO STAY IN SAN LUIS OBISPO
There are many options when it comes to where to stay in San Luis Obispo. From the high end hotels in downtown, to the iconic Madonna Inn, you can easily find a spot for your needs, style and budget. Below are some of the best hotels and Airbnbs in the town. We have also included a few tips for people looking to van life in the area.
San Luis Creek Lodge: this centrally located and modern lodge features free parking, bicycles to use and high speed internet. It is also pet friendly. | BOOK HERE
Avenue Inn Downtown San Luis Obispo: this recently updated motel is just blocks from downtown San Luis Obispo. It also includes free breakfast and free parking. | BOOK HERE
Madonna Inn: likely the most well-known and recognizable hotel in San Luis Obispo, the historic Madonna Inn on the edge of town is a great place to stay if you want the full, funky SLO experience. Within the hotel complex you will find a heated outdoor pool, a colorful bar and lounge, an upscale restaurant and even a horse paddock (where you can go on horseback rides). They also have a spa, fitness center and easy access to nearby trails. | BOOK HERE
If you are looking for a bit more privacy or just some more room to spread out, then renting an Airbnb in San Luis Obispo might be the way to go. For the most part, you can choose from a whole slew of places, including smaller apartments in downtown SLO, an entire historic cottage, or even a condo with ocean views out in nearby Morro Bay.
Simple Studio in Downtown SLO: this space is perfect for a couple looking to get away for the weekend and who wants to be in the middle of the action of downtown San Luis Obispo. The studio includes a fully stocked kitchen, free parking on the premises, and quick access to nearby hiking and biking trails. | BOOK HERE
Private Tropical Cottage in SLO: this cute and colorful historic home is located in a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown San Luis Obispo. The house is perfect for entertaining and comes with two bedrooms with queen-sized beds, a large deck and a bar area. | BOOK HERE
Spacious Condo Right on the Water in Morro Bay: this sizable condo is literally steps from Morro Bay and the iconic Morro Rock. Within a short walk you can reach a good number of restaurants and cafes within the cute seaside town. This is a great option if you want to be a short drive from SLO (around 20 minutes) but want super easy access to the nearby beaches. | BOOK HERE
There are a number of great free camping options near San Luis Obispo if you are looking to van life and explore the area.
One of our personal favorite van lifing camping spots was up on Cuesta Ridge, which is located about 6.5 miles from downtown SLO on TV Tower Road - a mostly dirt road that climbs up from Highway 101 to the top of a wide ridge that rewards you with stunning views of SLO and a few of the 9 Sisters - including, if you are lucky, Morro Rock.
💬 INSIDER TIP: this area is a pretty well-known van life and car camping area, so if you are looking to stay there on a weekend we suggest trying to arrive early in the day to snag one of the better spots.
WHERE TO EAT IN SAN LUIS OBISPO
There is a surprisingly large array of restaurants in San Luis Obispo. From the more upscale restaurants in downtown to the more college-focused (but no less delicious) joints closer to the Cal Poly campus, you can very likely find a spot that will pique your fancy.
Below are a few of the best restaurants to check out during your visit to San Luis Obispo.
Taqueria Santa Cruz | $ / Mexican
This no-frills taco shop has been proudly serving the San Luis Obispo area for many years. Today, they have two locations within SLO: one near downtown and one closer to the campus on Foothill Avenue. Taqueria Santa Cruz is a great spot to stop in at if you want traditional Mexican tacos at a very reasonable price. | EXACT LOCATION
Firestone Grille | $$ / American, Barbecue
Another SLO mainstay is this always busy BBQ joint in downtown. Firestone Grille, while famous for their tri-tip sandwich, also serves up tasty fries, chicken sandwiches and large salads. | EXACT LOCATION
Petra Mediterranean Pizza and Grill | $$ / Mediterranean
Another great restaurant option in San Luis Obispo is this popular M