San Luis Obispo is famous for its stunning natural beauty, with mountains that pour directly into the sea… farming and wineries that sustain the community… and hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails for everyone to enjoy. But did you know that Downtown SLO offers a dynamic street scene featuring eclectic dining opportunities? Let’s take a quick trip around town and see what we can find.
Downtown is a wonderful convergence of old and new that starts with the mission of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in the center of town. Built in 1772 it is one of the oldest standing structures on the West Coast.
Roaming around town you will find that the mix of local small business and nationwide chains give this downtown a very unique personality. There is plenty to see and do from quick bites to fine dining, and t-shirt shops to fine art… downtown SLO has it all.
The Big Sky Café is a farm-to-table restaurant who’s focus is fresh ingredients sourced locally, which is easy with all the local farmers growing such amazing crops every year. Their seasonally inspired menu, which is featured in the New York Times, Gourmet Magazine, and a handful of other renowned reviews, makes The Big Sky Café a restaurant you won’t want to miss!
Lotus is noted as the only authentic Vietnamese cuisine on the central coast. With national favorites like Pho and Bahn Mi on the menu, along with a few Korean selections thrown into the mix, this place has something to satisfy everyone’s taste buds.
Luna Red is located in the heart of SLO and boasts a globally inspired menu and an exceptional dining atmosphere. Enjoy their amazing outdoor patio with hand strung lights overhead and the town’s creek passing right beneath you! Indoor and outdoor cocktail bars along with live music on select evenings create an inviting vibe that encapsulates the SLO life attitude. Come here to chill and enjoy a great dining experience.
The Grill House brings you a unique blend of classic American cuisine with a side of German inspiration. Staple American fare like tender burgers and tasty sandwiches compete for your attention with a stout list of brats, a selection of California and European wines, and a separate beer list that will make your head spin. The Grill House also offers an impressive breakfast menu with unique German egg scrambles and traditional American pancakes. Prost!
Granada Bistro is a high-end affair that takes its culinary cues from timeless dishes of the classic French bistro and enlivens them utilizing modern techniques and bold flavors. Each menu is seasonal and calls upon locally harvested ingredients. Be sure to check out their original wine program which includes globally sources and innovated wines along classically-focus cocktails.
Firestone Grill is a chain of four locations across Central California and, and it’s one of the more popular places in Downtown SLO. They have been serving up world-famous Tri-tip, burgers, and mouthwatering BBQ fare since 1984. The casual atmosphere welcomes folks of all ages to experience their unforgettable dining experience. Bring the family and order up at the counter or dine on their outdoor patio!
Old San Luis BBQ is an old school joint whose Santa Maria style BBQ has won the hearts of SLO locals for many years. This walk-up “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant has all the classics you’d expect from a down-home grill spot, with craft beer on tap, locally farmed organic vegetables, artisan sausages, and family style meals. Be sure to enjoy the outdoor patio seating since you won’t be able to wait until you get home. Don’t miss Old San Luis BBQ.
Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen is a family owned and operated American Tavern that offers a made-from-scratch menu ranging from traditional favorites of tacos, flatbread pizzas and signature burgers, to new and innovative items which can be found on their hand-crafted cocktail list. You are sure to find something for everyone here! Feel right at home in the SLO community with their classic brick walls, antique copper bar, and vintage photographs, while listening to Classic Rock soundtracks or watching a sports game on their large TV screens!
San Luis Taqueria recently opened its doors in 2019 and has since been known for its truly authentic Mexican food and lively atmosphere. Sit out on their open patio and enjoy live mariachi music while you revel in their tasty tacos on homemade tortillas or treat yourself to their infamous California Burrito. Head inside and serve yourself to their traditional homemade salsa bar or their freshly squeezed juice menu!
If you would prefer to cook a meal for yourself, then the downtown SLO’s NIGHT Farmers’ Market has you covered for all the fresh ingredients. This market comes to life every Thursday night and offers much more than your average farmers’ market. Known as “the premiere event” on Thursday nights throughout the city, join the vibrant crowd in purchasing your fresh greens and produce for the week, alongside an overflow of entertainment and cuisine opportunities.
Make sure to check out their website for the weekly entertainment lineup, or just show up and get ready to be surprised by events such as their annual Window Decorating Contest, the Winter Tree Lighting ceremony, the Summer Concert Series, Holiday Parades, and more! Walk away with a hot fresh plate of Mexican food, BBQ, or woodfire pizza. Maybe you won’t be cooking tonight after all.
No matter where you end up eating at the end of a long and festive day in Downtown SLO, you’re going to need some dessert. Lucky for you there are no fewer than a dozen ice creameries, yogurt shops, and cookie factories in the downtown area. These are all local small businesses so be sure to support them with your patronage.
This is just a small sample of the food & dining scene here in San Luis Obispo. Access to fresh local ingredients help the downtown chefs create vibrant seasonal menus that offer something to satisfy everyone’s taste buds. When you get into town just park your car and start walking – you’re bound to find something that strikes your fancy within a couple hundred feet. Eat well and be well!
BEST STATE PARKS AROUND
SAN LUIS OBISPO
This park’s main function is to preserve the rich and varied ecosystem. The park features no restrooms, drinking water, or camping facilities. There are a couple parking areas and trails that reach from the highway to the coastal bluffs, offering ample opportunities for photography and nature watching. The park is smallish at 2.5 miles long and less than a half mile wide, yet boasts wetlands, seasonal creeks, sand dunes, rocky outcroppings, and grasslands with many native wildflowers.
This is a great place to spend a few hours convening with nature and to enjoy the stunning coastal scenery with loved ones, or with nobody at all! More info and directions HERE
Has been a California State Park since 2008 and remains mostly undeveloped and consists of basically just a parking lot with one portable toilet, and a main trail that heads to the coastline and past a historic ranch house. The trail is an old roadbed that meanders through coastal hills that come alive in springtime with wildflowers. Once at the shoreline, hikers are rewarded with unbridled views of the ocean and hillsides for miles on end.
More info and directions HERE
Morro Bay is created by a 5-mile-long sand spit that ends at a breakwater inlet just next to the ever-present Morro Rock. The bay is at the center of a wide crescent-shaped cove that stretches from Harmony Headlands in the north and Montana de Oro in the south. This beautiful bay is a great place for an epic adventure of exploration or just a quick paddle to tour the giant rock.
There is free parking around the area and a great put-in spot at Coleman Park. The dockside area is dotted with various restaurants and shops, including rental shops for kayaks and stand-up boards. Once on the water you can travel up the beach or down and experience a variety of sights and sea life.
More info and directions HERE
The “Mountain of Gold” is a State Park along the coast of San Luis Obispo County and the name refers to the wildflower blooms on the mountain each springtime. The park spans 8,000 acres with 7 miles of shoreline and features sandy beaches, coastal plains, streams, canyons, and hills including Valencia Peak which tops out at 1,347 feet.
The park features many miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, along with a primitive campsite located across from Spooner’s Cove. The views on some of the higher trails can span many miles towards the city of San Luis Obispo and along the coast. There are several parking lots within park boundaries and basic amenities and services can be found at the campground across from Spooner’s Cove.
Is one of the most popular areas in the stunning Montana de Oro State Park. Located in the southwest region of the park near the Islay Creek Campground, this beautifully sheltered cove is a favorite for all ages to relax and dip their toes in the mighty Pacific. A few rocky points are strewn about which provide easy climbing and exploring opportunities, but most people show up for the sandy beach and the ocean breeze in their hair.
The visitors center at Spooner’s Cove offers a tiny general store and bathrooms, and the area comes equipped with a few picnic tables. Any other needed amenities should be self-provided.
More info and directions HERE
No matter which of these awe-inspiring parks you choose to visit first, you will not be disappointed. SLO County is one of the most beautiful parts of the California coast and we are happy to share these parks with all who wish to enjoy the outdoors. Get outside in SLO!
WHAT PARKS IN SLO COUNTY
HAVE THE BEST PLAYGROUNDS?
9305 Pismo Ave., Atascadero
805-470-3360 or HERE
This park has a lot going for it. Not only does it have a great playground, but it has its own lake, and a zoo! The playground equipment was recently updated and includes a climbing tower with two long tube slides, a net balancing bridge and net tower, and a jumbo-sized swing set! Your little ones will have a blast at this park with all the diverse activities. The park also provides BBQ areas, horseshoe pits, sand volleyball court, and restrooms.
Ocean Front Avenue, Cayucos
805-781-5930 or HERE
While the beach provides a style of fun found nowhere else, we included this beach because it has a playground built right on the sand! The play structure was added in 2013 which features an unusually long slide into the sand. It’s got a swing set and a couple sea creatures to ride but that’s about it, which is fine since splashing in the ocean is about 100 feet away!
Mankins Ranch Road, Pismo Beach
805-773-7039 or HERE
What’s better than one play area? Two play areas of course! Chumash Park doubles your kiddos pleasure with a smaller play set for little ones, and a jumbo-sized set that goes vertical and has a couple long slides. Other amenities include a nature trail weaving its way through a wooded area, basketball court, picnic tables, and restrooms.
Access via Island and San Jacinto streets, Morro Bay
805-772-6278 or HERE
This park has a three-story climbing tower with a tunnel slide from the very top! If that slide is simply too much for your little adventurer there is another stand-alone twisty slide, a big swing set and a rope pyramid. Other attractions for at this very scenic park are basketball court, amphitheater, pickleball courts, children’s play area, horseshoe pits, and two great barbecue and picnic areas along with a large meadow area perfect for volleyball, soccer, and Frisbee games.
Spring and 12th streets, Paso Robles
805-237-3991 or HERE
This park is right in the middle of downtown Paso Robles which has its benefits for before and after playtime, whether it be sight-seeing or refreshments. Once in the park you’ll see that the equipment is relatively new and well-constructed, featuring a merry-go-round, 4-kiddo seesaw, and a play tower with slide. Another nice touch is that almost the entire play area is shaded!
255 Pomeroy Road, Nipomo
805-781-5930 or HERE
This park playground is kid-approved for one big reason – the zip line! Such a unique feature allows two kids to fly through the air at once, and you can be sure they will do it at least 5 times in a row. This also one of the few play areas that has a them to it – everything in the little kids area look like logs in a forest and there is also a bigger barn-themed play area with several climbing structures. This is a big park offering lots to those over 8 years old as well – four baseball diamonds, tennis courts, sand volleyball, and an off-leash area for dogs.
900 Southwood Drive, San Luis Obispo
805-781-7222 or HERE
This park takes fun very seriously, as displayed by the huge main play structure that is three stories tall and features three tunnel slides. Under the play tower there is a turf covered slide area where kids can use cardboard or plastic to scoot their way down the gentle grade. To top it off, they also have a zip line! Amenities for the grown-ups include BBQ area, baseball stadium, disc golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts, and sand volleyball court.
As you can see, the greater San Luis Obispo area has a lot to offer children of the area. Refer to this guide for information and links to check on hours and closures for each park, and have a great time!
SLO: HAPPIEST PLACE IN THE USA?
San Luis Obispo on the Central California Coast could easily qualify as paradise. The climate is among the country’s most pleasant, with 285 mostly sunny days per year and temperatures rarely above 90 degrees, or below freezing. The presence of academic heavyweight Cal Poly helps anchor the local economy- the unemployment rate is well below the national average. With a population just cresting 50,000, great weather, low crime and low unemployment, the San Luis Obispo area seems to have it all. Home prices in the area have risen steadily in the last few years to a median of around $536,300, so some might say that the secret is out about this precious little enclave on the Pacific Coast.
Thanks to National Geographic and Oprah Winfrey we have all heard that San Luis Obispo is the Happiest Place in America and arguably the WORLD. SLO was also ranked the 3rd best place in America to live (above Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Monterey, Newport Beach, Honolulu, etc.) Here are a few reasons why we think San Luis Obispo is so loved by all its residents and visitors. It is no fluke. There are very sound reasons.
- San Luis Obispo is social. On the Oprah segment, Jenny McCarthy said it well. San Luis Obispo is our version of being SOCIAL. She loved the beautiful and scenic outdoors, filled with bikers and hikers on trails that went all over the hills to the oceans, the sight of friends hanging out with friends at the farmer’s markets and spending “happy hours” in SLO’s popular downtown.
- San Luis Obispo truly has farm to table lifestyle. There are four farmers markets in San Luis Obispo every week and one every day of the week throughout the county, so access to fresh foods is easy. Not to mention that SLO is home to some of the most amazing restaurants, world-class chefs and finest wines anywhere. Farms and ranches are throughout the rambling hills and sister peaks of San Luis County.
- San Luis Obispo is happily active. San Luis Obispo was recently cited as one of the most active cities in the nation. Many residents bike and walk to work every day. There are more than 6,500 acres of protected open space for hiking, biking and yearlong outdoor activities.
- San Luis Obispo supports the arts. Residents love their art – from performance art to the visual arts. San Luis Obispo is home to the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center, a state-of-the-art performance facility that exposes the Central Coast to varied, high quality arts events designed to serve diverse audience interests.
- San Luis Obispo weather is as pleasant as it gets. San Luis Obispo County has one of the world’s most comfortable climates. The weather is perfect 306 days of the year. While more than half of the country is trekking through snow, ice, sleet and rain this time of year, we’re enjoying perfect 75 degree weather without a cloud in the sky.
Is San Luis Obispo the right fit for everyone? That’s hard to say. But we think there’s a pretty good case for this special place to be as close to heaven on earth as it gets.