Dubbed the happiest place in America, San Luis Obispo was founded in 1772 by Spanish missionaries and is one of America’s oldest settlements.
San Luis Obispo, with its beautiful adobe architecture, old stores, and vibrant downtown, was named the third finest location to live in the United States.
The city has several advantages, like being surrounded by beautiful scenery and being only a short distance from the beach.
In fact, it’s a typical California without the traffic but with world-class facilities and a lot of enjoyment.
Because of its advantageous location on the Pacific coast, the town enjoys year-round sunshine without reaching searing temperatures.
With 315 days of sunshine, SLO is the ideal year-round location for adventure and these are the top thing to do in San Luis Obispo.
Things to do in San Luis Obispo
1. San Luis Obispo Museum of Art
San Luis Obispo Museum of Art is a destination for art lovers.
The museum is located in downtown San Luis Obispo, easily accessible, and offers free access to anyone with a special exhibitions program featuring artists from all over the world.
The Gray Wing gallery is the largest, with 190 linear feet, 10-foot high ceilings, four moveable walls, polished cement floors, and two entrances.
There are three gallery spaces within the San Luis Obispo Museum of art.
The First Gallery has a linear length of 49 or 64 feet (depending on usage), 8-foot ceilings, natural light, and carpets.
The McMeen Gallery is a 64-square-foot space with carpeted floors and 8-foot ceilings.
The majority of the works on display here are for sale.
In addition, the museum offers youth and adult art classes, lectures, film nights, tours, concerts, and art events, with a focus on current California artists.
There is something for everyone at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.
Whether you’re a recent graduate or a grandmother, a visitor or a lifelong resident, a student or a company owner, a mom or a dad, an accomplished artist or a beginner, you will love it here.
Enjoy a nice walk along the creek. It’s the best part of the experience.
Address: 1010 Broad St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
2. Bishop Peak, San Luis Obispo
If you would love to have a beautiful view of San Luis Obispo, then this is the best place to do that.
Named because it resembles a bishop’s hat, this mountain is frequently utilized by hikers and bicyclists.
This mountain is the most sought-after summit in San Luis Obispo.
Furthermore, Bishop Peak is the tallest of San Luis Obispo’s Nine Sisters, a series of magnificent volcanic morros that sweep across the city.
The renowned mountain has a granite crown that resembles a bishop’s miter and offers panoramic views of the city and adjacent peaks.
The 1.559-foot top is, however, reached via a single-track trail that is both challenging and rewarding.
The trail is crowded and easy, though there is some elevation gain (obviously).
Allocate at least 1.5 hours round trip. It takes about 1 hour to go up (or longer depending on your speed) and 30 to get down.
Also, keep a lookout for poison ivy/oak on the sides of the trail.
Bring water along to have maximum satisfaction and comfort while climbing.
Overall, the vistas are breathtaking, and the hike is worth it.
Address: San Luis Obispo, CA, United States
3. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
Located in Central California, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is named after Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse. It is the 5th mission ever constructed by the Spanish in the 18th century (1772).
This mission is one of the 21 missions located in California.
Opened to the public most days from 9 to 4, this mission serves as a Parrish with active church attendance and services.
In addition, the mission is a large structure with arcades and porticos.
There’s also a bright floral motif along the inside, a high ceiling, and a plain altar, built in the typical missionary adobe, Spanish style.
Overall, aesthetically, it is such a beautiful building and has obviously been preserved over the centuries.
A centuries-old courtyard garden is a home to roses, oak trees, citrus trees, cacti, and even grapevines.
There is a Gift Shop entrance right next to the main entrance, which is open Daily.
You can also visit the back rose garden & or enter up the stairs on the East side & find yourself at a big old round fountain, no longer active but surrounded by lovely rose bushes all groomed & in bloom.
This beautiful CA Mission has so much history in downtown San Luis Obispo.
This site is an excellent stopping spot to stretch your legs, grab a snack or beverage, and even shop thru what is left of the unique small businesses in the neighborhood!!
You can even bring a book and relax in the well-maintained, peaceful garden in the courtyard.
Check their website for various festivals, fairs, and concerts throughout the year so you won’t miss so much.
Address: 751 Palm St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
4. Madonna Inn
Treat yourself to a unique stay in a room at the Madonna inn if you are in San Luis Obispo.
In short, Madonna Inn is a must-see for anybody going along the California coast.
Madonna Inn is known worldwide for its 110 specialized guest rooms and bright pink decor.
The inn is set on a magnificent 1,000-acre ranch in the city of San Luis Obispo and is connected to downtown San Luis Obispo via a paved walking and bike path.
This place is legendary. It is like stepping into the past.
The hotel was open in the late 1950s, and each room is uniquely decorated and very dated.
The dining room is very pink in color.
The over-the-top decorations, the beautiful grounds, architecture, and the fantastic food and service make this a must-visit place for anyone and everyone.
Tennis, basketball, and garden games are all offered to hotel guests.
Moreso, hiking, dining, and boutique shopping are available to all guests.
Treat yourself to a piece of one of their delicious cakes or other baked goods.
Grab some tasty cocktails at the bar and go to the steakhouse for a meal that doesn’t skimp on the portions or flavors.
Spend the evening in the hot tubs or heated pool at the top of the hill.
You can book on their website; however, take your time to get a fitting room.
Even though this might be pricey, the experience is really worth it.
Address: 100 Madonna Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405, United States
5. Dallidet Adobe and Gardens
Dallidet Adobe & Gardens is a historical landmark in San Luis Obispo.
You should go if you’re interested in local history and architecture.
The adobe housed Pierre Hypolite Dallidet, his wife Maria Ascension, and their seven children. Pierre was the area’s first commercial vintner.
Currently, the Dallidet Adobe & Gardens is owned and operated by the History Center of SLO County. It is also open to the public for educational tours, events, and weddings.
You’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time as you walk through the gates of the old adobe.
Most of the furnishings and household goods are vintage.
Take a stroll in the gardens, which are rather lovely. There’s also a portion of a depot and an antique train vehicle.
The gardens and landscaping are a delightful mix of large ancient trees and flora with newer ones, all connected by easy-to-navigate walkways.
There is no cost. However, there is a contribution box for those who like to contribute.
Make a reservation for a tour led by a docent.
Wander the paths and breathe in the pleasant fragrances of a flowering garden. It is an excellent place to relax.
Address: 1185 Pacific St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
6. Leaning Pine Arboretum
This is a nice place to escape the hustle and bustle of San Luis Obispo.
The Leaning Pine Arboretum is located just a short walk from the busy campus core of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
In fact, this place is one of the best things to happen to this university.
The Leaning Pine Arboretum is a five-acre living laboratory dedicated to educating students and the public about the world’s Mediterranean climates
Similarly, it is divided into regions of the world where plants grow for easier viewing and comparison.
Pine Arboretum is home to a diverse range of species, including woody shrubs, annuals, herbaceous perennials, and geophytes.
Enjoy short, but scenic walks through Cal Poly’s arboretum and botanic gardens.
The arboretum features plants from all over the world. It is beautiful and a great place to walk to de-stress or sit outside and read a book.
Whether you are here for education or relaxation, or a little of both, the Leaning Pine Arboretum is a place to inspire people to be in the world around them.
Address: San Luis Obispo, CA 93405, United States
7. San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum
San Luis Obispo Railroad museum is a lovely little museum featuring models, equipment, and relics that give a decent overview of the railroad’s role in the area’s growth.
Similarly, the museum has a straightforward mission: to preserve and exhibit the history of California’s railroads.
It houses a diverse collection of exhibits, artifacts, documents, and models covering a wide range of topics.
Despite its small size, this train museum is jam-packed with historical knowledge.
In addition, you can board some old train cars and see model train sets mimicking the central coast and antique instruments.
This is also a great place to bring your kids if you are in San Luis Obispo with your family.
The displays are done well, and the model railroad depicts every area that the real railroad served.
Similarly, there are real rail cars outside. The bonus is that the museum is in the original freight house built in 1897!
There is also a gift shop with apparel, books, videos, and toys.
There is plenty of free parking, so you don’t need to worry about parking.
Check online for their schedule of events, including classes on local history and model railroading techniques.
Address: 1940 Santa Barbara Ave, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
8. Bubblegum Alley
If you love taking pictures with some weirdly satisfying background, you would love it here.
San Luis Obispo’s Bubblegum Lane is a 15-foot-high, 70-foot-long alley lined with chewed gum left by passers-by.
Additionally, this “often-talked-about landmark” was made locally and spans 20 meters in downtown San Luis Obispo.
It’s been collecting the Gums for 50+ years.
It’s a must-see if you are in San Luis Obispo.
The gum wall is a sight to behold, with gum stretching for nearly the whole alley from the base to at least 10 feet up the wall.
Also, people use their gum to write notes, do art, draw images, and leave bubbles.
The gum wall also reflects current pop culture, since commentaries on political and world events are frequently scribbled in the discarded gum.
In fact, this place is repugnant, yet weirdly fascinating. It’s something you will never forget.
Don’t worry if you forgot to bring your own gum; there’s a machine right outside the alley where you can get some.
It’s also next to the popular Bar street with lots of good food to enjoy.
Address: 733 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
9. SLO County Farmers Market
In San Luis Obispo County, the SLO County Farmers Market Association operates five different farmers’ markets.
San Luis Obispo has a market twice a week, Arroyo Grande has a market twice a week, and Morro Bay has a market once a week.
The markets, however, exist to give local family-owned and run farmers a location to sell their produce and other commodities, as well as to give customers a place to buy fresh, high-quality products.
The variety of foods here is outstanding, with many restaurants serving their specialties up and down the blocked-off main street.
How about fresh produce? It is a farmer’s market, and they’ve got plenty of fruits and veggies.
Moreso, each market has its own mix of sellers and items, which, of course, varies depending on the season.
They are, however, all committed to high-quality, fresh, local produce as well as other locally created gourmet foods and handicrafts.
This market is a great combination of product sales, sale of food from restaurants, and socializing with the music of various types.
Address: San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
10. Avila Valley Barn
Go to Avila valley barn if you like local produce, feeding barn animals, and hay mazes. It’s interactive and spacious.
In short, it has something for everyone: a petting zoo, produce, and specialty food store, a gift shop, homemade goodies, food, ice cream, candy, and the best holiday events.
In addition, they provide a large assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables (even in the winter), but the baked products are the actual draw.
The pies are delicious, and you can order a whole pie or just a slice.
You can also pick some fruit right off the trees in the right season.
Another enjoyable activity is feeding the goats. The goats will come racing out to the edge of their enclosures.
The best part? Dogs are welcome on the farm but not inside the store.
There’s also a separate building where you can have coffee and ice cream.
Whether you stop by for ice cream on your way to or from Avila Beach or come for the day to engage with the farm animals, you will surely have a memorable and enjoyable experience here.
Address: 560 Avila Beach Dr, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405, United States
11. The Dorn Pyramid
The Dorn Pyramid is a masonic tomb built in a pyramid shape and made of granite.
This pyramid stands 25 feet tall.
It was constructed in 1905 by Fred Adolphus Dorn, a wealthy lawyer.
The rich Fred Adolphus Dorn tragically lost his wife and kid during childbirth in 1905, prompting the construction of this great stone mausoleum in their honor.
He constructed it to be the ultimate resting place for them.
Furthermore, the pyramid is located in a remote part of the Odd Fellows Cemetery grounds.
The location was chosen because it was the only area in the cemetery strong enough to hold the mausoleum.
Similarly, the pyramid has acquired a sense of mystique and urban legend throughout the years.
It used to be open, but it’s now closed and only visible from the outside.
Indeed, it is such a sight to behold.
Address: 2966 S Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
12. Highway 1 Discovery Route
This is a stunning stretch of California coastline
Traveling the California Highway One Discovery Route allows you to experience SLO in its natural state.
Explore the 101-mile length of the Highway.
You will not be disappointed cruising through the local villages, which are rich in wildlife and provide breathtaking vistas.
There is a low population and plenty of parking, as well as convenient access to the beach.
In addition, boutiques, vineyards, hamlets, views, and beaches are great places to stop along the road.
There will never be a shortage of things to do or ways to pass the time!
You’ll find the best of Highway 1 wherever you go along the Highway 1 Discovery Route!
13. Johnson Ranch Open Space
Do you love to hike? Are you new to hiking? Then, Johnson Ranch is the perfect place to go in San Luis Obispo.
The Johnson Ranch Open Space is a slow-sloping figure-8-shaped trail in San Luis Obispo.
It is easy on the knees to run and also beginners friendly.
The 3.7-mile Johnson Ranch Loop takes you through the municipal open space, which is dominated by rolling grassy hills with serpentine rock outcroppings.
In the mornings, it is typically windless and sometimes misty.
You will enjoy bird songs and morning showers in dew droplets.
In case you want to hike in the afternoon hike; you can bring some covering because it can get hot as the oak trees are sparse, and most of the hike is out in the open.
In addition, there is a lovely creek toward the back of the trail that is a perfect resting spot for halfway through the hike.
This location in San Luis Obispo is especially great for beginners because of the slow-sloping nature of the train.
Address: Johnson Ranch Loop, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405, United States
14. Sunset Drive-In Theatre
When last have you seen or visited a drive-in theatre?
You are in for some nostalgic feelings at the sunset drive-in theatre.
The Sunset Drive-In SLO is one of California’s last remaining drive-in cinemas.
Sunset Drive-In is an excellent choice for a night out or a date night.
Pull up, find a parking spot, and tune in to the drive-in station.
The snack bar has an excellent assortment and is far less expensive than a typical theater.
Everything is incredibly old-school and authentic.
Everything you recall from a drive-in: Sitting in lawn chairs outside cars, hearing horns, seeing cars drive in late with headlights flashing in your eyes, and even seeing planes hovering overhead.
You’ll have a pleasant time if you go in with the appropriate attitude.
In fact, it is the best value in town, with an admission price is $11. But the best part is, you will be getting two movies for the price of one.
In addition, the concession stand is also an old school with 1990s prices.
The gates open at 7:30 p.m, and the majority of the films start around 8:30 p.m.
Make it a point to visit here if you’re in San Luis Obispo. It’s a unique experience and arrives early to secure a prime viewing area.
Address: 255 Elks Ln, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
15. Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard
If you love architectural pieces and inspiration ideas, come to Cal poly architecture graveyard in San Luis Obispo.
In fact, poly Canyon is a living embodiment of Cal Poly’s, Learn by Doing philosophy.
A 9-acre tract of land in the hills above California Polytechnic University’s campus has been designated as an “outdoor experimental construction laboratory” for their students.
George Hasslein, the first dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, created this place when he wanted to showcase Cal Poly student projects and give a venue for large-scale experimental structures.
In addition, students have labored in these hills for decades, with some student-built constructions dating back to 1964.
Locals and visitors have dubbed the intriguing attraction “The Architecture Graveyard” in recent years.
The location is home to various experimental structures that give the impression of an abandoned collection of weird architectural components.
Miniature sculptures to small cottages and everything in between is among the buildings on display.
Visit the poly pavilion, shell house, Geodesic Dome, modular house, and greenhouse.
The yearly Design Village is held at Poly Canyon, which is home to the Architecture Graveyard.
The yearly Design village is a design festival in which students construct temporary experimental structures and live in them for a weekend.
These structures have made Call poly stand out from other universities, and if you are a design student in San Luis Obispo, you shouldn’t miss here.
Address: San Luis Obispo, CA, United States
16. History Center of San Luis Obispo County
You can’t come to San Luis Obispo and not learn a bit about this county, right? History Center of San Luis Obispo will take care of that.
This museum, housed in the historic Carnegie Library, chronicles the history of San Luis Obispo County from the Chumash and Salinan Indians to the present.
Furthermore, it’s a modest library that houses fascinating items and historical information about the area.
In fact, even if you’re not from the central coast, you’ll undoubtedly like the brief movie about the area’s history, which includes the first settlers.
Though the building is small but the exhibits are fascinating.
The Carnegie building, as well as the adjoining Dallidet Adobe and Gardens on 1185 Pacific Street in SLO, have a gallery, study room, and gift store, so you can pick one or two things while leaving.
Address: 696 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
17. Irish Hills Natural Reserve
The Irish Hills Natural Reserve is a huge nature preserve with a diverse range of habitats.
Similarly, the Irish hills have some of the best views of the dormant volcano chain, Morro rock, laguna lake, and the city of San Luis Obispo.
With over 8 miles of paths, hiking is a favorite sport here. Mountain biking is allowed as well.
In fact, it is one of SLO’s best and least traveled trails: taller than Bishop, with over a dozen miles of trails.
Various pathways snake their way through the woods.
The trails are full of interesting flora and geology.
The first part of the trail is like walking through magical woods; just beautiful! As you proceed upwards, there are many different trails to hike with the most phenomenal views.
Sometimes you can see deer or other wildlife as the trail is not too busy.
In fact, different trails will give you wildly different experiences and views.
Some trails are hiking only, while others allow for mountain biking.
Don’t forget to bring a snack or even lunch and have an adventure.
You should also get plenty of water and a light jacket for a great overall experience.
Address: Prefumo Canyon Rd &, Isabella Way, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405, United States
18. Novo Restaurant and Lounge, San Luis Obispo
Want a great place to dine in SLO? Novo restaurant is a great option.
This is a lovely restaurant in Downtown San Luis Obispo with a beautiful outdoor patio overlooking the creek.
The restaurant’s location and ambiance make it ideal for any occasion, from a casual family breakfast to a romantic date night.
Owners, Robin and Shanny Covey were noted for serving contemporary world-inspired food, utilizing only the finest locally available vegetables long before farm-to-fork eating became popular.
This idea is still followed today, and customers can expect a great lunch every time they visit Novo.
Novo is also vegetarian and dog friendly, so there’s nothing to be worried about.
In summary, this is an amazing spot for a fancy cocktail and an excellent dinner.
Address: 726 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
19. San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum
If you are in San Luis Obispo with your kids, pay a visit to the children’s museum to give them the best time.
The Children’s Museum is a fantastic, interactive location where you can either play with your kids or watch them play.
The organization is a non-profit one and encourages learning through playing in a rich set of interactive exhibits and activities in the arts, sciences, and humanities.
Furthermore, the museum is extensive, with three floors offering a variety of indoor activities and learning opportunities.
Throughout the year, there are various programs to choose from, and frequent visitors can also apply for membership.
Overall, it’s a fantastic place to take your children!
Let your kids explore and play with new items.
Address: 1010 Nipomo St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
20. San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
Want to see other goodness San Luis Obispo got to offer? San Luis Obispo botanical gardens is one.
SLO botanical garden is located in the rolling hills of El Chorro Regional Park, between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County.
The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is dedicated solely to the plants of the world’s five Mediterranean climate zones.
You can check out the Preview Park, an outstanding five acres, with views of plant life from all five major temperature zones in the Mediterranean.
The preview is a fantastic spot to start your touring of the botanical garden.
After that, you can visit the Life Celebration Garden, where you can purchase memorial engravings in honor of loved ones who have passed away.
Even though this is a small garden, it’s a well-kept and rich garden.
Address: 3450 Dairy Creek Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405, United States
21. Avila Beach
Avila Beach, situated in San Luis Obispo bay is a really nice respite from the city.
The beach is a breath of fresh sea air, with luxury hotels, gorgeous seaside restaurants, world-class local wines, and plenty of shopping and activities for everyone.
When you’re not at the beach, take a trip down Front Street and browse the shops, restaurants, and stylish tasting rooms, such as Peloton Cellars’.
You can also take a dip in Avila Hot Springs’ mineral-rich waters.
Wine, dine, and prepare for one of your life’s best times.
Address: San Luis Obispo, CA, United States
22. Fremont Theatre, San Luis Obispo
If you are not a drive-in theatre fan, then Fremont is a nice alternative and a great place to catch a concert.
The theatre is a great example of Streamline Moderne architecture from the 1940s.
In fact, it is a piece of history, as it first opened on the eve of the United States’ entry into World War II. Then, the nation was grieving from the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Fremont Theater held War Bond concerts.
Despite being old, the walls and ceiling are beautifully painted with an art déco design.
The seats are comfortable, and the sound and acoustics are really great.
The lobby also offers alcoholic beverages and popcorn, which are reasonably priced.
Any vacation to San Luis Obispo should involve a stroll around this historic district to appreciate these gems.
Address: 1035 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
23. HeliPro Helicopter Scenic Tours, San Luis Obispo
Discover SLO from a whole new perspective with this helicopter tour
HeliPro Helicopter is a multi-award-winning helicopter training facility that also provides scenic helicopter trips.
The Nine Sisters Tour takes you around the historic volcanic range known as the Morros, which spans from the city to the sea.
You’ll also have spectacular views of the coast’s beaches. The Oceano Dunes Tour leads guests down the coast from Avila Beach to the Pismo Dunes, where they may see the varied sceneries in a unique way.
The “Great” Lake Tour is an inland tour that takes you through vineyards, Lopez Lake, and the Los Padres National Forest in the eastern part of the county.
Address: 4349 Old Santa Fe Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
24. Giuseppe’s Cucina Rustica
How about you have some Italian magic while in San Luis Obispo?
Giuseppe’s Cucina Rustica is an Italian restaurant in downtown San Luis Obispo.
In fact, this restaurant is a combination of a conventional Italian restaurant and an Italian delicacy.
The foods here are delicious! They have you start off with bread and the dip. The dip is super tasteful.
Depending on your preferences, you can order spaghetti, pizza, or Italian deli sandwiches.
You can even also choose to eat in the dining room or order takeout and eat outside from the counter.
If you desire Italian food, this is an excellent place to go because there is something for everyone.
The best part is that the pricing is really affordable.
Address: 849 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States
25. Madonna Inn Trail Rides
Madonna inn provides trail rides for the hotel guests and day visitors on their herd of horses.
In fact, they provide this service to both novice and experienced riders.
In addition, they have a full staff of trained wranglers with the required knowledge to keep the rides safe so you can relax and enjoy yourself.
There are several ride alternatives available. The most basic is a 1-hour trail ride that includes a memorable ride through picturesque scenery with apparently infinite sights.
Rides are available between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. daily, with planned riding periods throughout the day.
Address: Ride Stables, 100 Madonna Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405, United States
From the list of things, you will realize that there are endless opportunities to discover, from huge dunes to great hiking trails and a booming farm-to-table culinary scene.
You would even agree that SLO is indeed America’s happiest town.
San Luis Obispo, with its close-knit community, healthy lifestyle, and idyllic natural location, you are sure to have a great time here.