california, travel, outdoors

48 Hours in San Luis Obispo

Pack your hiking boots, but leave room in your suitcase for wine

Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo is the perfect antidote to fast-paced city living. (There’s a reason its nickname is “Slo Cal.”) Its quaint coastal towns boast beautiful beaches, jaw-dropping cliffs, and plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures. And thanks to the temperate climate, this region is home to many world-renowned wineries as well. Here’s how to spend two days exploring the area.

WHERE TO STAY

The Granada Hotel & Bistro is a small, boutique hotel that puts you right in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo and its area wineries. Inside each of the 17 rooms you’ll find exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, and original art. The hotel shares space with it's namesake French bistro, which offers breakfast for guests beginning at 7 a.m. as well as lunch and dinner. 

If you prefer to be closer to the water, opt for the Inn at the Pier Pismo Beach, the newest hotel in this seaside town. The inn has 104 rooms and suites (many with ocean views and balconies) as well as a rooftop dipping pool, lounge, restaurant, and fitness center. You can even rent a cruiser on-site to explore the town by bike.

Day 1

Head to Morro Bay and grab a quick breakfast (you can’t go wrong with the veggie scramble) at Blue Sky Bistro. Then meet up with your guide from Central Coast Outdoors for a half-day kayaking tour. During the three-hour outing you’ll paddle through protected waters, then head out into the bay where you might visit a harbor seal haul-out area, a heron rookery, or an oyster farm. The tour makes a pit stop on a secluded beach where a short hike over the dunes rewards you with ocean views. 

For a casual lunch, head to downtown San Luis Obispo’s SLO Brew Restaurant and Pub, or “The Brew” as locals call it. Grab a seat on the patio and enjoy a pint of one of the 15-plus beers on tap. If you worked up an appetite while kayaking, BBQ like the Carolina-style pulled pork or maple whiskey glazed chicken will hit the spot. For those looking to keep it clean, opt for the kale salad with quinoa, feta, apples, almonds, and red onion.

After lunch, pamper your muscles with an afternoon at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Start with a soak in one of the 23 heated mineral spring hot tubs. Then, schedule a signature deep tissue or hot springs stone massage.

Keep the relaxed feeling going with a waterside dinner at nearby Ocean Grill Avila Beach. While entrees like the seared diver scallops stand out, you could make an entire meal out of the starters like poke tacos and fresh catch ceviche. 

Day 2

Arrive early at Montaña de Oro State Park. Enter at the park’s northern gate and follow signs to the Point Buchon Trail. The 6.6-mile (round-trip) hike will give you breathtaking views of the central coast’s iconic cliffs and bluffs. Don’t be surprised if you also spy eagles, pelicans, sea otters, and even a gray whale as you trek.

Fuel up at the Copper Café, located in San Luis Obispo’s historic Madonna Inn. From the red leather seats to the copper tables, you’ll feel like you stepped back in time. If you make it in time for breakfast (before 11 a.m.) go for the frittata with plenty of veggies and mozzarella cheese. Lunchgoers can opt for one of several salad options such as the avocado salad with turkey, tomato, egg, and greens.

Now that you’ve seen the coast, it’s time to get acquainted with the area’s vineyards. Book an outing with either Breakaway Tours or 101 Wine Tours, and a guide will pick you up at your hotel and shuttle you (about 30 minutes by bus) to Paso Robles which boasts more than 200 wineries that offer hundreds of grape varietals and vintages.

Have dinner at Thomas Hill Organics in Paso Robles, a farm-to-table restaurant that’s a favorite of locals. The menu changes seasonally, but the fish options always stand out. If you happen to visit on the first Saturday of a month, take advantage of downtown Paso Robles’ Art After Dark following dinner. As you spend the evening meandering through town, you’ll have the chance to sample wine from more than a dozen tasting rooms, enjoy live music, and visit the town’s galleries and boutiques.

Photo: Daniel Kuras