Nicknamed as the “Happiest City in the US”, San Luis Obispo is an ideal place to spend a couple of days while exploring California’s Central Coast region. Whether you wish to enjoy family-friendly attractions such as the Children’s Museum and Avila Valley Barn, discover the city’s most popular landmarks including the Bubblegum Alley and Madonna Inn, or mingle with the locals at the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market, there are many interesting and fun things to do in San Luis Obispo throughout the year.
Here is our round-up of the best things to do and attractions to visit while staying in San Luis Obispo.
1. Bubblegum Alley
Kick-off your San Luis Obispo county travel itinerary with a visit to the town’s most famous tourist landmark, the amazing Bubblegum Alley. Located in the heart of San Luis Obispo downtown, this 65 feet long and 15 feet high alleyway has been featured in popular TV shows and news programs including Real People, The Tonight Show, That’s Incredible, and many others. You can admire the fascinating gum graffiti and discover messages and designs here.
2. Thursday Farmers Market
Considered one of the best markets in California, the SLO County Thursday Farmers Market is a great place to shop for fresh produce, homemade products, beautiful flowers, and delicious street foods ranging from pizza to sushi.
Instead of fast-food chains, this market provides a spot for family-owned and operated farms that sell their produce and other locally-made goods. Besides enjoying local delicacies and shopping for a variety of products, visitors can enjoy live music performances on various corners of the market. Thursday Farmers Market is held on Thursday evenings from 6 pm to 9 pm.
3. Downtown Shopping
Famed for its tree-lined streets dotted with picturesque Spanish-style buildings, downtown SLO is a shopaholic’s paradise. Whether you wish to buy designer shoes, shop for souvenirs or birthday gifts, or purchase unique jewelry, shopping in San Luis Obispo downtown area is a great way to spend the day.
What we like most is that many locally owned businesses and vintage shops can be found in this area. There is no shortage of shopping centers in the downtown area which include places like the Madonna Plaza Shopping Center and the SLO Promenade.
4. Bishop Peak
A hike of 1.7 miles, Bishop Peak is one of SLO’s top hiking destinations. The hike takes you to a summit from where you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the city and the coastline. It will take you about 2 hours to complete the trail and the best time to reach the summit is in the evening just before the sunset. If you prefer a gentler hike, we recommend taking the Felsman Loop which has a less challenging elevation gain.
5. Sunset Drive-In Movie Theatre
You’ll have to agree that not many things are as American as watching a drive-in movie. In San Luis Obispo, there is a place called the Sunset Drive-In Movie Theatre where hundreds of locals and tourists gather to watch movies and enjoy the pleasant weather.
This fabulous outdoor drive-in movie theatre offers a double feature event every evening and has a small concession stand where visitors can purchase all kinds of refreshments and other movie necessities.
6. San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum
One of the best-hidden gems in San Luis Obispo, SLO Children’s Museum is a science-based center with dozens of hands-on exhibits. The museum is spread across three floors and encourages the little ones to learn about everything from science and engineering to the human body through interactive play.
Some of the highlights of this extraordinary museum include the Caves of Exploration where kids can explore forests and search for fossils and the Jelly Bean Junction which is basically a miniature train depot for toddlers.
7. Madonna Inn
When you are staying in SLO, a visit to one of the world’s kitschiest hotels also known as the Madonna Inn is simply a must. This bizarre Swiss Alps-inspired property invites you to a world of bring pink colors. I mean, even the tablecloths and the sugar here is pink. Check out the hot-pink tennis courts or order a BBQ meal at the all-pink steakhouse. There is also the popular Madonna champagne cake and the incredible hunting lodge.
8. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
Founded in the 18th century, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is California’s fifth-oldest mission. It used to be home to soldiers and missionaries, but nowadays Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is a fascinating museum with antique-laden rooms and centuries-old gardens fitted with roses, citrus, and grapes.
If you are interested in the history of the city, you’ll definitely want to go on a free tour of the grounds. It is worth mentioning that this place hosts live music performances throughout the year.
9. Avila Valley Barn
If you are planning to visit the lovely Avila Beach, make sure to stop by the Avila Valley Barn, Once a small fruit stand, this spot is now a gift shop, petting zoo, and a bakery. You can take your kids here to pet a variety of animals like ducks, peacocks, goats, and llamas, enjoy locally-made ice cream and jams, and pick up some fresh fruits and veggies. Make sure to try the roasted corn and other homemade bakery treats at the Avila Valley Barn.
10. The Dorn Pyramid
The Dorn Pyramid is a Mysterious Masonic tomb in SLO. Built in the shape of a pyramid, this 25 feet tall tomb is made from granite and was built by a lawyer, Fred Adolphus Dorn back in 1905. He built the pyramid as a final resting place for his son and wife who passed away during childbirth.
Located within the grounds of the Odd Fellows Cemetery, the pyramid has the inscription “Distvrb not the sleep of death” on the front of the tomb. Many urban legends are surrounding the pyramid and the locals here in SLO will be more than happy to share their interesting opinions about this place.
11. Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard
Situated high in the hills above the California Polytechnic State University, Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard can be best described as an outdoor experimental construction laboratory with a collection of eclectic structures.
All of the structures that range from semi-houses to weird sculptures were built by design and architectural students. If unconventional architecture is your jam and you wish to see how an abandoned collection of odd architectural pieces looks like, you’ve definitely come to the right place.
12. History Center and Museum of San Luis Obispo County
Dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of San Luis Obispo, the History Center of San Luis Obispo County is a nice museum where you will come across many archives and artifacts. The amazing regional photograph collection which includes everything from postcards to prints and slides is not to be missed. You will find the museum inside the city’s historic Carnegie Library building.
13. Reservoir Canyon Trail
The Reservoir Canyon Trail will take you from the base of the Cuesta Grade to the top of a ridge that is overlooking the city. This 5.35-mile hike is rated as moderate and is popular with both runners and hikers. Expect to see a picturesque waterfall along the way. If you are traveling with a dog, you’ll be happy to hear that pets on a leash are also allowed to use this trail.
14. San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum
Do you wish to learn about the railroad history of the state of California? Head out to the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum which is home to a variety of interesting artifacts and exhibits including cool vintage railroad cars and a 1,200-square-foot scaled Central Coast Model Railroad. There is also a nice gift shop onsite worth checking out and guided tours of the museum are available on Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm.