Headed on a road trip through California? Then you’ll want to consider stopping and spending 48 hours in San Luis Obispo. Our guest contributor Emily McNamara shares a detailed guide below on the wonderful things to do in San Luis Obispo.
I got my first taste of San Luis Obispo in the way that lots of people do, as a student at the local university. San Luis Obispo, fondly referred to as SLO, is a college town nestled in the rolling hills of the Central Coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. SLO makes an active effort to stay cute and small, from its ban on drive-thrus to its emphasis on locally owned businesses. With that said, a weekend in SLO makes for a dreamy getaway from city life
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How to Spend 48 Hours in San Luis Obispo
*Health & Safety: While travel is slowly reopening again, I suggest doing ample research prior to a trip to understand what is in place for each destination. Find the full responsible travel guide here.
Day 1 – Beach Day
Head to Scout Coffee Co. for a coffee and a treat. Gosh, I love this place. Scout has consistently great coffee from their roasters, Honey Co., and a wide variety of seasonal drinks. Both of their locations are gorgeous with whimsical and bright interiors. My personal favorites are their cappuccino with sunshine syrup with an almond blackberry croissant.
You can pick up a souvenir from their selection of curated goods or a bag of beans to take home!
Stop by Gus’s Grocery to pick up sandwiches, chips, and a drink to take to the beach. San Luis Obispo does sandwiches well, and this may be controversial, but Gus’s Grocery is the best. Other well-known delis with cult-followings include High Street Deli and Lincoln Market.
I recommend ordering a huge bomber-sized sandwich and splitting it with someone. Now that you have your picnic supplied, head down to Avila beach!
Set up and hang out at the beach for the afternoon. I like to lay out near the pier and people watch. If you are thirsty, stop by Libertine Brewing Company for a brew or Kravabowl for a smoothie! If you are feeling up for a little adventure, stop by Pirate’s Cove on your way back.
You can park at the dirt parking lot at the top and walk down .25 mile trail to have a view of the ocean through a cove on a cliff.
Head back to SLO to check-in to your stay and get ready for your evening. Then, head to Luna Red for some happy hour treats! From 3:00-6:00, Luna Red has $5 appetizers and sangria. The restaurant overlooks the San Luis Obispo Creek and is right next to the mission. I suggest the bacon-wrapped dates. Afterward, walk around the cute shops downtown… My favorite is Len Collective.
After walking around downtown, head to dinner at Buona Tavola. This is my favorite Italian food restaurant anywhere in California and the food more than holds up when compared to the pasta I had in Italy. The owners are from Northern Italy and you will usually get to meet them when dining in. I recommend ordering the gnocchi or squash raviolis and sitting out on the patio.
Get a hand-crafted cocktail at Sidecar. Sidecar recently expanded to a larger location on the creek for limited outdoor seating and offer to-go cocktails.
Day 2 – Outdoors + Relaxation
Good morning! Head to Sally Loo’s for brunch. Sally Loo’s is a small cafe with a trendy and colorful interior. I recommend the breakfast sandwich. They currently offer limited outdoor seating and food for to-go.
Choose your own adventure! If you are down for a more strenuous hike, then do Bishop’s Peak. Bishop’s is a 3.5-mile round trip hike with elevation gain. There are two trailheads, but Highland street trailhead is definitely easier. From the top, you will have the most gorgeous views of the city, the surrounding hills, and on a clear day, the ocean.
If you are wanting a more casual hike, then Terrace Hill is for you. Terrace Hill is a short hike to a plateau overlooking the downtown area. There are a few benches to sit and enjoy the view and people will oftentimes bring a blanket to picnic.
Time for a late lunch at Firestone Grill. Firestone is a San Luis Obispo tried and true classic serving affordable Santa Maria-style tri-tip sandwiches and salads. The restaurant is in the heart of downtown, so it is fun to sit outside on the patio.
(Note: at the time of writing, Sycamore Hot Springs is not offering tub rentals. Please save for later.) Sycamore Hot Springs is a hillside retreat in Avila Beach with private hot tubs that you can rent for an hour. Bring some charcuterie and relax. It is $17.50 per person on weekdays and $22.50 per person on the weekend.
For dinner, go to Novo, arguably the best restaurant in SLO with views of the creek shaded by oaks. I recommend making a reservation ahead of time.
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1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
2. Book Your Accommodations
Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: