Things to do in San Luis Obispo

Things to do in  San Luis Obispo

A highlight of Highway 1

Nestled between beaches and bucolic hills, San Luis Obispo is a gem of California’s Central Coast with plenty of things to do—here, visitors can surf, swim, and hit the trails all in one day. But there’s more to SLO—as locals call it—than just the great outdoors, as this lively university town pairs hip coastal culture with a rich history, as the site of one of California’s original Spanish missions. Taste buds are sure to be treated here, too, thanks to nearby Edna Valley’s wineries, downtown craft breweries, and a famous farmer’s market.

Top 1 attractions in San Luis Obispo

Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

Every winter, tens of thousands of monarch butterflies stop in Pismo Beach during their mass migration to a warmer climate. The bright-orange-and-black monarchs cluster together among the branches in a protected eucalyptus grove, creating a stunning natural display that attracts visitors from up and down the California coast.More

All about San Luis Obispo

When to visit

Summer is high season in San Luis Obispo and an excellent time to hit nearby beaches, buy produce at the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market, and visit area wineries —stick around until September to help ring in California Wine Month. And while winter is the rainy season in San Luis Obispo, it’s also when thousands of monarch butterflies overwinter; head to Pismo State Beach to see them.

Getting around

The nearest airport to San Luis Obispo is San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, which links the city to San Francisco, LA, and other cities in the western US. The city is also served by Amtrak, which stops at San Luis Obispo Station, and a number of San Luis Obispo Transit bus lines. For roadtrippers, the classic route into town is via the storied Highway 1, and much of downtown is walkable.

Traveler tips

For a throwback experience—and a solid dose of Americana—don’t miss the chance to catch a movie at San Luis Obispo’s historic, drive-in theater. Sunset Drive-In has been operating since 1950 and is one of the last drive-in movie theaters in all of California. It’s open daily and shows two films a night, with cash-only tickets and concessions.

Local Currency
US Dollar ($)
Time Zone
PST (UTC -8)
Country Code

A local’s pocket guide to San Luis Obispo

Andrea Manokian

Andrea, a Ventura County local, loves to visit neighboring cities along the California coast. Her frequent stops in San Luis Obispo have sold her on its quaint beachside appeal.

The first thing you should do in San Luis Obispo is...

ocean cave kayaking to see the dinosaur caves that are made from hardened volcanic ash.

A perfect Saturday in San Luis Obispo...

starts with breakfast at Cowgirl Café, and then it's on to wine tasting (cabernet sauvignon is the region’s speciality) at DAOU Vineyards, and dinner and a sunset stroll in Morro Bay. It ends with movie night at Sunset Drive-In Theater.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

staying at the Madonna Inn or, at the very least, stopping by the hotel and resort's café for a slice of its famous pink Champagne cake.

To discover the "real" San Luis Obispo...

dine at Old San Luis BBQ Company (its tri-tip is a must) for a taste of traditional Santa Maria style barbecue, which originated from Mexican caballeros who ranched cattle along the central coast.

For the best view of the city...

hike Bishop Peak Trail and take in the cityscape.

One thing people get wrong...

is thinking of San Luis Obispo as an underdeveloped city. Instead, the areas that are free from modernization add to the city’s old-school charm and natural beauty.


People Also Ask

What is San Luis Obispo known for?

Located on California’s scenic Central Coast, San Luis Obispo is a small city known for its Mediterranean climate and relaxed quality of life. It’s home to a vibrant cultural scene with galleries, restaurants, theaters, and wineries, and the historic Hearst Castle with its famously ornate interiors is a 50-minute drive.

What is special about San Luis Obispo?

San Luis Obispo is a city in California’s San Luis Obispo County. It’s surrounded by rolling hills, old-growth forests, and an expansive coastline. You’ll find numerous historical sites and attractions such as the 1772 Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Bubblegum Alley, and Cal Poly University.

Is it worth visiting San Luis Obispo?

Yes, San Luis Obispo is worth a visit. With its mix of beaches, redwood forests, and picturesque vineyards, the area is the perfect place to marvel at nature’s beauty and take in a bit of culture. If you’re looking for adventure and relaxation, San Luis Obispo has plenty to offer.

Why is San Luis Obispo the happiest city in America?

There are a few reasons that San Luis Obispo is often hailed as the happiest city in America. Much has to do with its temperate Mediterranean climate, ample sunshine, and myriad of outdoor activities, from hiking to biking. It’s also got culture (and a college), fine dining, vineyards, and easy beach access.

How far is San Luis Obispo from the ocean?

Located on California’s Central Coast, San Luis Obispo is about eight miles (13 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean. It’s a great location if you’re looking to soak in some sun and enjoy both the outdoors and city life—you can get to the beach in about 15 minutes by car.

Why are there no drive-thrus in San Luis Obispo?

San Luis Obispo doesn’t have any drive-thru restaurants, despite being a college town and home to a large student population. That’s because the city of San Luis Obispo has had a ban on drive-thru restaurants within its borders since the 1980s.

Frequently Asked Questions
The answers provided below are based on answers previously given by the tour provider to customers’ questions.
What are the top things to do in San Luis Obispo?
The top things to do in San Luis Obispo are:
What are the top activities in San Luis Obispo?
What are the top things to do near San Luis Obispo?
Check out things to do near San Luis Obispo: