This guest post was written by Abi of HappyGoAbi.com!
The city of San Luis Obispo (SLO) on California’s central coast is a place that you will definitely want to add to your bucket list. With lots of beautiful outdoor areas to visit, exciting activities to experience, a cute downtown to explore…well, the list of fun goes on and on as there are so many incredible things to do in San Luis Obispo!
But if this is your first time visiting, then you may be a little overwhelmed and wondering what you absolutely must-see while you are here. If this is the case, then this list is for you. Here are five must-see places to discover during your visit to SLO!
1. Bishop Peak
If you spend any length of time in San Luis Obispo, you’ll quickly learn that there are a lot of people here who love the outdoors. One possible explanation for this is that we have some of the most beautiful landscapes around, so everyone here feels compelled to get out and enjoy the beauty! But regardless of the reason, you’ll find hiking and being outdoors is a strong part of the SLO culture.
So while you’re in San Luis Obispo, you will for sure want to check out the best hikes in the area…one of which is Bishop Peak. This hike is around 3.5 miles out and back and takes you up to some of the most epic views of San Luis Obispo and the surrounding area. Note that this hike is moderate, so it’s quite doable for most people, but if you aren’t in the habit of hiking much then you may want to take it a little slower especially on the way up the mountain.
I especially love hiking Bishop at sunrise or sunset when the sky turns glorious shades of orange and sometimes purple too. You’ll want to bring a sweatshirt or jacket if you go at these times, though, as it can get a little chilly at the top when it is windy. But besides the benefit of seeing beautiful colors in the sky, hiking in the morning or evening will also help you avoid the uncomfortable heat during the day (especially in summer) as there really isn’t much shade on the trail.
2. Bubblegum Alley
There are lots of fun places to see in downtown SLO, but Bubblegum Alley is an iconic spot to stop for a few minutes and should be on your list to see during your time here. So what is Bubblegum Alley? Well, as expected from the name, this narrow alley is completely covered on both sides with gum! Although I personally find it a bit disgusting, it is one of the most famous attractions in the city so you should at least stop by to see what it’s all about.
When you do stop by, be sure to bring your own gum so you can participate in the tradition. Sometimes people like to draw pictures or their initials on the wall with their chewing gum as well, so if you’re feeling creative you could try to leave behind a masterpiece. Regardless, you’ll likely find a few others stopping at the alley with you too and it’s an amusing place to snap a few pictures!
3. Avila Beach
One of the best parts of visiting San Luis Obispo is having access to so many beaches nearby. Avila Beach is one of the best and you will want to visit it as many times as you can while you are here!
There are lots of things to do in this cute town of Avila Beach, from swimming or bodyboarding in the water to building sandcastles, to visiting an aquarium, to finding a secret beach and rock arch! Heading down to the Fisherman’s Beach portion of Avila also provides you with the perfect place to go kayaking while you are here (pro tip: when going on or in the water, I love to bring my GoPro and GoPro dome for epic over/underwater pictures!)
With so many things to do here, if you’re looking for the perfect place to relax or enjoy a beach day while in San Luis Obispo you definitely can’t go wrong with visiting Avila Beach and experiencing all it has to offer!
4. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
The San Luis Obispo Mission (called Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa) is a must-see in SLO as it is part of the city’s origin story. Father Junípero Serra founded this mission and the town in 1772, which makes SLO one of the oldest European-founded communities in California.
Today, the mission sits in the middle of downtown SLO and if you are interested in its history you can visit during normal business hours (usually 9pm-5pm). Although you can, of course, see the exterior any time of day or night, if you visit during business hours you can take a look inside the mission museum to learn more about its history. This museum is free to visit, although donations are always appreciated.
And if you want to see inside the mission itself, then you are welcome to visit mass or take a tour with a docent. Most days, these docent-led tours start at 1:15 pm, but you will want to check with the mission ahead of time to make sure a tour is actually happening. These tours are a great time to learn about the mission, see the art inside, and ask any questions you may have!
But whether you just see the exterior, visit the museum, or also see the inside, this mission was once the heart of San Luis Obispo so it is a fascinating place to explore and learn more about SLO’s history.
5. Madonna Inn
The Madonna Inn is perhaps one of the most iconic stops in all of San Luis Obispo. It’s a local landmark for many reasons, not the least of which is its whimsicality and eccentricity.
You’ll know what I mean the moment you walk inside and find hot pink everywhere. Pink really is the theme of the Madonna, with even the tennis courts painted in the same bright shade as is found throughout the rest of the hotel!
Each of the hotel’s 100+ rooms is also decorated in different themes, so if you decide to stay here you can choose exactly which version of a room you want to stay in. But even if you don’t stay here, you can still enjoy walking around and seeing the sights around the hotel, eating in the restaurant, or enjoying a slice of their (predictably) pink champagne cake. This whole hotel is certainly a unique sight and you will not want to miss exploring it while you are in San Luis Obispo!