Need a weekend getaway to the Central Coast of California? Head to San Luis Obispo (SLO).
After living in California for most of our lives (we spent the last 4 years in Vietnam), we finally had the chance to visit San Luis Obispo for a weekend trip.
All we knew about the city was the university, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Yet, SLO surprised us with the good eats, challenging hiking trails, beautiful views, nearby beaches, and tons of local attractions to visit.
We can see why SLO is used as a stopping point on a road trip from Northern California to Southern California or vice versa.
In this post, we’re sharing a San Luis Obispo itinerary on what to do on a weekend here (or if you only have 3 days), and including information on how to get there, where to eat, and more.
Click on the links to jump to certain areas of this San Luis Obispo weekend travel guide:
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How to Get to San Luis Obispo for the Weekend
San Luis Obispo is in a central location of California so it’s a few hours away from the major cities closest to it.
From San Francisco to San Luis Obispo
San Francisco is 230 miles away from San Luis Obispo. By car, it’ll take 3 hours 40 minutes.
The best way to get there is to take 101 South down to SLO. You don’t need to transfer to other freeways. Click here for driving directions.
From Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo
Santa Barbara is 95-110 miles away from San Luis Obispo. It’ll take around 1 hour 40 minutes to get there.
There are two ways to get there:
- Take 101 North to CA-154 West/San Marcos Road to connect back to 101 North. Click here to see the driving directions.
Note: This is a shorter route, but it goes through a mountainous and windy route of CA-154. If you get car sick, do not take this route and stick to 101 North.
- Take 101 North to SLO. It’s a bit longer but doesn’t require going through the mountains. Click here to see directions on Google Maps.
From Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo
Los Angeles is between 190-215 miles away from San Luis Obispo. The drive will take between 3 to 3 hours 45 minutes.
There are a few routes to take depending on your starting point, so please add the proper starting points when looking at the driving directions below.
- Travel via 101 North. This is the usual route to take. Click here to see the directions.
- Travel via 101 North to I-5 North to CA-126 West to 101 North. Click for driving directions.
- Travel via 101 North to I-5 North to CA-166 to 101 North. This may be the longer route. Click for directions.
How to Get Around San Luis Obispo
- By Car: The easiest way to travel around SLO is by car. Parking can be tricky in the Downtown area as many are paid parking spots.
- By Walking: If staying around the main Downtown area or close to it, you can walk around the main attractions. It’s a pedestrian-friendly area.
- By Bus: SLO has a city bus available. The fare is $1.50 for adults, $.75 for Seniors (age 65-79), disabled, and Medicare riders, and free for children under 5 years. Click here for more information on the routes.
- By Old Trolley: For visitors staying at the hotels along Monterey Street, take the trolley to go Downtown. The trolley is available from Thursdays to Saturdays from 5:00pm-9:00pm.
Note: As of March 19, 2021, the trolley route has been suspended due to the COVID situation. Click here for updates on the trolley schedule.
San Luis Obispo Itinerary: Day 1 – Travel & Explore Downtown
If you’re able to depart for your weekend trip on Thursday, do it! You can beat the heavy traffic that occurs on a Friday and get a head start on your weekend in SLO.
After driving and checking into your accommodations, it’s time to explore Downtown SLO or at least the evening of SLO.
1. Visit the Farmers Market (Only on Thursday).
SLO Downtown area is bustling on Thursday nights due to the Farmers Market. It’s open all year round and a fantastic way to support local farmers and local shops.
Over five blocks of the main area are closed for the Farmers Market. Take the time to browse the stalls selling fresh fruits, vegetables, food and drinks (the lines for BBQ are long!), and specialty gifts.
During special events, there are bands and music. We went during the Veteran’s Day holiday weekend so there was a group of musicians playing music and bringing awareness to Veteran programs.
As a heads up, it’s crowded here. Almost like we’re in Disneyland with the crowds. If you bring small children or pets, just be careful with the surroundings.
The Farmers Market is open from 6:00pm-9:00pm (March to October), and 6:00pm-8:30pm (November to February). Check out more information here.
Address: Along Higuera Street
2. Go Shopping.
If you’re visiting the Farmers Market, you can also go shopping in the Downtown area at the same time. There are lots of name-branded and boutique shops to explore such as clothes, Christmas stuff, and more. If you’re eyeing any specific Cal Poly SLO gifts or sweatshirts, there is a store on Higuera Street.
San Luis Obispo Itinerary: Day 2 – Explore Downtown & Hiking
It’s your second day in SLO! Yesterday, you may not have had enough time to explore Downtown so feel free to go back and explore. There are a lot of things that you can do, so don’t feel obligated to do everything listed below.
1. Visit the Bubblegum Alley.
This alley is just like what you imagine. Hundreds of thousands of chewing gum were placed on the wall. It’s a bit gross and can be smelly (heads up if you’re sensitive to smells).
While Seattle’s Bubblegum Alley takes the #1 spot with the amount of bubble gum, and SLO is the runner-up. Feel free to add your contribution to the wall.
Note: It’s recommended to visit this place in the daytime. Otherwise, you may walk past and miss the alley at night.
Address: 733 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA
2. Visit the SLO Museum of Art.
If you’re an art lover, check out SLO’s Museum of Art. Admission is free (closed on Tuesday and Wednesday). Check out paintings and outdoor sculptures and artwork. For more in-depth knowledge, join the ART Talks and meet the local artists. Every Saturday, there is a tour of the current exhibits.
Address: 1010 Broad St, San Luis Obispo, CA
3. Visit Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
As the fifth mission founded by Junipero Serra in 1772, this is a gorgeous place to walk around. There is a Museum (free admission), garden, and daily tours. Daily masses are also available. Read more about the mission here.
Address: 751 Palm St, San Luis Obispo, CA
4. Walk around Chinatown.
A block away from the Mission is SLO’s Chinatown. It’s really small and has a few restaurants and shops. Unfortunately, there isn’t a Friendship gate or anything similar to other Chinatowns that we’ve been to.
There is a historical landmark, the Ah Louis Store. The brick building store was the central location of Chinatown from 1874-1930 and the first Chinese-owned store in SLO county. It also housed the Ah Louis family. Currently, it’s a shop called Karsons Butler Events and sells party supplies.
Address: 800 Palm St, San Luis Obispo, CA (For Ah Louis Store)
5. Go hiking.
SLO has some awesome hiking trails to explore. The two well-known trails are Bishop Peak and Mount Madonna (also known as Cerro San Luis Trail). We were a bit crazy and did both of these in a day.
Bishop Peak is between 3.5-4 miles round trip if you start from Highland Drive (where we started) or Patricia Drive. The trail is easy to follow as the route is well-maintained. The top of Bishop Peak has some scrambling (albeit very sketchy and dangerous as there aren’t any ropes) to get an undisturbed view of the SLO area. Along the hiking path, there are several areas for rock climbing. Read more about our Bishop Peak hike experience here.
Mount Madonna has a few trails that range from lengths from 2-7+ miles round trip. The starting area varies such as from Laguna Lake Park Open Space or off of Fernandez Lane (where we started). If taking the route from Fernandez Lane, reaching the peak is a bit steep but is doable by taking the “M” route and veering to a left unmarked trail. Otherwise, there is the easy and flat 2 mile Lemon Grove loop. Read more about hiking Mount Madonna here.
6. See a Film at Fremont Theater.
The Fremont Theater is a fun place to see a movie or a show. It’s a historical site designed by S. Charles Lee that opened in 1942. You can’t miss this place with the bright lights and billboards. Check out the schedule of upcoming shows here.
Address: 1035 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA
7. Take a tour of Cal Poly SLO University.
If you’re interested in exploring the campus or know someone interested in attending the university here, take a tour of the campus. There are self-guided and student-led walking tours. The student-led tours are only available on weekdays. Register for a tour here.
San Luis Obispo Itinerary: Day 3 – Day Trips from SLO or Free Day
You’re welcome to do whatever you want on your third day in SLO. Since you’ve explored most of the main sights of SLO in the previous days, this can be the perfect time to go on a day trip.
Here are some day trips that you can do from San Luis Obispo:
- Hang out at Avila Beach. Avila Beach is a small beach town. It’s only 15 minutes away from SLO so it’s easy to get here. Spend the day at the beach, visit the Smugglers Cave (which connects with the Pirates Cove Beach), or take a tour of the Point San Luis Lighthouse.
- Visit Pismo Beach. It’s a 20-minute drive away from SLO and has tons of fun activities for everyone to spend the day. Hang out on the beach, go surfing, ride an ATV, see the Monarch Butterflies, and more. Check out our Pismo Beach day trip post here.
- Visit Oceano Sand Dunes. South of Pismo Beach is a small town, Oceano, which has some of the best sand dunes to explore. It’s a quiet place with undisturbed dunes so you enjoy the gorgeous landscape for yourself. Read more on what it’s like to wander through Oceano Dunes here.
- Check out Morro Bay. Morro Bay has a famous landmark which is the Morro Rock. It’s 581 feet high and is located within the Morro Bay State Park. This place is close to SLO and is a 15-minute drive.
- Visit Solvang, the Danish town. One of the cutest places to visit in California is Solvang. It looks like you’ve traveled to a Danish town. The highlights include seeing windmills, going shopping, and eating lots of delicious Danish goodies. Solvang is a 1-1.5 hour drive from SLO. Learn more about what to do on your Solvang day trip here.
- Take a day trip to Santa Barbara. Is there ever enough beach time? Santa Barabara is the next largest city from SLO. You can easily spend the day exploring downtown, relaxing on the beach, eating your way through the city, or visiting wineries. There is also the university, U.C. Santa Barbara if you want to do a campus tour. Santa Barbara is 1.5-2 hours away from SLO.
San Luis Obispo Itinerary: Day 4 – Return Home
It’s time to return to your original destination. You’re welcome to stop by any of the places that we mentioned on Day 3 as a stopover.
Where to Stay in San Luis Obispo
Many of the hotels and motels are located along Monterey Street. The cost of accommodations is a bit high for what you get as the price is around $200 per night and higher on the weekends.
Check out the places to stay in San Luis Obispo here.
Recommendation: La Quinta Inn and Suites
We stayed here for three nights (Thursday to Sunday) and enjoyed our stay. Our room was a good size for the weekend. The bed was comfortable and the bathroom had shampoo and other toiletries.
Other hotel amenities include a free breakfast buffet, swimming pool, and 24/7 access to the gym. You can refill your water bottles at the gym as there is a large dispenser.
The breakfast buffet was better than expected. The spread includes making your own pancakes and Belgium waffles, cereals, oatmeal, bread, fruit, yogurt, and hot items such as eggs (they’re a bit spongy versus scrambled eggs) and sausage.
The hotel has COVID safety precautions with wearing masks in the public areas including the lobby, gym, and in the breakfast serving area (except when eating).
Parking is available in the back of the hotel. The charge to park overnight is $10/night and has a Security guard (although, we didn’t see one.)
The cost of the room varies but starts at $160 (weekdays)/$250 (weekends) for 2 person occupancy for 1 night. Pets are allowed to stay here.
Check availability and reserve a room at La Quinta here.
Address: 1845 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA
Here are other places to stay based on the reviews:
- Best Western Plus Royal Oak Hotel – This hotel is closer to Madonna Inn so you’ll need to drive to the Downtown Area. Guests love the breakfast and the spacious rooms here. Room starts at $140 (weekdays) / $180 (weekends) per night for 2 person occupancy. Reserve a room at Best Western here.
- Apple Farm Inn – Looking for a bed and breakfast type of place? This place is close to the University and has a restaurant. Guests enjoy the quaint furniture and vibe. A room cost is $130-$150 for 2 person occupancy. Book a room at Apple Farm Inn here.
- Garden Suites Inn – This place is located right in SLO Downtown so it’s easy to walk around here. The room comes with breakfast. The cost for 1 night starts at $150 (weekdays)/$250 (weekends) for 2 person occupancy. Reserve a room at Garden Suites Inn here.
- Madonna Inn – This is one of the famous hotels that you see off of 101 Freeway on the way to SLO. The themed rooms are quirky and unique and have fun names such as California Poppy, Floral Fantasy, Traveler’s Yacht, and more. There is a restaurant on-site. The cost of the room starts at $270/night for 2 person occupancy. Book a room at Madonna Inn here.
Where to Eat in San Luis Obispo
What we loved about SLO was the number of places to eat at. We noticed a lot of affordable restaurants since we’re located in a college town. There aren’t any breakfast or brunch places as we had free breakfast at our hotel.
Check out the SLO restaurants that we tried and would recommend.
Like Mediterranean food? Head to Petra. The prices are right and give a good amount of food. Many people often take leftovers home.
The menu has your favorites such as gyro, shawarma (chicken, tri-tip, and lamb), falafels, kebabs, and pizza. You can have your specific meat on a plate, salad, or in a pita.
Justin tried a small gyro pizza that had slices of gyro meat on top. We also tried the falafel plate which had crunch falafels
Indoor and outdoor seating is available.
Address: 1210 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA
2. Firestone Grill
This is one of the popular places to eat in Downtown SLO. Whenever we walk by here, there is always a line out the door. Don’t worry. The line goes pretty quickly.
The top thing to order is the tri-tip sandwich. The menu has salads, burgers, and sandwiches. There are vegetarian items on the menu too. As a heads up, the small salad is big enough for two people to share.
We didn’t try the sandwich as we were still stuffed from lunch. Instead, we tried a Large tri-tip cobb salad, Small Firestone salad, and a Garden Burger. Justin enjoyed the tri-tip cobb salad and was pleased with the flavor of the tri-tip. Plus, there was a lot of meat. The Firestone salad was also yummy with feta cheese, pine nuts, and tomatoes. The Garden Burger was better than expected with the slice of cheese and layer of sprouts.
This place is huge so there is plenty of indoor and outdoor seating available.
Address: 1001 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA
There are other Firestone Grill locations in Bakersfield, Fresno, and Cambria. More information about the SLO Firestone Grill location is here.
3. Taste Craft Eatery
We’re huge fans of trying a variety of dishes and Taste Craft Eatery is the perfect spot to try delicious Californian cuisine with mini-size salads, sliders, mac and cheese, and side dishes (the Brussel sprouts are so delicious!) There are tons of yummy vegetarian options too!
The menu has three options, where you can choose and create your own meal. Some of the premium items have an extra $2 charge.
- Duo: 2 dishes for $15
- Trio: 3 dishes for $18
- Quartet: 4 dishes for $26
If you prefer not to order the small dishes, you can order a la carte of a specific item.
We opted to go with the Trio as it’s a better value. The menu is extensive so it can be hard to choose.
Justin ordered the Triple B Burger, mac and cheese with smoked gouda, and savory Brussel sprouts. I had the Sicilian Swimmer Salmon slider, Earth Patty (vegetarian) slider, and Falling for Farro salad.
Everything was delicious with the fresh ingredients used. We didn’t have any complaints about any of the options that we chose.
Make a reservation if you plan to eat here during the main eating hours. It’s really crowded.
During our visit, we dined outside and the weather was perfect in the late afternoon. Otherwise, there is plenty of indoor seating.
Address: 2900 Broad St, San Luis Obispo, CA
The second Taste Craft Eatery location is in Paso Robles.
4. Splash Cafe
If you’re craving clam chowder and fried seafood, then come to Splash Cafe. We tried the Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach and the food didn’t disappoint. Luckily, there is a small shop close to Downtown SLO.
Address: 1491 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA
5. Madonna Inn
This is one place that we didn’t get a chance to visit. While it’s known to have extravagant and unique themed room decor, guests also enjoy the food at the restaurant. We would love to go back to eat here and try the cakes. The pink champagne cake is a best-selling item. Check out the dining options here.
Address: 100 Madonna Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA
Final Thoughts About SLO Weekend
We would recommend that you visit SLO for the weekend! Whether you have three days in SLO or longer, it’s a fun place to explore and also has nearby attractions to visit. With the good food and the upbeat college vibe, you will enjoy your time here.
Need some ideas on other places to visit in California? Check out our posts below: