As we travel down the coast in the San Luis Obispo County travel series, we make our way to the area’s namesake, San Luis Obispo itself. If you missed the first two stories on Cambria and Avila Beach, be sure to check them out for a wealth of travel ideas. For me, traveling to San Luis Obispo is like a religion. I love the area’s vibe and there’s so much to do in the region that I can never fit everything in.
I’ve traveled to San Luis Obispo since I was a child, and I can’t fully explain what this locale means to me. I have so many great memories made here of my mom and dad, and many others that I’ve made in SLO alone. I hope that with this story and the series as a whole, you get to experience the magic of the area and plan a trip (or many) soon.
Where to Stay
Apple Farm Inn
You know how you can see a place that’s special to you and when you see it, even from a distance, it instantly makes you feel warm and happy? That’s the Apple Farm Inn for me. I can see a photo of this inn and it brings a smile to my face. Every time I pull into the Apple Farm parking lot, I feel like I’m arriving home again. I’ve stayed here more times than I can count, and for good reason.
Walking into the lobby at the Apple Farm Inn brings an instant relaxed feeling to my soul. There are wine and cookies to be had upon check-in, and the Victorian-style inn emits a charm that suits the area’s wine tasting locale perfectly. The Apple Farm also is just off Highway 101, and is centrally located in the Central Coast wine region, making it an ideal home base for jetting around the area and soaking it all in. There are a few room choices at the Apple Farm, and I suggest staying in the inn itself, not the Trellis Court motel. The inn is lovely and rooms are decorated uniquely and comfortably. There’s also the millhouse suite, located above the former mill, which is a little pricier but I think worth the splurge.
Across the parking lot at the Apple Farm is the inn’s gift shop, bakery, and restaurant. Although closed throughout the pandemic, they’re expected to reopen in spring 2021 and offer a nice diversion while you’re visiting. The restaurant offers good ‘ol home cooking and the bakery offers some of the tastiest treats, like my personal favorite, the apple pie cookie. The restaurant also offers box lunches to take with you as you explore the area’s wineries and other adventures.
Ah, the Madonna Inn is a getaway unto itself. The property offers horseback trail rides, an onsite wine cellar and gift shop, spa, tennis courts, a pool, bakery, steakhouse, and café. Also, if you like the color pink, this is your place. The hotel rooms at the Madonna Inn have very unique themes, and range from rooms with a rock waterfall shower to those with themes like the Love Nest, which looks almost just like it sounds.
What to See
Morro Bay and Cayucos – Both of these seaside towns are great for kayaking, surfing – any outdoor experience you’d like to have, really. They’re both a short drive from San Luis Obispo but totally worth the trip. There are cute shops and eateries too, so make a day of it and explore the towns after getting outdoors and playing in the water or going for a hike.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa – I think this mission church is the reason my parents visited the Central Coast region in the first place way back when. My mom loved visiting the 21 mission churches throughout California, but this one we visited several times. It’s a beautiful piece of history and provides a great opportunity to step back in time. It’s also located in the heart of San Luis Obispo, so it’s a good starting point for your downtown adventure.
Farmers markets – SLO County is filled with farms and the region’s farmers markets are delightful. Look up current markets here and you’re sure to find one that pairs well with your itinerary.
Wineries – There are SO many wineries in SLO County that I’m going to write a separate story on this. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention wineries in this article. I highly suggest grabbing a map of the wineries in the region from your hotel and having a fun day exploring. Bring a lunch or eat at one of the many onsite eateries at the wineries. Many of them also sell snacks that pair nicely with the vino. It’ll be a great day, I promise. Also, there are many companies that provide transportation or wine tours so you don’t have to drive if you’re planning on visiting more than a couple wineries on your grand tour.
Where to Eat
La Locanda – This Northern Italian restaurant is located in downtown SLO and offers a nice, intimate environment to have a good meal. I love eating here – the cuisine is tasty and it’s in a great location downtown if you’re out exploring.
Efren’s Mexican Restaurant – Efren’s has a few locations in the SLO area, and is a little off the beaten path from San Luis Obispo proper. But if you have your handy winery map from the winery tip, it would be a good stop when you’re out and about exploring the region.
Splash Café – This will come up again in the Pismo Beach edition, but Splash Café is so good! The restaurant is famous for its clam chowder, and I know some of my readers are fans already. They also serve pastries and other dishes at a reasonable price.
The Apple Farm Restaurant – You have to eat here when in SLO, if for no other reason than to toast the Carroll family. Try their signature apple dumplings for dessert, or take home a box of their delicious cookies and treats. This is comfort food, straight up.
Where to Shop
Moondoggies Beach Club – Located adjacent to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Moondoggies has been a staple in SLO since I was a kid. I can remember visiting the surf shop with my dad. A couple years ago I stopped in to purchase a watch for my husband and I still love the shop. The SLO location is downtown, so use this as your starting point when exploring the downtown shopping area.
SLO Fly – A cute boutique downtown that serves up clothing and gifts all with a Central Coast theme. Get stylish, laid-back apparel with SLO County graphics.
Lavender farms – There are a few lavender farms in SLO County, but tours aren’t currently happening because of the pandemic. If you go when things get moving again, though, I highly suggest visiting a lavender farm in person. They’re beautiful! In the meantime, you can still support these great, local farmers by purchasing their straight-from-the-farm goods. Two I recommend are Harmony Lavender Farm and Central Coast Lavender Farm.
We Olive – Have you ever gone olive oil tasting? It’s pretty common on the Central Coast, and We Olive in San Luis Obispo can help give you that experience in one shot. Taste olive oils from around the county and choose a few to take home with you. They also carry vinegars, jams, mustards and other goodies to add to your home culinary collection.
Olea Farm – Taste olive oil right at the farm. A short drive from SLO, the Olea Olive Farm offers tastings on site during the weekends and weekdays by appointment. This makes for a nice addition to any wine tasting tours you’re planning.
There’s so much to do in San Luis Obispo that by no means is this guide all inclusive. But I hope it gives you a start on your adventure. I’ll see you for the next installment in the series, publishing next week, for more travel ideas within SLO County.