Explore the charming San Luis Obispo downtown area where you can expect days full of California sunshine. There’s such a friendly and fun-loving energy here that it’s easy to get sucked into their laid-back vibe.
I was all for it and spent most of my time strolling around while popping into boutiques, restaurants, and bars. You’ll love your time here and it’s the perfect place to disconnect while exploring a new town.
If San Luis Obispo sounds like your next travel destination, enjoy this guide to the top 10 things to do and see around SLO’s downtown.
10 Things to do in San Luis Obispo Downtown Area
Okay, I must admit when I first heard about this very popular tourist hotspot I thought, “Ew gross! Who wants to see a bunch of chewed-up gum on the side of a wall?”
But this alley was right by our hotel and I couldn’t help myself, I had to pop in. And I was pleasantly surprised—it’s actually one of the coolest places here.
It’s like a weird work of art that everyone has been adding to since the 1950s. Plus it turns out it’s a super fun location to do a little photoshoot.
Shopping in SLO is a lot of fun. I loved all the adorable Spanish-style buildings as storefronts.
Higuera Street is a great place to start wandering, it’s super walkable and totally charming. For fabulous vintage finds I loved the curated collection at Calico Trading Co.
If you’re into crystals and spirituality, you’ll really enjoy Unique Selections. For all my avid readers, Phoenix Books is such a fun place to kill time while poking your head through books.
Head to Ambiance for some retail therapy—they have such cute dresses and accessories and you’ll want to wear everything during your SLO trip for that easy, breezy California vibe look.
For a little pick-me-up, definitely make a stop at Scout Coffee Co. for a delicious latte and pastries.
San Luis Obispo is famous for its farmer’s market that’s held every Thursday night. You can go just for the ambiance with live music and street food vendors or bring your tote to support local businesses.
Buy fresh produce from nearby farms if you’re planning to cook any meals at home or at your Airbnb. Otherwise, there’s an array of hand-made goodies to grab, from artisan apothecaries and organic health products.
When you’re done, you can walk around some more to explore the Mission Plaza. The Mission Plaza usually hosts fun free events like a performing arts show or concert.
This is a super fun space to appreciate art that isn’t going to art galleries. There are historical and modern works to embrace the creative side of California culture.
You can easily spend a few hours here quietly studying the beauty of many different artworks. I recommend going on one of their museum tours to get the full experience.
When I went, I fell in love with the watercolor paintings. They also have temporary exhibits that are really engaging and interactive—so you’ll definitely have a fun afternoon here.
Traditional missions are common in Cali, but this is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. It was built in 1772, and SLO was actually named after it.
It overlooks the scenic San Luis Creek and has that classic Spanish abode aesthetic. You’ll find arcades with porticos, floral designs, high ceilings, wood beams, simple altars, and a courtyard garden covered in local plants.
This is the perfect place to make a stop if you’re looking for a tranquil day in downtown SLO.
This collegiate campus has a few special secrets on its SLO grounds. First is the Leaning Pine Arboretum, a natural wonderland of local and exotic flora and outdoor activities.
The park’s panoramas are picturesque, stretching to the coast and looking out over the surrounding mountains.
Another is called the Architecture Graveyard, which is a great spot to get some insta-worthy pics. You’ll find a deserted collection of eclectic experimental structures designed by students in an outdoor laboratory.
7. Happy Hours
The happy hours in SLO are a must and it’s a lot of fun! You don’t have to go out to Edna Valley for wine tasting. There are so many bars right in downtown to try with your friends.
One of my favorites is Sidecar Cocktail Co. where you’ll find delicious cocktails or glasses of wine. I love the retro flair to the ambiance that feels cute and casual.
Another popular spot is BarrelHouse Brewing, which has a diverse selection of craft beers. The Sunny Daze is the perfect pint for sunshine sipping and the Mango IPA is hoppy, hazy, and crushable.
The taproom is actually a speakeasy in the basement of a building that appears to be a barbershop. It’s super cool and a fun experience.
8. Get Your Grub On
San Luis Obispo restaurants are foodie favorites, and Novo’s al fresco fares are no exception. The cuisine is globally inspired, with culinary creations like Korean Short Ribs or Ahi Nachos—there’s always a mouth-watering surprise on the menu here.
High Street Deli has been the best sandwich spot around for decades. The portions are big, the beer fridge is stocked, and the patio is lovely.
Order it with the works or say make it stoney to get some extra ingredients thrown in at the discretion of your expert sando crafter.
Those are all of my favorite finds from my time in San Luis Obispo downtown. If you have some time and want to explore more outside of the city, I highly recommend taking a day trip to Hearst Castle and Pismo Beach.
There’s so much to do in the SLO area that you’ll never be bored. So that’s everything!
Comment or DM with any questions or other helpful highlights about SLO!
Planning a trip? Explore my other travel content here.
San Luis Obispo is known for its downtown area, restaurants, bars, mission, and shopping.
Yes, San Luis Obispo is definitely worth visiting! There are so many fun activities to do and sights to see.
It’s recommended to spend. at least 3 days in SLO to really get a feel for the coastal town and explore everything.