There are so many fun things to do in San Luis Obispo and I’m honestly a little surprised it took me this long to plan a trip there!
I guess that’s been one of the perks of this panny—I’ve explored more in California and the United States than usual, and I know I’m not alone in that!
One thing I will say is, do not sleep on the central coast. It’s beautiful and I have a feeling you’ll love it!
This post is all about the best things to do in San Luis Obispo, in the form of a detailed, three-day travel guide. I’m sharing all the deets from my recent trip so you can copy the itinerary!
Where to Stay in San Luis Obispo
We stayed at Hotel Cerro right in downtown SLO, and it was perfect! It’s in the heart of everything so it’s totally easy to walk to restaurants, shops, the mission, and more.
They offer free parking, the rooms are super cute, and of course, you can’t forget about the epic roof deck pool. Their restaurant Brasserie SLO is also yummy and a great spot to grab dinner or a cocktail.
Best Time of Year to Visit San Luis Obispo
Being on the central coast of California, the weather in SLO is blessedly mild—no triple-digit days during the height of summer like up here in NorCal.
Honestly, any time May – November is a great time to visit San Luis Obispo. You’ll have nice weather (obviously warmer and closer to the low 80’s during the summer) and you shouldn’t get rained out.
It gets pretty chilly at night (40s/50s), so be sure to bring a jacket.
Do take note of when graduation weekend is for Cal Poly in June—it will obviously be more crowded during that time and hotels/restaurants will get booked up faster.
Best Things to Do in San Luis Obispo California: Three Day Travel Guide
Things to Do in San Luis Obispo: Day 1
Explore the Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard
When I was researching San Luis Obispo attractions, I was intrigued by the architecture graveyard that I found.
It’s on-campus at Cal Poly (short for California Polytechnic State University, in case you were wondering), and it’s basically an area where students’ imaginations run wild and there are different structures and things to explore.
It takes a short, easy hike to get to the architecture graveyard, so you’ll want to wear decent shoes. There are quite a few different structures to explore and hike up to, and while we didn’t go to every single one, I’m sharing some pics from a few of my favs here.
Oh and we came across some horses too!
The Architecture Graveyard is free to visit, but it definitely took us a little while to find its exact location. There aren’t really clear directions online, and putting Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard into Google Maps just led us to a spot nearby on campus that eventually came to a dead end.
Eventually, we figured it out, so you don’t have to drive around campus lost like we did. Here’s how to get to the graveyard:
Park at the Village Drive Structure and pay the $7/day parking fee.
When you’re standing in front of the parking lot on Village Drive, take the sidewalk to the right of the parking structure and start walking up the hill. You’ll then head up Poly Canyon Road and pass a yellow gate on your left.
Eventually, the road turns into gravel and after about a 20-minute walk, you’ll find these stone arches and a wooden map showing you all of the different sites to see within the graveyard.
The entire thing is 9 acres, so you probably won’t be visiting every single structure.
There also isn’t a lot of shade, so bring a hat and water for sure.
Many of the structures have been vandalized with graffiti (what’s a bored, drunk college kid to do on a Friday night?) which definitely deterred from their beauty. But we still had fun exploring!
Lunch at Park 1039
Park 1039 is a super cute and unique spot in downtown SLO. Part upscale market, part restaurant, and part wine bar.
They have a curated collection of international and domestic cheeses, wines, beers, and other hand-picked culinary specialties. Grab a seat outside at their cute parklet and enjoy a delicious lunch here—we absolutely loved the food and the playful flavor combinations.
Do not miss the tomato salad (honestly, it’s more cheese + tomatoes + bread than a salad) and if the Basque-style cheesecake is on the menu, don’t hesitate, just order it.
Definitely lean on your server and their somm for advice on food and wine pairings—they know what they’re doing and can recommend some amazing things to try!
Explore Downtown SLO
After lunch, take a stroll through downtown SLO—there’s a lot going on. If you feel like shopping, there are plenty of cute boutiques like Ambiance, where Kara and I picked out some fun dresses. I’m obsessed with this neon pink one!
Blackwater is another super cute and trendy boutique to pop into.
You’ll also find Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa here, established by Father Junipero Serra in 1772 before the city was even created. There’s a pretty garden in the courtyard as well.
Don’t miss Bubblegum Alley. Gross or cool? Maybe both. But it’s definitely fun for a photo opp, and it’s hard not to want to contribute your own piece of gum.
The city has actually tried to clean up this alley a couple of times, but locals love it and just added more gum after the cleanings so the city finally gave up, lol.
There’s also a farmers market on Thursdays if you’re looking for some fresh product, handcrafted items, and a fun atmosphere with some live music.
Dinner at Brasserie SLO
Round out your first day with dinner at Brasserie SLO. The interior has a fun ambiance, but if it’s a nice day (which it usually is in SLO), the outdoor patio is really lovely too.
They had some great cocktails (how pretty is this purple one??) and the mussels were my fav dish that we tried.
P.S. If you’re looking for more San Luis Obispo Restaurants, check out my Top Restaurants in SLO post.
Things to Do in San Luis Obispo: Day 2
This was one of my favorite things that we did during our trip! We rented kayaks from Avila Beach Paddlesports for a couple of hours ($35 for 2 hours) and made our way over to the lighthouse.
On the way, we saw otters (so cute!!), sea lions, and pelicans. Once you get to the beach where the lighthouse is, you can drag your kayak up to shore and hike up a bit. Just before the lighthouse, you’ll find a fun swing for a great photo opp.
It was so peaceful and beautiful up here. Highly recommend this activity!
Your best bet is to book the morning kayak trip, as the winds can start to pick up in the afternoon. We actually had our first morning canceled due to the wind being too strong, but we were able to make it out the next day when it was calmer.
Lunch at Avila Valley Barn
After you’ve worked up an appetite kayaking, head over to Avila Valley Barn for lunch. It’s family-owned, and they serve up barbeque, roasted corn, and lots of sweet treats like ice cream, baked goods, fudge, and more.
If you have kids (or you just love animals), you’ll enjoy seeing all the animals out on the farm. They also do hayrides and pony rides on weekends.
Wine tasting in Edna Valley
Edna Valley is just 15 minutes from SLO, and you’ll find some beautiful wineries here. It’s known for Pinot and Chardonnay, and there are plenty of tasting rooms in the valley to choose from with beautiful views. Try Edna Valley Vineyard or Chamisal Vineyards.
There are also different options for wine tours that you can book so you don’t have to worry about driving after hitting up the wineries!
Dinner at Mistura
Enjoy a delicious dinner at this contemporary Peruvian restaurant. They’re known for their paella and seafood dishes, and dynamic flavor combos.
There’s something so charming about an old-school drive-in movie theatre! Catch a flick at Sunset Drive Theatre to round out your night.
Things to Do in San Luis Obispo: Day 3
Brunch at Breakfast at Linnaea’s Cafe
Sit in the back garden and enjoy a breakfast burrito and a spicy vanilla house chai. Maybe a slice of carrot cake or one of their other tempting and delicious baked goodies for dessert.
Choose your own adventure: Hike Bishop Peak or go to the beach
If you feel like being active and want to go for a hike on your third day, Bishop Peak is a popular one with beautiful views. There are several different trails here, so you can pick one based on how much you want to sweat!
If you’re aiming to climb to the top of the summit, it’ll be a round-trip 3.5 mile hike with a pretty steep incline. But you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views at the top!
For something a little more chill, try the Felsman loop, a 2.7 mile hike at a lower elevation.
You could also check out the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area for some epic photos.
A few other ideas for how to spend your last afternoon in SLO…
Most SLO travel guides you come across are going to suggest the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum…unless you’re obsessed with trains, I’d say you can skip that (lol) and opt for something like…
Hearst Castle. I still haven’t been, and it’s been closed due to the pandemic, but one of these days I’ll make it over there!
A stroll through the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden.
Visit the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art
If you’re traveling with kiddos, take them to the San Luis Obispo Children Museum for an interactive experience. (Save this one for a future trip, as it is currently closed due to the panny).
Drinks at Madonna Inn
You’ve gotta hit up the Madonna Inn while you’re in SLO. I remember passing this hot pink landmark for years when I went to school at UCLA and did a lot of road trips up and down California. I always wondered about Madonna’s pink inn…
Turns out, the Madonna Inn has nothing to do with the singer. It was built by a construction magnate and entrepreneur, Alex Madonna in the ’50s.
The rooms are all super kitschy and out there, each with its own decor and individual themes. It’s pretty pricey to stay here, so instead, we decided to dine at the restaurant for lunch so we could check out the crazy decor and enjoy the fun, over-the-top atmosphere.
I will be totally honest, the food is not great. But you’re not here for the food, you’re here for the pseudo-Swiss-Alps exterior, pink everything design, and very fun photo ops.
My advice? Pop into the outlandish cocktail bar for a drink, gawk at the interiors in the restaurant, and take a stroll around the property to get your hot pink fix.
Dinner at Novo
Enjoy a delicious dinner at Novo in downtown SLO. The outdoor patio has the best vibes, with its twinkly lights and a creek running by.
Don’t miss the ahi nachos, scallops, and rack of lamb.
If you’re up for a little bit of a drive, this rec is a little over a half-hour drive north from downtown SLO (but still in San Luis Obispo County).
Sensorio Field of Lights in Paso is worth the drive! This lights and art exhibit is truly stunning, and they’ve added on a second area called Light Towers as well.
Wear comfortable shoes to walk through the rolling hills covered in swaying lights, and bring warm layers! It cools off quickly and you’ll get chilly if you don’t have a warm jacket.
Sensorio was supposed to be a temporary exhibit, but the website currently says it’s been extended through January 2022.
Hope you loved this 3-day travel guide with all the deets on things to do in San Luis Obispo! You can also check out SLO County’s events page to see what fun concerts and things they have coming up.
I’m already planning my next trip back and dreaming of staying at the chic San Luis Creek Lodge. How cute??
Anything else I should add to my list for next time? Let me know! And if you hit up any of these spots during your SLO trip, tag me in a Story, @wtfab!
Planning a trip to San Luis Obispo and the Central Coast? Be sure to check out all my guides:
Best Restaurants in SLO
San Luis Obispo Downtown Area: What to See and Do
14 Best Beaches in San Luis Obispo
Camping in San Luis Obispo: A Guide to the Best Campgrounds
Sensorio: Field of Lights
Best Paso Robles Wineries
Fun Things to Do in San Luis Obispo
Airbnb San Luis Obispo
Hotel Cerro San Luis Obispo
Mission San Luis Obispo, but Make it Pink
The top things to do in SLO are:
– Going to the beach
– Exploring the restaurants Downtown
– Checking out the Farmer’s Market
– Visiting Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
The best outdoor activities in SLO are:
– Kayaking on the beach
– Hiking Bishop Peak
– Visting the Architecture Graveyard at Cal Poly
It is recommended to spend around 3 days in SLO to really explore the downtown area and the nearby beaches.
Elise Armitage is an entrepreneur and founder of What The Fab, a travel + lifestyle blog based in California. At the beginning of 2019, Elise left her corporate job at Google to chase her dreams: being an entrepreneur and helping women find fabulous in the everyday. Since then, she’s launched her SEO course Six-Figure SEO, where she teaches bloggers how to create a passive revenue stream from their website using SEO. Featured in publications like Forbes, Elle, HerMoney, and Real Simple, Elise is a firm believer that you can be of both substance and style.