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Visit San Luis Obispo, A Pleasant City on the Pacific Coast Highway

May 31, 2021 /
San Luis Obispo attractions

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

San Luis Obispo, SLO for short, is a pleasant city in California that makes its incredible location along the main tourist routes its centerpiece.

If you find yourself staying overnight in this area and have some time to explore the city, there are some attractions worth seeing. In this article, I will recommend the ones that are most interesting.

Directions and Location

where is san luis obispoSan Luis Obispo is located in San Luis Obispo County along the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway, less than 20 minutes from Morro Bay, one hour from Solvang, a charming city, and 90 minutes from Santa Barbara.

Attractions and Things to Do in San Luis Obispo

Bubblegum Alley

Bubblegum Alley san luis obispoThis attraction (if you can call it that) is certainly the most unusual one in the city. The walls of this short alley are entirely covered with (used) chewing gum of all colors. Those who are not too grossed out can visit and photograph this unique sight and, why not, leave their personal contribution. You should check out the themed souvenirs sold in the shops next to Bubblegum Alley.

Madonna Inn

San Luis Obispo attractionsThe Madonna Inn is a hotel and restaurant with an unusual and extravagant style named after its creator, Alex Madonna. From the outside, it looks like an Alpine mountain resort (but more colorful) but it’s inside that the kitsch style literally takes over. All 109 rooms have their own name and style and not one room is the same. The selection ranges from the Caveman Room, furnished like a cave, to the Yahoo Room, decorated in authentic western style.

One of the main attractions of this place is also a… urinal in the men’s bathroom in the lobby shaped like a waterfall. Are you curious about this place to want to stay overnight? Check the availability by clicking on the link below.

Check the availability of Madonna Inn

California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) – Poly Canyon

places to visit in San Luis ObispoSan Luis Obispo is also the home of California Polytechnic State University, a prestigious American university also known as Cal Poly.

Poly Canyon is an outdoor exhibition space in the hills near the campus where students can give free rein to their architectural imagination. This is where the Design Village is held annually, allowing students to present their original designs and build temporary structures based on a different theme each year. Unfortunately, the structures are not supervised or safeguarded so it is not uncommon for them to be damaged by vandals.

To reach the route that passes through these bizarre buildings, you will have to walk along the Poly Canyon Road for 0.7 miles until you will notice on your left a large stone arch where the real Design Village Trail starts.

If you are using a car (or rental car), you can leave your car in the parking lot of the campus. If you go during the week, you will have to pay a permit of $5, but on weekends parking is free.

The Dorn Pyramid

fun things to see in San Luis ObispoThe Dorn Pyramid is a strange pyramid stand in an isolated spot inside the San Luis Cemetery in San Luis Obispo. Built over 100 years ago to house the mortal remains of a mother and her son. The husband of the deceased was a Free Mason and, in fact, there are engravings in the pyramid regarding the Free Masons. He decided to dedicate this pyramid in memory of his wife and son so that they may be remembered forever.

An inscription at the entrance says “Disturb Not the Sleep of Death”, so if you decide to see it, respect the wishes of those who wanted to build this unusual mausoleum.

Hiking near San Luis Obispo: Bishop Peak

hikes near San Luis ObispoBishop Peak is the highest of the volcanic mountains and hills that are part of the Nine Sisters, a sort of mountain range from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay where Morro Rock is located. There are many trails that branch off along the slopes of the mountain, but if you want to climb to the top, I recommend that you take the Bishop Peak Trail which has three starting points:

  • At the end of Highland Dr (1.5 miles one way)
  • On Patricia Dr (1.9 miles one way)
  • On Foothill Blvd (1.2 miles one way)

Reaching the top of Bishop Peak won’t be too difficult, since the trails are kept in good condition, but it will still be a bit challenging, especially on the last stretch. Once you arrive, you’ll be rewarded with a splendid 360° panorama of the entire San Luis Obispo area.

Farmers’ Market

San Luis Obispo farmer's marketThursday is the most important day in San Luis Obispo because it’s Farmers Market day when (except on rainy days) 5 blocks along Higuera Street are filled with food stalls of local vendors.

Along Higuera Street, you will find outdoor barbecues, fruit, vegetables and local cuisine are the main attraction and, even if you don’t want to buy or eat anything, it can be a great opportunity to breathe in a very special atmosphere.

Fremont Theatre

fremont market San Luis ObispoThe Fremont Theatre is a historic cinema in the city that has been in operation since the 1940s. Nowadays, in addition to being the home of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, it also hosts numerous shows and concerts.

Are you in San Luis Obispo and want to see if there is an event that interests you during your stay? Click on the link below.

Fremont Theatre Events

Veterans Memorial Building

San Luis Obispo must seeIf you are driving down Grand Avenue, at some point you will come across a real… tank! It means that you are passing in front of the Veterans Memorial Building, a museum dedicated to the American veterans of this area.

Veterans Memorial Building san luis obispoInside the museum that is completely run by volunteers, you can find artifacts and memorabilia belonging to those who have served in the U.S. Army.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

mission San Luis ObispoFounded in 1772, the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is one of the oldest missions in the Camino Real (the fifth one built). What is distinctive about this mission is that the church, unlike all the others, was built with an atypical “L” shape. The classic museum next to the Mission is useful to better understand both the history of the mission and the daily life of the people who lived there.

Where to Stay in San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, along with picturesque Morro Bay, is fortunate enough to be halfway between Los Angeles and Monterey, making it a near-perfect spot to break up your California Coast Road Trip, whether you’re on your way from Los Angeles to San Francisco or vice versa.

The first option you can consider for an overnight stay is the Lamplighter Inn & Suites (1604 Monterey Street), an unpretentious property halfway between a hotel and a motel, which offers spacious rooms and an outdoor swimming pool, which is perfect for cooling down on a hot summer day. Its location close to major roads can be another advantage to consider if you are passing through San Luis Obispo.

The Apple Farm Inn (2015 Monterey Street) is a slightly more stylish hotel, both inside and out, and is also home to an excellent restaurant and a renowned bakery/pastry shop. Although it is a little more expensive option than the previous one, it still guarantees an excellent value for your money.

If these two options are not for you, by clicking on the link below, you can see the entire list of hotels in San Luis Obispo.

Search all hotels in San Luis Obispo


Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Filippo Nardelli

I have a degree in History of North America and have always been fascinated by the United States.

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