Though it’s best known for its namesake city, San Luis Obispo County is made up of a series of small beach towns and rural, wine-producing communities. Local brewer Rodney Cegelski said it best when he described the region as “where cowboys meet surfers,” a nod to the county’s mix of rural and ocean lifestyles, including the rolling hills of Paso Robles, the mountains of San Luis Obispo, and the coastlines of Morro Bay, Pismo, Cambria and San Simeon. From mountain trails to ocean cliffs with an epic barbecue scene smashed in between, it has everything you could want as an adventurer, topped off with a climate where the sun shines more than 300 days a year.
Where to Stay
SLO Brew Lofts
Though not on the coast, an overnight stay in San Luis Obispo is a treat for those looking for something to do once the sun goes down. A college town filled with bars and restaurants, it is the hub of nightlife in the region, and you’ll definitely want to stay downtown and be mobile on foot. And what better way to be in the thick of it than to sleep at the city’s best brewery. Locally owned SLO Brew is opening five lofts above its brand-new brewpub, ranging from one to three bedrooms, each with a kitchen, dining area and fireplace. Any money you save by cooking in the kitchen will surely be offset by beers downstairs at the brewery, but hey, that’s how it goes. Set to be finished this spring, reservations for the lofts are already being accepted.
Summerwood Winery & Inn | From $300 | Book Now
A romantic B&B experience on a working vineyard. Rates include free tasting, a bottle of wine, and breakfast.
Cliffs Resort | From $179 | Book Now
Upgrade to a west-facing room overlooking Shell Beach for primetime sunsets.
Anderson Inn | Learn More
Waterfront lodging along the harbor in downtown Morro Bay with views of iconic Morro Rock.
Where to Eat
Santa Maria-Style ‘Cue
Just outside the southern boundary of San Luis Obispo County is a small town called Santa Maria. Most people pass right through it as they travel Highway 1, completely oblivious of it being home to America’s most under-appreciated barbecue scene. Whereas Memphis has ribs and Texas has brisket, Santa Maria-style centers around tri-tip — the tender, triangular muscle cut of the bottom sirloin — because its low fat content and small amount of connective tissue makes it ideal for open-flame cooking. The Santa Maria-style pit is a deep-set pit with an adjustable rack usually suspended by chains and linked to a turning wheel, which allows for adjustments in temperature; the fuel is a bed of local red oak. The style is a staple of San Luis Obispo County, and you can find it offered at restaurants throughout the region. Firestone Grill in downtown SLO is one of the best, serving it up in its trademark sandwich style: Dry-rubbed tri-tip on a buttered, toasted roll with a side of local pinquito beans.
Novo Restaurant Lounge | $$$ | Learn More
Cool off on the creekside patio and heat things back up with one of the curries.
Goshi | $ | Learn More
A local favorite for sushi in downtown San Luis Obispo.
The Galley Seafood Grill & Bar | $$ | Learn More
Fresh catch of the day served up with unobstructed views of Morro Rock in Morro Bay.
Tip from a Local“Go to the farmer’s market downtown on Thursday night. It’s the best time to try all the different barbecue vendors. There are five or six of us down there. I couldn’t’ even tell you how much meat we go through — it’s insane. Get some of the roasted corn beforehand and try the Sugar Lips booth for dessert. They make little mini donuts right in front of your face. Then stay downtown and bounce between bars. I like Frog and Peach, Mo Tav (Mother’s Tavern), Bulls, the Library, and if you like specialty drinks and cocktails, try Sidecar. Once a month on Thursdays, after the market, we have bike night, where there are hundreds of people on bikes and they circle downtown and clog everything up. There are people playing music on their bikes, and it’s pretty entertaining. The first time they see it, everyone’s like, ‘Holy shit, what’s going on?’”
– Brian Appiano, Chef and Owner of Rib Line Catering
What to Do
Golf and Wine
The key to a successful visit to SLO County is to hop around and experience all the different vibes, ecosystems, and terrains it has to offer. You can spend one day biking through the rolling hills of wine country with an overnight at a winery, for example, and the next catching the sunset from your seaside balcony above the cliffs of Shell Beach in Pismo. Spend a day at sea in the shadow of the infamous Morro Rock landmark, and the night eating the fresh-catch entrees along the harbor in Morro Bay. Cruise through Paso Robles wine county and taste as you go (Pinot Noir is the specialty varietal of the region), with a stop at Daou Winery for its incredible views — arguably the best of the Central Coast. Alternatively, the Edna Valley Wine Region is less touristy and much closer to downtown San Luis Obispo, and Stolo Family Vineyards is a good place to taste before browsing the art galleries in downtown Cambria. Don’t miss the elephant seal mating season from December to March, when hundreds lay belly up on the shores of Piedras Blancas. For seaside golfing, grab a tee time at the Avila Beach Golf Resort.
Montaña de Oro State Park | Learn More
A myriad of coastal bluff trails await for a scenic hike.
Paso Bike Tours | Learn More
Bike from winery to winery through Paso Robles Wine Country.
Red Anchor Charters | Learn More
Set sail on a sunny morning along the Morro Bay coastline.