Nina at the top of a hill over looking San Luis Obispo and some peaks in the distance.
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14 BEST Things to Do in San Luis Obispo

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Let’s dive into some of the best things to do in San Luis Obispo! We LOVE this town and are convinced you will too.

Situated around halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo offers much more than a convenient rest stop. Lovingly dubbed as SLO by the residents, the town has a little bit of everything but seems to have escaped the throng of tourists that some nearby beach towns receive every summer (phew!).

The town may be minutes from the ocean, but it is also surrounded by mountains and peaks, giving you the best of both worlds, especially regarding hiking opportunities. Wineries surround it, but the town also has plenty of breweries, shops, restaurants, unique accommodations, and fun attractions.

We’ll show you…

1. Wander the Town—The First Thing to Do in San Luis Obispo

Downtown is the town’s cultural and historical hub, filled with restaurants, bars, historic sites, boutique shops, and galleries. Take a selfie in the legendary but gross bubblegum Alley, get your culture fix in the Museum of Art, or head into the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa for a guided tour.

Woman crossing a road in the center of San Luis Obispo town.
Take a wander of SLO!

Whoa, I know, it’s a lot! We’re off to a strong start, but yes, this will be your intro to SLO, so soak it all up, even if it takes you a day or two!

2. Take the San Luis Obispo Creek Trail

The beautiful San Luis Obispo Creek runs right through the town, and if you care to stretch your legs but don’t want to get back in the car, a stroll along the creek is a lovely way to spend a few hours.

Elderly man walking along a foliage-lined pathway besides a river on the San Luis Obispo Creek Trail.
Meander down the San Luis Obispo Creek Trail

The neat little urban trail is very pretty no matter the time of year and is completely paved, keeping it accessible. Grab an ice cream or coffee from one of the nearby shops, and admire how the water bubbles over the boulders and rocks as you walk along the banks of the creek.

3. Delve into History at the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum

Take a deep dive into the history of Californian railroads at the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum.

Browse the collections and displays, and even check out the operation of some historic railroad equipment. Exhibits include information on Santa Maria Valley, Southern Pacific, Amtrak, Port San Luis, and the Pacific Coast Railway, to name just a few.

Gray train cart besides San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum on a sunny day.
Don’t miss the railroad museum!

You could easily spend a few hours at the museum, checking out the freight cars, passenger rail cars, a caboose, and a 1941 locomotive from Camp Roberts.

There is also a locomotive simulator and a 1200-square-foot scale model railroad showcasing the railroads of San Luis Obispo County. Even the building is cool, as the museum is housed in a Southern Pacific Freighthouse built in 1894.

4. Take a Tour of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, while a historical landmark, is still an active church to this day, and a visit here is one of the best things to do in San Luis Obispo.

The Spanish mission was Founded in 1772 and is easily visitable due to its location Downtown.

Step inside the huge doors to explore the vast space, including the remodeled Parish Hall, or spend some time in Mission Plaza, the beautiful community park. If you visit in summer, you may catch some of the free concerts in the Plaza series.

Two people entering the simple and white building of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa framed by trees, walls and statues.
The mission is a sight to see!

If you want to learn more about the Mission and its history, you could take a free Mission San Luis Obispo tour through the building and learn even more in the onsite museum.

5. Sip on Delicious Wines

Just 10 minutes from Downtown San Luis Obispo, you will find around 27 wineries and tasting rooms (hope that’s enough for you!).

Pick up one of the wine touring maps, give someone the task of a designated driver, or book a tour, and head out to try some of the best wines in California. These wines are from grapes grown in the Edna Valley, offering ideal growing conditions.

A group cheering glasses in the background with unbranded wines in the foreground.
Head out for wine tasting!

In the SLO CAL region, there are around 250 wineries, so you’ll certainly be spoilt for choice, with many tasting rooms located downtown. Some offer tours of the facilities, some allow you to sit among the vines and enjoy a tasting flight, while some provide an exclusive tasting experience.

There are too many to list here, but some of the best include Al Lago Wines, Bella Luna Winery, and Cayucos Cellars.

6. Stay Somewhere Unique at Madonna Inn

If you want somewhere cool and quirky to stay on your trip to San Luis Obispo, check out Madonna Inn. There are 110 themed guest rooms to choose from that make the perfect base for exploring the area.

If you already have somewhere to stay, or the resort is a little out of budget, it’s still a cool spot to explore, offering restaurants, a bar, a bakery, and activities such as horseback riding.

Unique looking Madonna Inn accommodation with stone walls and a hill behind it in San Luis Obispo.
It’s so uniquely designed!

This vivid, colorful resort has become a bit of a central coast landmark, where no two rooms are the same, and you get a sensory experience thrown in as a bonus.

We ate and stocked up on all the amazing pastries and baked goods here. They were truly incredible. Even the cakes we saved for after a hike we did three days later! (I told you we stocked up… We couldn’t help ourselves.)

7. Enjoy a Brew or Two

After a day of exploring and hiking, there is no better thing to do in San Luis Obispo than to visit a brewery, especially one as special as Bang the Drum Brewery.

Funky interior and bar of Bang the Drum Brewery in San Luis Obispo.
Inside Bang the Drum brewery

This unique venue is women-owned and community-driven, and although the beer is their biggest seller, it also doubles as a pie bakery and a bit of a local music venue, so you can be assured of a good time when you visit.

Take a look at the events scheduled during your stay, as chances are there will be something going on, be it live music, salsa dancing, or a trivia night!

The beer garden at Bang the Drum Brewery in the sun in San Luis Obispo.
Enjoy the beer garden in the sun!

Other breweries are worth mentioning, such as SLO Brew Rock, Oak and Otter Brew Co., and Central Coast Brewing.

8. Take a Hike (Top Thing to Do in San Luis Obispo)

While there are tons of great hikes around San Luis Obispo, these are our top favorites here:

Terrace Hill Open Space

Length: 0.9 miles
Type of Trail:
Elevation Gain:
275 feet

The Terrace Hill Open Space Trail is perfectly summed up in the title of the hike. You’ll climb up a hill surrounded by a small open space near Downtown SLO.

Nina hiking along a trail in the Terrace Hill Open Space with a view over San Luis Obispo town and beyond.
Overlooking San Luis Obispo from Terrace Hill

The hike will take you to an unobstructed plateau, meaning 360 views of the surrounding town and landscape. Yes, it is a bit of a climb with very little shade, but it’s all worth it when you get to the top, right? (Yes!)

South Hills

Length: 0.8 miles
Type of Trail:
Out & Back
Elevation Gain:
282 feet

This short and sweet hike is in the South Hills Natural Reserve, just outside San Luis Obispo. The climb up the hill is pretty rugged and steep but a tremendous short hill hike.

View from South Hills open space on a clear and sunny day.
Enjoy exploring South Hills

And you will have views of the town almost the entire way. There is always the option to connect to one of the many other trails in the Reserve before you head back down, such as the Ridge Trail or the South Hills Trail.

Cerro Peak

Length: 3.3 miles
Type of Trail:
Out & Back
Elevation Gain:
1056 ft

Cerro Peak is another hill that sits just on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo, although it is pretty tall at 387m. The constant incline gives this hike its moderate status, although it is not too steep.

View over San Luis Obispo from Cerro Peak with a trail leading to town between trees.
The views from Cerro Peak

If you can time it to come at sunset, you won’t be disappointed, and golden hour is nearly as good for incredible city views.

Bishop Peak

Length: 3.3 miles
Type of Trail:
Out & Back
Elevation Gain:

The last hike on this list is, you guessed it, another hill! This time, you will climb up Bishop Peak, which sits northwest of the town. This is the highest of the Nine Sisters, the nine morros surrounding the town.

Tourists standing on top a giant rock at the summit if Bishop Peak.
Climb the rock at Bishop Peak

The peak sits in the center of the Bishop Peak Nature Reserve. Fantastic views, well-maintained trails, and a great workout are what you can expect from this trail.

9. Make the Most of the Food Scene

San Luis Obispo is a foodies paradise, so checking out the food scene has to make it onto your list of things to do in San Luis Obispo. Thursday’s Farmers’ Market is a testament to this, with residents calling it the best day of the week.

More than 120 farmers and food vendors, artists, musicians, and head Downtown, spreading over five blocks pedestrianized for the night.

Huge BBQs cook up a storm, filling the air with the scent of sizzling meat and veg. But that’s not all that fills the air, as the local musicians sing and busk, and children’s entertainers keep the little ones amused. 

Man working behind the counter at Proof and Gather bakery company with baked goods on display.
Check out Proof & Gather Bakery! The bread is SO good.

Grab some freshly baked bread at Proof & Gather Bakery, or go out for an Italian night at Giuseppe’s Cucina Rustica.

If you want a bit of everything, head to Luna Red for some tapas or Firestone Grill to grab a burger and watch the game!

10. Throw it Back Old School at the Sunset Drive-In Movie Theater

The town is home to one of the state’s last remaining drive-in movie theaters, offering double showings most nights of the week. Tickets are cheap and cheerful, with an onsite snack bar for all your candy and popcorn needs.

Red truck parked in front of the Sunset Drive-In sign which shows Indiana Jones playing in San Luis Obispo.
Indiana Jones on the big screen

The theater has been sharing movies with the community and visitors for over 70 years, so it is a must for things to do in San Luis Obispo. There is something special about pulling up in your car and watching a movie in the open air. Don’t forget to bring a blanket.

11. Unwind at a Local Hot Spring

Franklin Hot Spring is known to have one of the healthiest and senses mineral breakdowns compared to water tested worldwide, so you know you are getting the good stuff if you decide to dip in this no-frills pool. The spring has 101-degree waters, and fishing and boating in the nearby lake are included in the day pass.

People bathing and enjoying time in Franklin Springs pool with floats.
Mess around at Franklin Springs

There are a fair few other hot springs around San Luis Obispo, which is ideal if you want to do a bit of spring hopping. The nearby Avila Hot Springs has a slightly different vibe. In addition to the thermal soaking pool, it also has a heated swimming pool with slides and even poolside service.

Sycamore Hot Springs is even more upmarket. The resort is award-winning, with accommodation on site, each with its private hot tub and 23 tree-canopied hillside tubs dotted around it.

12. Enjoy Beach Life at Pismo Beach

Although San Luis Obispo is close to the shore, it may leave you craving those beachy vibes that only an iconic beach town like Pismo Beach can provide.

A day trip to Pismo Beach means walks along the famous pier and boardwalk, watching the surfers below try to catch a wave, heading to the Monarch Butterfly Grove to witness thousands of bright orange butterflies and hiking along the coastal paths or sitting and taking ocean views from a strategically placed bench.

Hotels, apartments and houses built on a hill glowing in the sunset light at Pismo State Beach.
View over Pismo Beach from the pier

Pismo Beach has it all when it comes to beach life, with many restaurants and bars, plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, plus the very alluring concept of choosing one of the many beautiful beaches and sitting and doing nothing for the day.

This is going to be one of the closest San Luis Obispo beaches, just under 20 minutes away!

READ MORE: 16 BEST Things To Do in Pismo Beach

13. Gaze in Awe at Morro Rock at Morro Bay

Right off Highway 1, Morro Bay is a perfect day trip from San Luis Obispo. The dramatic backdrop of Morro Rock forms the town’s centerpiece.

It has some great beaches and epic hiking trails, such as the climb up Black Hill or a boardwalk along the estuary or through the Elfin Forest.

Morro Rock on a sunny day at Morro Rock Strand State Beach in California.
The huge Morro Rock!

There is a monarch butterfly grove, chances to see Peregrine falcons and fluffy otters from a kayak, and so much more. It may be known for the vast volcanic rock in its center, but Morro Bay is so much more.

14. Day Trip to Solvang

How about heading to Europe for the day? I know that sounds bizarre, but it’s actually possible. Just one hour south of San Luis Obispo is a cute little town named Solvang.

Here, you’ll be transported across the Atlantic and to Denmark! It’s a Danish-inspired town complete with European architecture, museums, and even European baked goods, shops, and wines.

Read our guide to the things to do in Solvang before heading out!

👉 Accommodation in San Luis Obispo

We hope this helped you choose all the things to do in San Luis Obispo!

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  1. Yeah SLO is very cool 🙂 Franklin Hot Springs is decent and close to town. It can get a bit busy because of that but it’s still a cool spot.

  2. Wow, reading through this article really made me realize how much there is to explore right here in San Luis Obispo! I’ve always loved wandering around downtown, but I had no idea about all the hiking trails and historical sites like the railroad museum. And don’t even get me started on the food scene! I’m definitely going to check out Proof & Gather Bakery next time I’m downtown. But I’m curious, has anyone here been to the Franklin Hot Spring? It sounds like the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring! 🌄🍞🛀