Monday, March 10, 2014

A Local's Guide to Visiting San Luis Obispo

Before we fly to Turkey, Rob and I are doing a quick tour of visiting our parents and squeezing in some backcounty skiing. To start, we're in San Luis Obispo this week - my hometown!  SLO (pronounced "slow" - and, PS: "Louis" is never pronounced "Louie" by locals) has changed a lot since my family first moved here in the late 80's.  At its heart, its still the same Gidget-style small town that I know and love. Here are my favorite things in SLO:
To Do: 
1. Thursday Farmer's Market. This farmer's market takes over downtown with produce stands, live music, BBQ pits and other tasty food to sample. Legend has it that the market was originally started as a way to stop drag racing around downtown. Gidget, right? Grab a couple dry-rubbed beef ribs ("two bones, up!") and people-watch while sitting on the curb.
2. Sunset Drive-In. You could also grab those ribs and take them to the still-quite-popular drive-in movie theater across town. You used to be able to park in the graveyard behind the theater, next to the haunted pyramid mausoleum, to illicitly watch films.
3. Sycamore Hot Springs. Originally, little more than a few wood tubs in the oak trees, but has now turned into a lovely hotel and spa. You can rent wood tubs full of hot sulfur spring water by the hour.
4. Mission & creek. Downtown centers around the old Spanish Mission; one of the few California Missions that is both still an active church and open to the public for free. The gardens in the back courtyard are especially lovely. There are often concerts in the mission and, in the summer, live concerts are held in the plaza outside on Friday afternoons complete with local wine and beer vendors. Next to the mission, the downtown creek is a fun place for kids to dip their toes.
5. Bishop's Peak. San Luis Obispo is packed with amazing hiking trails. Bishop's Peak is a great one to start with. The walk includes grassy ranch pasture, shady oak forrest and granite for rock-climbers. From the top, you get a panoramic view of town and all the way out to the ocean on a clear day.
6. Beach bonfire. Olde Port is our favorite of the local beaches, next door to the more busy Avila. There are eight fire rings on the beach that are first-come, first-serve. Grab a few old pallets to burn, some marshmallows and sit around the beach at night chatting with friends.
7. Madonna Inn. Go to see the kitschy pink, gold and stone decor. Stay for a slice of the delicious cake.

To Eat:
1. Firestone Grill is a great introduction to tri-tip and the local BBQ culture. Their super-salty, seasoned fries are always popular.
2. Big Sky typifies San Luis' unique blend of old-timey ranch culture with new-agey hippiedom. This restaurant features southwestern and mediterranean-influenced food and really good beignets.
3. Sandwiches. You can always count on a college town to provide great sandwiches. I like Gus's Grocery the best. High Street Deli is good but slow and Ben Franklin's has classic subs.
4. Firestone Brewery. Not related to the BBQ joint, this local beer is delicious.
5. Goshi. This tucked away sushi restaurant is fresh and delicious. The tataki here is amazing.
6. Linnea's Cafe. I have spent SO many hours at this little coffee shop. The garden in the back is a pretty space to enjoy a coffee. Board games are provided, as well as live music, poetry readings and rotating art displays.

To Explore Nearby:
1. Morro Bay. Nearly always fogged-in, this is a popular refuge for visitors from the hot central valley in the summer. A great place to eat seafood, watch otters/surfers in the bay and browse at the Shell Shop. If you're feeling adventurous, rent kayaks and paddle across to the sandspit where you can wander and pretend to be shipwrecked. We love eating at the Bayside Cafe. Away from the coast, Taco Temple is a local favorite.
2. Cambria and Hearst Castle. Drive north from Morro Bay and spend an afternoon exploring the coast beneath Big Sur. Get lobster bisque at Robins, ollalieberry pie at Linn's. Hearst Castle is well worth the trip. Stop to see the elephant seals and walk on the beach on your way back.
3. Santa Maria. This town lacks the style of it's Santa Barbara and SLO neighbors but has a few great things to see. The annual Santa Maria rodeo is a fun spectacle. At the local junior college, PCPA puts on world-class musicals and plays in a small theater. Santa Maria is known for pit BBQ, but we like eating at the throw-back Santa Maria Inn.
4. Wine tasting. Paso Robles, north of SLO, has become quite the trendy wine scene, but I prefer the pretty rolling valley between San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande. Pack a picnic and stop at Edna Valley and Sausalito Canyon.

Did I skip your favorite thing in San Luis Obispo? Let me know!

1 comment:

Sara said...

Oh, I think you covered some of the best places. I love sharing tapas with friends on Novo's deck overlooking the creek and on our last visit we hit up Kreuzberg, a coffee shop downtown. We went on a weekend night and saw a great live band, from Lompoc of all places. SLO Brewing Company (I think that's what it's called now) also sometimes has excellent live music. We always try to make it out to Noi's Thai Takeout in Los Osos. And my personal favorite Mexican food in town is Taco De Mexico. Also, Ruddell's Smokehouse in Cayucos is funky but delish.