San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, known as SLO to locals, is rightly considered by its inhabitants as the gem of the Central Coast. While locals know that the town is one of the most charming attractions in California, the rest of the nation only recently found out that San Luis Obispo California is the happiest place in the world, thanks to a much-publicized Oprah episode. Once you visit this lovely town, it’s not hard to see why. With one of the largest farmers' markets in the area, miles of hiking and biking trails, a vibrant wine culture, a revitalized downtown, and close proximity to some great sandy beaches, San Luis Obispo is as close as you can get to paradise.

Spend the afternoon in San Luis Obispo strolling through the quaint downtown area, centered on Higuera Street, and browse the coffee shops, restaurants, and boutiques. The area has some great-looking historic brick buildings and a laid-back atmosphere. Be sure to check out the historic Old Mission in the heart of the downtown area, where the old Spanish-style church is still in operation. Supposedly, the iconic California Mission tile was invented in San Luis Obispo California, as the Old Mission's roof kept catching fire, leading the early fathers to create the clay tiles as a better roofing material. As you walk through the downtown streets, don't miss Bubblegum Alley, a narrow alley that is plastered from floor to roof with old bits of bubble gum that passers-by have stuck there. You may contribute to this tacky collection if you wish!

Thursday night is farmers market night in San Luis Obispo, and you'll quickly see why this is one of the most popular things to do in the county. The smoky smell of Santa Maria-style barbecued tri-tip steak greets your nose, and you can eat your fill of tri-tip sandwiches, burgers, ribs, and other local specialties. Local farms bring out their best produce, and gourmet artisans offer free samples of almonds, local honey, olive oil, and other goodies. Meanwhile, local bands and street entertainers regale you with their talents. For a great local restaurant, check out Firestone on Higuera Street—it’s not the tire company, but rather the name of a local family that has become a bastion of the Central Coast. Their downtown restaurant is usually packed with college students from nearby California Polytechnic State University (otherwise known as Cal Poly), but if you manage to grab a seat, their tri-tip sandwiches, pulled-pork sandwiches, famous barbecue sauce, and burgers are a treat.

Surrounding San Luis Obispo California are several tall hills combed with trails, and a moderate hike up Bishop's Peak is a must for amazing views of the town and the surrounding countryside. On your way back into town you may want to stop off at the Madonna Inn, a bubble gum-pink monstrosity of a hotel that is famous for its kitschy décor and has become an integral part of the SLO landscape.

If you're itching for a glimpse of the ocean, a fifteen-minute drive from SLO takes you to Avila Beach, a small seaside town where you can enjoy the fine sand and sun. The pier at Port San Luis right beside Avila is one of the few piers you can drive your car onto, and is home to a noisy colony of sea lions. About twenty minutes south of SLO you get to the popular Pismo Beach, where you can surf, drive your vehicle out onto the beach and have a bonfire in the sand. From SLO you can also drive out to Montana de Oro State Park, where a winding road through eucalyptus groves takes you to a pebbly beach and some beautiful trails on top of the bluffs overlooking the ocean. Further north, try kayaking around the huge round rock sticking out of the ocean at Morro Bay.

At the end of the day, rest up at one of the quaint San Luis Obispo hotels and enjoy a bottle of local wine from San Luis Obispo County, or the nearby wine region of Paso Robles, as you prepare for another adventurous day ahead.

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