San Luis Obispo contains a wide variety of activities for students escaping campus life. The list of possibilities is in no way short, but if all the eventful places are mentioned, the mystery of finding memorable places on your own is gone. So here is a rough guide of places to check out while in the heart of the Central Coast.
One of the most important social activities to attend is Farmers’ Market. Every Thursday night from 6 to 9 p.m., the city closes the downtown portion of Higuera Street and vendors from all over the county bring their fresh produce and goods for the locals to consume. Restaurants drag out their barbecue pits and make mouth-watering tri-tip sandwiches, not to mention corn on the cob, kettle corn, burritos, and roasted chicken.
Farmers’ Market is geared toward all age groups, with street performers entertaining the kids, bands playing for the teenagers and twenty-somethings, along with numerous other special events.
Higuera Street is also packed full of shops, ranging from local boutiques like Lucky Lulu’s and Therapy to national staples such as Gap and Express. But for college kids who can barely afford to pay the rent, window-shopping is always an alternative. And when you’ve worked up an appetite after perusing the merchandise, Higuera Street and the surrounding blocks are home to restaurants of all different flavors and prices.
While downtown during the evening, students frequently sell out Downtown Brewing Co. with all types of bands. This year’s lineup has included the likes of Pinback, Afroman, Slightly Stoopid and a number of local favorites as well. If a big name is playing in town, it’s not uncommon to see a long line stretching down the street, so get there early!
Not far from Downtown Brew is Bubble Gum Alley. Although the alley itself is far from sanitary, it is a San Luis Obispo staple and therefore a necessary experience. Stop by the alley at least once and leave your mark if you dare. (Just don’t do it inebriated; being tipsy in Bubble Gum Alley might not be the best idea.)
On the other side of the alley, you might see a neon-greenish hue illuminating the street. This would be the home of the popular English bar Frog & Peach Pub. Inside the lights are dim, and people lean out the windows cheering and toasting their buddies in good English fashion.
One of the most historic places to see is Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Founded in 1772, this building is an important part of California’s history. It is nestled in the middle of downtown, with beautiful gardens you can walk through and benches to just listen to the church bells. Mission Plaza hosts several events throughout the year as well, including a local business fair during Cal Poly’s Week of Welcome and celebrations for Earth Day and Children’s Day in the Plaza.
Another historic is the Fremont Theatre. Built in 1942, it is a classic structure from the Art Deco period. The ceiling holds ultraviolet bulbs, which create a black light effect on the patterned carpet that is woven with fluorescent thread. When it first opened it was called the “Theatre of Tomorrow.”
If you’re looking for a lodging experience, one hotel in particular will accommodate you with a room of tomorrow, yesterday or nearly any theme possible. The place to go is the Madonna Inn. Open since the late ’70s, each of the 109 rooms is decorated in a different style. From safaris, buffalos, vintage cars, caves and Irish hills, this hotel is unique to say the least.
On a four-mile trek roundtrip, you can stand at the top of the world if you hike up Bishop Peak. This is the highest peak in San Luis Obispo, named by the padres from the mission because of the three points easily seen from a distance. John Muir, a famous explorer and preservationist, noted Bishop Peak in one of his travel logs while coming down the Cuesta Grade.
If you’re over 21 and like wine, there are dozens of places to taste the local fruit. Maps are available at tourist information centers and at the wineries themselves. Talking with the baristas is usually the best way to get recommendations of other wineries or tips on good wines to try.
These are just a few of the stops you should make during your time in the Central Coast. And just one more perk about the city is that there are always friendly people who are willing to help provide directions and new places to check out. Happy exploring!