San Luis Obispo has an abundance of activities, but these should be your first 10.
Nestled in a Tuscan-esque landscape, planted halfway between two of America’s most prolific cities, lounging only 10 miles from the beach — San Luis Obispo hits the geographic nail on the head. In the four (or more) years you spend here, you’d have to do some serious strategic planning to cover everything there is to see around these parts. That’s why it’s never too early to start. To help you out, we’ve compiled a quick 10-item to-do list comprising some of the best San Luis Obispo has to offer.
Montana de Oro
The 25-minute drive to the cliffs of Montana de Oro already make for a trip well worth the ride. Los Osos Valley Road shoots straight between two chains of hills, through the valley floor. It’s perfect for a late-afternoon cruise with the windows down in the passenger seat of your friend’s car. A disposable camera is recommended. After a few miles winding through a large Eucalyptus grove, the path suddenly unfolds a magnificent view over the Pacific Ocean. There are also plenty of walking paths along and down in the cliffs, which feature rock formations that folded and collapsed into the ocean over the eons.
Between Broad and Garden Streets on Higuera Street in Downtown San Luis Obispo, there’s an alley with a major hygienic issue. Fortunately, the hygienic issue is really cool-looking. Bubblegum Alley is pretty self-explanatory — it’s an alley, the walls are covered with bubblegum. Is it a profound art installation? Probably not. Is it worth stopping to look at momentarily for an Instagram on the way to Kreuzberg? You bet.
Just a few miles down the 101 is Avila Beach, the resident adorable beach-pier-boardwalk triple threat. Considerably smaller than nearby Pismo Beach, Avila Beach has a more personal feel to it. Everything fits together much more neatly than other nearby beachfronts. Along the walk there are restaurants with outdoor seating that evoke a wine country culture that’s undoubtedly Central Californian. Depending on the day of the week, you’ll catch locals walking their dogs on the beach or kids from your favorite polytechnic state university drinking beer and playing Smash Ball.
Not everyone is on the nude beach train; for those of you who are — that’s an option around here. Near Avila Beach is Cave Landing Road, a dirt road that winds up and around a ridge. Don’t jump out of your skivvies just yet. The dirt parking lot provides access to a series of winding paths that are all worth checking out. Only one leads down to Pirate’s Cove, where you can feel free to remove whatever, or don’t. Pirate’s Cove is welcoming to all, including those who prefer to stay clothed. The beach has a unique geographic personality; it stretches around the foot of a large cliff. At some points the beach only carries a width of a dozen yards. This is perfect for wind coverage, and the few boats that almost always lazily float before the beach make a nice sight.
At the foot of Cerro Vista housing, there is a gate with a mountain lion warning on it. Ten minutes down the path beyond the gate lies one of the most unique (and brag-worthy) aspects of Cal Poly: Architecture Graveyard. For decades, installations, created by architecture students as academic projects, have populated the landscape. Each installation is completely unique, some with features that make them more abodes than anything else. Almost all are in a state of decay, which brings an additional layer of personality to the deserted martianscape.
This hike, which flanks the land that comprises Architecture Graveyard, will kick your ass. It also features one of the finest views in the entire county. The march leads hikers up and through ridgelines and hills that build atop each other. Perhaps the greatest part of this hike is how isolated it feels. There are almost no moments along the way when anything manmade can be seen, except the occasional domesticated animal. With that comes a sort of timelessness. At the top of the final, very steep ridge is the rope swing which hangs from a lone tree. One side brings a view that arcs into town, the other side a turquoise mountainside when the sun hits just right.
Santa Rosa Skate Park
This year, San Luis Obispo completed a skate park in Santa Rosa Park, thanks to public funds. While public works projects usually don’t evoke images of teenage anarchy and punk party rebelliousness, it’s pretty freakin’ sweet. Be sure to bring more than just your longboard to school.
The essential, primary, center-of-it-all, bring-your-friends-who’re-here-for-the-weekend hike. Bishop Peak is located in the center of San Luis Obispo and offers a comprehensive view of the entire area. Depending on your leg joints, this hike usually takes a little more than an hour. It’s accessible, and never too overwhelming — the perfect middle of the road. If you’re feeling more ambitious than this Mustang News writer ever will, bring a sleeping bag and go camping upon the massive rock which encompasses the “peak” part of “Bishop Peak.” Before the sun rises, the peak stands higher than the cloud line, providing a surreal and completely unique view above the clouds.
With the exception of Elvis’ Graceland, this might be the cheesiest place on Earth, so take pride in the fact that it’s here. Madonna Inn is exactly the way it was 40 years ago, which is the point. Every room has its own theme, which is so gimmicky you can’t not love it. The main dining room is campier than an ’80s horror movie. The only thing that isn’t fake about Madonna Inn is their cake, which is delicious enough to completely restore the equilibrium.
Morro Bay features a series of waterfront attractions from restaurants to canoeing, all wrapped around a giant rock that looks like a deflated dodgeball the gods accidentally sent hurling towards the earth. Rent a row boat to tour the bay and dock at the sandbar adjacent to the rock, which offers a closeup on the ecosystem unique to San Luis Obispo County.
Editor’s note: It is against the San Luis Obispo municipal code to enter any city open space from one hour after dusk until one hour before dawn.