Since moving to the Bay Area from Southern California nine years ago, I’ve driven past San Luis Obispo dozens of times on my way to visit friends and family in San Diego. But until recently, I’d never bothered to pull off the 101 and see what the Central Coast college town (home to Cal Poly) has to offer. Turns out, laid-back SLO, as locals call it, is a great place to visit. This trip was short and sweet–not quite 24-hours. Next time, I’ll definitely stay longer.
My daughter and I spent a night at the hip and stylish Granada Hotel on our way to Santa Barbara.Tucked away in a brick building on Morro Street that was once a brothel, the boutique hotel is ideally situated for exploring downtown SLO by foot.
After dropping off our bags, we joined the flow of people filling Higuera Street. As we wandered past trees draped with strands of twinkling lights and charming old buildings housing shops and restaurants, it didn’t take long for us to start falling for SLO. Here’s how we spent the next 20 hours:
Novo – My friend Sydnie recommended this popular restaurant featuring an eclectic Asian-influenced menu. I figured we wouldn’t have a shot of getting in without a reservation during peak dinner hour, but was pleasantly surprised when the hostess told me the wait was just a few minutes. Soon, we were seated at a table on Novo’s lovely patio, graced by trees and lanterns, overlooking San Luis Creek. Dining on mouth-watering scallops served with an edamame mash, listening to the creek burble and a chorus of frogs serenade us as dusk descended, was the perfect ending to a tiring day on the road. Capping off my meal with Novo’s Chocolate Trilogy dessert didn’t hurt, either.
Scout Coffee – The next day, I took an early morning walk and stumbled upon what might just be the most adorable coffee house on the planet. I was so mesmerized by Scout’s sunny, inviting interior, I probably wouldn’t have minded much if the coffee sucked. It didn’t. My double-latte was hot, rich and strong, just the way I like it.
Sally Loo’s Wholesome Café – For breakfast, we headed to this bustling local favorite in a residential neighborhood of the historic Railway District. The tiny eatery specializes in fresh baked goods, simple but tasty farm-to-table fare and some of the best coffee in town. Exposed beams, a corrugated tin ceiling and brick walls popping with colorful artwork give it a funky, cozy vibe that made the slightly long wait for our food easier to tolerate. When it arrived, my savory vegetable quiche was worth the wait. And my daughter relinquished my phone long enough to enjoy her Nutella waffle, too.
Bubble Gum Alley—This is one site I could have skipped. But while we were poking around the shops on Higuera, we discovered we were just steps away from the infamous alley where thousands have plastered the walls with globs of chewed gum. Yuck. Though my daughter claimed she was as grossed out by it as me, she couldn’t resist dragging me to the disgusting monument and adding her own wad to the collection.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa — We didn’t go inside the mission, but we spent some time admiring the simple beauty of its exterior and walking around the plaza. We watched families posing for pictures, college students zipping by on bikes, couples strolling hand-in-hand and little kids splashing in the bear fountain.
San Luis Creek Walkway — After, we followed the steps leading down from the plaza to the shady walkway along San Luis Creek. My 13-year-old may have been too old to play in the fountain, but I was happy to see she wasn’t too cool for frog-hunting or hopping back and forth across the creek via boulders.
Dallidet Adobe & Gardens — On our way out of town, we made a quick pit- stop at this 1850s adobe surrounded by peaceful gardens laced with brick pathways. The site is also home to the little Ramona Depot and horse-drawn carriage that once transported guests from the San Luis Obispo train station to the elegant Ramona Hotel, which burned down in 1905.