Think farmers markets, wine tastings and more in this sleepy oceanside city
Words by LEILA NAJAFI
San Luis Obispo often rivals destinations like Big Sur, Santa Barbara or Napa for weekend getaways in California, but recent developments in the hospitality and food scene have made this Central Coast region more appealing to Californians looking for a laid-back getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. Its prime location, midway between Los Angeles and the San Francisco area, makes it an ideal road trip escape. And it’s no surprise too, that San Luis Obispo, often dubbed “SLO-Cal” by locals, is known for “the slow life” and relaxed pace that tends to draw city dwellers.
If you’re heading north, kick off your trip at The Village in Arroyo Grande, a quaint little town with historic buildings and charming retail shops perfect for an afternoon stroll. Look for Centennial Park, where you can walk along California’s only swinging bridge, built in 1875. The family-friendly Gopher Glen Apple Farm features orchards with trees over 100 years old where visitors can pick their own fruit off the vine or buy what’s in season — don’t leave without treating yourself to one of their famous homemade apple pies made from surplus apples. Peruse the event calendar, where you’ll come across occasional cider tastings and soap-making classes, or just have fun feeding the farm animals.
Head to Ember, a neighborhood hot spot with rustic interiors and dreamy string lights that offers handcrafted Italian-inspired food and wood-fired pizzas with a beer and wine list that pays homage to the Central Coast.
For accommodations, the newly opened Hotel Cerro is one of the few luxury properties to open in downtown San Luis Obispo. The hotel pays tribute to the city’s heritage with architectural details like the vintage brick facade preserved from the former 1920s Smith building, one of the few historic buildings remaining in San Luis Obispo. The 65-room boutique hotel also weaves in contemporary elements throughout the lobby and guest rooms, which boast a mostly neutral color palette and natural materials like wood and stone.
Hotel San Luis Obispo, another newcomer in the heart of downtown, is a bright and airy upscale hotel, a nod to California beach culture, with a full-service spa, rooftop terrace and 78 spacious guest rooms furnished with local artwork and vibrant colored accent pieces.
Don’t miss the Thursday farmers market in downtown San Luis Obispo which brings together local restaurants and farmers alike to highlight the abundance of fresh produce from the area (make sure to have cash on hand). Follow the smoke from the grill (and your nose) to Mo’s Smokehouse BBQ booth, famous for their tri-tip and stick around as the market slowly turns into a lively street affair as the sun goes down.
For a quick oceanside stop, Morro Bay is a small fishing village with beautiful, mild weather year-round and no big-box stores in sight. Family-run Frankie & Lola’s, named after a famous Jimmy Buffett song, is a popular breakfast joint with a robust menu featuring a variety of delicious sweet and savory dishes, including Lola’s famous French toast, the Green Day burrito, and corned beef hash. Look closely at the water and you might spot a cluster of sea otters hanging out in what’s known as “the nursery.”
Kick off your trip at The Village in Arroyo Grande, a quaint little town with historic buildings and charming retail shops
You’d be remiss to visit Morro Bay without throwing back a few of their famed oysters. Try Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant on the Embarcadero, where you’ll enjoy a nice view of Morro Rock and a taste of barbecued Morro Bay oysters.
A 40-minute drive north and further inland will lead you to Paso Robles, the underrated wine region that’s gotten recent buzz because of the awe-inspiring Field of Light art installation sprawling across 15 acres of rolling hills. The region is home to over 200 wineries and has often been touted as “the next Napa.” Niner Wine Estates, a 100-percent solar-powered and LEED-certified winery, is best known for its estate-grown cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay and has a gorgeous tasting room for visitors.
The restaurant at Niner celebrates seasonal ingredients grown locally and in the Chef’s Garden (at the winery) for a true farm-to-table experience. DAOU Winery, another notable Paso Robles winery, is the highest-elevated vineyard in the Central Coast, set on a hilltop at 2,200 feet offering magnificent panoramic views of the region and a beautiful Tuscan-style tasting room.
Explore the industrial park, aptly named Tin City, where you’ll find breweries; small-batch wine producers; the Etto pasta shop, where you can admire chefs preparing layers of fresh pasta; and an ice cream shop called Negranti Creamery that prides itself on crafting sheep’s milk ice cream. The intimate 12-seat Tin City restaurant known as Six Test Kitchen is a unique multiple-course tasting experience led by chef Ricky Odbert that will take your palate on an adventure and is well worth the price tag.
There’s no doubt, a weekend in San Luis Obispo is a respite from the city grind. If you’re looking for a less crowded coastal region that celebrates California’s beautiful outdoors, bountiful produce and family-owned wineries, then San Luis Obispo is where you’ll find weekend bliss.
Feature image: HOTEL SAN LUIS OBISPO. Photo by Tanveer Badal.
Feb. 7, 2020
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