Our research is editorially independent but we
may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Many travelers focus their California travel on SoCal and the Bay Area, but by doing so, they miss out on some amazing destinations along the state’s picturesque Central Coast. One of the best cities in this region is San Luis Obispo (SLO), a mid-sized town with an artsy, outdoorsy, and laid-back vibe. There are lots of ways to get to know this coastal community by attending local events, supporting local businesses, and even volunteering your time. Here are a few of the best things to do in San Luis Obispo next time you’re exploring the Central Coast.
Every Thursday night, SLO’s downtown area comes alive with fresh produce, food trucks, live entertainment, and activities for the whole family. The popular weekly even runs from 6-9pm pretty much every Thursday night, weather permitting, on Higuera Street between Osos and Nipomo Streets. There’s a trolley that runs on a 15-20-minute loop to bring you here, free bike valet parking is available, and car parking is available on some side streets too. Come here to experience a true local vibe, listen to music, and eat some delicious food. Pets are not allowed at the farmers’ market.
San Luis Obispo also has an indoor rock climbing gym worth checking out, regardless of whether you’re an expert climber or a total newbie. At The Pad Climbing, you’ll find three levels of gym space, 4,000 square feet of bouldering space, 38 lead and top ropes, five auto-belays, and two fitness studios that offer yoga and other classes. There are dog-friendly rigs outside, classes and youth programs offered, an outdoor slackline, dedicated kids area, and a weight room here too. Stop by between 11am and 10pm daily to get some exercise and meet some great members of the local climbing community.
If you’re overdue for a good laugh, make sure to catch a performance by Central Coast Comedy Theater while you’re in SLO. This is an improv and sketch comedy group in town that performs in the community and is working hard to open its very own theater space. For now, you can take Wednesday night improv classes held at the Tigerlily Salon and Spa and sign up for a six-week session here. Live performances take place at 7 Sisters Brewing, Top Dog in Morro Bay, and other local venues.
San Luis Obispo is also a great place to pick up the game of golf, as there are some nice golf courses here to practice your skills. The Laguna Lake Municipal Golf Course is a 10-hole course that’s open daily from 7am to 6pm. Golf lessons are available for youth and adults, and the onsite 11th Hole Grill serves breakfast and lunch. Meanwhile, the Dairy Creek Golf Course is a nine-hole, par-36 course that also has a driving range and practice greens. Here you’ll enjoy views of Hollister Peak and the El Chorro Valley while hitting a few balls.
SLO is also home to some excellent craft breweries, including Bang the Drum Brewing, BarrelHouse Brewing SLO, and Central Coast Brewing. SLO Brew and Libertine Brewing are also favorite spots here among craft beer fans. Many of these venues feature live music and welcome local performers to take the stage with stand-up comedy, guitar, and other forms of entertainment. Bang the Drum Brewery, for example, hosts open jam nights on Mondays, trivia nights on Wednesdays, and comedy nights on Thursdays. Check the local breweries’ website event pages during your stay to see what’s happening.
SLO is a bike-friendly city that’s fun to explore on two wheels. The city and surrounding region have well-maintained bike lanes, bike paths, and bike parking spaces. SLO has been recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a bike-friendly community since 2007 and reached gold level in 2015. It’s also nice to get outside the city limits and bike to nearby communities, such as Morro Bay. Top local biking routes include the Madonna Inn Bike Bath, Bill Roalman Bike Boulevard, and Railroad Bicycle Trail.
With a history that dates back to 1942, the Fremont Theater is a great place to catch a show in San Luis Obispo. It is in the downtown area of SLO and a historic movie theater with art deco charm. Here you can see everything from musical performances to rock climbing documentaries and burlesque shows. The theater has a capacity for 600 fixed seats and up to 900 people with standing room by the stage. Check the venue’s website to see what’s happening here during your visit.
Botanical gardens are always nice to walk through and enjoy some native plants, but some of them, including the one in SLO, also offer volunteer opportunities for locals and visitors. This nonprofit botanical garden welcomes volunteers to help maintain the gardens, which is a great way to get active outdoors for a good cause. Admission to visit the gardens is free, and dogs are welcome. However, the gardens are located inside El Chorro Regional Park, which does charge a vehicle admission fee on weekends and holidays from April to September.
The city of San Louis Obispo is also near some excellent beaches that are perfect for taking a casual stroll. Check out Morro Rock Beach, Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, and the coastal dunes of Oceano while you’re in the area.
Many people put SLO on their California travel bucket lists because it’s in the heart of the Central Coast’s wine country. The wineries and vineyards here rival anything you’ll find in Napa Valley and are perfect for romantic vacations. Stop by Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, Edna Valley Vineyard, Sinor-Lavallee Wines, and Talley Vineyards during your next visit to the SLO region.