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Panoramic view of San Luis Obispo, California
Mark | Adobe Stock

SmarterStay: Spend a Weekend in San Luis Obispo, California

SmarterTravel

There’s more to California than Los Angeles and San Francisco. For a laid back trip featuring all the Cali charm without the city traffic, here is how to spend a weekend in San Luis Obispo (SLO), California. 

Editor’s Note: The author was hosted by Visit SLO.

Some of the links featured in this story are affiliate links, and SmarterTravel may collect a commission (at no cost to you) if you shop through them.

Table of Contents

Where to Stay
What to Do
What to Eat & Drink
Why Stay in San Luis Obispo?
Your Weekend Itinerary for San Luis Obispo, California

Where to Stay

Hotel Cerro

Exterior shot of Hotel Cerro in San Luis Obispo, California
Carol McPherson

Opened in 2020, Hotel Cerro is a 65-room boutique hotel near downtown San Luis Obispo. This property offers standard rooms with options for both garden and city views. If you want a true luxury experience, spring for a Garden Suite—each suite opens up onto a private patio lush with west coast vegetation and features a private gate into the hotel’s edible garden, where guests are welcome to snack on whatever is in season.

With hallways decked out in art by local artists, a first-rate restaurant with patio dining, a rooftop bar and pool, a fitness center, and in-house spa, you could spend a weekend just relaxing on the property itself. 

Hotel SLO

Rooftop pool at sunset at Hotel Slo in San Luis Obispo, California
Hotel Slo

Hotel Slo is another boutique option in the city. Opened in 2019, the property features 78 guest rooms, two restaurants, and four bars. It offers a mix of rooms, suites, and studios, with each style featuring a balcony or terrace. Just a five minute walk from Hotel Cerro, Hotel Slo shares its prime central location. 

Other amenities include a fully-equipped fitness center, a 50-foot swimming pool, and concierge services for guests. Hotel Slo also offers treatments at its in-house spa, where guests can choose from a selection of services like the CannaBliss massage with CBD-infused oils or a full body scrub. Keep up with their offers page for deals on your next stay, including a possible third night free.

Find a Hotel in San Luis Obispo, California

With around 40 properties within city limits, there are endless accommodations that can act as homebase while exploring the city. Check out SmarterTravel Hotels to find your perfect weekend getaway. 

What to Do

The Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market

Thursday Farmers' Market at sunset in San Luis Obispo, California
Downtown SLO

The locals say that in SLO, the weekend starts on Thursday, and for good reason. The Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market, affectionately known as Farmers’, is a massive street fair where artisans, restaurants, and–of course–local farmers come to sell their stock. Starting out small in the 1980s, the market has grown to attract locals and tourists alike. At peak capacity, upwards of 10,000 people pass through Higuera Street on Thursday nights to sample what the fair has to offer. From handcrafted jewelry made from coastal seaglass to live music to the famous Santa Maria-style tri-tip barbeque, the market has everything you need to start your trip in local style.

San Luis Obispo county offers different farmers’ markets every day of the week, with many in the city itself, so you won’t miss out if you’re not here on a Thursday. Visit the Saturday morning market on Madonna Road for a calmer vibe and more focus on local produce.

Art After Dark

If you’re an art lover, plan your trip around the first Friday of every month, where galleries and businesses in the city open their doors after hours to display the work of regional artists. This self-guided art walk is free to the public. You can even visit the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art free of charge during the event.

Wine Tasting

Gardens and grapevines at Wolff Vineyards in San Luis Obispo, California
Carol McPherson

Move over Napa, the newly minted SLO AVA (San Luis Obispo American Viticultural Area) is rapidly becoming a wine country favorite. Schedule a tasting at Wolff Vineyards to try the old vine Chardonnay, one of many vintages produced on their 125 acres of sustainably managed land, or sample a Pinot Noir from Tolosa Winery, a cattle-ranch-turned-vineyard in the Edna Valley. If you’re looking for a guided experience—and for someone to provide you with a delicious lunch—try Breakaway Tours, a bus tour company that focuses on wine education.

Hit the Spa

Sloco Spa is a certified B Corp—one of the first and only in its industry—putting environmentalism, employee wellness, and community involvement at the forefront of its business plan. Sloco is sustainable down to its physical building, which features renewable and hypoallergenic cork flooring, zero V.O.C. paint, and ENERGY STAR certified lighting fixtures. Customers who live locally frequent the spa on a membership basis, but travelers are welcome to book treatments like cryotherapy, a trip to the infrared sauna, normatec compression, or dry salt therapy on a one-off basis. 

Hike and Bike

View of San Luis Obispo, California from the top of Terrace Hill Open Space

There are over 7,000 acres of protected open space in San Luis Obispo county. More than 3,000 of these acres, containing over 52 miles of hiking and biking trails, are within the city limits. Spend a day hiking up Bishop Peak or an afternoon walking the comparatively easy jaunt up Terrace Hill. San Luis Obispo is an extremely dog-friendly city, and some trailheads even provide free leashes and pet waste disposal areas to encourage a fun and respectful hike with your furry friend. Each trailhead also comes equipped with bike racks to encourage people to skip the drive and bike or walk to the trails instead.

Where to Eat & Drink

Breakfast & Brunch

Dozens of Coffee Shops

Hand holding a cup of coffee with the Scout Coffee logo in front of a sunny street
Carol McPherson

There is no shortage of good coffee in SLO. Grab an Americano and a pastry at Scout Coffee (snag a honey cinnamon scone before they run out—you won’t regret it). Just down the street you can find Kruezberg, a cafe and evening cocktail spot inspired by the coffee shop culture in Berlin. A little further and you’ll reach Skipper’s Brew Coffee House, a queer-owned business with locations in SLO and nearby Morro Bay. There’s also Linnaea’s Cafe, Lucy’s Coffee Company, Kin Coffee bar—the list goes on.  Visit the city’s website for more tasty options. 

Mint + Craft

Exterior of Mint + Craft (left) and breakfast sandwich and coffee (right)
Carol McPherson

In addition to a great meal, Mint + Craft offers a variety of handcrafted products for purchase in their mercantile, conveniently located in the restaurant itself.

Big Sky Café

Exterior of Big Sky Café in San Luis Obispo, California (left) and a meal from Big Sky Café (right)
Big Sky Café & Carol McPherson

A pioneer in the SLO farm-to-table movement, this community institution is a can’t miss brunch spot. Treat yourself to a sampler tray of the New Orleans beignets to round out your mid-morning meal. 

Lunch

Seeds

Street view of SEEDS and image of smoothie bowl and glass of water with SEEDS logo on it
Carol McPherson

Nothing says ‘California vacation’ like an artisanal smoothie bowl. SEEDS offers a selection of healthy toasts, flatbreads, bowls, and smoothies to power you up for the rest of the afternoon.

Dinner

Luna Red & Novo

Exterior view of Luna Red in San Luis Obispo, California and two shots of plates (one dinner and one dessert) off the menu
Carol McPherson

A local favorite, Luna Red serves a wide variety of tapas, entrées, and cocktails on a spacious and inviting outdoor patio near centrally-located Mission Plaza. This restaurant, along with its sister property Novo, works with a liaison specifically hired to coordinate with chefs and source the freshest possible produce from regional farmers’ markets. If you choose to dine at either of these establishments, there’s a good chance your salad greens or the veggies in your paella were picked fresh just a day before.

Brasserie SLO

Exterior of Brasserie SLO (left) and pizza and pasta off the menu (right)
Carol McPherson

Brasserie SLO is the flagship restaurant at Hotel Cerro. Inspired by casual french dining, its menu offers a variety of different cuisines, from burgers to beef bourguignon. Dine indoors or outside on the hotel’s Mission Fig Patio. See if you can spot produce from the hotel’s edible garden making its way onto your plate.

Drinks

Antigua Brewing Company

Vats and brewing equipment at Antiguq Brewing in San Luis Obispo, California (left) and close up of a glass of beer from Antigua Brewing (right)
Carol McPherson

The only brewing company on the Central Coast that grows their own hops, Antigua Brewing company is a beer lover’s dream. Enjoy an IPA to some live music by the open air storefront or sip on a porter further indoors, where you can see the metal vats hard at work behind a glass wall brewing the next batch.

Rooftop Bars at Hotel Cerro and Hotel Slo

People enjoying drinks on Hotel Cerro's rooftop pool and bar in San Luis Obispo, California
Hotel Cerro

The Rooftop Poolside at Hotel Cerro is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 5:00pm to 8:00pm, and Sunday, 12:00pm to 7:00pm. It’s a great place to take a dip and follow it up with a cocktail, all while taking in amazing views of the city.  The High Bar at Hotel Slo is open daily starting at 2:00pm. Play a round of bocce ball with the mountains as your backdrop, loser buys the blue cheese and brussels sprout pizza.

Why Stay in San Luis Obispo?

Building upon the usual Central Coast charm offered by the area, San Luis Obispo is dedicated to sustainability both in its daily operations and its tourism. Find out how your hotel stay directly helps plant trees in the local area or spot the goat herd grazing in spots around the city as part of their wildfire and ecological management plan. You’ll find no shortage of infrastructure for bicyclists (unsurprising from PeopleForBike’s 2020 top city for bicyclists in the US) or people willing to chat with you about what it’s like living in a city that’s going green. These efforts all move the needle toward SLO’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2035.

Your Weekend Itinerary for San Luis Obispo, California

Click here to download a copy of this itinerary and take it with you!

Expert tip: Arrive a day early to enjoy the year-round Farmers’ Market (Thursdays, 6:00pm to 9:00pm).

Friday

  • Arrive at San Luis Obispo Regional Airport (SBP)
  • Check into Hotel Cerro
  • Light Lunch at SEEDS
  • Local trail hike
  • Drinks at Antigua Brewing
  • Dinner at Brasserie SLO

Saturday

  • Breakfast at Big Sky Café
  • Wine tasting with Breakaway Tours (lunch included)
  • Treatments at SLOCO Spa
  • Enjoy the hotel rooftop pool and bar
  • Dinner at Luna Red

Sunday

  • Brunch at Mint + Craft
  • Explore downtown SLO and historical areas
  • Check out of Hotel Cerro (by 11am)
  • Coffee and pastries for the road at Scout Coffee
  • Depart from San Luis Obispo Regional Airport (SBP) mid-late afternoon

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