We always enjoy sharing a local’s perspective on California getaways. As seasoned travelers well know, a local’s insight is always the best. This one, written by our Guest Guru and longtime San Luis Obispo resident Kathleen Forster, is sure to inspire a visit to this Central Coast gem.
By Guest Guru Kathleen Forster
San Luis Obispo is the “Happiest City in America” according to author Dan Buettner who has scientifically proven and published these happy findings in his book titled, Thrive – Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way which was published by National Geographic in 2010. While I can’t speak to the scientific values of happiness of SLO (as the locals call it) I can confidently say that as a 25-year resident of this beautiful city, it’s really hard to beat.
There are many things I love about living here but for me the most important are the size of the town, almost perfect weather and proximity to beaches, wineries and mountains. These are just a small part of what makes SLO so special. When friends and family visit me these are the places I like to go to, restaurants I love and things I like to do. From a local’s perspective, here are my 3 perfect days in San Luis Obispo.
Thursday Night Farmers’ Market
San Luis Obispo is home to one of the oldest and largest Farmers’ Markets in the US. It all began in the early 1980’s when the city blocked off Higuera Street to prevent kids from cruising in cars on Thursday evenings.
Not knowing what to do with the empty streets, it took a local resident returning from a trip to Italy with the idea of starting a Farmers’ Market, like they had enjoyed there. Ours officially began in 1983 and takes place every Thursday night of the year (except Thanksgiving Day or if it rains). In the six blocks of downtown closed off to traffic, you can enjoy all kinds of fantastic food but we are best known for our BBQ including ribs, pulled pork and tri-tip.
Each local has their favorite vendor and heated arguments can arise when one is chosen above another. Freshly picked vegetables, fruit and flowers are sold by numerous local farmers. Specialty booths and live entertainment change weekly but there is always something for everyone.
Friday: History Buffs Rejoice!
Begin your day with breakfast at Budget Café, where the locals eat. This place has the fluffiest buttermilk pancakes anywhere with two kinds of syrup – maple and boysenberry. They offer a classic menu filled with traditional comfort foods including biscuits and gravy and hash browns cooked to a crisp – just ask for them to be well done, the way I like ‘em. They are only open for breakfast and lunch and close at 2 p leia o relatório completo.m. everyday.
After a hearty breakfast, tour the historic Old Mission Church. In 1772, Father Junipero Serra founded Mission San Luis Obispo De Tolosa near the banks of the San Luis Obispo Creek. It has been a Catholic Church and the center of town ever since.
Check out the museum and gift shop, both open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (5 p.m. in the summer), and be sure to take a peek inside the church to appreciate many of the original architectural details of the mission.
On a perfect SLO weather day (we’re blessed with many!) the patio at Novo overlooking the creek is the perfect spot for a relaxing lunch. Novo is known for their “small plates” which makes sharing a few with friends while enjoying a great bottle of wine easy and fun. Over the years, I’ve had all of the small plates and would recommend any of them. The burgers are also especially good. You will never feel rushed here and could easily sit for hours listening to the soothing sounds of the creek and enjoying great food in a gorgeous setting.
You’ll want to make reservations at Buena Tavola and enjoy yet another idyllic patio setting if weather permits. Then catch a flick next door at the Fremont Theatre which opened in 1942. It is among one of the last Streamline Moderne (Art Deco) theaters built by architect S. Charles Lee and has served as both a movie and live theater venue.
Another option after dinner, if you happen to visit on the first Friday of any month (except December), is Art After Dark. Visit over 20 galleries and non-traditional art venues that spotlight the best of established and emerging local artists. It officially runs from 6 to 9 p.m.
Saturday: Head for the Hills
Start the day by hiking Madonna Mountain, as the locals call it. Its official name is Cerro San Luis. When you reach the top you will be rewarded with amazing views of downtown SLO all the way to the Edna Valley. The hike to the top is moderately strenuous but you can set your own pace and go as quickly or as leisurely as you like.
To reach the beginning of the trail, take Higuera Street towards Marsh Street, turn right onto the 101 S on ramp, just after going under the overpass turn right on Fernandez Road. The parking lot and trail head is located there.
After your hike, head down the hill to one of California’s landmark attractions – the Madonna Inn. I know it’s a bit touristy, but it’s an iconic part of SLO and thus a visit here is not complete without taking in its kitschy glory.
The Madonna Inn’s Copper Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The interior has elaborate woodcarvings, red leather seats, copper tables and hand painted walls that must be seen to be believed. The pink sugar on every table lets you know for sure you are at the Madonna Inn.
Edna Valley is abundant with vineyards so wine tasting is a must, but you don’t have to drive all over the county to accomplish this. A visit to Central Coast Wines in downtown SLO offers you a selection of fine local wines in a convenient central location. The wines they offer to taste represent regional vineyards from Santa Barbara to Monterey. The tasting flight ($8) consists of 4 different wines, usually 3 reds and 1 white, but they’re happy to cater to each person’s individual preference.
Once a week on Thursday nights (Farmers’ Market) they feature one local winery and have a representative from the winery on hand to answer questions.
In the evening, pick up a pizza at Nucci’s on Broad Street in the Crossroads Center and head to the Sunset Drive-In Theater to experience a quintessential part of Americana. Opened in 1960, it is still owned and run by the same family. You can see a double feature of first run movies while relaxing in your car with the dog if you choose – all for $8 per adult and $3 per child!
If you’re feeling adventurous and not too sore from yesterday’s hike, try hiking Bishop Peak. At 1,546 feet, it is the tallest of the “Nine Sisters” – a chain of similar peaks stretching from Morro Bay inland. The hike is 2 miles and moderately steep but if you make it to the top you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of SLO.
To get to the trail head, take Foothill Blvd. from Santa Rosa towards Los Osos Valley Road, turn right on Patricia Drive and continue 4/10 of a mile to the trail head on the left, which is right after Patricia Court and before Anacapa.
Another Sunday option that’s good for the body and soul is a yoga class at m.Body. Every Sunday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. studio owners Peter and Tawny Sterios offer their revitalizing “Community” class.
As a gesture of goodwill towards the community, they offer two classes per week at half price, which allows those with limited resources the opportunity to attend. This class includes a warm up, a dynamic sequence of asana (poses) and breathing, and deep relaxation techniques in preparation for meditation. It is suitable for beginner and experienced students alike.
Del Monte Café is the perfect place to recoup from the hike and enjoy a leisurely brunch. Family owned and operated, I have been a loyal customer here for over 20 years. They have the best Veggie Benedict anywhere. Unfortunately, they only serve it on Sunday so all the more reason to get out of bed early and head over to sit on the patio, drink coffee or mimosas and order it.
Pretty much anything on the menu at Del Monte Café is great, from the more traditional egg dishes, pancakes, stuffed French toast and a fave healthy alternative – the granola float with yogurt, fruit and granola layered in a parfait glass.
Leaving San Luis Obispo will not be easy. You’ll find yourself looking for any little excuse to postpone the inevitable. The good news is that when you return – and trust me, you will – you’ll be just as enchanted as the first time you visited.
Photos courtesy of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce.