Girl time, culture, great food, and more! That just about summarizes my three day weekend in San Luis Obispo, California! If you’re looking for great food, activities, and some ideas on how to fill your time in this coastal town then keep reading!
SLO is about 3 hours from my home so it was the perfect mini-getaway for a three-day vacation. On our way down, we made a stop at Hearst Castle to kick off the vacay. With Hearst Castle being super close, I was surprised that I had never been before. It’s in a small town called San Simeon and you drive right along the coast to get to the castle along Highway 1. Once we parked, we bought our ticket for the Grand Room tour ($25) which is a one hour tour, which included 30 minutes of touring the outside of the castle and 30 minutes touring the inside. To get up to the castle, there is a shuttle bus which takes you up a windy road to get to the top. It was about 15 minutes each way. I was nervous because I get super car sick, but I stayed off my phone and I was totally fine. What I liked the most was that the Grand Room tour was every 10 minutes so if you missed it, you could just hit the next one. We didn’t purchase our tickets ahead of time and there was no problem purchasing it there, but if you want to go during a peak season, you can look online to see how many tickets are left.
The tour itself was informative and historically educational. It was fast-paced and I found the facts given by our tour guide to be pretty interesting. My favorite part was all the industries that Mr. William Hearst was a part of to earn his fortune like newspapers/magazine owner, Hollywood producer, etc. It was also interesting to hear all the famous individuals who stayed at the castle including politicians, writers, actors/actresses, etc. After the tour, we had the chance to do a self-guided tour around the castle and it was the perfect opportunity to snap a few pictures. Buses leave the castle every 10 minutes to return back to the visitor’s center. After wrapping up Hearst Castle, we jumped back into the car to head for our hotel in SLO.
The Kinney SLO Hotel
The first stop in San Luis Obispo was to check in to our hotel. We wanted somewhere close to downtown but relatively affordable. We found the Kinney Hotel, which was very eclectic and modernized for about $189 a night including tax. The hotel was decent and clean, the only negative thing I’d report was the slow elevators. We were only on the second floor so we took the stairs a majority of the time.
After freshening up, we headed straight downtown for some food and to hit up a popular attraction — Bubblegum Alley. Now, in all honesty, it’s pretty gross to think of everyone’s gum on the way surrounding you, but it is pretty cool and it’s a big tourist thing to do. So we grabbed some bubblegum and went to take some pictures. It was cute, but definitely did my absolute best not to touch the walls!
Firestone Grill (Lunch)
Once we took some pictures at Bubblegum Alley and our jaws were sore from blowing so many bubbles to get a picture for the gram, we were pretty hungry and went to a place a few of our friends had recommended — Firestone Grill. It was a happening place when we got there and throughout our entire meal, there was always a line out the door. They are known for their tri-trip steaks so I ordered a tri-tip salad. This was super cheap and really big considering I got a small. I couldn’t even finish my salad it was so huge and only around $8! Plus the food came out really quick.
Bruce Munro: Fields of Lights at Sensorio (Paso Robles, CA)
Once we finished eating, we decided to head back to the hotel and get ready to head about 30 minutes away to Paso Robles. I had heard about a light show going on and it looked pretty cool online so we made plans to check it out. It was freezing cold so we tried to bundle up. Once we got there, it was around 7:00 pm and it was pitch black outside already. One thing to note is that you definitely want to buy tickets online. First, because they are cheaper. Second, because you have to wait in a line if you don’t have a ticket pre-purchased and there really is no indication of when you can purchase your ticket once you get there…you just wait in line. The staff working the event let people in the line in randomly and say it’s based on how many people are inside. Their system didn’t make sense to me, so I’d highly recommend getting the tickets online because it was miserable waiting in the cold! The ticket was about $36.
But once we got in, it was packed! They have some food and warm beverages available to buy, but we just wanted to see the lights and head back to SLO. Now, the lights were interesting…it definitely wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I thought that a light show meant that there would be some moving lights or different displays, but I think what makes the light show so popular is the grand scale of the lights. Essentially, it is a bunch of lightbulbs lit up in different colors that stretch over this entire field. It looks cooler than I’m making it sound, but it was packed! I think it was worth the trip. Learn more here.
Luna Red (Dinner)
We headed off to dinner around 9 pm and were still freezing from the light show. We found Luna Red and while it was outdoor seating, they had heat lamps at every table. The restaurant had a Spanish flair and tapas on the menu. I opted for steak and carrots and strawberry lemonade, hoping that the sugar would give me some much-needed energy. The steak was good and the carrots were too, but I would’ve personally cooked them a little longer. It was placed on a bed of arugula that I didn’t eat because it was pretty bitter. The strawberry lemonade was delicious and very sugary, just what I needed! Overall, the meal was about $30, which wasn’t too bad considering it was a nicer restaurant.
Dance, Dance, Dance!
After we settled the check, we went walking downtown. I was surprised by how empty it seemed, especially considering that it’s a college town and the fact that it was a three day weekend. We checked out a few bars and really wanted to dance. We eventually found a bar called The Library where we danced for a little bit. It seemed to get more crowded as it got later in the night, but it was still pretty empty for a Saturday night. Fortunately, there were no cover charges. Since we had both been up since 5 am, we were pretty tired and headed back to the hotel around 11 pm and noticed more people from the university walking over.
Hiking Cal Poly
We woke up the next morning around 7am because we wanted to go on a hike before brunch. We drove to the Cal Poly campus and set out to find the Serenity Swing which is a major tourist attraction for beautiful photos. However, we had read a few articles saying that the trail is hard to find. I thought that the trail would be crowded on a Saturday morning, but we were the only ones on the trail and barely saw people until we were heading back. We were a little confused and came upon a bridge that led to a trail so we went over the bridge and started up the trail. It was about 40 minutes of curving back and forth up this mountain. Once we thought we had reached the top, there was more mountain to climb. We hit the top and did not see the swing. We went online and it turned out we had taken the wrong trail and that the swing was actually on the adjacent mountain…major fail on our part, but it was still a beautiful view. We took a few pictures and raced back down the mountain because we were getting hungry!
If you are ever in the SLO area and want to find Serenity Swing, I recommend not going over the bridge and doing a little more research on finding the correct trail. One thing is for sure and that there are no signs pointing to Serenity Swing anywhere along the trail. Good luck finding it!
Apple Farm (Brunch)
After the hike, we were extremely hungry and quickly changed before heading back out to go to the Apple Farm which was very close to our hotel. It was a super cute, quaint looking hotel and it was pretty busy for brunch, but we got seated right away. I ordered an omelet with Italian sausage, mushroom, and spinach and only finished about half of it because the portion was very generous. On the side, I had fruit and a latte. The latte was ok but seemed like it didn’t have enough coffee. We hit up a coffee shop right after this for another latte. Other than that, the meal was delicious and came with an apple muffin which I took to go. The brunch came out to around $25 and kept us full until dinner time. I have also heard that this is a great place to stay at and next time I plan a trip to SLO, I definitely want to book at this inn.
Did you even go to San Luis Obispo if you didn’t go to the beach? I don’t think so. Even though it’s January and the dead of winter for us Californians, we made a trip down to Pismo beach which was about a 15-minute drive from our hotel. People were dressed in long pants and sweatshirts and not many people were in the water, but there were quite a few people strolling along the coast. There are a few beautiful ocean-side hotels that would be great options during the summer, but after about an hour at the beach and a few pictures later we were pretty cold and headed back to the hotel.
We spent an hour or two back at the hotel getting warmed up and watching the 49’s and Packers game, but once it was halftime we headed downtown again to find a bar to finish the game at. We stumbled upon Carissa which had a few seats open at the bar. We sat down to watch the game and ordered some appetizers. We picked the brussel sprouts and garlic edamame. To say it was delicious is an understatement. I personally love brussel sprouts, but they aren’t very common on menus in Northern California. The garlic edamame was also so good that the people sitting next to us at the bar ordered it once they saw us eating it. Once the game was over (and the 49’s won) we paid and walked through Downtown SLO as all the stores began too close. Now it was a Sunday night in SLO and there wasn’t much to do so we decided to head to dinner and then back to the hotel to watch a movie and get ready to leave in the morning.
We wanted someplace nice for dinner and this restaurant had really great reviews. What was interesting was that it looked super small from the outside, but when we entered, there was a sign leading us around back where there was a beautiful outdoor terrace overlooking the river. The heat lamps made it bearable and we were seated immediately. I ordered more brussel sprouts with a strawberry lavender soda. My meal was a “small plates” item, but it was a generous portion and after eating half of it, I was stuffed. The meal came out to around $30 and after we sat and chatted, we headed back to the hotel.
4 Cats (Coffee)
On Monday morning we woke up and were walking over to breakfast before heading back home and in between the breakfast spot and the hotel we stopped by a boutique coffee shop for a latte. It was pretty good and it looked like a new shop. It was rather large and had some working space and very cool art on the wall and for sale. The coffee was $4 so very comparable to Starbucks. There was only one person making the coffee so it did take some time to get our order.
Louisa’s Place (Breakfast)
With our latte in hand, we walked another 15 minutes to our breakfast spot. We walked in and took a seat in a small booth. I ordered an omelet with spinach and mushrooms. The order came and it was as big as my face. I ate about half before feeling stuffed. It also came with potatoes that I didn’t even touch. It was pretty good, but I personally liked the omelet from the Apple Farm better. My breakfast was about $20.
Splash Cafe (Coffee)
The entire trip was made possible by lots and lots of caffeine. On our way back to the hotel from breakfast, we stopped again at another coffee shop to pick up a latte from the road. I ordered a small double latte and it was about $5. We watched the lady make it and she was so meticulous about how it was made that she started over a few times. However, I think that the coffee was better than the other coffees we had during this trip.
After this our trip was sadly over. Boo! We hit the road and listened to music all the way home and even started planning our next trip up the coast. Any guesses where?
The trip cost less than $600 and was a really nice escape for the weekend. It was close enough that it was nice to drive and have a car handy, but far away enough that it felt like a real trip. I think that 3 days is a good amount of time and if you really want to pack your trip with activities, I recommend planning ahead and making reservations. Horseback riding was one thing we thought about but didn’t have time to do in the end. Overall…loved SLO and it’s laid back vibe which is very different than the Bay Area so it was a fun change of pace! Until the next three day weekend 😉