Disclosure: Amazon compensated me and provided for my travel and accommodations in exchange for writing about my trip to the Central Coast of California. Regardless, everything I have said in the post reflects my honest observations and opinions.
Our California road trip to promote Amazon’s new travel website earlier this month led to a few firsts. Since Central California is a fairly quick drive from San Diego and Los Angeles, we’ve visited this area quite a bit, so it’s not always easy to find new places to explore.
My previous memories of San Luis Obispo include partying with college students at Cal Poly (while I was still in high school) and camping at El Chorro Campgrounds many years ago. With so many towns to choose from on this stretch of coast, we had never thought of booking a hotel right in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, but I’m glad we did.
Downtown San Luis Obispo is easy to explore by foot with plenty of delicious restaurant options. It also turned out to be an ideal location for exploring the neighboring towns of Avila Beach, Oceano, Pismo Beach, and Arroyo Grande — all within a twenty-minute drive from our hotel.
Whether you’ve been to the central coast of California dozens of times or you are considering your first visit, this insider’s guide will help you plan your getaway.
What to Do
Wine Tasting in Arroyo Grande
Arroyo Grande is one of the towns that makes up the Hwy 1 Discovery Route which we recently wrote about in detail. Most travelers head to Paso Robles for wine tasting, but Arroyo Grande is closer and should be included on any wine tasting itinerary. Laetitia Vineyard & Winery and Talley Vineyards are both great choices for wine tasting in this area.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
I came across this mission on my first afternoon in San Luis Obispo. Apparently, its unusual design is found nowhere else among the California missions. It’s a great spot for sunset photos!
ATV Riding in Oceano
When Scott and I visited this area over five years ago, we were tempted to rent ATVs to ride around Oceano’s dunes, but, instead, we decided to get my 2-wheel drive 4-Runner stuck in the sand as we drove along the beach. We’ve wised up since then and this time we rented a buggy for a few hours around sunset.
The buggies fit two to four people, but if you want your own ATV, make sure to ask for a quad. It’s the only California State Park where these vehicles may be driven on the beach. There are several spots to rent in the area. We booked with Steve’s ATV Rentals, which is located right on Pier Ave in Oceano.
SUP in Avila Beach
Stand up paddleboarding is an activity I normally do in warmer destinations, but Avila Beach is a great spot for it in the summer and fall. Avila Beach Paddlesports offers rentals, tours, and instruction in Port San Luis. This area also tends to be slightly warmer than other beaches in SLO County.
Where to Eat
Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach is recommended by pretty much everyone who has been there. We stopped in here when we visited the area six years ago and I couldn’t wait to come back for their award-winning clam chowder in a toasted bread bowl. They have plenty of other seafood options if a bowl full of cream is not your thing.
SLO Brewing Company
SLO Brewing is a popular spot for locals and it’s located right in downtown. They have weekly deals like Margarita Mondays, Pint Night, and Wing Wednesday. It’s a nice spot for a beer and appetizer. I recommend the IPA Poppers!
Hotel Granada & Bistro
I enjoyed the restaurant at Hotel Granada so much that I ate here twice. I love their daily soups and appetizer selections. I wasn’t prepared for the portion sizes, so I ended up making a meal out of my tomato bisque and huge caesar salad. This spot gets popular in the evenings so don’t forget to make a reservation!
Big Sky Cafe
I found this restaurant by doing a search for “best restaurants in San Luis Obispo” and it definitely lived up to the hype. I highly recommend the seared ahi, grilled artichoke, and pesto risotto. They don’t take reservations, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.
Where to Stay
Granada Hotel & Bistro
I don’t think we would have found Granada Hotel if it wasn’t for Amazon’s website. As I said before, we normally stay closer to the coast, but this place is a hidden gem. If you want to explore downtown, everything is within walking distance. They have three treatments available at their spa from 9am to 8pm and my therapist was amazing.
The rooms are absolutely gorgeous with a European feel and all of the comforts of home. In the morning, they have coffee, tea, and snacks available in the common area upstairs. In the evening, their upstairs patio with fireplace is a great spot for people watching, reading a book, or enjoying a drink. I would definitely stay here again.
Amazon hand picks each hotel on their website, which is what makes it different from thousands of other hotel booking sites. You can book a stay at Granada Hotel & Bistro through Amazon’s website and browse other hotels near Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York.
Have you been to San Luis Obispo?
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