Do you have San Luis Obispo, California, on your holiday travel itinerary? Explore the top activities to do and sights to see in San Luis Obispo, California, to make the most of your time there. Get the most out of your vacation by exploring the best things to do in San Luis Obispo, California, and the best places to visit in San Luis Obispo, California, below. As a Web 3.0 travel startup, Wondrous Drifter has big plans to shake things up in the field.
Table of Contents
- Avila Beach
- The Bells of El Camino Real
- Bishop Peak
- Bubblegum Alley
- Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard
- The Dorn Pyramid
- History Center of San Luis Obispo County
- The Iron Road Pioneers
- Johnson Ranch Open Space
- Leaning Pine Arboretum
- Lopez Lake
- Madonna Inn
- Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa 1772
- Novo Restaurant and Lounge
- Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area
- San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
- San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum
- San Luis Obispo Museum of Art
- San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum
- Sunset Drive-In Theater
Pack your bags and get ready for a day trip!
Small yet quite charming, the town of Avila Beach takes its name from the beach that it fronts.
Visitors and residents alike may enjoy beautiful beach days all year round in this idyllic seaside town, thanks to its ideal location on the coast.
Avila Beach is sheltered from the wind by foothills in San Luis Obispo Bay, which helps with the town’s perfect climate.
The boardwalk is shaded by palm palms, the coastline is lined with a variety of restaurants and shops, and it’s a great place to sunbathe.
Avila Beach is an excellent place for novice surfers, bodyboarders, and those interested in fishing, sailing, paddleboarding, and kayaking.
A trip to this charming town is a trip out of the bustling city and a relaxing day by the sun enjoying local food and the friendly community.
Address: San Luis Obispo County, California, United States
The Bells of El Camino Real
The El Camino Real bells represent the spread of Christianity in this state.
For decades, mission bells have marked the ancient El Camino Real route in Los Angeles County.
85-pound bells were placed along the state route to commemorate the El Camino Real.
A shepherd’s crook-shaped framework was used to hang these unique bells.
Though theft, vandalism, and road rerouting had removed most of the original 450 bells by the 1960s.
El Camino Real was marked with new crook and bell supports at the end of the twentieth century by preservation organizations and individuals.
Making a replica of a genuine 1906 bell.
According to reports, there are currently 585 bells to mark the old route and its branches. Between San Diego and Sonoma Counties, bells can be found.
Religious or not, these bells hold a historical significance for the town and are a must-see.
Address: Mission San Diego de Alcala, San Luis Obispo
The Bishop Peak is one of the top attractions in California.
Bishop Peak is San Luis Obispo’s most sought-after summit.
Amongst the Nine Sisters Volcanic Morros, which spans over San Luis Obispo, California, and Bishop Peak, Bishop Peak is their tallest peak.
The mountain’s rocky crown, formed like a bishop’s miter, offers a stunning view over the city and the surrounding mountains.
The 1,559-foot summit can be reached by a challenging and rewarding single-track trek.
As you look west toward Morro Bay, you’ll see Chumash Peak and other volcanic prominences.
Massive stones stacked high at the summit make it more challenging to reach its westernmost peak. So, be very careful at climbing.
You will get a panoramic view of Cal Poly, downtown SLO, Cerro San Luis, the Santa Lucia Mountains, Laguna Lake, and all in between once you reach the peak.
If you want to bring your dog, it is okay if you keep them on a leash. So get out there and enjoy yourself!
Address: Patricia Drive, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
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This odd attraction might be the most disturbing spot in San Luis Obispo, depending on who you ask.
The Bubblegum Alley is precisely as it sounds.
It started from a friendly rivalry between a high school and a university competing to see who’s got the best gum wall, which then became this unique attraction.
It is the most popular attraction in the city, though the city officials from way back had attempted to scrape the gum from the walls. Bubblegums seem to pop up regardless of their efforts.
To this day, hundreds of gums are placed there on the regular.
It is a narrow alley with 15-foot high and 70-foot long walls filled with chewed-up bubblegum for who knows how long.
There is an estimate of two million gums currently stuck there.
A nightmare for germaphobes and a quirky spot for the others.
You cannot step foot in San Luis without coming to see this iconic spot.
Address: 733 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard
Set aside a few hours on your next visit to San Luis Obispo County to hike to this hidden treasure.
A nine-acre collection of eclectic, experimental structures in the hills above California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
It has the appearance of a deserted mash-up of unusual architecture projects.
Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard isn’t a graveyard for people but for designs and structures.
Students at the CalPoly use the location as an “outdoor experimental construction laboratory.”
Over the past few decades, students in architecture, engineering, and design have erected the structures.
Students are invited to design and construct temporary structures in the canyon every year as part of the annual Design Village.
Thus, creating a collection of quirky structures in the canyon.
This attraction is pretty hard to find, so ask the locals and bring a water bottle before you hike.
Address: Poly Canyon Rd, San Luis Obispo
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The Dorn Pyramid
The pyramid stands out in a peculiar and alone way. And the story behind it is even more tragic.
Located in Odd Fellows Cemetery, Fred Adolphus Dorn created a pyramid mausoleum in memory of his deceased loved ones to honor and memorialize their deaths.
Dorn imported Porterville stone and designed special wagons to move the rocks for the mausoleum’s construction.
As a result of the mausoleum’s immense weight, this position (where it is isolated) was the only one that could hold it.
Looking at the pyramid, you will notice two stones lying in front of the door, waiting to be cemented in place once all the Dorns are laid to rest inside.
It was initially planned that Fred Dorn Sr. would be buried there. Still, he relocated to San Francisco and remarried after his death.
He was buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, San Francisco, at his death.
Thus, the reason why the famed Dorn pyramid remained unclosed until 2018 when the lodge requested to close it.
Address: Higuera Street and Elks Lane, Oddfellows Cemetery, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
History Center of San Luis Obispo County
Are you a history buff? Or do you have a healthy relationship with historical facts, documents, and artifacts?
Because there’s this history museum in San Luis Obispo that’s sole purpose is to preserve that city’s rich cultural and historical heritage.
You’ll find this located within the Carnegie Library building.
The archive, photograph, and research collections of the History Center of San Luis Obispo County are among the most important public resources for documents of the County’s history.
Since 1953, they have operated as a non-profit museum and research center dedicated to preserving, educating, and fostering an understanding of SLO County history.
Many of the Museum’s items and archives are kept off-site. Only a tiny portion of them are available for public viewing.
The Museum also has a fascinating collection of regional photographs from the 1840s.
The space is open for public viewing, and it even has a gift shop!
Address: 696 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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The Iron Road Pioneers
One of the free things you can do in San Luis Obispo is to visit their historical structures and statues.
Outside the San Luis Obispo Amtrak station, a modest statue called “The Iron Road Pioneers.” It has a very significant historical meaning and message to all Americans.
Elizabeth McQueen’s vision was to create this bronze monument, which they later unveiled in 2003.
It depicts two traditionally clothed men standing opposite one other, fixing tracks into position.
The construction of the Transcontinental Railroad had the help of at least 20,000 Chinese immigrants.
As a result of living and working in a hostile environment, their contributions were generally overlooked.
And this monument commemorates the contributions of Chinese immigrants to the construction of the railroads in the United States.
Much of which represents the unspoken for unnamed immigrants who worked hard for little to no pay.
Visit the place at night and see the monument light up.
Address: San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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Johnson Ranch Open Space
Does gazing into acres of plain fields sound nice to you?
San Luis Obispo’s Johnson Ranch Open Space contains and protects more than 240 acres of ranch land towards the city’s south.
There are various mountain biking and hiking paths in the area, which draws in the crowd from both locals and visitors.
You’ll find the trailhead for Johnson Ranch in-between San Luis Obispo and the popular Pismo Beach. It is near and easy to reach.
If you’re sick of the sound of traffic and you want some peace and quiet, the trail is the perfect escape.
Observe the wind bending the long grasses and a little cluster of oak trees as you walk through the trail
The most ideal time to hike in the Johnson Ranch is when it’s Spring when the flowers bloom, and the plains grow a vibrant green.
The grass and oak trees make for a stunning view regardless of the season.
Address: Johnson Ranch Loop, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Leaning Pine Arboretum
Take a stroll at this arboretum, entirely maintained by students!
You will find this hidden gem at the center of the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly).
No admission fee is needed. What are you waiting for?
Five acres of Leaning Pine Arboretum are dedicated to showcasing flora from Mediterranean locations worldwide.
The arboretum overlooks the Cal Poly campus and offers spectacular views of the adjacent coastal mountains.
A hallmark of academic instruction at CalPoly is the school’s famous approach of “Learn By Doing.”
Students have created, built, and maintained all of the Garden’s features for decades in this tradition.
Their gardens focus on Australia, California, Chile, the Mediterranean, and South Africa plants.
All of which have their own special nook for their own spotlight.
Guaranteed, you’ll find every single color you know in this arboretum!
Since you’re already in CalPoly, you might visit the CalPoly Architecture Graveyard.
Address: San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
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The Lopez Lake is one of the best places to visit in California.
Beaches are not the only thing that SLO offers.
Families may enjoy Lopez Lake’s warm waters and 22 miles of shoreline.
Outdoors and wildlife enthusiasts flock to the lake, which can store up to 7 million cubic meters of water when full.
The Lopez Dam was erected in 1969, and Lopez Lake was created as a natural by-product.
It is a popular destination for nature and wildlife aficionados.
There is an open space in the recreation area with about 4,200 acres encouraging camping, hiking, and mountain biking. Even horseback riding!
The Lopez Lake Recreation Area also has a zip line course for adrenaline seekers and a family-friendly water slide park.
With an average temperature of 79 degrees F, Lopez Lake is a great place to cool down in the lake when you’re done with water activities.
Try the facility’s zip lines, ropes courses, and more await thrill-seekers at Lopez Lake’s on-site adventure park if you’re sick of water sports.
Address: Lopez Dr, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
Do you have a soft spot for lavish decorations and the color pink? Visit Madonna Inn to get you singing Material Girl.
Each of the 109 rooms at the Madonna Inn has a distinct name and corresponding theme, all of which are beautifully adorned in what most people would consider bad taste.
Extravagant and quirky is not for everyone, after all.
Because of its outlandish and obnoxious décor, the Madonna Inn has become an iconic place.
Its most striking color all throughout the hotel is pink – all the shades you can imagine.
Worry not. Madonna Inn also caters to other quirky tastes.
You’ll get to choose from various rooms like a European villa-inspired, a cave-looking room (they call it rock rooms), a gypsy tent, a cabin, and the famous Madonna pink room.
Pick a random theme, and Madonna Inn will surely have a room like it.
Address: 100 Madonna Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405,
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Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa 1772
Let’s take a step back to the past and learn about Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa 1772.
The historic Spanish mission of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in its namesake city.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was the fifth of California’s 21 missions built at that time.
The mission was named after Saint Louis, bishop of Toulouse, a French Roman Catholic official in the 1200s.
Few California missions remain in their original location. San Luis Obispo is one of the rare ones that do.
Following Vatican legislation, the mission’s walls are between 50 and 60 feet high.
Churches had to be built to a maximum height of the trees growing in the area, which was pine.
The mission also has a museum showcasing artifacts and documents of the Natives, the history of the mission, and the early settlers of America.
This site is not only an eye candy; it is also a valuable piece of history.
Address: 751 Palm St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Novo Restaurant and Lounge
San Luis Obispo has many fun activities under its belt, but they are also known for its excellent food.
Business partners Shanny Covey and Robin Covey launched Robin’s in Cambria in 1985.
Novo was founded in SLO in 2003 when Robin was allowed to lease the ancient Cigar Factory building located on San Luis Creek.
The rest was history.
Before it was a trend, the pair and their restaurant became well-known for serving food that was locally sourced, healthy, and influenced by cultures worldwide.
To this day, Novo’s chefs adhere to this idea, ensuring that every customer has a great dining experience.
You can say that they’re pioneers at trend-setting.
They have an extended selection of food from brunch to lunch, be sure not to miss their special Thai Red Curry.
From a casual family brunch to a romantic date night, the restaurant’s location and atmosphere make it ideal for any occasion.
Address: 726 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area
The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is one of the best things to do in California.
Wanna see some actual speed?
This off-road area is one of California State Parks’ most famous and distinctive attractions.
All non-street-legal vehicles can be driven on the beach at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
Good news for people that drive an off-highway vehicle.
In all of California, Oceano Dunes State Park is the only place where it is legal to drive a car on the beach.
With five miles of coastline and open dunes as high as 100 feet, it’s one of the few local attractions in a state park with fascinating coastal terrain.
The Oceano Dunes SVRA has 5.5 and 3,500 acres of sand to ride across, making it an exciting playground for off-roaders and thrill-seekers.
No off-road car? You can rent a variety of OHVs, including four-wheelers and RZRs, in the area.
Hungry? The area is also a popular spot for surf fishing and clamming in the Oceano Dunes.
Address: 100 Pier Ave, Oceano, CA 93445
San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
How about a walk in the Mediterranean Gardens of SLO?
There are only plants from the five Mediterranean climate regions in the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden.
A CalPoly student, Eve Vigil, came up with the concept of establishing a Mediterranean climate plants botanical garden in San Luis Obispo to highlight its unique flora.
An Analysis and Planning award from the American Society of Landscape Architects was given to the Garden for their Master Plan.
An unusual feature of the Master Plan was that it encouraged the planting of plants in their natural habitats instead of planting in a strictly controlled environment.
First, visit Preview Park, which covers an astounding five acres.
It includes views of plant life from all five major Mediterranean climate zones that the SLO Botanical Garden adores.
Come see its greenhouse and nursery, where the botanical Garden’s plants are grown.
Some of the plants in the greenhouse and nursery are also for sale.
Address: 3450 Dairy Creek Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
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San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum
Kids driving you nuts because they don’t like all the places you go to? Good news for you, San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum would keep them preoccupied for a few hours.
Originally built as a transmission shop, the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum opened its doors to the public in 1990 after a generous donation to the city and several renovations.
Over $5 million was raised to build this facility when the Museum was closed for reconstruction for three years.
The San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum is a beautiful place for children ages one to ten to learn about their world.
Activities and exhibitions for children are designed to be hands-on and participatory so kids may learn while having fun.
The Museum’s three floors offer a wide range of indoor activities and educational games for the kids to enjoy.
There is a lot of thought put into the design of these products to stimulate and nurture creativity and curiosity.
Don’t let your kids miss this Museum!
Address: 1010 Nipomo St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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San Luis Obispo Museum of Art
If you want to appreciate local art, then visit the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.
The Museum is located in downtown San Luis Obispo, at the core of the city’s cultural district, on the west end of Mission Plaza.
One of California’s small museums, the SLO Museum of Art, is dedicated to exhibiting the work of contemporary artists on the Central Coast.
Primarily California’s current generation of living artists.
The Museum provides various opportunities for the community to get involved in the arts and learn more about them and their art.
For the most part, the Museum of Art’s permanent collection comprises contemporary art. Still, it also includes works from other ranges of styles and origins.
Jeffrey Beacon’s movie posters from the 1980s to the 2000s and Bryn Forbes curated photographs are a must-see.
The Museum of Art’s collection is constantly expanding thanks to regular additions.
Occasionally, they would host lectures, film screenings, classes, and more.
Address: 1010 Broad St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum
If you have a fondness for trains, railroads, and everything in between, make sure to visit this Railroad Museum.
The San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum was founded in 2013 to preserve the history of the local railroads for future generations.
Since its construction in 1984, the freight house has served as one of San Luis Obispo county’s oldest railroad structures.
Objects, models, artwork, and archival materials are all on display throughout the Museum.
The Museum tells the story of the city’s role in the coastal rail link between San Francisco and Los Angeles in the 19th century.
You’ll enjoy seeing The Central Coast Model Train, a 1,200-square-foot model railroad built to scale.
The Museum, which is only accessible on Saturdays, will teach you about SLO’s rich railroad heritage and provide a fun way to spend a weekend in the town.
Not to mention that kids will love this place as well!
Address: 1940 Santa Barbara Ave, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
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Sunset Drive-In Theater
Wanna go somewhere nostalgic? Then let’s give it up for this drive-in theater!
A walk down memory lane to the good old days of American cinema. And a refreshing experience for the younger generation.
Sunset Drive-In Theater features movies in a family-friendly drive-in environment.
The Sunset Drive-In was established in 1950 and has operated ever since.
Drive-in theaters are rare in Southern California, and this is one of the few still operating independently.
If you’re staying at the famed Madonna Inn, you’ll find this location right across it.
While watching a movie, get a few snacks, candies, and soda from the concession booth.
Don’t even worry about their schedule because Sunset Drive-In in San Luis Obispo is open from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. every week.
There are also Sunday swap meets where handmade and secondhand products are bought, sold, and swapped if you’re interested.
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Address: 255 Elks Ln, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401