Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in San Luis Obispo County, CA

  • Published 2023/04/03

San Luis Obispo County, California, attracts visitors to its many attractions.

Its fertile location in central California has turned it into one of the state’s leading wine producers.

San Luis Obispo is situated on the North Pacific coast and boasts several beach towns and cities that allure tourists.

Points of interest intertwined with history, arts, and culture also abound in this county that traces its roots to a Spanish mission founded in the early 1770s.

This colonial mission occupied the area that became the city of San Luis Obispo and later the county seat.

San Luis Obispo County was created in 1850 as one of the 27 original counties of California.

Besides its namesake city and county seat, San Luis Obispo County includes the Five Cities region of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Pismo Beach, Oceano, and Halcyon.

Here are the best things to do in San Luis Obispo County, California:

Visit the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Exterior of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Sundry Photography /

The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is a California historical landmark on Palm Street in San Luis Obispo.

It’s one of the 21 California missions the Spanish colonizers established to convert Native Americans into Christians.

The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa now draws visitors for its museum, and it also has an active Catholic Church holding masses.

The mission’s former convent on the left of the church grabs attention with its colonnade of 11 cylindrical columns atop square pedestals.

Sculpture in front of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

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This historic building houses the museum where you’ll see artifacts and drawings of Chumash Indian life.

The Mission Square, a city facility, draws crowds, especially kids, because of its climbable statue of a large grizzly bear.

The mission’s Spanish colonists called the picturesque San Luis Obispo area the “Valley of the Bears.”

Community events are regularly hosted in the town square at the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, which also features a beautiful backyard.

Interior of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Logan Bush /

See the Roman Pool of the Hearst Castle

Exterior of Hearst Castle

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The Hearst Castle is a museum open to public tours as a California State Park facility.

It’s located on a hilltop on Hearst Castle Road in the San Luis Obispo County village of San Simeon.

Registered as a National Historic Landmark and California Historic Landmark, it was built between 1919 and 1947 as the residence of publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst.

Interior of Hearst Castle

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An indoor pool patterned after ancient Roman baths with blue and gold mosaic tiles is one of the iconic features of Hearst Castle.

A Neptune Pool is another striking feature on the grounds of this Mediterranean Revival-style mansion.

The museum tours here tell about the history of Hearst Castle, its gardens, architecture, and the Hearst family.

Neptune pool at Hearst Castle

Sergey Didenko /

Sip Wine at the Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden

Grand tarpon sculpture at Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden

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The prime Pinot Noir is one of the top draws of Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden.

Its vineyard off Linne Road in the village of Paso Robles found success in cultivating this hard-to-grow grape giving the rich textures and ripe tastes of the famed Pinot Noir wine.

Wine connoisseurs also marvel at over 20 award-winning wines at the Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden.

The winery uncorks eight types of wines on its tasting list and changes this lineup every month.

Mega focus sculpture at Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden

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You can sample six of these in a one-tasting flight at a very reasonable price.

As an added delight, this winery’s 1.5-acre site boasts beautiful sculpture gardens with picnic tables.

Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden is kid-friendly and provides a games area for bocce ball and table tennis games.

This winery hosts live music performances on weekends, with food trucks ready to cater to visitors.

White puma sculpture at Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden

mikluha_maklai /

Spend Family Time at the Avila Valley Barn

Signage of Avila Valley Barn

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Bring the family to the Avila Valley Barn, where your bonding activities can start with picking the freshest locally grown fruits and vegetables.

This San Luis Obispo County destination is located on Avila Beach Drive in the unincorporated community of Avila Beach.

Besides the wide selection of local produce, Avila Barn boasts a country bakery.

The bread and pies here are baked fresh daily, all made from quality ingredients for supreme tastes and flavors.

Avila Valley Barn also features seasonal activities for family outings, such as pony rides, farm animal feeding, a pumpkin patch, and a hay maze.

See the Seals at the Elephant Seal Vista Point

Daytime view of Elephant Seal Vista Point

Creative bee Maja /

The Elephant Seal Vista Point is located off Cabrillo Highway in San Simeon, a census-designated place in San Luis Obispo County.

This viewing deck overlooking the beach provides a fantastic view of a rookery of enormous elephant seals at certain times of the year.

You have three chances each year for this spectacle at the Elephant Seal Vista Point.

The annual cycle of the elephant seals’ visit to the San Simeon beach starts around the end of November with the arrival of mature males.

Seals at Elephant Seal Vista Point

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Windows of opportunities to view these animals also occur in late January when female seals have given birth.

Remarkable juvenile and adult female molting sights can be observed around early May in the Elephant Seal Vista Point.

This seal rookery is also active in late October when the juvenile among the animals begins to haul out to the sea.

Close view of a cute seal at Elephant Seal Vista Point

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Explore the Coastal Delights of Moonstone Beach

Waters of Moonstone Beach

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Moonstone Beach is among the best on the California Central Coast, providing dramatic ocean views and various water-based recreational activities.

This picturesque beach is off Cabrillo Highway in the charming village of Cambria in San Luis Obispo County.

A one-mile boardwalk on Moonstone Beach provides visitors seasonal opportunities to catch glimpses of marine life like sea otters, dolphins, and whales.

You can also head out to the water for aquatic adventures like boating and surfing.

Boardwalk trail at Moonstone Beach

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A stroll on Moonstone Beach is also delightful, as beachcombing here comes tender to your feet.

The smooth moonstones that named this beach also impress with their intricate patterns.

If you visit Moonstone Beach soon after a storm, you’ll likely find semi-precious stones like jade and jaspers on its stretch.

Fishing at Moonstone Beach

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Indulge in Nature Photography at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

People walking along a trail at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

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Amateur and professional photographers or plain nature lovers will enjoy a visit to the 430-acre Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

This enchanting oceanfront preserve, open free to the public year-round, is accessible from Tipton Street in the Village of Cambria.

The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve flaunts a dramatic ocean ridge rising 200 feet and stretching over a mile along the Pacific shoreline.

Exploring this bluff provides you with breathtaking vistas and the chance to see migrating whales, sea otters, and birds.

A tree at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

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The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve also boasts meadows that erupt with wildflower displays each spring.

The biological diversity in the preserve is truly remarkable, as it is home to over 150 native plant varieties and 430 bird species.

Free guided walks on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve’s nature trails are held monthly.

Two people admiring the views from Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

randy andy /

Play a Quick Round at the Laguna Lake Golf Course

The City of San Luis Obispo offers local and visiting golfers a quick but fun round at the Laguna Lake Golf Course.

This public facility opened in 1975 on Los Ojos Valley Road and offered ten holes over 1,306 yards from the back tees.

The Laguna Lake Golf Course features well-groomed fairways and greens of ryegrass.

It provides a driving range and an in-house pro to help players improve their game.

Club and cart rentals are available at the Laguna Lake Golf Course.

Hike the Bishop Peak Natural Area

Hiking trail at Bishop Peak Natural Area

Michael Vi /

Capture a panoramic view of San Luis Obispo and the California Central Coast via a hike on the Bishop Peak Natural Area.

The trails to this nature are accessible from Patricia Avenue on the city’s northwestern outskirts.

The Bishop Peak Natural Area’s summit rises 1,546 feet high and is so named because it resembles a bishop’s hat or miter.

It’s the tallest chain of nine similar peaks in the westward stretch toward Morro Bay.

A hike to the summit of the Bishop Peak Natural Area covers around four miles round trip along a path easy to moderate.

Visit the Point San Luis Lighthouse

Exterior of Point San Luis Lighthouse

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The circa 1890 Point San Luis Lighthouse is a historical, educational, and recreational destination.

It’s one of the many attractions in the unincorporated community of Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County.

You can go on guided interpretive tours of the Point San Luis Lighthouse and other structures on its grounds, like the Hornhouse.

A display in Point San Luis Lighthouse

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For a more immersive experience, the Pecho Coast Trail Guides can take you on a hike of about an hour to the Point San Luis Lighthouse.

The hike starts from Port San Luis to the bluffs overlooking San Luis Bay and, finally, the lighthouse.

Interior of Point San Luis Lighthouse

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Board a Bomber at the Estrella Warbirds Museum

Exterior of Estrella Warbirds Museum

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The Estrella WarBirds Museum delights visitors not only with its impressive displays of military aircraft and vehicles.

It also books flights on a WWII aircraft, a C-47B called Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber, every third Saturday of the month.

The Estrella Warbirds Museum offers these flights from its grounds in the Municipal Airport on Dry Creek Road in Robles.

Aircraft on the grounds of Estrella Warbirds Museum

Skeet Shooter, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other exciting exhibits in this museum on Dry Creek Road include US Air Force memorabilia.

The museum is also home to the Woodland Automobile Display, devoted to auto racing.

An automobile in Estrella Warbirds Museum

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Bring Your Kids to the Morro Bay State Park Museum

Exterior of Morro Bay State Park Museum

“Mike” Michael L. Baird, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A fun learning experience awaits Morro Bay State Park Museum visitors of all ages.

Located on State Park Road, this museum offers interactive displays about the natural habitats of the Morro Bay area.

A visit to this museum will allow you to dig deep into the forces driving the ecology of the Morro Bay estuary.

You’ll learn things like dune formation as you wade through its presentations on geology and hydrology.

The Morro State Park Museum also presents cultural history, Native American life, and replicas of local wildlife.

Far view of Morro Bay State Park Museum

Teddy Llovet, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Oceano Train Depot

Exterior of Oceano Train Depot

Fruitianslip, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Oceano Train Depot takes visitors back to the heydays when the Southern Pacific Railroad drove the growth of the San Luis Obispo area.

Converted into a museum, this 19th-century depot is located on Front Street in the census-designated place of Oceano.

The Oceano Train Depot features railroad memorabilia and artifacts, including tools, maps, and photos.

Its displays also feature artifacts from Oceano’s early Chumash inhabitants.

The vintage depot also has exhibits about the local mystical community of the Duneites formed to foster the art of living in the dunes.

Catch Fish at Cayucos Pier

Side view of the Cayucos Pier

ddg57 /

Anglers visiting San Luis Obispo County typically end up at the circa 1872 Cayucos Pier for onshore fishing.

This pier is off Pacific Avenue in the unincorporated town of Cayucos, which also boasts a State Beach.

You don’t need a fishing license at Cayucos Pier, a public facility.

Walkway of Cayucos Pier

Martina Birnbaum /

Surfperch is the most common catch at this pier, as in other onshore fishing sites on the Central Coast.

For a shot at prized species like halibut and mackerel, book charter fishing boats available near Cayucos Pier.

People walking along Cayucos Pier

HannaTor /

Enjoy Watersports at Lake Nacimiento

Daytime view of Lake Nacimiento

Thomson200, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visitors of Lake Nacimiento get plenty of choices on watersports on its calm waters in northern San Luis Obispo County.

The lake covers 5,000 acres and is bounded by 165 miles of picturesque shoreline.

Lake Nacimiento is accessible via Resort Drive, which opens access to several campgrounds and a namesake resort.

This lake is famous for water skiing, jet skiing, wake surfing, and boating, with a marina and boat rentals available at the resort.

Fishing is also popular in Lake Nacimiento, home of the famed White Bass.

Final Thoughts

Stop by San Luis Obispo County when visiting California’s Central Coast.

The county’s points of interest have helped make California one of the leading U.S. travel destinations.

Enjoy the best things to do in San Luis Obispo County, California!

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