Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in San Luis Obispo, CA

  • Published 2022/04/16

Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Santa Lucia Mountains, San Luis Obispo is a mesmerizing visual treat.

Did you know that it’s nicknamed the happiest city in the States?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise—upon witnessing the scenes of San Luis Obispo in real life, you’ll be the happiest person on earth, too.

Filled with some pristine California beaches with crystal clear waters, lush green forests, and gorgeous mountains, San Luis Obispo is a place filled with delights.

Ready to start exploring this breathtaking destination?

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

Say a Prayer at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Exterior view of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

meunierd /

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa opened its doors to the public in 1772.

Father Serra was the founder of this church, and he found this location to be the best as both the tribal people and the weather were favorable.

Chandelier and the antique interiors at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Logan Bush /

The mission itself is a sight to behold.

Inside, you’ll find intricately detailed floral patterns; the outside is elegant, too.

Artificial pond with statues of bears at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

meunierd /

Spend the Day at Pismo Beach

Vibrant sky during sunset at Pismo Beach

bon9 /

When in Southern California, the best thing to do is check out some of the most picturesque beaches in town.

Pismo Beach is a beach town that’s a 15-minute drive away from central San Luis Obispo.

Pier at Pismo Beach

Chris LaBasco /

A haven for pro surfers, Pismo Beach has something for everyone to enjoy.

Its sunny climate draws many people to its shores, and the lively beach town is often crowded.

A surfer playing with the tides at Pismo Beach

Norm Lane /

Once you step foot there, it won’t be hard to understand why it’s so well-loved.

Check Out the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum

Front view of the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum

SLOGlen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are into railroads and trains, the best way to enjoy a morning is to take a quick trip to San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum.

Want to know more about the history of Californian railways?

Visit the museum to get a better grasp of the history.

The San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum aims to preserve the history of railways.

There is everything you need to know about the different lines right here.

A building is still being constructed, and once it’s finished, you’ll be able to see a vast space of almost 1,200 acres.

There are also different railroad models here.

Snap Gorgeous Pictures of Avila Beach

People enjoying the turquoise blue colored water at Avila Beach

Juancat /

The perfect beach that leads to the gorgeous San Luis Obispo Bay, Avila Beach is one of the most popular tourist sites in the city.

Avila is quite close to Pismo Beach, so you can visit both beaches on the same day.

Sail boats at Avila Beach

Jon Bilous /

The sea is quite calm, so people mainly enjoy kayaking and swimming here.

Do you want to learn to surf?

This is the perfect beach to do so.

View of the long pier at Avila Beach

Hank Shiffman /

Avila Beach also holds several festivals and concerts all year round!

Shop at Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market

Carrot at San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market

Lori Bonati /

San Luis Obispo is a haven for farmers’ markets.

The best part about shopping in the farmers’ market is that you get to have a taste of life as a local.

Local families bring in delicious homemade goodies, and there are also a lot of seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Bright yellow squash at Downtown SLO Farmers' Market

Lori Bonati /

If you are looking forward to shopping for some organic produce, then shopping at the farmers’ market is the best thing to do.

The baked goodies are also quite delicious here.

There are also freshly prepared meals available.

Appreciate the Art at San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

Hanging sculpture at San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

Sundry Photography /

Head to the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art to see some of the city’s most beautiful works of art.

It might look like a quaint little museum, but it has some of the best items on display.

You’ll see a lot of sculptures, paintings, and photographs shot by some famous photographers.

It is an aesthetic place that deserves a spot on your itinerary.

Enjoy the Different Shades of Green at the Leaning Pine Arboretum

Lawn and trees at Leaning Pine Arboretum

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Head inside the California Polytechnic State University campus and tour the stunning Leaning Pine Arboretum.

Plant species native to California’s Central Coastal region can be found here in plenty.

Narrow road with plants on both the sides at Leaning Pine Arboretum

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is also a collection of palm trees that have been displayed gracefully, along with plants that were flown in from various places around the globe.

If you are looking to snap pretty pictures for your Instagram feed, this is one place you can achieve that.

Garden with fountain at Leaning Pine Arboretum

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take a Stroll around Downtown

Street view of Downtown in San Luis Obispo

Sean Leonard /

When in San Luis Obispo, you must take some time to explore the downtown area.

You can start your visit with a stop at Higuera Street.

The street has some of the best restaurants and cafes to check out if you are hungry.

Shops at Downtown, San Luis Obispo

Ana Barba /

It also overlooks San Luis Obispo Creek.

Bubblegum Alley is also a unique place that tourists often have on their itinerary.

If you are looking for some great Chinese food, head to China Town, where you can eat to your heart’s content.

Explore around Avila Village

Before or after spending time at Avila Beach, it would be best to visit Avila Village.

There are a lot of shopping spots here, along with a few eateries.

Tourists love the Avila Village for it is quite an old one.

People mainly enjoy hiking and visiting its hot springs.

Avila is well-renowned for the Avila Hot Springs, where many tourists come to relax.

Head over to the Bob Jones Bike Trail for a cool 3-mile hike.

Visit the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Park benches at San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t miss out on a chance to visit the famous El Chorro Regional Park.

Besides the location itself, its attractions are exquisite and worth checking out.

Entrance of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Mike Baird, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The gorgeous San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is located in this park.

It’s surrounded by Morro Bay, along with some of the most beautiful flowers in the area.

Small gallery at San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Five acres of land are entirely covered by the stunning hues of different flowers, including various Mediterranean flora.

There’s also a nursery where you can take home any saplings you like.

Go Hiking at Bishop Peak

Dark clouds over the Bishop Peak

Jeffrey T. Kreulen /

Are you looking for some adventure in San Luis Obispo?

Here’s something that will make your blood rush: a hike up to the iconic Bishop Peak.

It’s the highest and most famous peak in the area.

Trail leading to Bishop Peak

A.Hoshy /

Various trails lead to the peak, although they are better suited for more experienced hikers.

If you are in good health and have gone hiking many times before, the ultimate hike to the summit should be on your San Luis Obispo to-do list.

A woman resting on the end of trail bench after hiking through the Bishop Peak

Gerald Peplow /

Enjoy the Aquatic Life at Shell Beach

Natural rocks at Shell Beach

Tupungato /

California beaches are the best things about the state, apart from their vineyards and unforgettable sunsets.

However, because they’re pretty famous, their beaches are often crowded.

If you’re looking for a more secluded beach, this is the place for you.

Amazing view of the lush greeneries around Shell Beach

HannaTor /

In Shell Beach, you won’t find a lot of crowds—it’s the most serene beach you’ll find in San Luis Obispo.

There are also a lot of marine animals here.

Pelicans resting on the rock at Shell Beach

Bill Morson /

Starfish sticking to rocks under shallow water, dolphins splashing water with their every jump, whales coming to the surface—all these beautiful sights await in Shell Beach.

Pay a Visit to the History Center of San Luis Obispo County

History Center of San Luis Obispo County

joojoob27 /

San Luis Obispo has a fascinating history.

If you have a keen interest in learning about the city’s interesting past, you must visit the famous History Center of San Luis Obispo County.

Colorful shops near a beach at San Luis Obispo County

HannaTor /

They prioritize the preservation of history in the best way possible.

There are a lot of regional artifacts that can be found in the museum.

All those things will give you a better idea of how the city used to be back in its old days.

Hearst castle fountain at San Luis Obispo County

len_shigemoto /

See the Sand Dunes at Oceano Dunes

Beautiful wavy pattern at the Oceano Dunes

Alberto Loyo /

There are many unique things to do in San Luis Obispo, and dashing against sand dunes is one experience you can’t miss.

It’ll be the most thrilling activity you can enjoy on your trip.

Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is one of the most adventurous and charming paths in California.

Spectacular view of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area

Serj Malomuzh /

You can dive straight into the beach area from here.

Oceano Dunes comprises a vast amount of land of almost 1,200 acres, where you’ll see nothing but gorgeous coastal terrains.

Four wheeler passing through the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area

Serj Malomuzh /

There are a lot of sandy beaches and sand dunes across the area, making the ride more exciting.

Many people also enjoy horseback riding along these challenging terrains.

See the Diverse Irish Hills Natural Reserve

Bird's eye view of Irish Hills Natural Reserve in San Luis Obispo

Peter D. Tillman, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Irish Hills Natural Reserve is filled with different shades of green.

No matter where you look, you’ll see wild grasses.

It’s said that the Irish Hills Natural Reserve has a lot of wildlife hidden within all the greenery.

Greenery at Irish Hills Natural Reserve

Kelly Headrick /

One of the best activities to pursue in this reserve is going hiking, which most tourists come to do.

You can catch some of the gorgeous views of Bishop Peak from here.

There are also a lot of cliffs followed by a gorgeous canyon.

Bring Your Kids to the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum

The San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum is an excellent resource for children aged one to ten.

Children learn best when they are actively engaged in activities and exhibitions that are interactive, hands-on, and interesting to them.

When it comes to San Luis Obispo, it’s one of the best activities for families.

The museum’s three levels provide a wide range of indoor activities and educational opportunities.

They’ve been meticulously crafted to foster a sense of wonder, curiosity, and awe.

Throughout the year, there are various programs, and frequent visitors may apply for memberships.

Meet and Greet Farm Animals at Avila Valley Barn

Name board of Avila Valley Barn

Michael Vi /

On this farm, you can enjoy a relaxing day in the country with various activities.

Whether you’re simply passing by to pick up some ice cream or taking your kids to see the farm animals for the day, you’re sure to have a great time.

In addition to a broad selection of fresh, locally sourced food, there are also a variety of baked goods and presents for sale.

Visitors to the barn can find everything from ice cream and baked products to fresh veggies and fruits to fudge and chocolates.

On weekends, there are pony and hayrides, roasted corn, and other unique goodies.

Take Photos with the Structures in the Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard

The California Polytechnic University selected a 9-acre hillside property near the campus as an outdoor experimental building laboratory for its students.

Since its unveiling, visitors and residents have dubbed it “The Architecture Graveyard.”

The site has a variety of practical constructions, giving it the impression of a deserted collection of architectural oddities.

From miniature sculptures to full-fledged homes, the buildings span the spectrum.

The Architecture Graveyard hosts the Design Village in Poly Canyon each year.

Design students construct temporary experimental structures and then reside in them for a few days as part of a weekend-long event.

Cruise along the Highway One Discovery Route

In the center of the California Highway One Discovery Route, San Luis Obispo County may be found between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

A 101-mile road trip through San Luis Obispo is a terrific alternative if you’re bored and searching for something to do.

There are over 40 attractions in the city alone.

Traveling along the California Highway One Discovery Route lets you explore SLO in its natural, laid-back splendor.

Visiting the state’s heart and soul means stopping at some of the region’s best boutiques, wineries, hamlets, vistas, and beaches.

With so many things to do, you’ll never be bored.

Besides the expense of gas, driving along Highway One is one of the best things to do in the region for free.

Final Thoughts

San Luis Obispo, California, is a fun and exciting area to visit, with many attractions and activities to choose from.

Make the most out of your time in this pleasant city by checking out this list of the best things to do!

© All rights reserved.