Located at the intersection of California’s scenic Highway 1 and 101, discover San Luis Obispo. Surrounded by a dramatic coastline, rolling hills, and valley vineyards, this small town is a laid-back oasis. It has been hailed as “the happiest city in America” by Oprah and once you get there it’s easy to see why.
SLO, as the locals affectionately call it, has its moment. A renaissance, if you will. And it deserves a lot more than a short whistle-free tour. Clear air, bright colors, sunny days and cool nights form the perfect interface between untouched nature and a lively gourmet and wine culture.
Don’t let SLO’s low-key mood fool you. Casual yet sophisticated, it’s an emerging world-class vacation destination that is still entirely yours. No crowds. No souvenir shops. Instead of fridge magnets, head home with a suitcase full of excellent wines and memories of hikes under colorful oak trees, exquisite restaurants and silky pinot noir.
Where to sleep
Downtown SLO is the place. This historic town square has a meandering stream with farm-to-table restaurants, charming squares, artisanal cafes and of course the city’s architectural gem: Mission San Luis Obispo.
The newly launched LEED Standard Hotel Cerro makes sustainability sexy and brings an element of Art Nouveau sophistication to the historic inner city of SLO. The garden suites are a treat, with chic new rooms carefully furnished with private patios and fire bowls, and overlooking a fragrant edible organic garden. Relax with an aromatic bath in a freestanding tub, from which the water flows elegantly. Wait for it … the ceiling!
The rooftop pool of the hotel has just the right relaxing vacation atmosphere with panoramic views of the famous rolling hills of SLO, a curated playlist, comfy cabanas accessible to everyone, and an elevated pool menu of farm-to-glass cocktails that come with Spirits made from the kitchen are made at home artisanal distillery.
For a quaint boutique getaway, the Garden Street Inn is a historic treasure. This 1887 Victorian home features classic decor, fireplaces, private patios, original stained glass windows, claw foot tubs, and chandeliers. Each room has unique, stylish features and some are dog friendly. Breakfast is quite a business: wake up to locally roasted coffee and a homemade takeaway breakfast box with hot muffins, fruit compote, and delicious daily specials.
During the COVID shutdown, the Garden Street Inn demonstrated SLO’s commitment to its community. Rather than lay off employees, the inn kept all employees in for a major update under Design Director Michelle McClory. The result? A wonderful balance of historical chic.
Where to go wine tasting
The wine country is only a few minutes away from downtown SLO. Famed for its cool climate grapes, rich volcanic soil and refreshing coastal breeze, Edna Valley produces award-winning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, just a few of the region’s distinctive grape varieties.
Jean Pierre Wolff of Wolff Vineyards, once criticized as a wine merchant, is now lauded for his environmentally friendly, certified practices for sustainable cultivation. His multiple award-winning wines Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Teroldego, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Riesling are small series productions with minimal influence that allow the terroir to sing out of the glass.
Relax under olive trees in the Tolosa vineyards as you try the premium single vineyard wine flight. In the end, you’ll see Edna Valley wines compete among even more well-known appellations. Treat yourself to a day off at Baileyana, Tangent, and True Myth Winery, which have taken over a historic 1900s schoolhouse as a tasting room. Enjoy a sip outdoors with a view of the mountains and valley and discover over 30 wines.
A little further in the SLO CAL wine region on Hwy 1 Discovery Route is Arroyo Grande. Here Talley Estate Wines relies on a Burgundian winemaking style with a real Californian influence, which brings fresh minerality and fruity aromas in harmony. Their Pinot Noirs are elegant and silky with expressions of violets and cranberries.
Where to dine
Chefs flock to SLO for easy access to small farms, caught fish, fresh artisanal cheeses, and of course, exciting local wines.
Chef Nicola Allegretta from Mistura begins each day with meditative yoga on Avila Beach before searching for the unique flavors of his wonderfully coated, Peruvian-inspired dishes. The must-try dishes include the hominy tamales with black squid ink topped with wild prawns in aji sauce. Or enjoy one of his bright and spicy fresh cebiches with spicy Leche de Tigre. Its white sea bass is a symphony of delicate flavors. And desserts are culinary entertainment: the papaya crème brûlée is roasted before your eyes while liquid nitrogen smokes from the chocolaty Machu Picchu.
The French-inspired brasserie SLO at Hotel Cerro is equally divine for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Dine al fresco on the French-themed terrace or in the colorful Mission Fig Patio under a living wall of lush plants. The recipes contain vegetables, herbs and aromatic plants from the edible garden. Local favorites include the 48-hour slow fermented margarita pizza, the black truffle risotto, the hour-fresh Morro Bay oysters, and a host of enviable vegetable sides.
On the way to the wine country, a stop at the multi-concept Farmhouse Corner Market is a must. Chef Will Torres delivers farm-fresh specialties like his captured Albilore Kinilaw Bowl with Thai basil, blossoms, crispy garlic and pickled Fresno chilli. Or refresh yourself with the Shirazi salad, an heirloom tomato lover’s dream. Don’t go without trying the seasonal organic ice cream!
For post-dinner cocktails by the creek, head to Sidecar, which has a pop-up terrace for the famous Tiki Night: a modern take on an old classic. Choose your favorite tiki drink from an extensive list or let the mixologist surprise you with an individual preparation.
Where you can relax
Relaxing in SLO is easy: just one of the reasons it’s one of the happiest cities in America. Discover the latest wellness technology in Sloco, a state-of-the-art wellness center. Whole body cryotherapy helps reduce inflammation, while dry salt therapy helps deep breathing. The LED light therapy rejuvenates the cells and the meditation Somadome puts you in a restorative brainwave state.
Of course, you can just go outside to enjoy the natural beauty of SLO. Take a meditative hike through Perfumo Canyon and Terrace Hill Trail and picnic upstairs or feel the breeze in your hair on the Serenity Swing. Grab a basket and pick ripe organic apples straight from the tree at SLO Creek Farms or build a bouquet of bright and blooming wildflowers. Between the sun-drenched days, the invigorating coastal breeze, the crisp nights, the delicious wine, and the farm-fresh food, you may also find that you are the happiest you’ve ever been.
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