San Luis Obispo
● By Style
Photos by David E. Garth Photography
Situated almost exactly half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, you’ll run into San Luis Obispo when driving along the central coast’s Highway 101.
What some call “pure California,” San Luis Obispo has been a hot spot for year-round visitors for many years…especially for those coming up from the southern parts of the state. However, for northern Californians, SLO is becoming an increasingly popular mecca for recreationalists and relaxation artists alike. This month, Style offers you a sampling of the not-to-miss in the County of San Luis Obispo.
Nestled in the hills of San Simeon (just north of SLO) sits the historical and majestic Hearst Castle. Named after the former entrepreneur and business tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the 90,000-plus square foot palace hosts six different tours daily, including Style editor’s pick – the Gardens & Vista tour. This self-guided tour explores the estate’s fanciful gardens and blows your imagination with sweeping views of the mountains, ocean and castle. Another must-see destination spot is the famous Madonna Inn. Even if you don’t stay overnight to experience one of their many fully-themed, ecclectic rooms, you can find much to do on the property such as spa treatments, fine dining and shopping. Open since 1958, Madonna Inn’s Gold Rush dining room includes a hand-carved marble balustrade (row of balusters), which came from the Hearst Castle.
If you like the Discovery Channel, then you will likely want to make a stop at Piedras Blancas at the beaches of San Simeon and Ragged Point, to take in the sights (year-round) of elephant seals. The viewing point, just south of the lighthouse in San Simeon, is a wonderful experience and there’s even trained docents on hand to answer any questions. After you’ve shaken the sand from your shirt, head to Bubble Gum Alley – on Higuera Street just north of Broad Street. That’s right, you can pick up a gumball on the way (several shops have gumball machines on the sidewalk), chew and stick…to leave your historical mark. This has been a pastime for visitors since 1960!
Every Thursday night from 6-9 p.m. in downtown San Luis Obispo, find more than 120 vendors providing the likes of everything from ribs, sausage and tri-tip to flowers, produce and seasonal treats. While you’re here, fill a picnic basket full of artisenal goods to make a lunch at one of the many area parks. On Friday nights, June 4-August 27, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. – enjoy the “Concerts in the Plaza” in downtown San Luis Obispo. In the morning, if you’re up to it, take a tour of the scenic area. Check out the Laguna Lake Trail, Lemon Grove Loop and the Prefumo Canyon for some splendid views and terrain.
On September 15, join the town in celebrating the “Taste of San Luis” with over 60 local restaurants, wineries and breweries participating; it is a great event to experience the real culture. If you can’t make this festival, try Sunset Magazine’s “Savor the Central Coast” from September 30 through October 1 of this year…sure to be a great event for visitors of all kinds.
Another outdoor haven not to miss is the state park of Montano del Oro…one of California’s largest parks. There are acres of rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, coastal plains, streams, canyons and hills to take advantage of, whether by camera or experience.
The recommended stops for wine enthusiasts include the EOS Estate Winery in Paso Robles (a short drive from SLO), along with other area vintners including: J. Lohr, Still Water Vineyards, Tolosa Winery, and Baileyana Winery. These are all great scenic spots to have a good sip…or two.