Located between the lush green peaks of mid-California lives San Luis Obispo, or SLO for short. Near the coast and with a vibrant downtown scene, SLO offers the perfect balance of outdoor and indoor activities for all. Whether you’ve lived in SLO for years or are looking to buy a home or rent an apartment here, below you’ll find a compilation of the top San Luis Obispo bucket list items. Ranging from downtown activities to cafes to hikes and bikes to restaurants, this bucket list has it all.

Photo courtesy of Cycle Central Coast

1. Check out a trendy art cafe

If you’re like many of us and you can’t start your day without being properly caffeinated, SLO has an abundance of local coffee shops to choose from. One of the more uber-cool spots is The Bunker which not only serves coffee from the Nautical Bean, another local coffee spot, but also acts as an art gallery/event space/artist studio. Even cooler, The Bunker “has a new art exhibit every month with an ‘all are welcome’ opening on the first Friday of the month and tons of live music, workshops and events during the evenings.”

The outside of The Bunker, an art cafe spot on the ultimate San Luis Obispo bucket list
Photo courtesy of The Bunker

2. Support local at the farmers market

Located on one of SLO’s more ‘happening’ streets lives the weekly Downtown Farmers’ Market. The San Luis Obispo Guide boasts of the lively event: “Every Thursday evening, Higuera Street comes alive with live music and entertainment, the friendly chatter of locals and visitors alike, and the enticing aromas of delicious BBQ, fresh local produce from over 100 vendors, gourmet treats, and artisan goods.”

The Downtown Farmers’ Market is a great way to get involved with the community and support local businesses whether you’re grabbing a bite to eat, produce, or a handmade good. Shelby, from the travel blog Sedation Vacations, claims “There’s no better way to experience the vibe of the city than by going to the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market!…[T]his bustling market spans five blocks and features over 100 local vendors starting at 6 pm every Thursday night. Whether you’re looking for fresh produce, hand-crafted goods, delectable bread and pastries, or just want to be entertained by live music while enjoying some famous Central Coast BBQ, there’s something for everyone at the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market!”

Busy street with people and tents for the San Luis Obispo Downtown Farmer's Market, one of the many stops on the San Luis Obispo bucket list
Photo Courtesy of the San Luis Obispo Guide

3. Shop ‘till you drop in Downtown San Luis Obispo

A SLO must is exploring Downtown SLO and stopping at many – if not all – the cute stores. One of the best is the SLO General Store which is located inside the SLO Public Market and is a one-stop shop for local gifts. Not only do they have a variety of great gifts, but the shop was “created with the mission to provide opportunities for local artisans and makers to connect with local consumers, the SLO General Store features over 80 local artisans, growers, and makers.” 

4. Take a trip to Morro Bay

If you’re looking for an escape to the water, Morro Bay is the perfect little trip and is only a quick 20-minute drive from SLO. The Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce recommends three main activities: the Lost Isle Adventures tour to learn about the history of the bay, Morro Bay Boat Rentals for those wanting to captain their own 10’ boat, and Morro Bay Sub Sea Tours which features a harbor cocktail cruise, glass bottom boat, and whale watching. If you time it right, you’ll get to sea (get it?) whales on the bay as “Morro Bay is on the migration pattern to two different whale species, gray whales and humpback whales.”

Sunset at Morro Bay, a stop on the San Luis Obispo bucket list for several tours
Photo Courtesy of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce

5. Take the scenic route—by bike!

One of the main draws of SLO is its beautiful outdoors and “access to an incredible range of roads and trails” for a nature walk, run, rollerblade, or our recommendation — a bike ride! If you don’t own a bike, Cycle Central Coast has several shops in SLO where you can rent them. Beaming about the incredible coastal views, take their “endurance cycling excursion through our Cycle Central Coast Morro Rock Descent route[or] clim[b] the dirt paths and grit-testing inland hills of the Central Coast” or range of long-distance routes. Despite bike level, there’s sure to be the perfect scenic route for everyone. 

6. Take a hike

There’s so much gorgeous scenery to explore in SLO, and much of it can be seen on a hike. Artist Bobby of Bobby Boss Art finds much inspiration from SLO’s gorgeous landscapes and recommends finding “a hiking buddy and explor[ing] a trail like the “M Trail” on Cerro San Luis” for “amazing views of the city, and quintessential nature experience for SLO.” In fact, the M Trail is just one of the three stops of the SLO “Tri Tip Peak Challenge.” This physical challenge includes hiking the M Trail, Bishop’s Peak, and California Polytechnic University’s “P” in one day, and ends at local eatery, Firestone Grill, for a tri-tip sandwich reward.

7. Try new cuisine

If a tri-tip sandwich isn’t your cup of tea, SLO has several incredible restaurants to choose from. If you’re looking to try a new cuisine, like Ethiopian, Ebony SLO is one of the best, and is both minority- and women-owned. Created with the goal of bringing community together over food, Ebony has indoor and outdoor seating which is perfect for those sunny California days, Ethiopian music, and “[It’s] a must visit for the amazing, vegan, organic and gluten-free food cooked with love and care.” according to the place itself. If you’re looking for unique fusion food, another great restaurant option is Todo Bueno All Good Grill, a wok-seared, California-Mexican joint. This place has balcony dining with a view of the SLO Public Market and a great selection of draft beers and local wines.

A spread of Ethiopian food from Ebony SLO, a restaurant on the San Luis Obispo bucket list
Photo courtesy of Ebony SLO

8. Sample wine with a side of adventure

Speaking of wine, if you’re of age, Uncorked Wine Tours offers a unique wine tour that combines a zipline excursion and tastings of local wine. If you’re curious about the day’s itinerary, they’ve outlined it for you: “[You’ll] begin your day soaring through the picturesque landscapes on a zipline excursion over lush vineyards at Margarita Adventures. Afterwards, immerse yourself in the region’s rich viticultural heritage with wine tastings and a delectable lunch at a charming winery. Finally, unwind with handcrafted spirits and a visit to a local brewery, completing an unforgettable exploration of SLO’s vibrant culture, and natural beauty.”

9. Soaring through SLO via helicopter 

If you’re in the mood for even more adventure, add flying a helicopter to your San Luis Obispo bucket list. Helipro offers an introductory flight where you take the controls (with experienced instructors of course) to experience SLO from a new perspective. Helipro says this experience is for all levels: “Whether you’re a budding aviator or simply seeking an unforgettable adventure, this is your chance to elevate your senses and create lasting memories.” This unique experience provides hands-on experience for those wanting to soar through the skies and take in the picturesque SLO nature from a bird’s eye view. 

10. Visit the lavender

Beyond the bay, Downtown, and the several peaks, SLO is also close by to beautiful farms. From mid-May to the end of June, luscious fields of lavender bloom at Hambly Farms. This farm features three football fields filled with various types of lavender, which is perfect for a late spring/early summer stroll. You can harvest a fresh bouquet, relax in the scent and enjoy the view, pack a picnic, visit the friendly farm animals, and check out “the farm store loaded with estate grown and crafted products like lavender essential oil and sachets and lots of treats to eat too – charcuterie boxes, gelato, and more” as Hambly Farms recommends. 

People picking lavender in a field at Hambly Farms, a stop on the San Luis Obispo bucket list
Photo courtesy of Hambly Farms

11. Stop by a local bakery for a sweet little treat

If you’re in the mood for a treat after all those activities, or just have a bit of a sweet tooth, SLO is home to several tasty local bakeries. An SLO staple is SloDoCo, a donut shop featuring several flavors, seasonal specials (I love the worms n’ soil donut in the fall!), and options for different food preferences. Jackie, the gluten-free food blogger of Gluten Free Follow Me, recommends SloDoCo, especially for gluten-free eaters: “I’m gluten-free so I was excited to discover that they make GF donuts! I’ve tried the GF chocolate, lavender, vanilla, and maple donut flavors, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.” 

Another great place for a treat, especially on a warmer day is The Creamery Marketplace, a marketplace located behind the intersection of Higuera and Nipomo streets. A best-kept local secret, the open-air market merges the Central Coast’s storied dairy history with a modern experience with several “diverse eateries, artisan handiwork, and a bustling culinary community – all hidden in plain sight” according to The Creamery.

12. Tour the SLO coast

Besides Morro Bay, SLO has its very own bay with equally great tours. SLO Tours offers boat adventures in the San Luis Obispo Bay to “explore Fossil Point Sea Caves, Otter Town, Pelican Jetty, Sea Lion Rock, Smith Island and views of Point San Luis Lighthouse in just one tour” says owner and captain Micheal Brink. The animal sightings and beautiful views make an excursion on the bay more than worthwhile, along with a great way to get familiar with the surrounding nature.

13. Experience the local art scene

SLO is also home to a vibrant art scene with a special local tradition that occurs on the first Friday of every month and spans across several neighborhoods in SLO. Art After Dark is a self-guided art walk where “the SLO community is welcome to enjoy visual, literary, and performing art at local businesses and galleries” according to SLO County Arts. Not only is this a unique opportunity to support local artists and businesses and get connected with the community, but what better way to get immersed in SLO culture than through art? 

Two people looking at three painting at Art After Dark, a special art experience mentioned in the San Luis Obispo bucket list
Photo courtesy of SLO County Arts

14. Go on a food tour

SLO has proven to be a hub for great food, but if you’re looking for a special foodie experience, add this culinary journey to your list. Taste of SLO – Walking Food Tour offers a one-of-a-kind experience that takes users through Downtown SLO streets to sample foods “from locally sourced artisanal cheeses to mouthwatering farm-to-table dishes” for the ultimate taste of SLO’s thriving food scene. This tour really is for everyone whether “you’re a seasoned foodie or just discovering your palate, our expert guides will lead you to hidden gems and iconic eateries that will leave you craving more” says Taste of SLO. 

15. Hang out with animals 

SLO is also close to animal sanctuaries like the Greener Pastures Farm Sanctuary in Arroyo Grande, which is just a short drive from Downtown SLO. This is the perfect activity for animal lovers of all ages as the farm has a variety of animals to meet from miniature donkeys to goats to sheep to geese to name a few. Since this is a sanctuary, Greener Pastures invites the public to “meet the rescued animals up close and hear their stories of triumph and forgiveness from docents who work with them weekly.” This experience is guaranteed to warm your heart with the cute animals and inspiring recovery stories. 

16. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

The ultimate SLO bucket list wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. As the first mission founded in the land of the Chumash Native Americans, this place is a special piece of SLO history. Michael of MK Library recommends grabbing a coffee or bite to eat downtown and taking a stroll along the San Luis Obispo Creek Trail. “There are plenty of spots to sit and enjoy a bit of greenery, with quick access to the local and very unique artistically boutique shops. If you time it right, you can experience the bells from Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa” says Michael. If you want to hear the bells ring up close, we recommend visiting the Mission’s garden for an up-close look at the beautiful architecture to really absorb SLO’s historic roots.

This post was originally published on this site