Nestled at the intersection of California’s picturesque Highway 1 and 101, you'll discover San Luis Obispo. Surrounded by a dramatic coastline, rolling hills, and valley vineyards, this small town is a laid-back oasis. It was praised by Oprah as the “Happiest City in America," and once you get there, it’s easy to see why.
SLO, as locals affectionately call it, is having its moment. A renaissance if you will. And it merits much more than a quick whistle stop tour. Crisp air, bright colors, sunny days, and cool nights create the perfect intersection of pristine nature and a vibrant foodie and wine culture.
Don’t be fooled by SLO’s low-key vibe. Casual yet refined, it's an emerging world-class vacation destination that's still all yours. No crowds. No souvenir shops. Instead of refrigerator magnets, you'll head home with a trunk full of excellent wine and memories of hikes under color-soaked oak trees, exquisite restaurants, and silky pinot noir.
Where to Stay
Downtown SLO is the place to be. This historic city square has a meandering creek dotted with farm-to-table restaurants, charming plazas, artisanal coffee shops, and of course, the city's architectural gem: Mission San Luis Obispo.
The newly debuted LEED-standard Hotel Cerro makes sustainability sexy and brings an element of nouveau sophistication to SLO's historic downtown. The garden suites are a worthy splurge, with chic new rooms thoughtfully appointed with private patios and fire bowls that overlook a fragrant edible organic garden. Relax with an aromatic soak in a free-standing tub where water elegantly flows down from, wait for it... the ceiling!
The hotel's rooftop pool hits just the right relaxing vacation vibe, with panoramic views of SLO's iconic rolling hills, a curated playlist, cushy cabanas open to everyone, and an elevated pool menu with farm-to-glass cocktails made with spirits from its in-house artisanal distillery.
For a quaint boutique stay, the Garden Street Inn is a historic treasure. This 1887 Victorian home boasts classic decor, fireplaces, private patios, original stained glass windows, clawfoot tubs, and chandeliers. Every room features unique stylish features, and some are dog friendly. Breakfast is quite an affair: Wake up to locally roasted coffee and a homemade to-go breakfast box with warm 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 staff, the inn kept all employees for a top-to-bottom refresh under design director Michelle McClory. The result? A gorgeous balance of historic chic.
Where to Go Wine Tasting
Just minutes from downtown SLO is wine country. Famous for cool-climate grapes, rich volcanic soil, and refreshing coastal breezes, Edna Valley produces award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay, only a few of the region's varietals with a distinctive character.
Once criticized for being a vine hugger, Jean Pierre Wolff of Wolff Vineyards is now praised for his ecologically friendly, certified sustainable growing practices. His multiple award-winning Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Teroldego, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Riesling wines are small lot productions with minimal influence allowing for the terroir to sing out of the glass.
From the Organic Authority Files
At Tolosa vineyards, relax under olive trees as you taste through its premium single-vineyard wine flight. By the end, you'll see how Edna Valley wines are contenders amongst even more famous appellations. Top of the day off with Baileyana, Tangent, and True Myth Winery, which took over a historic 1900s schoolhouse as its tasting room. Sip al fresco with mountain and valley views, and discover over thirty wines.
A bit further into the SLO CAL wine region on the Hwy 1 Discovery Route is Arroyo Grande. Here, Talley Estate Wines embraces a Burgundian winemaking style with a true California influence that balances fresh minerality and fruity aromatics. Their pinot noirs are elegant and silky with expressions of violet and cranberry.
Where to Dine
Chefs flock to SLO for easy access to small farms, line-caught fish, fresh artisanal cheeses, and, of course, exciting local wines.
Chef Nicola Allegretta of Mistura begins each day with meditative yoga at Avila Beach before foraging for the unique flavors featured in his gorgeously-plated, Peruvian-inspired dishes. Must-try dishes include the black squid ink hominy tamales topped with wild shrimp in aji sauce. Or savor one of his bright and flavorful fresh cebiches with spicy leche de tigre. His white seabass is a symphony of delicate flavors. And deserts are culinary entertainment: The papaya creme brûlée is toasted before your eyes, while liquid nitrogen smokes from the chocolatey Machu Picchu.
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. Recipes feature vegetables, herbs, and aromatic botanicals from the edible garden. Local favorites are the 48-hour slow-fermented margarita pizza, black truffle risotto, hours-fresh Morro Bay oysters, and a bevy of enviable vegetable sides.
En route to wine country, a stop at the multi-concept Farmhouse Corner Market is a must. Chef Will Torres delivers farm-fresh specialties like his line-caught albacore Kinilaw Bowl with Thai basil, blossoms, crispy garlic, and pickled Fresno chili. Or refresh with the Shirazi Salad, an heirloom tomatoes lover's dream. Don't leave without trying their seasonal organic ice cream!
For after-dinner creekside cocktails, head to Sidecar with a happening pop-up patio for their famous Tiki Night: a modern take on an old classic. Pick your favorite tiki drink from an extensive list, or let the mixologist surprise you with a custom concoction.
Where to Relax
It's easy to unwind and relax in SLO: just one of the reasons it's one of America's happiest cities. Explore the latest wellness technology at Sloco, a state-of-the-wellness center. Whole-body cryotherapy helps reduce inflammation, while dry salt therapy assists with deep breathing. LED light therapy, meanwhile, rejuvenates cells, and the meditation Somadome gets you into a restorative brainwave state.
Of course, you can also just go outside to soak up SLO's natural beauty. Take a meditative hike through Perfumo Canyon and the Terrace Hill trail and picnic at the top, or feel the breeze in your hair on the Serenity Swing. Grab a basket and pick ripe organic apples right off the tree at SLO Creek Farms, or build a bouquet of bright and blooming wildflowers. Between the sun-soaked days, invigorating coastal breezes, crisp nights, delish wine, and farm-fresh dining, you too might just discover that you're the happiest you've ever been.
Find Donna on Instagram.