Locals call this idyllic Central Coast city by its initials, SLO, which could imply there’s something backward about the wine-country town of more than 46,000. Hardly. California Polytechnic State University and Cuesta College keep the educational and cultural scene percolating, and the dining landscape has a farm-to-fork vibe. Visit the 243-year-old Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the fifth of California’s 21 missions. Residents and tourists flock to the bustling farmers market on Thursday nights to shop, eat, listen to music, and relax.
SEE: Lace up your hiking boots to explore the 30 miles of trails within city limits, or test your mettle with a four-mile round-trip hike up 1,546-foot Bishop Peak; access the trail from Patricia Avenue. Walk or bike the nearly six-mile route to Avila Beach and back via the paved Bob Jones City-to-Sea Trail. From July 16 through 26, Festival Mozaic brings innovative classical music to unique spaces. Colcannon will perform Irish music, and the Portland Cello project will blur musical lines as part of the Fringe Series of the festival (free to $75). “Peter Pan The Musical” comes to the Alex & Faye Spanos Theatre for six July performances ($35 to $40).
TASTE: Central Coast Food Tours stages 3½-hour walking excursions downtown that go beyond the plate to explore the area’s cultural and historical highlights ($69). Picnic at the Chamisal Vineyards for a view of the Santa Lucia Mountains, then head to the tasting room to sample chardonnay, pinot noir, and small-lot wines ($15 to $25; free when you buy two bottles). The Edna Valley Vineyard marks its 35th anniversary this month with a celebration of all things chardonnay from July 17 to 19, including extensive tastings, a crab dinner, and an afternoon of live music ($15 and up).
RELAX: At the Madonna Inn, guest rooms are themed with colors, cars, cities, animals, historical eras, and sports. So you can sleep on a bed with wagon wheels, or surrounded by walls of adobe, rocks, purple bricks, or gold glitter, or have a rock-lined “caveman” bathroom ($199 and up). For a charming European vibe, try Petit Soleil Bed and Breakfast ($179 to $299), where homemade quiche and coffee cakes are part of the bountiful breakfast, and local wines and fresh appetizers are served in the evening. The Apple Farm’s cheerful decor, fireplaces, wine tastings, and fresh cookies make the accommodations ultra cozy ($139 and up).
Getting there: San Luis Obispo is about 220 miles from Orange County. Try alternative transportation: Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and the Coast Starlight make local stops. Once there, you can walk, or ride city buses or the Old SLO Trolley.