In San Luis Obispo, Come For the Fine Wine and Stay For the Arts and Outdoors

San Luis Obispo California Insider Guides
by Eileen Rhein Jul 18, 2023

Never one to shy away from some good word play, I was pleasantly surprised with the already strong presence of playful witticisms as I stepped off the plane in San Luis Obispo. SLO irresistible, SLO much fun, SLO down and enjoy — puns playing off the abbreviation of this California city abound.

San Luis Obispo is near the coast in Central California. With easy access to wineries, mountains, and the Pacific Ocean, the city is the heart of San Luis Obispo County, which stretches up the coastline to Morro Bay and inland toward Paso Robles. The college town is home to Cal Poly, and swells in population when school is in session. There’s a long list of things that make this an attractive place to visit, from the arts, to wine and food, to a certain quirkiness that can’t be found elsewhere.

Visiting San Luis Obispo wine country

drinking wine near san luis obispo


No trip to San Luis Obispo is complete without a visit to nearby wine country. The recently designated SLO Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 2022 and covers the area from the Santa Barbara County line to the south and the Monterey County line to the north. The 78 vineyards here are defined by their proximity to the Pacific and the cool weather that it brings. The wineries are relaxed and approachable — many have no minimum spend on tastings, don’t require reservations, and are just a short drive from downtown.

On a sunny afternoon visit, Jean-Pierre Wolff, winemaker and co-owner of Wolff Vineyards, exemplified the inclusiveness of the region’s wineries as he told me how he’s pleased when guests say they don’t know anything about wine. California’s newest AVA, it turns out, is the perfect place to learn.

With about 30 wineries producing wine from grape varieties like chardonnay, pinot noir, albariño, syrah, grenache, and more, there’s a wide range of wines to try depending on your palate. SLO Cast has a long growing season that leads to balanced wine grapes. Plus, compared to other California regions, the wines are surprisingly affordable.

A particularly fun way to explore SLO Wine Country is with a sidecar tour from Third Wheel Tours. A modern spin on a vintage sidecar, Third Wheel can take you from winery to winery in style while providing great photo opportunities, or drive you around a single vineyard. I felt like the star of a black and white movie as I rode in the sidecar, eye level with luscious green vines, through gently rolling hills at Wolff Vineyards.

Finding art, adventure, and locally crafted goods in SLO County

downtown san luis obispo


If arts and crafts are more your style, there’s plenty to explore in San Luis Obispo. The city’s artistic spirit is present in the many murals dotted around town, along with the ever quirky Bubble Gum Alley, a narrow stretch of high walls between two buildings that have been entirely coated in gum (regularly power washed, of course).

yoga near san luis obispo


San Luis Obispo also offers a myriad of physical activities and adventures. Whether that’s an aerial yoga class at The Center Slo or a gentle sunset hike up Terrace Hill. In the case of the latter, the easy 0.8-mile hike led to an unobstructed plateau where you can sit and enjoy the city below. I used it as an opportunity for a meditation session with a local guide, but others simply visited with friends or gazed at the view.

The Hat Bar by Kate Kaney

I was particularly enthralled with a hat making experience at The Hat Bar by Kate Kaney. Kaney had seen hat making, where guests are invited to select a blank hat from their wide selection before choosing from an array of supplies with which to decorate the hat, take place in other cities before deciding to bring the concept home to her already well-known boutique, The Mercantile. I sifted through piles of colorful feathers, bright buttons, ribbons, leather, and twine like a kid in a candy shop, thoughtfully selecting items that would color match and offset one another while representing aspects of my own personality and hobbies. After, the staff helped secure the items to my hat and assisted with personal branding by burning my initials into the hat. Our entire group left with smiles on our faces, proudly donning our new creations.

The Mercantile and The Hat Bar: 950 Chorro St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Horseback Riding

To evoke the cowboy past of the region, take a trail ride with Madonna Inn & Stables to the top of a nearby hill overlooking fields and rolling plains below. Trail rides are available to hotel guests and day visitors, with both novice and skilled riders welcome to take in the stunning landscape with experienced wranglers and gentle horses. As I rode Cactus, a brown and white pinto stallion, a prairie dog sat perched on a rock surveying the terrain, pink and yellow cactus flowers bloomed and a turkey vulture circled above.

Madonna Inn & Stables: 100 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo, CA

Anam Cre’ Pottery Studio

Spent a relaxing morning or afternoon at Anam Cre’ Pottery Studio, which offers classes, workshops, and a membership community where students can learn the fundamentals of working with clay. We learned to throw on the pottery wheel, sculpting beautiful mugs and later carved slabs of clay into cheese boards decorated with delicate stamp work.

Anam Cre’ Pottery Studio: 1243 Monterey St Suite 100, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Vibe Health Lounge

The city’s go-to healing center and day spa, Vibe Health Lounge offers guests a place to unwind and reconnect. After one of the best massages I’ve ever had (and I do pride myself on being a bit of a massage connoisseur), I indulged in state of the art holistic treatments such as a Chakra Crystal Vibroacoustic Sound Bed, a relaxing massage bed with colored chakra crystals and sound therapy; and the Lucia N°03 Light Experience, a form of light therapy meant to lower stress and provide deep relaxation.

Vibe Health Lounge: 1238 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

The Center Yoga Studio

This yoga studio is the perfect place to reset and unwind. There are two non-heated studios and an infrared-heated studio where classes are held every day of the week, and guests can choose from a variety of different types of activity, including hot yoga, barre, HIIT, and pilates. One highlight is the aerial yoga, where hammocks act as a prop that helps you through various postures and ends with a savasana in the hammock.

The Center Yoga Studio: 672 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Where to eat in San Luis Obispo


One sunny day, I spent the afternoon learning how to make injera, a form of sour fermented bread from Ethiopia, at Ebony with restaurant founder Helen Abraha, before lunching on her delicious food. A family run business, Abraha and team open up their restaurant every Thursday to Saturday offering organic, vegan, and gluten-free Ethiopian dishes with a focus on community and climate-friendly practices. Going from cooking for her actual neighbors to full blown restauranteur, Abraha has created a spot that’s a worthwhile stop.

Ebony: 4750 Allene Way, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401


Mistura offers Peruvian gastronomy in downtown SLO along with a gourmet chocolatier. Chef Nicola Allegretta serves creative Peruvian dishes that balance the traditional and modern, from chicha morada pisco sours (complete with house-distilled pisco), to ají de gallina (a spicy chicken stew), to lomo saltado (a Peruvian stir fry), to mushroom or lobster ravioli and Peruvian sushi. Meanwhile, gourmet chocolates and desserts made by renowned pastry chef Florencia Breda are sold at Breda, the chocolatier inside Mistura. There, Breda’s sweets are edible works of art that could easily be found in any gourmet chocolatier in Paris, and taste even better. I sipped on my cold pisco sour and bit into a gooey, delicately painted chocolate, wondering whether I’d suddenly landed in Peru or Paris.

Mistura: 570 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market

This lively event runs for five blocks in the center of town every Thursday, showcasing food stalls, arts and crafts, street performers, and more. As elsewhere in town, farm to table is a way of life and vendors showcase the local bounty, which no doubt inspires the vibrant restaurant scene nearby. This being California, the market runs through winter from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM November through February, and 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM March through October.

Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market: Higuera Street downtown


Located in the heart of downtown SLO, this restaurant focuses on locally sourced ingredients used in globally inspired recipes, craft cocktails, an award-winning wine list, and a breathtaking atmosphere. Sitting under the trees which lean out over the creek, I once again felt as though I was somewhere else entirely.

Novo: 726 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Where to stay in San Luis Obispo

We hope you love the spaces we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.

Granada Hotel & Bistro
granada hotel in san luis obispo

Photo: Expedia

After my cross-country flight from NYC and a quick 2-mile drive, I arrived in the city center, where I checked in to the enchanting Granada Hotel & Bistro.

This historic boutique hotel is in a building that was built in 1922. It went through several changes over the decades before being lovingly restored and reopened as the hotel in 2012. Within the original brick walls, the hotel offers 17 unique guest rooms, some large and spacious with a private terrace or balcony, others cozy and charming, but all with chic modern bathrooms, in-room fireplaces and decor serves as an ode to a bygone era. The hotel also has a popular restaurant serving up globally inspired, locally sourced cuisine in a leafy, garden setting; and Nightcap, a craft cocktail bar decked out in leather, wood, and exposed brick.

As I climbed the steps and entered the dimly lit lobby, my eyes adjusting from the bright sunlight outside, I noticed piano keys hung artistically above a set of old-fashioned key boxes behind the check in desk. I sipped a glass of cold California rosé poured by the concierge, and the scent of rosewood, copal, and amber (the hotel’s signature scent) filled the air. I raised my glass and settled into my chair as the hustle and bustle of New York City already felt like a lifetime away.

I stayed in one of the premiere suites, The Granada Queen, featuring a Juliet balcony, floor to ceiling windows, exposed brick, and a curved shower with a peekaboo window. I peered out over the balcony at the leafy street below and imagined myself sipping a coffee and reading my favorite book.

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The Madonna Inn

Constructed in 1958, the pseudo-Swiss-Alps exterior of the historic Madonna Inn gives way to a bright pink lobby accented by an overwhelming amount of flowers, hammered copper, stone, and western murals. It’s like if the Swiss Alps and 1950s Vegas had a baby, and then Elvis and Dolly Parton decorated. It’s wonderfully kitsch, and, quite frankly, I was all for it. The signature bright pink color is everywhere – from the pink brocade wallpaper to the pink leather seats topped with ornate gold banisters alongside pale pink tablecloths, to the bright pink carpet patterned with oversized pink roses and blue hydrangeas. In the evening, diners tuck into steak and drink from enormous, jewel-toned goblets while the enormous stone fireplace roars gently.

The Swiss-Alps style restaurant and bakery next door are equally iconic, serving world famous cakes like the Pink Champagne, a white cake with layers of Bavarian and whipped cream and topped with neon pink curls. The entire place is so grandiose and full of character and well worth a stop for photos or a snack in the restaurant and bakery, even if you’re not staying here.

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