bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background
Two nights in San Luis Obispo, CA–Big Trip #4

Two nights in San Luis Obispo, CA–Big Trip #4

We visited SLO in late October 2022, as part of Big Trip #4.

downtown SLO streetscape
downtown SLO

San Luis Obispo was originally supposed to be the next stop after Santa Cruz. We pictured ourselves doing the entire scenic drive along Route 1 through Big Sur in one day from top to bottom; instead, we did the top half of the drive, spent a night in Big Sur (the village), and backtracked north to Napa so J could go to a business meeting. Then, to get back on track schedule-wise, we scooted directly down to SLO on the less-scenic US 101.

Morro Rock over the harbor at Morro Bay
Morro Rock and its harbor

That meant, since we missed the second half of Route 1, we still had a lot we needed to see outside of SLO in addition to wandering around town, so we stayed busy exploring!

San Luis Obispo is located near the coast of Central California, about halfway between the San Francisco area to the north and the Los Angeles area to the south, and it’s the home of Cal Poly. Here are my two favorite tidbits from the SLO Wikipedia page:

  • San Luis Obispo was known as the “Barrio del Tigre” (Spanish for “Tiger Town”) in the late 19th century, owing to the multitude of robberies and murders taking place there.
  • Due to its popularity as a stop [along the route to LA], it was the location of the first motel in the world, the Milestone Mo-Tel.


Bugsy and the Airstream at El Chorro Regional Park Campground
our campsite at El Chorro

We stayed at El Chorro Regional Park Campground, in a large, pretty county park. Our full-hookup site was private and shady and we enjoyed it other than the loud music until 2am from the once-a-year party at the golf club. Bad timing for us! Be careful staying there on a Friday night in October!

The park is between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, on the coast. It’s about a 12-minute drive to downtown SLO, and closer to 20 minutes to the heart of Morro Bay.



the gardens at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
strolling through the gardens at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Downtown San Luis Obispo is a super cute, compact grid of shops and restaurants. We did find one of the “must-see”s a bit horrifying though: Bubblegum Alley is, yes, an alley with wads of gum stuck to the walls. They call it public art, I call it gross!


J will have to give you the brewery details, because I didn’t make any notes about beers. Take it away, J:

beer on the deck at Central Coast Brewing

Our first stop for beer in SLO was the original location of Central Coast Brewing in the Mill Street neighborhood. The tasting room houses a small little interior bar with the front door open to a patio that looks onto High School mountain. They had 14 beers on draft, including two NE IPAs, a NE double IPA and an imperial raspberry kettle sour that L liked but lamented the relatively high ABV (7.5%). We liked the patio and the beers were good enough. 

beers at There Does Not Exist
There Does Not Exist, which is the name of the brewery

The next day, we hit the intriguingly-named There Does Not Exist. It’s a cool, modern, dog-friendly space with a big and broad beer list, but sadly no sours. We both liked the scene a lot, however, and J was a fan of their hazy IPAs. 


sliders and Brussels sprouts at Taste
sliders and Brussels sprouts at Taste

From our pre-trip research, we’d placed Taste Craft Eatery at the top of our food wishlist, because: sliders and Brussels sprouts! We loved the concept, even if the food didn’t completely blow us away.

cocktails and lettuce wraps at Novo
cocktails and a snack at Novo

Novo also grabbed our attention from our SLO research, mostly for it’s creekside outdoor dining area. However, when we stopped by on our second afternoon, we sat at the bar (we tried for a table out back by the creek, but it was full) for a cocktail and a snack of lettuce wraps. Good food, good drinks, good service.


coffee at Field Day Coffee
Field Day Coffee latte

There are a million local coffee shops in SLO, so we just picked one from Google’s “best coffee shop SLO” results. Field Day Coffee was a pleasant spot for coffee and wi-fi, although at the time of our visit the wi-fi wasn’t working.

Beyond SLO

seagull vs otter
the seagull wanted the otter’s scraps

Our first morning in town, we drove to the coast. Morro Bay is a small, touristy seaside town on an artificial harbor protected by Morro Rock, a picturesque volcanic plug. We walked along the harbor, enjoying the views and laughing at the interactions between a seagull and an otter.

fish tacos and Morro Rock at Galley
fish tacos with a view at The Galley

We visited two establishments in Morro Bay. For lunch, we chose The Galley Seafood Grill for yummy fish tacos and a table along the window overlooking the harbor.

harborside beer at Libertine
harborside beer at Libertine

Before leaving, we popped into the Morro Bay location of SLO-based Libertine Brewing Co, which sort of came across as a dumpy old bar / restaurant with beautiful views of Morro bay. They specialize in wild sours and farmhouse ales and had six of their own beers on tap, plus a number of guest taps and cans and wine. It wasn’t really our style of tap room or beer, but we sort of appreciated the quality of it. L had a wild raspberry sour and J a saison that also seemed rather sour, but tasty. 

hiking the bluffs at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

Since we had skipped the southern portion of the Big Sur Coast Highway when we rerouted north from Big Sur to Napa, we drove north on Route 1 from Morro Bay, stopping at vista points. A half-hour north of Morro Bay we found our favorite thing about the SLO area: Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

the bluffs at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is such a gem! It’s a 437-acre former ranch that has been preserved as one of the last unspoiled public open spaces on the California coast. Dog-friendly trails wind across open meadows and through the woods down to bluffs along the ocean. It’s incredibly gorgeous, and it’s free to visit.

We loved Fiscalini Ranch Preserve so much we drove up there again on our last morning in SLO before packing up the Airstream. It’s understandably popular, so go early to avoid crowded trails.

Bugsy and the scarecrows in Cambria
Bugsy and the scarecrows in Cambria

Cambria is the tiny, very cute town just outside Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. It looks like an adorable place to stay in a B&B or inn along Route 1. We were lucky to drive through during the Scarecrow Festival and Bugsy got to pose with some half-creepy, half-impressive scarecrows.

To do

rocky shoreline at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
a rocky shoreline in Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

In SLO, we thought Sidecar Cocktail Co looked like a neat place to check out.

We didn’t make it all the way up Route 1 to two places on our to-do list from this visit: Hearst Castle and the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.

Onward, farther south to Ventura and maybe the most unique campground of Big Trip #4!


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