San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo is a city in San Luis Obispo County in the Central Coast region of California.

San Luis Obispo; Cerro San Luis (the hill for which the city is named) is on the right


About half way between Los Angeles (200 miles to the south) and San Francisco (230 miles to the north), nine small but impressive volcanic peaks march down a valley of the Santa Lucia range to the Pacific Ocean. Nestled around two of these peaks is San Luis Obispo ("SLO", "slow", or "San Luis" to locals), a small college town that also is one of California's oldest communities. San Luis and its neighboring communities boast extraordinary resources for hiking, mountain biking, sea kayaking, swimming and surfing; outstanding natural beauty; a carefully preserved and thriving 19th-century downtown centered around a meticulously restored 18th century mission; a small but thriving art gallery scene; and a large and growing collection of top-quality wineries.

Getting Oriented

San Luis Obispo is bounded by the imposing line of Cuesta Ridge to the northeast, the Irish Hills to the southwest, dramatic Bishop Peak to the northwest and Islay Hill to the southeast. The town clusters around the feet of the 1000 foot Cerro San Luis, notably marked with a big white "M" (for Mission High School). Cal Poly sits hard against Cuesta Ridge (with its big white "P") and the downtown area runs from Cerro San Luis roughly toward campus around two parallel streets, Higuera and Monterey. Most restaurants, bars and shops are located on Higuera Street, nearer the Mission and Cerro San Luis; hotels are mostly located on Monterey Street, nearer the university but still within a mile of the central downtown. A few restaurants are located in the charming Railroad District, about 5 blocks east of Higuera via Santa Rosa Street, near the train station and youth hostel.


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°F) 61 62 64 66 69 73 76 77 77 74 67 61
Nightly lows (°F) 44 45 46 47 49 52 55 55 54 52 47 43
Precipitation (in) 5.0 5.1 4.0 1.4 0.5 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.9 2.2 3.7

   Data from NOAA (1981-2010)

Get in

By plane

San Luis Obispo has a one terminal airport. Scheduled flights are available to and from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Phoenix on United (operated by SkyWest as United Express) and American Airlines (operated by Mesa as American Eagle). Due to rising energy costs, both Delta and American have announced they will no longer be serving San Luis Obispo. Prices start around $200 for a ticket purchased separately, but are much less expensive when combined with flights going through San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Air Charter or air taxi is another alternative, where you can catch flights to San Diego for the weekend, or to any large or small airport. Air charters and air taxis fly point-to-point, at the departure time, departure airport, and arrival airport of the passengers' choosing. Prices start around $150 for a seat on flights that might already be going to your destination, or go from $1,000 to $10,000 or more for a custom-chartered flight where you hire the aircraft to fly you directly to your destination, any time you want to go. On-demand flights, and seats on flights already chartered to/from San Luis Obispo are offered by Pacific Air Taxi. Air taxi flights have a much shorter check-in time (typically just 15 minutes) than larger airlines, so you can just arrive and go. Travel time for an air taxi flight is usually 80 minutes from SLO to Sacramento.

By train

Amtrak's Coast Starlight northbound and southbound trains meet in San Luis Obispo at about 3:30 each day; the Pacific Surfliner also serves San Luis from Los Angeles by rail twice daily, with further departures to Santa Barbara, then onward to San Luis by bus. Amtrak also offers bus service to San Luis from areas statewide including the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and the Central Valley. Make sure you leave plenty of time because it can take up to 7 hours to get to SLO from San Francisco and 8 hours to get to SLO from San Diego, although the spectacular delays frequent in the past have abated significantly following recent agreements with freight rail carriers. The Coast Starlight offers particular treats to travelers from both north and south. Those coming from San Francisco will penetrate the Santa Lucia range through the eight tunnels of the Cuesta Grade, the longest railroad grade west of the Rockies, just before disembarking at SLO. From Los Angeles, the route traverses the wild coastline of Vandenburg Air Force Base, which is otherwise inaccessible to civilians. Winter Coast Starlight travelers should enjoy great sunset views after departing SLO southbound.

By bus

Greyhound also offers bus routes into SLO. Once again set aside time because the trips can be long but Greyhound is one of the cheapest ways to go.

In addition to Greyhound service, San Luis Obispo County's Regional Transit Authority provides bus transportation from as far south as Santa Maria up to San Simeon and San Miguel in the north.

By car

Since San Luis Obispo is home to the first ever motel (The Milestone Mo-Tel) it is definitely a car town. Both Highway 101 and Highway 1 run through town, with the two overlapping from San Luis Obispo until they split again further south in Pismo Beach. San Luis Obispo is the south end of dramatic Big Sur stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1), inasmuch as the PCH rejoins Highway 101 in town. Highway 101 turns inland from San Luis, traversing the historic Cuesta Grade over the Santa Lucia Range to Atascadero and Paso Robles, then onward through the Salinas Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area. Travellers opting for the very worthwhile scenery of Big Sur via the PCH should be aware that driving times are much longer than by the 101.

Get around

Car is the easiest way to get around town and the larger region, but many locals opt to travel by bike or to walk within the city. Taxi service is available from 234 Taxi (805-234-TAXI) but you certainly won't be able to hail a cab from a street corner; call for pick-up.

By bus

SLO has a city and regional transit system

SLO Transit Services are reliable and cover most points of interest, but end at 10PM on weekdays and 6PM on the weekends. A trolley links some of the hotels on Monterey Street to the downtown area, but it operates very short hours and does not travel to much of the city.

Regional Transit Authority


The infamous wall of gum
The Madonna Inn's ornate exterior


Waves crashing at the Montana de Oro State Park


San Luis Obispo has a wide range of both local and chain stores at which to shop. In general the majority of local stores can be found downtown mixed in with smaller chains, while the larger box stores can be found in the two sprawling developments near the corner of Madonna Rd and Los Osos Valley Rd.


This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget $10 or less
Mid-range $1020
Splurge $20 or more

Due in large part to the dearth of affordable ethnic eateries (SLO is a very white town), dining in town will set you back a few dollars. None of the local restaurants stands out with a consistently good menu (with the possible exception of the pricey Koberl) although several have some great dishes. Consequently, a fun and satisfying way to explore downtown is to have an itinerant dinner, sampling appetizers, salads, and a main course or two at a variety of eateries.






The cafe at the Madonna Inn

Hotels along the entire California coast get booked up every weekend during the summer. Be sure to make reservations if you intend to stay in San Luis Obispo on a weekend in the summer.

Go next

Routes through San Luis Obispo

Salinas Atascadero ← Junction E  N  S  Pismo Beach Santa Barbara
Monterey Morro Bay  N  S  Merges with Pismo Beach Santa Barbara
END  N  S  Grover Beach Santa Barbara

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 12, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.