California Bear

Hey, Weekend: Slowing Things Down in San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, affectionately known as “SLO,” is as unpretentious as Central Coast towns come. Halfway between the hustle of San Francisco and the glamour of Los Angeles, SLO is a gem that values quality and community over excess and exclusivity, making it a prime weekend getaway for travelers seeking a break for bigger cities.

Hotel San Luis Obispo. Photo courtesy of Hotel San Luis Obispo.

SLO offers a laid-back charm that is increasingly hard to come by, and its serene beauty and welcoming atmosphere is inviting upon arrival. The town’s roots as a bountiful agricultural community have not only shaped its landscape but has made SLO a must-visit destination for those who value sustainability and farm-to-table dining. With its leisurely pace and calming ambiance, San Luis Obispo lives up to its nickname, yet the town is far from sleepy. It boasts a vibrant cultural scene with art galleries and museums, an innovative public art scene, local theaters, and live music venues that are programmed year-round, providing an unparalleled backdrop for those in search of tranquility and a touch of adventure.

Hotel San Luis Obispo. Photo by Tanveer Badal.

Where to Stay: In the Heart of the City

Hotel San Luis Obispo

In San Luis Obispo, staying downtown brings a different energy than found in larger cities, offering convenience and peaceful surroundings. Just steps away from vibrant shopping, top-notch restaurants, and local attractions, Hotel San Luis Obispo offers an escape in the midst of the city’s liveliness. Leveraging its central location allows guests to soak up the town’s atmosphere without hassle. The hotel itself features nearly 80 spacious and bright modern guest rooms decorated with colorful furnishings and adorned with original, California-themed artwork. With amenities like a world-class spa, a 50-foot outdoor pool and jacuzzi, and several dining options, Hotel San Luis Obispo provides a comfortable and relaxing base for exploring the unique charm and relaxed luxury of downtown SLO.

Ox + Anchor. Photo by Tanveer Badal.

Where to Eat: An Epicurean Delight 

Ox + Anchor

Hotel SLO is home to Ox + Anchor, a modern steakhouse where Chef Ryan Fancher, having worked in the kitchen of culinary giants The French Laundry and Per Se, brings out the best in simple, local ingredients. Ox + Anchor reimagines the classics while offering innovative dishes like the decadent Bone Marrow Tater “Tots,” Kobe Flat Iron Steak, and the signature Ox + Anchor egg rolls filled with tender braised chicken and Hen of the Woods mushrooms. Chef Fancher’s meticulous attention to detail ensures that staples such as filets, ribeyes, and sirloins stand out with minimal embellishment, though sauces, including a chimichurri and a rich red wine bordelaise, take these dishes to new heights. The wine program at Ox + Anchor is a reflection of the Central Coast’s rich viticultural heritage, with local Edna Valley wines like Grenache, Pinot Noir and Petit Syrah perfectly aligning with Ox + Anchor’s ethos of celebrating the best of SLO at every turn. 

Mistura. Photo courtesy of Mistura.


With a bold menu and a cocktail program fueled by house-made pisco, Mistura is more than a restaurant; it’s a culinary journey merging cultures through flavor. The restaurant serves Peruvian fare that celebrate the nation’s indigenous roots, yet boldly mixes in tastes from Europe, Africa, and Asia, giving Mistura a vibrant and rebellious energy that has become a hallmark of San Luis Obispo’s food scene. Adventurous diners can savor flame-grilled beef heart skewers, known as anticucho, a nod to 16th-century culinary traditions, or dive into the rich, comforting flavors found in a creamy shrimp bouillabaisse called chupe. The cocktails are as adventurous as the food, featuring libations like the Lychee Chilcano, a mix of pisco, lychee, elderflower, and hibiscus ginger beer. And for those with a sweet tooth, the dessert display is a treasure trove curated by Michelin-starred pastry chef Florencia Breda, featuring decadent chocolate truffles, tarts, and show-stopping petit fours. 

SLO Museum of Art. Courtesy of SLO Museum of Art.

What to Do: Cultural Immersion


San Luis Obispo’s culinary offerings and beautiful landscapes have put it on the map, but it’s the city’s thriving art culture that sets it apart. The city offers numerous ways to engage with art, featuring over 70 pieces of public art scattered arround town, including vibrant murals, sculptures and detailed mosaics. At the heart of this artistic community is the SLO Museum of Art, which showcases contemporary works by California artists alongside international visual talents, all while fostering a global conversation through art. For those looking to tap into their creative side, opportunities abound, such as taking a ceramics class with Adriana Lemus at Night Owl Pottery. Meanwhile, The Bunker SLO, a 1940s agricultural plumbing supply company turned gallery and studio, provides a unique space for local and independent artists to create and display their work. 

Mission Plaza. Photo by Brittany App.

City Stroll

Downtown San Luis Obispo centers around Mission Plaza, an 18th-century landmark that now hosts outdoor markets, festivals, and concerts and is the perfect starting point to explore the area on foot.

Make your way to the Ah Louis Store, a relic of SLO’s 19th-century Chinatown, before browsing the eclectic mix of local and national boutiques along Higuera, Marsh, and Chorro Streets, including the print shop Buen Dia and Len Collective for jewelry and gifts. Don’t miss Bubblegum Alley, a 70-foot-long corridor plastered with layers of chewed gum on both sides. View this colorful and sticky spectacle from the sidewalk, or contribute to the tradition by adding your own gum. This quirky attraction embodies the whimsical spirit of San Luis Obispo, making it a must-see for visitors seeking the full downtown SLO experience.

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