Once upon a time, I lived in the best town there ever was and then I moved. I know, dumb. When I was first applying to college, I had a few schools in mind but kind of applied to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo on a whim. I heard about it from a few friends and thought, what the heck. It actually ended up being the closest to home I applied to at nearly four hours away. The more I looked into the town, the more I fell in love. Before I knew it, SLO (as the locals call it) and I were going steady. We had a whirlwind four-year romance until that dark day when I packed my bags and hit the road.
Nicknamed "America's Happiest City" on the Oprah Show in 2011, SLO does not disappoint. It boasts rolling green hills, quaint coffee shops and small-town charm. Spend a few days, a week, a lifetime there. You won't regret it. Here are some of my favorite things to see and do in the area.
1. Stop in Sally Loo's Wholesome Cafe for brunch
1804 Osos St, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Sally Loo's is quite possibly my favorite brunch spot on Earth. The San Louie Bagel, the Acai Bowl, all forms of their coffee — all college Kassi go-tos. Go for the yummy caffeine and food, stay for the colorful decor and warm, community vibe.
2. Explore downtown SLO
My favorite thing about SLO's downtown (other than the variety of coffee shops and eateries) is the small-town feel. Many have heard of Bubblegum Alley in Seattle, but did you know SLO has one of its own? There's nothing like reuniting your colorful paste of spit wad with its long-lost siblings. But if Bubblegum Alley isn't a sightsee of your chew-sing, step out of the bubble and grab a bite to eat.
For burgers, tri-tip and some of the best seasoned fries I've ever had, try the incredibly popular Firestone Grill. For a more sit-down dining experience, grab a table at Big Sky Cafe or Luna Red. Big Sky offers a great variety of food from breakfast to dinner, while Luna Red is known for its tapas and overlooks San Luis Creek. Win-win either way.
Once you finish your meal, indulge your sweet tooth at Batch. Blink and you might miss it. This ice-cream sandwich spot is located on Garden Street and is the perfect treat on a hot summer's day. Or spring or fall or any season, really. I won't judge.
Downtown SLO is also home to several coffee shops, each with a personality all its own. My favorites include Scout Coffee (see No. 4), Linnaea's Cafe a few doors over (shoutout to all you vegetarians and vegans) and the ever-so hipster Kreuzberg (they have a great food menu as well).
Lastly, I can't leave the downtown area without mentioning Boo Boo Records. This record shop holds a special place in my heart. Check out a local band or pick up some vinyl — Boo Boo Records will steal your cold, streaming-music-service-user heart.
3. Take in the views at Montaña De Oro
3550 Pecho Valley Rd, Los Osos, Calif.
OK. Prepare yourself. This is my favorite place on planet Earth. Take a hike, enjoy a picnic, breathe in the ocean air — you name it. I'd often drive out here on the weekends and spend some time with Jesus and my journal. In fact, every time family visited, we always had Montaña de Oro on the agenda. Technically located in Los Osos, this state park is a must-see.
4. Pick up a coffee (or three) at Scout Coffee Co.
1130 Garden Street and 880 Foothill Boulevard in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Scout Coffee is without a doubt my favorite coffee destination and, therefore, deserves to have its own spot on this list. You have not lived until you've had a Scout Cookie. Or Honey Tea Bowl. Or milkshake. Or iced coffee. I had the honor of writing a feature on the shop when it first opened in 2014 on Garden Street. Owners Sara and Jon Peterson have since expanded to a second location on Foothill Boulevard. While I haven't had the pleasure of visiting the second location, if it's anything like it's older sister, it's a must-see. This was my favorite spot to meet up with friends or catch up on homework. If I could live there, I would.
5. Take a hike
Literally. If you're looking for a heftier hike than one you'd find at Montaña De Oro, try the Cal Poly "P," Madonna Mountain (technically known as "Cerro San Luis Obispo") or the Mt. Everest of SLO, Bishop Peak. OK, OK. I'm going to be completely transparent here: I'm not a hiker. I do, however, know the tip-top peaks in the area and these are most definitely it. You can't beat any of these views.
6. Go wine tasting in Paso Robles
Paso Robles (about 30 miles north of SLO) is home to several vineyards and wineries including Eberle Winery and Vina Robles. I highly recommend gathering your best pals to go sniff, swirl and drink your way through every grape juice imaginable.
7. Check out (or check in?) the Madonna Inn
100 Madonna Rd, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
I'll never be able to accurately describe the Madonna Inn, or at least, do it justice. Known for its pink champagne cake (which recently lost its color), the Madonna Inn is home to an abundance of ... ahem ... eclectically designed rooms. It also has an annual ice-skating rink during the winter season and an Expo Center where it hosts concerts and other events.
8. Stroll through Thursday night's Farmers Market
I can smell the tri-tip already. The Farmers Market is SLO's crown jewel. At least, to me it is. Local artisans, farmers and restaurant owners line Higuera Street every Thursday from 6-9 p.m., weather permitting. Pick up some local produce or enjoy some live entertainment. The booth-lined event adds color to the already upbeat city.
9. Soak in the sun at Avila Beach
This is undoubtedly my favorite beach in SLO County. It has a great selection of the usual shops you'd see in a small beach town — souvenir stores, boutique shops, a coffee shop, a pier, etc. But the best part? The views. Get your cameras ready.
10. Grab a donut at SLODOCO
793E Foothill Blvd, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Your trip to SLO wouldn't be complete without a stop at SloDoCo, arguably the best donut shop in town. I'm typically a coconut or chocolate glazed fan, but their buttermilk donut will have you looking like the heart-eyed emoji. If you're in school, this is another popular study spot. I mean, hello ... donuts. Also, it's open 24/7. *cue the Oprah gif* You get a donut! And you get a donut! And you get a donut!
11. Indulge your sweet tooth at old west cinnamon rolls
861 Dolliver St, Pismo Beach, Calif.
If donuts aren't your thing, try a roll of cinnamon-y goodness at Old West Cinnamon Rolls in Pismo Beach. This vintage bakery will make your stomach sing. Is that a thing? If not, I just made it up. These cinnamon rolls are bigger than my face and warmer than my heart.
12. Check out a local concert
SLO is home to many local musicians and smaller-scale concert venues. Be sure to see who's playing in town during your stay. SLO Brew is a downtown hotspot and hosts several of the city's concerts. During college, I got to see a handful of musicians there including Tyrone Wells, Andrew Belle and Hellogoodbye. While I haven't had the chance to visit SLO Brew at its new location on Higuera, I imagine it's just as good as the OG (as the kids would say). Another great concert venue is the Alex Madonna Expo Center. I was able to catch The Postal Service there in 2013 (I think it was 2013. I hope it was 2013. I don't know, I'm getting old).
13. visit Avila Valley Barn
560 Avila Beach Dr, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Whether you're traveling with children or not, this is an absolute must-do. Although it's open daily, I highly recommend going during autumn. The entire place smells like pumpkins and sweet, sweet cinnamon. Did I mention the pumpkins?! Pick up some fruits, veggies, jams or candles. Go for a tractor or pony ride. Grab a corn on the cob. Take a picture by the sunflowers. Feed some cute animals. Do it all!
14. drive (or bike!) up Prefumo canyon
Located off Los Osos Valley Road, I consider this a hidden gem in SLO. I used to love driving up here, eating lunch and taking in the panoramic views. There are a few ways up here, but for me, the most common is taking the route off Los Osos Valley Road. Be careful, though, as the roads are narrow. If you're a biker, you'll especially enjoy this location. In fact, Prefumo Canyon Road eventually leads out to See Canyon Road right outside Avila Beach.
15. take a drive up the coast to Hearst Castle
750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, Calif.
OK, OK, I know this might seem like a no-brainer, but it had to be included. Do yourself a favor and book yourself a tour at Hearst Castle. To call it a museum would be a disservice. The castle is located in San Simeon, 43 miles north of San Luis. The former home of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst has 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms and a design so luxurious, it'd make the Kardashians jealous. The castle offers various tours year-round and can be booked online up to 60 days in advance. Pinkies up!
I hope you love San Luis Obispo County as much as I do! This place will always hold a special place in my heart. If you have any other recommendations or questions, I'd love to hear 'em!