By Mary Charlebois
SLO, as San Luis Obispo is called by locals, is the heart of California’s Central Coast. The Mediterranean climate makes SLO a year-round destination. Ideally positioned between Los Angeles and San Francisco, SLO is a two-college town, a world-class wine region, incubator to a passionate art, food and libation culture, just minutes from beaches and coastal recreation on the Pacific, AND home to California’s biggest and the country’s second-largest farmer’s market.
Here’s are some suggestions for top ways of having a SLO escape, where the weekend starts on Thursday night.
Arrive Thursday Afternoon
A visit to SLO isn’t complete without going to the Downtown Farmer’s Market. It’s enormous, and the ideal party for your first SLO encounter. The market is held on Thursday nights, making a Thursday afternoon arrival essential.
This 6-block affair has prepared food from all over the city, entertainment, farm stalls, art, crafts, and lots of people. Restaurants and bars all over downtown are serving food and libations, shops are also open. It’s busy, buzzy, and loads of fun.
The Apple Farm is a perfect base camp for your getaway. This lovely property has a variety of room styles, all comfortable and beautifully decorated in wine-country decor. The rooms in the old Mill House have hot tubs on private balconies overlooking the creek and woodlands. Very secluded and romantic.
There is an on-site restaurant, bar, and gift shop. The bakery is famous for their apple pies, pastries, cookies, and cakes. The gift shop has a good selection of local wines.
TRANSPORT TIP – Directly across the street from the hotel is a trolley stop that runs to downtown, a 10—15-minute ride. The fare is 50-cents or 25-cents for seniors. This is the way to get downtown. It’s frequent, safe, and inexpensive. Parking downtown is challenging. There is very little free parking. The trolley is the only way to go.
At the farmer’s market, try a strolling dinner from the market stalls. You’ll find everything from apps to dessert. The market starts at the corner of Higuera and Chorro Street at 6:30 PM every Thursday.
Nightcap and music at SLO Brew
Located in the heart of downtown, SLO Brew is a brewpub featuring ten-barrel brewing tanks and a copper kettle. This popular music venue has a whiskey lounge, fireside salon, and a creekside patio. SLO Brew is one of downtown’s favorite late-night spots for drinks and entertainment.
Breakfast at The Apple Farm Café and explore the hotel property along with the neighborhood. Lunch at SLO Provisions. “At the intersection of rustic and refined”, SLO Provisions features dine-in or take-out rotisserie meats, family-style dinners, sandwiches, salads, baked goods, and coffee. The wine selection here is marvelous and priced right. Located at 1255 Monterey Street, it’s a 10-minute walk from the hotel.
Afternoon Wine Tasting
Go to SLO Wine Country website for a long list of delectable wineries in the area. Wine types are detailed, and an excellent map is provided for your adventure. Enjoy a drive through the countryside vineyards to tasting rooms.
Breakfast at Mint + Craft in downtown SLO. It’s a casual café and shop. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at 848 Monterey Street. The coffee is excellent, food is cooked to order from organic ingredients, and service is friendly. Be sure to have some bacon, it was the best I’ve had anywhere.
Explore Downtown SLO
Make your first stop Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Founded in 1772, the mission is beautiful. The chapel has frescoes painted by one of the Parish priests. The gardens have flowers, fruit, and herbs. The museum does an excellent job of illuminating and honoring all those that made the mission what it is today.
Downtown SLO is filled with shops, boutiques, and galleries. One-of-a-kind treasures are everywhere.
For lunch head to Avila Beach and Blue Moon Over Avila. Fifteen minutes from The Apple Farm, this appealing seaside wine-bar and French bistro has patio seating with the best beach views in town. The menu offers traditional French dishes and seafood. The wine list features French and local wines.
Afternoon at the beach
Dinner at Novo, a creekside eatery in downtown SLO. Novo describes their food as, “local, wholesome, and globally inspired”. This is a romantic spot, especially on the patio, where heaters create a warm ambiance on a chilly evening.
After dinner stop at the Apple Farm Gift Shop and bakery for a bottle of wine and dessert. Return to your room and enjoy the wine, sweets and hot tub.
Breakfast at Madonna Inn, one of the most written about hotel/resort complexes in California. Enjoy a hearty meal in the Copper Café. The waffles are my favorite, especially with bacon. The pink sugar, napkins, and menus are iconic.
Tour Hotel and Hike
After breakfast go to reception and ask for a map to tour the property. If you’re lucky, you can get a peek inside the Caveman Suite or the Jungle Room. Each of the kitschy rooms is themed. There are photos of every room in the lobby. The pool and spa are spectacular and include a 30-foot waterfall.
There is a trailhead near the hotel that leads up Mount Madonna. It’s a great hike with spectacular views to the coast on a clear day. Hotel reception can give you a map.
Getting to SLO
San Luis Obispo is halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Hwy 101 passes through town. Take exit 204 for The Apple Farm which is at the exit intersection on Monterey Street.
San Luis Obispo is a cultural incubator of innovation. The climate is pleasing, and the locals are welcoming. With the best of mountains and seaside, it’s flawless for a long weekend.
All photos by Mary Charlebois