San Luis Obispo, California - A Reason For All Seasons

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San Luis Obispo, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, surrounded by lush mountains to the east and pristine shoreline to the west, is quickly evolving into a cultural mecca for fast trackers looking to reposition themselves in a slower lane.

One of the small cities along the Central California Coast, north of Santa Barbara and south of San Simeon, San Luis Obispo remains the destination point for travelers visiting the region, looking to stay in a fixed location while exploring the many wineries, beaches and history that add to the charm of this small walkable city.

Why You Are Going?

San Luis Obispo is a quaint attractive and pleasant town. Typically, seasonal travel is based on one’s own preference. San Luis Obispo is fast becoming known for its culture, many wineries and innovation.

The local Chamber of Commerce is the first stop on all events related to San Luis Obispo. From the SLO Film Festival, recently ending and celebrating 22 years, to Wine Tastings, Mozart Festivals, partnerships with Cal Poly Technical Institute along with charming local events including a weekly Farmers Markets allows non-locals to taste some of the most delicious produce one will experience. Unique handcrafted art work, clothing and other crafts are also on display.

Of course, as San Luis Obispo is a coastal town it also caters to a surfing community and outdoor activities including beachfront camping, fishing, and boating.

The Chamber of Commerce has a complete list of events. For more information: https://slochamber.org/calendar/category/chamber-events/

How to Get There?

San Luis Obispo is a transportation hub with local arrival and departure hubs for any transportation mode. For flyers San Luis Obispo supports all flights for the county.

Air Travel

Located just south of the City of San Luis Obispo, the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport serves areas as far north as Southern Monterey County and as far south as Northern Santa Barbara County. The airport offers convenient access to and from the Central Coast. Residents and visitors have the choice of United Airlines and American Airlines, the two commercial airlines that service San Luis Obispo, operate multiple flights daily to Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Francisco. The airport is also home to full service general aviation and corporate facilities.

Train Travel

Amtrak service provides two of the most enchanting train rides with the Coast Starlight and the Pacific Surfliner. Both trains operate daily from all major California cities. Departures and Arrivals are located at the San Luis Obispo Train station at 1011 Railroad Avenue. Checked baggage is accepted at this station. For more information: https://www.amtrak.com/

For those who have never experienced Train travel, the views along the California coast are spectacular and not available for those who want to drive the famous Highway 101. The trains are fully equipped with Wifi and passengers are free to sit in the Observation Car which is had 180 degree views with window arches in booth and single seating. The Observation car is open to all passengers.

The Dining Car is also available with reservations. Ala Cart boxed lunches can be ordered and delivered at your seat. Passengers are also free to prepare their own accommodations.

By Bus

San Luis Obispo is serviced by both traditional Bus Service and the many new no frills bus lines from the points throughout the region. The SLO Greyhound Bus Terminal is located at 150 South Street., San Luis Obispo, CA  - For more information: https://www.greyhound.com/ or https://www.wanderu.com/en/home

Car

A right of passage trip include a road trip on Highway 1. From Chicago follow old Route 66 into Los Angeles and follow 101 North for the views of California interior. For beach view follow Highway 1 North or South.

What to Do?

San Luis Obispo offers truly a reason for all seasons. For those who are more the adventurous type some of the best views of the Central Coast are only accomplished from higher ground and Cerro San Luis is a go-to for morning hikers Views from the top overlook the more than 7,000 acres of protected open spaces in SLO. Approximately four miles out and back.

San Luis Obispo has a legendary Farmer’s Market. The possibility is pretty high that any visitor to the region will want to eat from one of the many vendors at the market so come hungry. For more than thirty years, Thursday Nights Farmer Market has been the city’s signature event.

A large section of the downtown is blocked off for three hours of festival like fun and there is something here for everyone. One end of the market is dedicated to produce and the other showcases local merchant and restaurants.

Day Trips to Hearst Castle - The opulent and majestic home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in San Simeon California, now part of the California State Parks Association, is easily accessible from San Luis Obispo.

Driving up the breathtaking coastline, the Castle is 48 miles from San Luis Obispo. Hearst Castle is also accessible via San Luis Obispo Metropolitan authority, local bus service. And follows the same coastal route with stops in Morro Bay and Cambria.  For more information on grand tours of the famous castle including the magnificent rooms, fully intact and stately: http://hearstcastle.org/

Day trips to Paso Del Robles and the historic Hearst Castle at San Simeon are easily accessible with breathtaking views that shouldn’t be missed on any trip to the region.

 

San Miguel, Hearst Castle and San Simeon are the furthest points North in the San Luis Obispo region with the Southern most points reaching to Nipomo Dunes Preserves.

SLO region features over twelve parks within the State Park system. Two of the most notable are Pismo State Beach and Hearst Castle.

Pismo State Beach/Oceano Dunes State recreation area is the only drive-on beach in California. 

In San Luis Obispo with limited variation in the weather outdoor activities are year round. January hosts an annual Cambria Art & Wine Festival, March the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, April Wine, Waves & Beyond.

As summer hits high season Atascadero Lakeside Wine Festival, Central Coast State Fair, September Avocado & Margarita Festival in Morro Bay and October hosts the annual Pismo Beach Clam Festival.

For more information, www.SanLuisObispoVacations.com

Where to Eat?

San Luis Obispo offers the range of epicurean delights sure to satisfy any tastes. Locally grown, the restaurants of San Luis Obispo are fortunate to be surrounded by lush agricultural available and utilize farm to table availability.

A few of my favorites from a recent trip:

Café Roma, located across from the Amtrak at Railroad Avenue. From its classic Italian dining room and casual old world bar to the scenic shade covered patio, Café Roma is a trip to the Italian coast.

Family owned and operated for 30 years, Marco Rizzo, is the consummate owner/mayor of his wonderful restaurant. His kindness was only surpassed by the delicious roasted half duck - with rosemary mashed potatoes roasted vegetables, asparagus, seagrass and carrots in orange reduction. So delicious, it melted at taste.

For dessert fresh, handmade Apple Strudel made from locally sourced apples along with handmade raspberry gelato and vanilla ice cream. Marco, the owner suggested. He's a jewel. For more information: http://www.caferomaslo.com

Novo Restaurant and Lounge, located at 726 Higuera Street, with an unassuming storefront with old world feel, deep, rich dark woods, turn of the 20th century restored to its original design, Novo, is an experience that must not be missed.

Having the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon lunch, the cuisine was a fusion of California Spice, which as the Chef Ben Richardson explained they want authentic flavors. They served a potpourri of items to allow for a select menu sampling.

Beginning with fresh avocado shrimp spring rolls, rice noodles, julienned vegetables, ginger soy, chili sauce, roasted peanuts served on confetti of diced red and gold bell peppers. I also enjoyed the Potato Samosas Indian spiced potatoes in wonton skins, dipped in hot oil with mint chutney and yogurt. 

Also served a half Grilled Albacore Tuna on Ciabatta with tomatoes, red onions, avocado, red leaf lettuce and piri piri aioli and a cup of the most delicious Salmon Bisque. I also enjoyed the Caesar Salad with roasted chicken.

For dessert a new item, Lime Olive Oil Cake topped with toasted shaved coconut, a house made coconut sorbet and fresh lime zest. Kudo’s to the Pastry Arts Chef, Jennifer Harmon. The Olive Oil Cake is incredibly delicious with a soft bounce and powerhouse flavors. It was impressive.

Novo’s culinary team is headed by executive chef Ben Richardson, Pastry Chef Jennifer Harmon, Sous Chef Darrick Evans and Sous Chef Noah Nute.  Produce for Novo is sourced daily by Matt Kabut.

Novo also has a partnership with The Secret Garden serving exotic and flavorful Specialty Teas. During my meal I enjoyed a soothing, calming Lavender Cream Earl Grey. It was a lovely, delightful blend.

The Wine List at Novo is extensive and award winning receiving Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Wine List Award of Excellence, 2010-2015 and Wine Enthusiast’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants in America, 2014.

For more information: http://www.novorestaurant.com/

Another favorite of locals and now mine is Ciopinot Seafood Grille, located at 1051 Nipomo Street, in San Luis Obispo. Ciopinot operates on dinner hours only Sunday to Thursday, 5:00 to 9:00pm and Friday and Saturday, 5:00pm – to 10:00pm.

Owned by Leonard Cohen, who was on official greeting duty when I arrived. I stepped to the side and watched. He is a local favorite, well known and obviously well liked.

After introducing myself he gave me the options of any seat in the house. Ciopinot is reminiscent of a traditional steak house, deep rich woods, fuller comfortable seating, and oddly very few marbled meats on the menu.

Coming in at the height of the Friday evening dinner service, which I learned later Ciopinot opens only serves during the dinner hours, Leonard and his team were very nice and as with everyone visited, exceptionally accommodating.

With seafood in the restaurant’s name it is a safe bet seafood is the specialty. So I went with the locally sourced, except where noted, seafood.

After enjoying a delicious fresh Romaine salad with tomatoes, walnuts and Granny Smith apples providing just enough zing served with a nice Chardonnay which was also very smooth, with sweet rich and buttery and delicious with the seafood.

I decided on The Fisherman's Plate which offered a complete seafood selection including Chilean Sea Bass prepared Asian style, fresh King Salmon blackened, charbroiled fresh Swordfish, grilled Mexican Prawn and deep fried Calamari.

The large selection of locally sourced seafood provided for an opportunity to sample a solid portion of the menu. To make it a complete seafood sampling the chef added a deep Sea Divers Scallop. The meal was exquisitely prepared and beyond delicious moving into the serious dining experience!

Leonard had the Chef prepare a three-way Dessert sampler including Crème Brulee, rich and creamy vanilla bean classic with caramelized sugar topping served with whipped cream and fresh mint and Butterfinger Ice Cream Pie, Vanilla ice cream with candy bar morsel in a graham cracker crust, topped with whipped cream and fresh mint on a pool of hot, Blueberry Cobbler, the house specialty version of the classic favorite a la mode of course.

The cuisine was remarkably memorable and delicious with masterful flavor combinations from beginning to the end. It was a delicious evening filled with great conversation, wonderful wine, and luscious epicurean pleasure. 

For more information  www.ciopinotrestaurant.com

SLO Provisions

Looking to pack a picnic for a day trip up the coast or hiking in the surrounding mountains, SLO Provisions provides house roasted rotisserie meats, family style dinners, specialty sandwiches, farm fresh salad and rustic style baked goods as well as signatures drinks and coffees.

SLO Provisions offers upscale gourmet deli items and packed lunches. I enjoyed a delicious Roasted Ham with Brie and Granny Smith Apple sandwich on French Baguette with Kettle Chips and a homemade chocolate chip cookie.

Where to Drink?

Surrounded by lush vineyards the list is endless. Most of the restaurants visited Café Roma, Novo and Ciopinto are recipients of countless awards for their wine offerings. The region has a vast number of vineyards, wineries and tastings.

Also a note of interest some restaurants in the area offer no corking fee. As not everyone has an extensive understanding of vino terminology, including myself, corking fees will or will not be charged by restaurants and establishments who allow patrons to bring the bottle they bought at the boutique vineyard on the coast in to enjoy with the meal.

Should a restaurant have no fees they may have a bottle limit. At some restaurants patrons can enjoy up to three bottles opened and served at table purchased from outside.

San Luis Obispo Region

San Luis Obispo, is warm, welcoming and delightful. The region offers many opportunities for those who are looking to enjoy life within a smaller community.

A very walkable city, as long as one is accustomed to walking the entire city is accessible. For those who prefer parking is inexpensive although can be difficult to secure. The downtown has ultra-modern luxury retailers and local high end entrepreneurs.

The downtown offers many historical sites including the San Luis Obispo Mission that dates back to the late 1700’s. It is a beautiful sandstone style adobe building.

San Luis Obispo has the world to offer for those who want to drop off the grid and reboot. It comes complete with history, heritage, contemporary culture and modern innovation, mountains, coastline and direct access to both L.A. and San Fran.

Truly San Luis Obispo has a reason for all seasons.

 

Lead image courtesy of San Luis Obispo and used with permission. All other courtesy of Haute-lifestyle.com. 

Slogan "A Reason for All Seasons" remains the greeting at the city limits of the author's hometown.