Traveler’s Guide to San Luis Obispo County

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Two major viticultural areas—Arroyo Grande and Edna Valley—make up this region, while Paso Robles is just to the north. Vineyards are mere miles from pristine beaches, and for those into outdoor activities like hiking and biking, Madonna Mountain and the Bob Jones Trail offer excursions into nature. Downtown San Luis Obispo is a bustling center of restaurants, bars and hotels, and every Thursday, there’s a great Farmer’s Market, all close to endless, wide-open beaches boasting long strolls in the crashing surf.

Where to Stay

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Image Source: Yelp

Madonna Inn
100 Madonna Rd
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
(805) 543-3000
TripAdvisor: 4.0 stars, 1,211 reviews
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Alex Madonna, a construction magnate, along with his wife Phyllis, built the inn and opened for business in 1958. You’ll seldom experience anything quite like this place: Each of the 110 guest rooms are distinctly decorated—Fleur de Lis fashion, rocky man-caves, romance rooms, pioneer, safari, and yacht club are just a few of the aesthetics on call. Once you’ve taken in the eye-candy, grab a towel and head to the terrace pool, where the sounds of a cascading waterfall underscore a cinematographic view of San Luis Obispo.

Insider tip: From the hotel property there are walkable pathways that lead downtown and to Madonna mountain for early morning hikes and ocean views.

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Image Source: Yelp

Avila La Fonda
101 San Miguel St
Avila Beach, CA 93424
(805) 595-1700
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 565 reviews
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This small boutique hotel gives the feel of an upscale Mexican village, with its stucco facades and tiled roofs, while Mexican folk art, stained glass windows, and a rock fireplace give the place an other-worldly feel, ideal for a romantic getaway or for a weekend out of the country (while not actually having to leave the country). Amenities abound as well: a snack basket greets guests, complimentary beach chairs, towels, umbrellas and boogie boards are offered, and nightly helpings of local ice cream and pie tatalize.

Insider tip: Costco members receive a 20% discount—just present your card at check-in, but take note that some blackout dates apply, so call ahead to double check about your stay.

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Image Source: Yelp

SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel
2241 Price St
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
(805) 773-4608
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 1,421 reviews
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If you’re a modernist at heart, SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel gives modern a bit of a retro-spin, and to boot is situated in a park-like resort setting complete with direct beach access, outdoor heated pool, oceanfront hot tubs, fire pits, and three gas grills (charcoal available upon request). They even have some pet friendly rooms for four-legged friends.

Insider tip: Fresh baked cookies are available daily from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and sometimes there are extra trays, so if you miss the window, ask the front desk to sneak you some from the back.

Where to Eat

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Image Source: Yelp

Ember Restaurant
1200 E Grand Ave
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
(805) 474-7700
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 141 reviews
Reservations: Not accepted

For a refined farm-to-table small plate experience, Chef/Owner Brian Collins focuses on what he calls “honest food:” a philosophy centered around simple ingredients that are well-prepared. Just to keep things interesting, he reboots the food menu each month, and the wine program every other month, for a menu that is filled out with flavorful, inventive salads, wood-fired steaks and casual pizzas.

Insider tip: The menu changes monthly, and an array of dazzling shared plates could preempt an entree if you’re feeling adventurous.

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Image Source: Yelp

Foremost Wine Company
570 Higuera St
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
(805) 439-3410
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 32 reviews
Reservations: Strongly recommended

Foremost is a combined retail shop, restaurant, and lounge, all housed within the old San Luis Obispo Creamery. The space is decidedly industrial chic and is one of the hottest spots downtown, so start out with cheese and charcuterie and a glass of wine before diving into bottle service and your main courses.

Insider tip: The small wine shop inside the restaurant features an eclectic selection of some of the central coast’s more off-the-beaten path bottlings

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Novo Restaurant & Lounge
726 Higuera St
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
(805) 543-3986
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 685 reviews
Reservations: Recommended

The San Luis Obispo Creek runs directly below the restaurant’s backdoor patio seating, making this a seriously romantic hideaway (with heat lamps to boot). Once you’ve glanced through the wine list and decided on one of their extensive selection, settle in for exceptional service and locally sourced, wholesome, and globally-inspired food that changes frequently.

Insider tip: The creamy salmon bisque is a big deal here, so start out with bowl, especially if the weather is cool.

Winery Tours & Things To Do

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Image Source: Yelp

Sinor LaVallee Winery
550 1st St
Avila Beach, CA 93424
(805) 459-9595
Reservations: Does not accept reservations

Mike Sinor’s biodynamic focus is on Albarino, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Syrah varieties make for some complex, mineral-driven, well-balanced examples of regional wines. With a sleek, modern tasting room just one block from the ocean in Avila Beach, you’ll have no excuse to pass by without stopping in for a taste.

Insider tip: The Black Label reserves are made in a rich, ripe style, while the White Label wines aim for a leaner profile. A fascinating contrast pervades throughout, so be sure to ask.

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Image Source: Yelp

Laetitia Winery
453 Laetitia Vineyard Dr
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
(805) 481-1772
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 70 reviews
Reservations: Recommended

Ocean views, inactive volcanos, and sloping vineyards are the focal points of this Arroyo Grande Valley winery. Eric Hickey, president and head winemaker, employs what he describes as “minimal intervention winemaking” for the production of their Burgundian-style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Méthode Champenoise wines, and sparkling wines. Be sure to take advantage of the picnic areas and bocce ball courts.

Insider tip: Ask to see the Coquard Press, as it’s the only one of its kind in North America, and dates back to the winery’s origins.

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Image Source: Yelp

Edna Valley Vineyard
2585 Biddle Ranch Rd
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
(805) 544-5855
TripAdvisor: 4.0 stars, 60 reviews
Reservations: Recommended

While the main Edna Valley Vineyard wines are widely available, keep an eye out for impressive limited releases that can be hard to find beyond the winery. As for the tasting room, you’ll experience one of the more picturesque settings in the area—a remarkable panoramic view of rolling vineyards and of the Morros, a chain of nine dormant volcanic mountains. California native Josh Baker has been making these wines for the last decade, and his Pinots, Chardonnays and Syrahs are great bets.

Insider tip: Pack a picnic, as the winery’s broad front picnic area is open to the public and is a worthwhile spot to recharge.

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Image Source: Yelp

Margarita Adventures Zipline Tours
22719 El Camino Real
Santa Margarita, CA 93453
(805) 438-3120
TripAdvisor: 5 stars, 181 reviews
Reservations: Required

If you book a zipline tour with Margarita Adventures, here’s what you can expect: 4,500 combined feet of ziplining (nearly a mile) that begins with a dare-devilish 1,200-foot valley crossing, and finishes with careening directly over a vineyard at fabulous speeds—all within the historic Santa Margarita Ranch in Paso Robles wine country.

Insider tip: After your tour, head across the street to the affiliated Ancient Peaks Winery Tasting Room & Café. Tour guests get a one-time 15% savings on wine purchases, and the tasting fee is waived with the purchase of one or more bottles.

For a locale where downtown bustle meets stunning views of the crashing sea, it’s difficult to compare any other part of northern California to San Luis Obispo County, where bucolic farmers markets and inventive restaurants pair with fine accommodations, and, above all, a taste for the finer things in life.