Here is an easy and quick road trip guide for visiting beautiful San Luis Obispo County. With rugged coastline and relatively few people, this area in California makes for a great weekend getaway.
Why visit SLO County?
San Luis Obispo County has many attractions and beautiful natural landscapes to attract visitors. Unlike many places in California, it has a smaller population and fewer tourists than most places. As of 2020, just over 282,000 people lived in the entire county. Because of this, many people love that it is less developed, less polluted, and generally easier to get around than many of the famous California cities and places.
Some of the main attractions are the wineries in the Paso Robles area and Hearst Castle. SLO County is the third largest producer of wine in California, surpassed only by Napa and Sonoma County. Many people also come to the area to visit or attend California Polytechnical State University (Cal Poly). This is one the top ranked state universities in California.
Fun Facts about SLO County
- Strawberries are the largest agricultural crop, surpassing wine grapes.
- John Madden and Weird Al Yankovic attended Cal Poly.
- San Luis Obispo was the first city in the United States to ban public smoking in 1990.
- President Obama narrowly won the county vote at 51.2% in 2008
- Morro Bay was a Naval Amphibious Training Base during World War II
- Morro Rock is sometimes called the “Gibraltar of the Pacific”
- The 450-foot smokestacks of the power plant in Morro Bay are due to be torn down by the end of 2027
- Zebras can sometimes be seen near Hearst Castle. These are the descendants of the zebras WIlliam Randolph Hearst brought into California for his zoo.
How to Visit
Visiting SLO County in your personal vehicle or rental care is best. This simple road trip guide assumes you will arrive to SLO County from the south, most likely from Santa Barbara, Ventura, or Los Angeles. If you’re arriving from the north or east, you’ll need to adjust the order of the stops. Consult the map below to order them most efficiently for your needs.
Everything on this list can be done within one day or spread out across a weekend for a more leisurely pace. I visited these stops during a birthday weekend visit in April 2023. It is true all 8 stops fit into a single day itinerary. However, because I love wine, I also spent a second day winery hopping in the hills of Paso Robles. If you don’t have a second day, you can still visit tasting rooms in downtown Paso Robles. The winding, narrow roads in the hills do take some time to navigate so I recommend saving the estates and vineyards in the hills for a second day.
This guide route starts in the south and works its way primarily northward on the Pacific Coast Highway and 101 Highway. You may also utilize the 46 (Green Valley Rd) and 41 (Atascadero Rd) State Routes to go east and west.
Where to Go
Using bulleted lists, this guide tells you exactly what to see in each place. If you’re in a rush, the lists are perfect for screenshots!
1. Pismo Beach
- Visit the walkable pier with a cafe and bar
- Take a picture at the big Pismo Beach sign
- Eat breakfast sandwiches at Beachin’ Biscuits, with awesome southern style biscuits and sausage gravy
- Stroll along the cliffs a the Dinosaur Cave Cliff Park for great views
2. Avila Beach
- Bike the Bob Jones City to Sea 2.5 mile bike and walking trail
- Visit Avila Valley Barn for fresh market produce, local goods, bakery items, and food. Kids will love to feed the farm animals.
- Swim at the heated natural mineral water pool at Avila Hot Springs
- Walk at Pirates Cove and see a sea cave
- Shop at the Avila beach pier and a cute main street
- See the Port San Luis Lighthouse
3. San Luis Obispo
- Visit the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa founded in 1772
- See the famous and quirky Madonna Inn
- Eat amazing mac n’ cheese at the Black Sheep
- See Bubblegum Alley in downtown SLO
- Browse through art at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art
4. Morro Bay
- See the famous Morro Rock
- Visit the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History
- Watch the sea otters at the T piers
- Hike the Black Hill Trail
- Walk the 1.5 mile round trip Moonstone Beach Boardwalk
- Shop in a cute downtown with unique stores
- See Nitt Witt Ridge, a California Registered Historic Landmark
6. Hearst Castle
- Tour the gorgeous and famous estate designed by Julia Morgan and owned by William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon. Reservations are recommended.
7. Elephant Seal Vista Point
- Watch the barking and snoozing elephant seals and their pups between October and March (best time to go)
8. Paso Robles
- Drink world renowned wine at tasting rooms downtown such as the Justin Tasting Room
- Winery hop between countless classy and relaxing wineries in the hills such as Brecon Estate.
- Eat and drink at the fun Cane TiKi Room (perfect if you don’t like wine)!
Where to Stay
Staying in any of the small towns listed here would make a great option, however since they are popular and small, the prices tend to be high.
Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo are the two largest towns so that is where you’ll find the most competitive prices and largest selection.
There’s a nice La Quinta Inn and Suites in downtown San Luis Obispo at budget to mid-range prices, depending on the day. It’s modern and renovated. Located in Atascadero, a midpoint between Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, is a nice SpringHill Suites. The rooms are modern and stylish. At a higher price point, you could try the Vespera Resort in Pismo Beach. This beach front hotel has a perfect location, especially for families looking to play both at the pool and in the sand.
Where to Eat
- Harbor Hut – Morro Bay Pier
- Black Sheep Bar and Grill – Downtown SLO
- Cane TiKi Room – Downtown Paso Robles
- SloDoCo Donuts – San Luis Obispo
- High Street Deli – San Luis Obispo
- Sylvester’s Burgers – Atascadero
- Beachin’ Biscuits – Pismo Beach
Where to Drink
- Brecon Estate – Winery in Paso Robles hills
- Hearst Ranch Winery – Ocean front views near Hearst Castle
- JUSTIN Tasting Room – Downtown Paso Robles
- Kraken Coffee – Avila Beach
- Scout Coffee – San Lui Obispo
Road Trip Map
I’m Taylor. If you’re interested in contributing a guest post to the website, drop a message into my inbox. Thanks for visiting!
5 thoughts on “8 Stops for a San Luis Obispo County Road Trip”
The winerys and the sea otters at Morro Bay are reason enough to make me want to visit! This would definitely be a weekend trip for me so I can go at a slower pace (and try all the wine!). Thanks so much for sharing these awesome places to visit!
A wonderful day itinerary and I’d make time to srop by and sample some of the wineries also.
On my last round trip down the California coast, I was able to check out many of the cities and things to do that you suggested. However, the one thing I wanted to see, but couldn’t was the elephant seals. I hope to see them on my next trip!
Love the fun facts! And I do want to visit Hearst Castle. This post is inspiring a trip to SLO! What a great road trip!
Wow there are is much to do! The buildings look beautiful and I’d love to visit the beaches! Saving this for later!