Things to Do in San Luis Obispo

January 5, 2021

Filed in: Field Guide

This is a late one! In the early fall, we dropped off my brother at school in San Diego and made a little pit stop, discovering that there’s quite a lot of things to do in San Luis Obispo along the way. I’d only visited it once before to see the school, but armed with the recommendations of a friend who actually did complete her studies there, it was a marvelous time.

The highlights were a spectacular sunset at Bishops Peak (a great sibling bonding experience), tri-tip sandwiches at a local joint, and artisanal ice cream that the entire picky family enjoyed. San Diego was a quick blitz, but I did what I really wanted, which was a jaunt through Balboa Park, which did not disappoint.

Things to Do in San Luis Obispo

  1. Eat cake at the Madonna Inn. A sumptuous, eclectic, colorful hotel that even Wes Anderson would dig, the Madonna Inn serves up a decadently mean slice of cake. Toffee, chocolate, pink champagne. I recommend all three.
  2. Also at the Madonna Inn, take a walk in the garden. I felt thoroughly (French) countrified.
  3. Pirate’s Cove. When you drive up to the access point, it’ll appear that you’re in the wrong place. You’re not. Look for the sign on the left when facing the ocean and there will be a trail to Pirate’s Cove. The actual cove was a little less impressive than I had been lead to believe, but the other views were still magnificent.
  4. Tide pooling and saudunes at Montana del Oro. Pro tip: Check the tide pooling schedule and don’t go in the morning. High tide and fog will kill the vibe (speaking from experience…).
  5. Bishop’s Peak. This hike is not for the faint of heart. You will wind your way up a mountain and scale borders for a precarious view of the whole valley. Terrifying? Yes. Worth it even though we hiked down at dusk and almost twisted our ankles? Also yes.
  6. McConnell’s ice cream. What we ordered is now in my food memory archives, but I vaguely recall delightful brownie and speculoos concoctions that we devoured.
  7. Firestone for tri tip sandwiches and salads and their ABC burger. Super casual but the line that snakes out the door attests to the goodness.
  8. Splash Café. Clam chowder, fried seafood, yes please.

Things to Do in San Diego

Honestly, can’t really recommend much here because it was such a blitz. I’ll have to make a more thorough visit another time.

We did, however, go to Balboa Park, and that in itself can keep you occupied for the whole day. The greenhouse and multiple museums mean that there are plenty of photos to take and places to explore. We were only there for the evening to take some family portraits, and even that wasn’t enough time!

Things to do in San Luis Obispo. Left: The waves wash up on the shore at Pirate's Cove. The sun shines brightly on the sand. Middle: The pastel-pink Madonna Inn sign greets visitors in San Luis Obispo. Right: At a garden in the Madonna in, a bundle of pink flowers bloom against a French country style structure. Tiled, slanted roof that provides a bit of shade from the intense morning sun.

Left: Small, bouncy yellow flowers in full sun at Balboa Park. Right: A small boat bobs on the waves at Pirate's Cove in San Luis Obispo under the glaring sun.

Things to do in San Luis Obispo. Sapphire-blue ocean waves crash on the rocks at Pirate's Cove in San Luis Obispo.

Left: Young woman wearing a wide-brimmed pale straw sunhat and glasses smiles from underneath a blue face mask. She is wearing a light blue sundress and is holding a Hasselblad. Right: Three palm trees rise against the sky in San Diego.

The California Tower, a mix of Plateresque, Baroque, Churrigueresque, and Rococo, Gothic, and Spanish-Colonial styles, rises against the bright blue sky with the palm trees on a sunny day at Balboa Park.

All images on a Hasselblad 501cm and Nikon F100.

I am a San Francisco Bay Area film photographer specialising in senior girls, families, love stories, and (personal) brands. Want to work together? Get in touch! I’d love to know your story. If you need fine art prints & posters to decorate your home, check out my print shop!

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Paris & California strolls; plenty of flowers; stories; and looking for the beauty in the everyday. I hope you'll come along as I take the year to document the entirety of my home state!