San Luis Obispo resident Renoda Campbell has a long list of passions, but when she talks about her work, one theme stands out: The 58-year-old wedding photographer celebrates love in every shape, size, and color.
Campbell moved to the Central Coast town more than two decades ago, leaving behind a career in the Los Angeles music industry. She got a master's degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, raised a family, and worked as a photographer at the local high school, shooting portraits of seniors and athletes.
"I always loved taking pictures, but I never, never wanted to be a wedding photographer. Then one day someone asked me to take their wedding photos, and I fell in love with it," she says.
"There can be so much negativity in the world, but weddings are the opposite. There's something so powerful about seeing two people loving each other so much and having family and friends there to support them."
As Campbell became more involved in the wedding business, she noticed a missing piece. "I realized that I didn't see African American or LGBTQ+ couples photographed in mainstream magazines. Their love stories weren't written, weren't visible. I thought, 'Why not?' So I became an activist. I wanted to highlight and spotlight the romance of LGBTQ+ couples, couples of color, and couples that believe in inclusivity. I wanted to celebrate and honor them."
San Luis Obispo County is an ideal location for her business, Campbell says. "We have all these amazing venues that are perfect for hosting weddings. There are beautiful parks, beaches, and wineries.”
One famous SLO wedding venue is the extravagantly pink Madonna Inn, which has lavishly decorated theme rooms—including the rock-walled Caveman room and pioneer-style Yahoo room with a wagon-wheel bed frame. But Campbell says the Madonna Inn's bakery is even more alluring than the one-of-a-kind decor.
"They're known for their pink champagne cake, which they make with a special pink sugar that matches the pink on everything else at the Madonna Inn. That pink cake is to die for. My other favorite is their chocolate cream pie, which has shredded chocolate in the pie, not just on top. The pie is huge, maybe 20 to 24 inches wide, so when you get a slice, you get a really big slice," she says.
You don’t have to be planning nuptials to enjoy San Luis Obispo, of course. Campbell has plenty of recommendations at the ready, ranging from coffee shops to date-night spots.
“My husband and I both love Linnaea's Cafe on Garden Street in downtown,” she says. “They have a back patio that's a hidden gem. It's a good place to find a private spot to talk, work, or study among the greenery with the birds chirping all around you. I hold a lot of meetings there with clients.”
Family fun is abundant too: “The San Luis Obispo Children's Museum is a great place for kids,” she points out. “It's a very popular museum with interactive exhibits. Everything is designed so that kids learn by playing and doing. And parents should definitely take their kids to see the elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas Rookery north of San Simeon. Thousands of them haul out on the beach.”
Another favorite spot is Bubble Gum Alley, a pedestrian passageway covered in already-been-chewed gum—an estimated two million pieces. The Instagram-famous landmark attracts thousands of visitors each year.
"It smells really sweet in that alley," she says. "I love San Luis Obispo because it's just a little quirky."
It's also very romantic. Campbell and her husband recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary with dinner at Robin's, an Asian-fusion restaurant in an adobe house in nearby Cambria. "The food was so good, and they had plenty of options for my husband, who is vegan. Robin's has cozy little nooks and beautiful gardens."
Campbell suggests that romance-minded couples visit the Granada Hotel's lounge, Nightcap. "It has a sexy, date-night vibe, and they make beautiful craft cocktails," she says. Another intimate spot is Sidecar, perched alongside the babbling creek in downtown San Luis Obispo. "It's an amazing place that makes really great signature drinks. I usually order a Moscow Mule or maybe a glass of Prosecco. It's like dessert in a glass."
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
Campbell says these destinations should be on every SLO visitor's itinerary:
Farmers market: “Whether you want to people-watch or you just want to get some really good food, our Downtown SLO Farmers' Market is the best. They sell fruits, vegetables, and freshly cut flowers, and they also have hot-food vendors cooking barbecue and other great food. People just sit on the curb and stuff their faces. My favorite stall makes grilled corn on the cob that's so good. The market covers five blocks of Higuera Street, and there's usually entertainment on the side streets and corners. There's all kinds of performers, even little kids doing gymnastics.”
Parks and preserves: “My favorite park is Montaña de Oro State Park because there's so much to do there, and it's so beautiful. It has horseback riding, hiking, camping, bluffs, and beaches. It's just exquisite. I also love the Elfin Forest in Morro Bay. The California live oaks growing there should be 50 feet high, but they're only four feet high. These little teeny tiny trees are hundreds of years old.”
Ice cream: “I love Nite Creamery, which is located in an old creamery building. When you place your order, they mix the ingredients right in front of you and blast them with liquid nitrogen to freeze them. It's really cool to watch because the liquid nitrogen is so dramatic. My husband always gets a flavor called Vegans Are Angels, which is a strawberry plant-based ice cream. I go with the All Niter, which is coffee ice cream with chocolate chunks and Oreo crumbs.“
Artsy hamlet: “I always tell people to visit the town of Harmony, about 15 miles north of Morro Bay. In the 1870s, the town was the center of the local dairy industry, but now it's a tiny settlement of artists that has a population of 18. You have to take a photo by the population sign. If you want to buy something special, stop in at Harmony Glass Works to browse all the beautiful glass art—sculptures, wind chimes, ornaments, paper weights, jewelry. There's a great pottery shop, too.”
Historic mission: “Everybody should visit the San Luis Obispo Mission. There's a museum and gift shop, beautiful gardens, and you can attend mass. It's unique among California's missions because the mission bells are not automated. Real people ring the mission bells every day at 12 noon and 6 p.m., and also for weddings and funerals and the start of mass. I was a bell ringer for 10 years, and the bells are really heavy. I had to wrap ropes around my arms to play them. Basically I was holding the weight of 3,000 pounds of bells to make them ring.”