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San Luis Obispo

Head to this vibrant Central Coast city for great wine, history, and outdoor adventure

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No destination is perfect but the city of San Luis Obispo comes pretty darn close. Situated on the edge of the Edna Valley wine region and home to California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, this is a college and wine country town all in one, with gorgeous open space for hiking and mountain biking nearby. One of California’s most appealing places to live, it’s no wonder that San Luis Obispo was recognized a few years ago as the happiest city in the country.

Life in this Central Coast community centers on its exciting downtown, where you’ll find blocks of historic buildings in styles from Spanish Colonial to Victorian. Founded in 1772 as the fifth of California’s missions and built in the 1790s, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa connects contemporary visitors to the city’s distant Spanish past. The mission still celebrates daily mass and you can take docent-led tours or explore on your own to see the parish’s serene, meditative gardens and centuries-old devotional art. For a look at more recent California works, walk two blocks from the mission to downtown’s San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.

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San Luis Obispo is at its most vibrant Thursday nights during the Downtown SLO Farmers Market, when San Luis Obispo County growers and specialty food vendors set up stands that line blocks of the downtown. (Don’t miss the tri-trip!) The city is definitely a culinary destination, with a dining scene that includes such classics as Novo Restaurant and Lounge, which serves an eclectic menu of global cuisine and has a deck overlooking the walking paths along restored San Luis Obispo Creek.

Craft beer fans can sip their way through town and tap into the SLO-brewed creations at a host of local favorites: SLO Brew, Libertine Brewing Co., and Central Coast Brewing Co. Winemaking in the area dates back to the Mission Era, and these days local wine production is centered on the Edna Valley, a boutique region known for cool, ocean-influenced growing conditions that are ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Head to such standouts as Edna Valley Vineyard, where the contemporary tasting room has sweeping views, and Claiborne & Churchill Winery for its acclaimed estate Riesling. Back in town, discover varietals from an assortment of Central Coast wineries at Luis Wine Bar and Central Coast Wines.

After all the good food, beer, and wine in San Luis Obispo, you’ll definitely want to burn some calories. The tallest of the chain of volcanic mountains known as the Nine Sisters, Bishop Peak rises to 1,559 feet and has both easy and more challenging routes that wind along its rocky slopes. Plus, the view from the summit is one of the Central Coast’s best. In winter and spring, the Irish Hills Natural Reserve lives up to its name as the landscape turns a vivid emerald green, making these 720 acres a top mountain biking and hiking destination. And while San Luis Obispo isn’t right on the coast, it’s close enough for a gentle bike ride to Avila Beach along the Bob Jones City-to-Sea Trail.

The city has a range of accommodation options right downtown. Standouts include Hotel Cerro, which offers stylish modern rooms and suites, and Hotel SLO, where a vibe of luxurious simplicity is present everywhere, including the onsite Sol Spa and Ox + Anchor steakhouse.

Meanwhile on the edge of town, the landmark Madonna Inn has drawn generations of travelers eager to experience its elaborately decorated, eccentric themed rooms. After all, where else could you take your pick of a hot pink or caveman-themed suite, both with indoor rock waterfall showers?

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