10 Things to do in San Luis Obispo for First Time Visitors

San Luis Obispo has earned a reputation for being the “Happiest City” in the United States. One visit there will convince you of this as well. It lies nestled in the Santa Lucia Mountains offering an idyllic environment for a small town with a friendly atmosphere. The region gets approximately 315 days of sunshine a year and its’ a short drive to relaxing hot springs and sandy beaches. If you’re planning a trip to San Luis Obispo and it’s your first time visiting, here are 10 things you must do when you’re there.

1. Go to the Thursday Night Farmers Market

The Thursday Night Farmers Market is a popular attraction for locals and visitors. Here you’ll find much more than fresh fruits and vegetables, although they have that too. While you’re there you’ll see outdoor stands occupied by local restaurant staff tempting you with their yummiest menu offerings, live music and a variety of entertainment and much more. The hours for the market are every Thursday starting at 6 pm and ending at 9 pm.

2. Visit the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is one of the more popular tourist attractions because of its intense beauty and rich history. The mission was founded in 1722 by Father Junipero Serra. It was dedicated to the Bishop of Toulouse in France, whose name was Saint Louis. When you’re planning your visit it’s a good idea to set aside at least a few hours because of the massive size of the complex. There is a lot to see and a lot to learn. The architecture is inspiring and it has the ability to transport you back in time. In the back, lush gardens surround the adobe structure. On the interior, you’ll find an array of artwork and important artifacts on display including artwork from the 17th century. There’s also a gift shop on the grounds that sells interesting and unique gifts and souvenirs so you’ll always remember the time that you visited.

3. Take a trip to San Luis Obispo’s Historic Downtown

There is no other place on earth that compares to the historic downtown sector of San Louis Obispo. You’ll marvel at the Spanish-style architecture of the historic buildings which are complemented with tree-lined streets. The downtown area is elegant and quaint with a flavor of what it may have been like to live in a past era. Here you’ll find a variety of the city’s best restaurants, shops, cafes and even an exhibit that shows how old-fashioned ice cream is made.

4. Go to Pismo Beach

Pismo beach features 23 miles of sandy beach where bodyboarding and surfing abound. Whether you’re active in the sport or a spectator there are some exciting waves. This is generally a safe beach because there are lifeguards on duty to ensure a safer swimming environment. It’s an ideal place to play a game of volleyball, sunbathe, fish from the pier or simply stroll along the beach. When you’re done with all of that you can catch a delicious meal at one of the many cafes, delis or other restaurants in the area.

5. Tour the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum

Railroad enthusiasts, as well as everyone else, love visiting the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum. This is the place where you can learn interesting facts about the history of railroading on the California coast. The museum contains an exhibit hall that features several large displays of artifacts along with scaled Railroad models, a children’s play area and a vintage 1926 Pullman Passenger Car.

6. Visit Avila Beach

Just seven miles to the North of Pismo Beach lies Avila Beach. It’s a trip that you could easily make after spending a few hours at Pismo. This amazing stretch of sandy shoreline is surrounded by hillsides that keep the wind at bay for a more enjoyable day at the beach. There is also a boardwalk at Avila beach and the palm trees that line the boardwalk give it a special feeling of natural elegance. There are also several restaurants featuring outdoor dining terraces and shops to pick up souvenirs and essentials at the beach. The scenery is breathtaking and the waves are gentle enough for beginning surfers to give them a try. If it’s something you’ve been wanting to do, you won’t need to worry about being shown up by the pro surfers because they go where the waves are rougher. If you come here in May you can catch the annual Blues Festival and if your visit is in June, it’s at the time of the Oyster Festival.

7. Go to the Avila Hot Springs

When you’ve had enough fun in the sun at Avila Beach, you might as well visit the Avila Hot Springs. It’s located just a few miles from the beach and it’s so relaxing that you might want to schedule a time to visit this attraction separately from other sightseeing adventures. These hot springs have a long history as they were discovered in 1907. They were believed to have the power to heal a variety of different ailments. Here you can enjoy a therapeutic soak and if you desire, a massage treatment. There are pools for kids along with a picnic area and even a place where you can stay overnight in one of the cabin rentals or camping sites.

8. Visit Oceano Dunes

Oceano Dunes is the sole beach in the state of California that will let you drive off-highway vehicles on the sand. It is designated as a recreational area for vehicles and you can play and ride on the 1,200 acres of coastal property and have a great time traversing across the dunes. There are tons of outdoor activities available at this tourist attraction including birdwatching, camping, horseback riding, hiking and more.

9. San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

The Museum of Art in San Luis Obispo is another of the must-see locations. Here you’ll find contemporary art collections by artists from the state. There are sculptures, avant-garde paintings and photography work displayed.

10. Shell Beach

Shell beach is the ideal hangout for beachcombers who are looking for a quiet beach to collect novel seashells. They wash up on the shore daily and there are plenty of other interesting coastal wonders to explore. Look through the tide pools to see the water creatures in their natural environments or take a kayak trip around the beach’s gentle waters.

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