Welcome to another installment of our “Trail Town” series of articles. These articles feature a trail running town that you should put on your bucket list of places to visit! This month we feature San Luis Obispo in Coastal California with a population of 46,000 full time residents.
San Luis Obispo, California
San Luis Obispo, or “SLO” as the city is affectionately known, is located roughly midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the scenic California Central Coast with an estimated population of 46,000 residents and 20,000 Cal Poly University students. SLO enjoys year-round sun, clean air, traffic free roadways, a warm Mediterranean marine climate, a world class wine region, thousands of acres of protected open space, an award winning historic downtown filled with charming shops, high quality restaurants and hotels all tucked into turn-of-the-century mercantile buildings, and a burgeoning nightlife and rich cultural scene. Centered in it all is the beautifully preserved Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
A rolling ribbon of green mountains called the Seven Sisters mountain range runs right through the heart of the county and features all levels of well-maintained hiking, trail running, equestrian and mountain biking trails. Crafted by athlete local’s hands, you can explore centrally located city trails, oceanfront state park trails, lakeside county trails and wild national forest lands. Minutes from downtown SLO are more adventure miles of uncrowded beaches, pristine coastline, ragged sea cliffs and some of the best ocean vistas this side of Ireland. All this combined with 300 average days of sunshine a year makes SLO a paradise for the outdoor explorer. Year round the trails are open and easy to access to ensure our healthy community can stay fit as well as connect to one another in this safe and welcoming outdoor playground.
Just a few minutes south, a booming artisan wine country has blossomed. Crushing out world class wines and award winning craft beers, San Luis Obispo has risen to the top as a beverage and foodie paradise. Every pocket of this clean, classic California town now houses chefs’ tables, brew houses, concert venues, wine tasting rooms and plenty of opportunities to work up an appetite.
A nationally acclaimed college town, SLO also boasts one of the highest rates of college educated residents in the state. California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and Cuesta College add not only a diverse, creative and active vibe but also provides cultural excitement in the form of year round musical and performing arts groups and high level sporting events.
When it comes to hiking and trail running you can literally do a different trail every day for two weeks. That said, local favorites include our heart of the city 1,292-foot Cerro San Luis Mountain, with 360-degree views and four unique single track trailhead access points.
On the southwest side of town the more rugged Irish Hills Nature Reserve is laced with a technical network of trails that wind for up to 20 miles out and back. On the northeast end we offer a short shaded waterfall route to explore that leads to an optional longer route and big 1,000 foot climb to the top through Reservoir Canyon. The views from here are unparalleled and on clear days you can see out to the ocean.
The most famous single track trail in the area climbs the 1,450-foot Bishops Peak which is covered in boulders and is where many local rock climbers hang out. For one of the most unique trail runs in Central California, visit Design Village a 2.5-mile fire road trail populated by structures designed and built over the decades by architecture students at Cal Poly. Located on a quiet grassy hillside contoured by creeks shaded by Coastal Live Oaks, the village trail is accessed through the Cal Poly campus. Beyond this village trail in the 8-mile Poly Canyon fire road loop trail.
In addition to all of these major trailheads, are other shorter connector trails peppered throughout the city in case you want to weave in and out, or link them together for an all-day adventure. If you prefer to join a local group to run or hike with, you are welcome to join either the SLO Trail Runners on Facebook or the local Sierra Club who both meet weekly. Follow this link for interactive trail maps.
By car: San Luis Obispo is 198 miles north of Los Angeles and 226 miles south of San Francisco on U.S. Highway 101. The most direct route from either city is U.S. 101; it’s a drive of about four hours either way. From San Francisco you can also drive to SLO on scenic Highway 1, although the road is slow and winding and subject to closure in bad weather- it takes about six hours. From the east (including Fresno and Bakersfield), take Highway 46 west to Paso Robles, then head south on U.S. 101. Click here for rental cars.
By train: Amtrak serves San Luis Obispo several times a day via the Coast Starlight from Seattle and the Pacific Surfliner from San Diego. The Amtrak depot is located at 1011 Railroad Ave. For tickets & information call 1-800-USA-RAIL or visit amtrak.com.
By air: San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP), is served by Alaska Airlines, United Express and US Airways. Passengers can fly non-stop to and from Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Phoenix. The airport is five miles south of downtown on Highway 227. For information call (805) 781-5205 or visit sloairport.com.
By bike: Bicycle path thread throughout the city. Local buses and Amtrak are both equipped to carry bikes. For bike path information visit rideshare.org. For information on bike rentals visit SLO Bike and Run or Wally’s Bicycle Works.
Bus and trolley service: SLO Transit, 541-2877, provides bus service throughout the city. The Regional Transit Authority, 781-4472, operates buses that connect with SLO Transit in downtown San Luis Obispo and run throughout the county. Seasonally, Thursday through Sunday, the trolley completes a loop of downtown every 15-20 minutes. Hours of operations vary; visit slocity.org. For online bus information visit rideshare.org.
A vibrant college town, SLO has a youthful, creative and active vibe alongside cultural excitement in the form of numerous musical and performing arts groups and venues that regularly host major touring shows. There has to be something said for the small coastal town that regularly attracts Willie Nelson, Snoop and also has a resident symphony and hosts some of the top classical music acts in the country.
Whether you’re interested in a small town, urban, retro or hipster vibe, San Luis Obispo has a quality coffee shop that will feel like home. From an Instagramers paradise of Scout, the definitive hipster hangout – complete with late night comedy before it was cool – at Kruzberg, the beer-coffee crossover that is Libertine and the recently revamped Ascendo to the decades-old SLO staples of Linnea’s and Black Horse, the city is rich with options. Looking for more than just great coffee? Sally Loo’s just expanded to have dinner 7 days a week, Lucy’s takes throwback diner to whole other level and The Station is an unbeatable combination of wine bar, art studio, mercantile and coffee shop.
While most know San Luis Obispo as quintessential California wine country, the burgeoning craft brewing scene has recently established this vibrant college town as a can’t-miss destination for hopheads of all stripes. Whether you are looking for the funkiest wild ale, a clean pilsner or a hoppy, west coast IPA on your beer-cation, SLO can deliver. Even more impressive than the numerous accolades from last year’s Great American Beer Festival, SLO breweries go the extra mile for beer geeks with everything from a hotel/brewery combo, backstage brewing tours, beer yoga and of course lots of live music and food trucks.
7 Sisters Brewing Company – Experience a little taste of SLO in every sip. Serving up some of the finest small batch beer that California’s central coast has to offer, 7Sisters Brewing Company is the perfect place to relax at the indoor bar, or out on the patio during a sunny weekend. Committed to sustainability and conservation, their brewing process uses much less water and energy than other methods and have assembled their tasting room almost entirely from repurposed materials.
Libertine Brewing Company – Founded in 2012 on the premise of bringing the best beer selection to the Central Coast, while brewing unique beers and products to compliment. All of Libertine’s Wild Ales are brewed and then transferred into an open-top coolship, allowing the local wild yeasts of our area time to naturally fall in and start the fermentation process, giving our beers a true Central Coast Terroir.
SLO Brew – With two locations – one Located in the heart of downtown, SLO Brew – affectionately known as “The Brew” – is a neighborhood brewpub featuring our original 10-barrel brewing tanks and copper kettle, fresh local fare, an intimate music venue, whiskey lounge, fireside salon, and creekside patio. When the sun goes down, SLO Brew transforms into one of downtown’s best late night gathering spot for drinks and entertainment. Their second location – The Rock- is home to their 30-barrel brewhouse, canning line, and tasting room and features a taproom restaurant, catering kitchen, and event space.
Central Coast Brewing – Central Coast Brewing opened in 1998 and has two locations in beautiful downtown San Luis Obispo. Recognized as one of the premier brewing facilities in California’s Central Coast region, CCB is known far and wide for its variety of hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind signature ales and lagers. Whether you sit at the bar enjoying a fresh beer or hang out on the patio, Central Coast Brewing is your neighborhood brewery.
San Luis Obispo’s agricultural roots provide a decades-long head start on the farm-to-fork movement. Fresh seafood, locally raised beef, more than 11,000 acres dedicated to organic fruits and vegetables and award winning wine a plenty allows local chefs to spend more time creating and less time thinking about the logistics of getting fresh product.
SLO Provisions – At the intersection of rustic and refined, SLO Provisions offers all-day take-away and dine-in options with house-roasted rotisserie meats, family-style dinners, specialty sandwiches, farm fresh salads and rustic baked goods, as well as signature drinks, coffees, wine and beer.
Vegetable Butcher Culture Kitchen – Located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, Vegetable Butcher Culture Kitchen combines locally sourced, premium meats and sustainable seafood, with the bounty from farmers’ markets, offering residents and visitors fresh, ethnically diverse cuisine with a playful twist. Whether you opt for one or two items for a lighter meal, shared plates or a culinary adventure of options for a large group you will be wowed by the creative parings and bold South-Western inspired flavors.
La Esquina Taqueria – La Esquina Taqueria is San Luis Obispo’s new go-to for classic Mexican dishes with a twist. Flavorful, fine Mexican cuisine featuring a perfect twist on all the classics dishes. Specializing in infused tequilas, in-house margaritas, authentic yet unique Mexican cuisine served with exceptional service in a beautiful ambiance.
Luna Red – A passion for simple and clean food, local produce, and a warm ambiance helped spur the vision for Luna Red. Inspired by the European custom of respect for the locality and traditional preparation of food, the menu includes cured meats, local cheeses, and produce from regional farmers’ markets.
Stop by the Visitor Center in downtown San Luis Obispo at 895 Monterey Street to pick up maps, a Visitors Guide, get the inside scoop on the best things to do and get all of your questions answered. The Visitor Center is also fully stocked with special deals on local restaurants, hotels, wine tasting, things to do, and more. Deals include buy-one-get-one-free coupons and percentages off your checks at participating restaurants, major discounts on local hotels, and specials on vacation packages.
Also consider stopping by the Running Warehouse just South of the historic downtown. Running Warehouse was founded in 2005 by a small group of experienced runners whose sole goal was to bring the best possible shopping experience to all running enthusiasts. Stop by and get the inside scoop about where the locals train.
Trail Sharing and Conservation
The City’s 7,000 acres of designated open space promise to have something for everyone including rugged running trails, challenging mountain biking and leisurely scenic pathways just minutes from downtown. Education about conservation and preservation starts early with Junior Ranger camps, ranger-led hikes and twice-weekly workdays where volunteers have the opportunity to give back and help maintain the open space that they value. Other groups including the Land Conservancy, Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers and EcoSLO also create opportunities for the community to build and maintain trails throughout the area.
Race SLO produces world-class sporting events in San Luis Obispo, CA, which is billed as “Endurance Town USA.” The La Cuesta Ranch Trail Run is organized each January by the Running Warehouse. The US Trail Running Conference comes to San Luis Obispo August 29-31, and is co-hosted by Race SLO and Colorado-based conference founder Terry Chiplin. Race SLO’s showcase trail running event is the SLO Ultra taking place on September 1, 2018 with a 50K, 1/2 Marathon and 5K. March 2018 marked the addition of the Warrior Trail Run Adventure, a military style race in partnership with the California Military Department Foundation.