An SLO Siren Song
Ever since I announced that my Great US Road Trip was going to take me down the California Coast via the immensely scenic Pacific Coast Highway, the delectable Kait from Where is Kait? has been rather insistent than San Luis Obispo should be included in my itinerary.
While everybody tends to be proud to show off the place that they call home, the reigning #1 Travel Blogging Crush has even gone so far as to rave about the many charms of SLO on her own blog. Hell, her piece on how to spend a Weekend in SLO was one of the things that eventually convinced me to make a slight detour on our trip and included the quaint little Californian college town on the docket.
With San Francisco behind us and Los Angeles ahead, we sped down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, turned inland, and spent a few days in SLO.
True to Kait’s predictions, I fell just a little bit in love with this quirky corner of California. Two nights and one day weren’t nearly enough time to do the town affectionately known as ‘SLO’ justice, but I thought I’d highlight just why it’s a worthy addition to your California and/or US travel experience.
#5 – It’s essentially Neverland
In a lot of ways, SLO reminded me of the expat cities I’ve become somewhat addicted to living in.
With the college there, it’s the kind of place where every night there’s a crowd at the bar and a seemingly endless stream of cute college girls dressed to the nines for their night out.
It’s no small wonder that the town also seems to boast a population of 30-40 something men who are still playing video games, sleeping late, and doing shots until the early hours.
While I could take or leave the horde of men who also suffer from Peter Pan Syndrome, I’m totally on board with a town that lets me refuse to grow up.
#4 – Fantastic food
Oh God. The food. The fantastic, mouthgasm inducing food.
SLO had such a fantastic food scene, and I swear every meal I had there was better than the last.
From the mouth-watering andouille and vegan buffalo wings at Kreuzberg to the jaw-droppingly good sandwiches and burgers at High Street Deli to the delectable treats available for sale at the Farmer’s Market, there was a lot to sample in SLO.
We barely scraped the surface (we ate twice at both High Street Deli and Kreuzberg), but the streets were lined with cute cafes and eateries just begging to be explored.
I think it warrants a return visit, as I am literally sitting at my keyboard salivating remembering the decadent sandwiches from High Street. Take me back!
#3 – Wine country
Ever since I lost my wine virginity in Broke, I’ve been fast developing a taste for wine and, in particular, tours of wine country.
There’s just something I find wonderfully fun about getting out on a bright day, sipping some delicious wine in a serene setting, and getting a little drunk while still feeling frightfully fancy.
The highlight of my visit to SLO was undoubtedly Kait’s self-designed tour of local vineyards that. Battling the hangover to end all hangovers, I battled through the first vineyard and was fighting fit (and ready for another boozy night out) by the time we finished up amidst the ghost-white trees and brightly coloured peacocks of Kelsey.
While I’ll write a separate post about my first taste of Californian wine country, the presence of so many great cellar doors close by was another part of SLO’s charm.
#2 – Night life
We had two nights out during our visit to SLO, and both nights out were a hell of a lot of fun. SLO has a fantastic selection of bars ranging from classy brew pubs to crowded college hotspots to the nameless dive bar that hospitality workers frequent when it’s time to avoid the crowds.
Open mic nights, shot promos, fancy gastropub food like vegan buffalo chicken wings, custom-built pizzas, and the most amazing andouille sausage I’ve ever had are a fitting accompaniment to the endless litres of craft beer and/or Pabst Blue Ribbon that were tipped down my gullet during two very boozy nights out.
Despite the drinking and the college crowds, the streets still feel safe by night. Wandering from bar to bar in this quaint little town didn’t have the menace of club-hopping in King’s Cross or even moving from bar to bar in my hometown, where alcohol consumption and angry rednecks make a frightening combination.
My favourite watering holes during my visit were:
- Kreuzberg: A groovy coffee shop by day, Kreuzeberg’s bar has a pretty awesome weekly open mic, some great food, and one of the coolest bartenders in the western world.
- The Frog & Peach: A fun little English style pub popular with the college scene. The inside can be a bit crowded and chaotic, but the little beer garden out back is a good place to speak loudly so people can hear your accent.
- Blast 825 Tap Room: A newer bar in town, Blast 825 has a huge selection of self-serve craft beers and a design-your-own-pizza restaurant attached. Not a session stop, but a pretty fun little spot.
- BarrelHouse Speakeasy: I love the idea behind this place, with the basement bar ‘hidden’ beneath an old time barbershop. The downstairs is a little too well lit and shiny to be a proper speakeasy, but it’s got a fun crowd and passable beer selection.
There was also a dingy, PBR-only, dive bar that the local hospitality workers would end their nights at. To be honest, it was one of my favourite places, and so I’ll keep the name and location on the down-low so that it doesn’t get ruined for them.
But Ranger Stacy and her thick faux Aussie shouts of “Wallaby” whenever she saw me remains one of my favourite memories from the trip. Ditto an increasingly confused local as our drunken game of Heads Up turned into fastest finger first movie trivia.
Of course, it’s not all about binge drinking and regrettable morning afters. Although, as if the town didn’t already hold a special place in my heart, they also has a mother-flipping Craft Beer Festival.
The weekly bike nights, which seem dozens or even hundreds of cyclists ride through town ringing their bells and flashing their helmet lights add a kind of holiday charm to the evening, and the town’s self-proclaimed ‘World Famous’ SLO Farmer’s Market has a fun festival atmosphere that is impossible not to like.
#1 – Kait/The Vibe of the Place
I’d be remiss in not mentioning the irrepressible and gorgeous Kait’s role in making SLO such a fun stop on the Great US Road Trip.
After chatting via Twitter/Facebook and the occasional phone call for the last couple of years, it was a relief to meet her in person and find she was the same sassy, adventurous, and strong individual in person.
Having a local guide made our stay a lot of fun, from knowing the right places to eat to knowing the best bars on a given night to introducing us to the characters who make the town such a fun place.
There’s a youthful, Bohemian energy about San Luis Obispo that is hard to resist.
Maybe it’s the sun, maybe it’s the Dionysian consumption of wine and beer, maybe it’s the athletic and outdoorsy environment….
Maybe it’s the fact the city gives you permission to be whoever you are – even if that person isn’t quite what you should be.
It’s not the Happiest City in America for nothing, I guess.
Have you ever visited a place that – while not a regular tourist stop – just won you over with its charm?