Downtown San Luis Obispo

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San Luis Obispo, CA
Downtown San Luis Obispo
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Downtown San Luis Obispo's main charm is the youthful energy of its college students and its bounty of ornate late 19th century buildings with brick exteriors and decorative cornices. The main street, Higuera Street, is narrow and lined with trees that provide welcome shade on hot days. On the west side of the street, indoor arcades filled with shops lead to the creek that fronts the mission. Here little restaurants offer outdoor seating beside the stone wall, pine trees, and lush vegetation that lines the creek. It's cute when the mission bells start chiming! Try Bliss Cafe, at a perfect spot on the creek, where you can have vegetarian cuisine such as a Baja Chipotle salad that tastes delicious. In the same building on the creek, Proof & Gather Baking Co is a cute bakery with three small tables, and delicious peach scones.

Burger Village is a nice place to sit on the main street, Higuera Street, and look out the window at the passers by. Their burgers are really good. SLO Froyo has good serve-yourself frozen yogurt. 
On the side streets are lovely coffee shops and cafes. Scout Coffee is one of the prettiest coffee shops I've ever seen. To sit here looking out the huge picture windows is a true delight. Next door, Linnaea's Cafe, a counter-service cafe, has lovely indoor seating filled with college students studying, a chilly walled back patio, and some large tables in the sun in the front. They are friendly, and I like how their pastries are not too sweet. Across the street, SLO Delicious Bake Shop looks cute. It has muffins, mini fruit pies, cookies, chocolate croissants, sandwiches, and ham and cheese croissants. There are a few seats outside in the front.
On Marsh Street, which runs parallel to Higuera Street, find Nate's, an upscale restaurant in a historic house- it's fun to sit at the bar on a Friday night and talk to people who have just arrived in town. Another delicious place to eat, a few blocks further down on Marsh Street, is House of Bread bakery. It doesn't have much seating, just a few unappealing tables outside, but you have to try their raspberry and chocolate chip muffins- you can taste the real butter and honey. Their Blueberry Bran muffins are good too. Near here is Ascendo Coffee with an attractive interior and beautiful chess table! They have picnic tables outside- the building is an old gas station- with mountain views. Their Thai iced tea is delicious! Bread Bike Bakery is nearby, and sells fresh-milled whole wheat sourdough bread on Wed-Sat (closed Sun and Mon). 
One of the best sandwiches you'll ever eat can be found at High Street Market and Deli, in an adorable house a few blocks back from the downtown area. Get the Dutch Punch sandwich and sit out on their side patio. 
San Luis Obispo has a progressive government that discourages fast food restaurants and banned drive-thru restaurants. It was the first place in the world to ban smoking in bars, restaurants, and public places, which led to bans in other places (yay for San Luis Obispo and fresh air!)
The San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Mission is right in downtown on the corner of Chorro and Monterey Streets and fronts a square filled with gorgeous yellow eucalyptus. The square is the town's focal point for festivals. In spring, check out the giant roses in the garden behind the mission and in autumn, see the grapes hanging from the arbors.
On Friday nights in summer it's super fun to come to the mission plaza for free live music concerts that run for twelve weeks. A solo singer-songwriter starts out each concert, followed by a band (over 100 bands apply during the selection process). You can also buy alcohol and food. In October, check out the giant pumpkin competition- Cal Poly agriculture students tell you facts and it's fun. At Christmastime, starting in November, come at night: the square is filled with a santa house, lights around the tree trunks, a carousel, and a small tunnel with music and lights. On Chinese New Year, there is a drone lights show near the Ah Louis Store on Palm Street- it's as fun as fireworks!
An upmarket area where Cal Poly college students hang out is Downtown Center Mall at 893 Higuera Street, anchored by Barnes and Noble bookstore. There is a pleasant alley with Sequoia Sandwich Company, Antonia's Pizza, and Starbucks, and a colorful Jamba Juice on the other side of Barnes and Noble.The bookstore has two levels and a colorful kids section.
Half a block north is another outdoor mall called Court Street Mall. Sit at one of the tables in the alley and you feel like you're in Europe on a blissful summer's day. There's a cute candy shop, frozen yogurt shop with a zillion toppings, breakfast and lunch cafe called Seeds with outdoor seating, and popular chain stores like Sephora and Pottery Barn.
If you're looking for a very lively scene, check out the Farmer's Market on Thursday nights from 6-9pm. It is on Higuera Street, the six blocks from Osos to Nipomo Street. Under big tents, all kinds of foods are cooked- ribs, moroccan wraps, you name it. There are also vegetable stands, flower stands, a balloon-bending man, activists educating anyone who will listen, and musicians. The street is closed to traffic which makes it nice to stroll along.
Around 733 Higuera Street, you will pass the bubblegum alley, where people have been sticking their gum for years and there are many layers of the nasty stuff collecting there! 
For history lovers, head one block north of the mission, to 800 Palm Street, and you will see the historic Ah Louis store, a Chinese merchandise store from 1874 which served as a bank and post office for the Chinese immigrants who dug the eight tunnels through the Santa Lucia Mountain Range in the late 19th century. Notice its large bell outside.It has a delightful gift shop inside, where you can buy wine from Cal Poly's agriculture department and all kinds of pretty things. A few stores down, check out Growing Grounds, an adorable garden store in an alley. Continue to the Fremont Theatre at 1025 Monterey Street and enjoy its art deco exterior.
Walk over to the awesome San Luis Obispo Children's Museum and let your kids have a fantastic time in imaginary play. Or walk over to Emerson Park, just one block east of the main strip, where you'll find a small but cute playground and some lovely historic homes.
There is lots for kids to do in SLO. The second Saturday of the month, the art museum has free art for kids, good for ages 5 and up. The library, on Palm Street, also has a nice children's room. Check out also the play space in the back of the children's shop EcoBambino on Monterey Street. Tom's Toys is a fun place to go with kids, on Higuera Street. 
It's beautiful to walk past the Victorian houses, which are most glorious on the corner of Buchon Street and Garden Street, in the Old Town Historic District
While in the area, drive your kids to the fun playground at Santa Rosa Park. It's a three minute drive. Or check out the incredible playground with a long cable at Sinsheimer Park. There is also an impressive playground at Islay Park. The last two parks mentioned are in areas where families, rather than college students, tend to live, and they are eight minute drives away. 
The SLO Public Market, nine minutes drive away, is an attractive spot with a huge outdoor plaza full of seating and happy people. There are cafes galore to choose from, including a cute acai bowl and juice place in the center of the plaza. There are cornhole games for kids by the juice place. The indoor area has an area with toys for kids upstairs and plenty of seating by huge windows. You can eat and relax, while your kids play!

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Inside Scout Coffee.

Cool wallpaper in Scout Coffee.

San Luis Obispo Museum of Art has a colorful exterior.

Eating lunch at Monterey Street.

Sitting out at a cafe on Monterey Street.

Monterey Street has pretty buildings.

Lights strung outside Scout Coffee.

The masonic building on Marsh Street.

The historic Ah Louis Store, decorated for Chinese New Year. Check out the cute gift shop.

The lovely rolling hills that surround the small town of San Luis Obispo, as seen from Monterey Street.

The yellow trunks of eucalyptus beside the mission.

Ornate buildings on Higuera Street.

Indoor plaza that leads from the 700 block of Higuera Street to the creek that fronts the mission.

The spacious plaza in front of the mission, and the historic buildings on Chorro St.

Statue of bears and a Chumash indian hunting for salmon, in front of the mission. San Luis Obispo used to be an area with an abundance of bears.

Handsome building at the 800 block of Marsh Street.

Interesting architecture on Higuera Street.

The tree-lined streets of San Luis Obispo.

Awesome band from Memphis playing at the Thursday night farmer's market on Higuera Street.

Exciting view of the street from Burger Village.

Rose by the mission.

Jack House, on Marsh Street.

Shady side street off Higuera.

Christmas carousel in the mission plaza.

Pretty day in San Luis Obispo.

The creek.

Creamery Marketplace entrance.

Stone storefront.

Colorful storefront.

Green mountain in the distance.

Mission School and a green mountain!

Roses and a historic house on Marsh Street.

Lavender flower planter and a blue historic house on Marsh Street.

Nate's, on Marsh Street.

Shady street.

Brick storefront.

Treats at Scout Coffee.

Round table by big windows at Scout Coffee.

The plaza in front of Scout Coffee.

SLO Delicious Bake Shop.

Purple and white storefronts.

Bright green trees and white buildings on Monterey Street.

I like this area of downtown, with a surf shop, near the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

Luna Red has red decor outside, and roses.

A surf shop on Monterey Street.

Historic storefronts.

Monterey Street has nice cafes for sitting out in the sun and people watching.

I like this window seat at McConnell's Ice Cream on Monterey Street.

Window seat at McConnell's Ice Cream on Monterey Street.

Bike riding along Monterey Street.

Flowers along Monterey Street.

Colorful dividers.

Historic three-storey storefront that catches the eye.

I like the cheerful white and yellow buildings better than the brick buildings.

Strung lights and stars.

Strung lights and star lanterns.

Strung stars against the blue sky.

White buildings and trees.

Seeds, a brunch restaurant.

Stairs up to Pottery Barn.

The many trees downtown.

Bells at Growing Grounds plant nursery.

Strung lights on Marsh Street.

Sitting outside Scout Coffee in May.

Garden Street Inn has a beautiful garden.

Orange tree at Garden Street Inn.

Flowers outside Garden Street Inn.

Flowers inside Scout Coffee.

Pots, sculpture, and cactus at Growing Grounds plant nursery, across from the Mission.

Growing Grounds plant nursery, across from the Mission on Chorro Street.

Growing Grounds plant nursery has a little arch that appears out of nowhere between two buildings.

Widowmaker tree and historic buildings.

Picnic tables at Creamery Marketplace.

Inside Creamery Marketplace.

The creek full of water after rains.

Inside an arcade that leads to the creek.

Yellow house and Cerro San Luis mountain behind.

Yarn shop, across from the Mission on Chorro Street!

Greenery inside Creamery Marketplace.


Exit Highway 101 at Marsh Street. Turn left on Chorro Street. Park along this street or any of the side streets. The parking is metered and all you need is a credit card or app. There are also parking structures at 871 Marsh Street and 919 Palm Street- you pay at the gate when you drive out. Parking is $3 an hour at the parking structures and meters. 
Scout Coffee, 1130 Garden St, SLO CA 93401, call (805) 439-2175.
The Platypus Cafe, 1901 Broad Street, San Luis Obispo. Open daily 8am-8pm, and till 9pm on Fri and Sat.


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Add your comments
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Thu, 01 Oct 2009

I think I have memories of the place, kind of cloudy though- Cal Poly SLO '98

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Max L.

Mon, 29 Jan 2024

Sadly it is an open-air insane asylum, affected by Martin vs Boise. The Supreme Court will reconsider soon- something for SLO residents and visitors to be hopeful for.

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Mon, 07 Sep 2009

SLO is the most beautiful town in California. I miss it.

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Mon, 05 Oct 2015

San Luis Obispo is one of the, if not the nicest town in California.
San Luis is a magical place.

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Fri, 13 May 2016

Keep it a secret! It is the most beautiful, great weather place in the world. Why do you think one of the most wealthiest men in the WORLD chose this coast line to build his castle?

Last Updated: Sat, 06 Apr 2024 21:21:41 GMT

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