What are the Fun Things to Do in San Luis Obispo?

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo is considered the “Happiest City in America”. This beautiful town is located in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The tiny but beautiful town is filled with friendly residents and has a bright shining sun for over 300 days in a year. When you visit San Luis Obispo, you will have lots of fun things to do. The beautiful town features gorgeous sandy beaches, rejuvenating hot springs, and a picturesque rural landscape. San Luis Obispo is also a great stop on the drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

Here are the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo:

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Starting off the list of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo, is one of California’s most beautiful missions. San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1772 and dedicated to Saint Louis, the Bishop of Toulouse in France. Father Serra chose this idyllic site because of its mild climate, abundant fresh water, and the friendly local Chumash (Indian) tribe.

The interior of the mission’s church is exquisitely decorated with a brightly painted floral motif along the walls and arches. The simple altarpiece and high ceiling supported by wood beams lend a serene ambiance. Mass is held here twice daily and several times on Sundays.

Housed in the former residential quarters is an interesting museum. Exhibits focus on the history of the Spanish missionaries and the culture of native Indian people of this area. Another highlight is the gift shop, which sells jewelry, artwork, books, and unique items such as handcrafted nativity sets.

San Luis Obispo’s Historic Downtown

Next on the list of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo, is the old Downtown. Centered around the old mission, the historic downtown of San Luis Obispo delights visitors with its tree-lined streets and handsome, traditional Spanish-style buildings. The most happening area of the town’s historic center is Higuera Street, which is lined with restaurants, shops, and cafes. On the north-facing side of Higuera, the restaurants have inviting back patios that overlook the San Luis Obispo Creek.

Avila Beach

Next on the list of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo is Avila Beach. In a protected cove of San Luis Obispo Bay, this picturesque beach tends to be warmer than nearby Pismo Beach because surrounding hillsides shelter it from winds. The beach has a wide, sandy shoreline (ideal for sunbathing) and a palm-fringed boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants featuring outdoor terraces.

The relatively calm ocean environment is great for bodyboarding or learning to surf. Other outdoor activities include fishing, paddleboarding, kayaking and sailing. Families will appreciate the small playground and the pleasant picnic area.

Thursday Night Farmers’ Market

Next on the list of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo, is the Thursday’s Night Farmers’ Market. Crowds flock to this weekly event on Higuera Street (between Nipomo and Osos streets). Locals come to shop for fresh produce, and out-of-town visitors enjoy the street food. San Luis Obispo restaurants bring their specialties to outdoor stands, selling everything from pizza to sushi. Live music adds to the festive ambiance.

The farmers’ market is held on Thursday evenings from 6 to 9, except in bad weather and on major holidays.

Shell Beach

Next on the list of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo is the Shell Beach. This secluded shoreline offers an unspoiled coastal environment that is truly inspiring. Hidden below cliff sides within sheltered coves are nine separate sandy beaches. Nature lovers come here to explore the tide pools, where they can see crabs and starfish, while kayakers appreciate the gentle waters. It’s also a great place for spotting sea lions, dolphins, and migrating whales.

Other favorite activities are picnicking, watching the sunset, and fishing from the cliffs or just admiring the spectacular ocean views.

Pismo Beach

Next on the list of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo, is the Pismo Beach. The laid-back town of Pismo Beach has the feel of Southern California, even though it’s in the heart of the Central Coast. This classic beach destination has many hotels, surf shops, cafés, and fish & chips restaurants packed into the main downtown area.

Surfers and bodyboarders love this 23-mile-long stretch of shoreline because of its consistent waves. During summertime, the sandy beach is a lively scene of sunbathers and sports enthusiasts. Things to do include beach volleyball and fishing on the public fishing pier, which also has picnic tables with stunning ocean views.

Throughout the year, Pismo Beach also holds many cultural events.

Avila Valley Hot Springs and Hiking Trails

Next on the list of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo are the hot springs and hiking trails of Avila Valley. A few miles from the beach, the rural Avila Valley is prized for its natural mineral-water hot springs, believed to have therapeutic health benefits. With its 20- by 20-foot thermal soaking pool, the historic Avila Hot Springs caters to visitors seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. Other amenities are the outdoor swimming pool with a water slide for the kids, picnic area, camping sites, and cabins.

Bishop Peak Hikes

Next on the list of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo, are the Bishop Peak hikes. With a summit over 1,500 feet, Bishop Peak is the most prominent mountain in San Luis Obispo. A great place for hiking, Bishop Peak has several trails ranging from a moderate walk to a rigorous uphill climb. The two-mile hike to the top takes around two hours (for those who are in good physical fitness) and rewards with sweeping panoramic views, including vistas of the city and coastline.

Oceano Dunes

Next on the list of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo are the Oceano Dunes. The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area allows visitors with OHVs (off-highway vehicles) to drive right on the beach. However, the recreation area limits the number of vehicles each day, and ATV safety training is recommended. This unique state park is comprised of 1,200 acres of unique coastal terrain, including open sand dunes and over five miles of sandy beach. Some of the rolling sand dunes are as high as 100 feet.

Other outdoor activities at Oceano Dunes are surfing, horseback riding, fishing, bird-watching, and camping.

San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

Concluding our list of the most fun things to do in San Luis Obispo is the Museum of Art. At the heart of downtown on the western end of the Mission Plaza, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art displays an excellent collection of contemporary works by California artists. The permanent collection includes a wonderful assortment of paintings, representing a variety of artistic styles.

Updated frequently (usually on a monthly basis), the temporary exhibitions are presented in an insightful way that encourages a deeper understanding and appreciation of the art. The museum also hosts film nights, educational lectures, concerts, and other cultural events.

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