Get Outta Town: San Luis Obispo

Photo by Sungecko via Flickr

Photo by Sungecko via Flickr

San Luis Obispo, or SLO as the locals call it, is an often-overlooked destination for a fun day or weekend trip on the Central Coast. The temperature in SLO is fairly mild, but temperatures can get as high as 80 degrees during the day in the early spring.

What to Do:

Morro Bay State Park  – About 20 minutes from SLO is the small town of Morro Bay and, more specifically, Morro Bay State Park. This park is great for light to moderate hiking. Many of the trails are stroller friendly, and older kids can bike from the park right into town for ice cream. There is also a beach and tide pools. The park’s marina features clean, big bathrooms. In addition, the Natural History Museum, Morro Rock and a Seal/Otter Rescue are also steps away. Exploring this one area could fill a whole day.

San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum – This small museum is one part play area, one part museum. Younger kids can spend hours just playing in the playroom. Currently, there is an exhibit that allows kids to experience what it would be like to be in a Category 1 hurricane. Other fun things to do include an edible garden that helps kids understand where the food on the table comes from. The museum is conveniently located near several restaurants and shops, and there is metered parking.

Bubblegum Alley – This is an attraction that is true to its name. This 70-foot-long alley is literally covered in gum. Residents are fuzzy on when it started, but most people agree that it was sometime in the 1950s.  Your kids will delight in the opportunity to be gross for a few minutes and add their own gum to the wall. Don’t forget to bring some antibacterial spray/wipes for after your fun!

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa – Right in the heart of downtown SLO, this is a great place to bring the kids. They can run around the beautiful grounds and the adjacent creek. The big fountain tends to be a great hit and is fun for the little ones to splash around in on hot days. The mission also features a small educational museum suitable for older kids.

Where to Stay:

The Best Western Royal Oak is a bargain option with a very small gym and pool. The free breakfast is pretty standard, but there is a waffle machine, which is always a hit with kids.

The Embassy Suites is a better option and features a full hot breakfast and a complimentary happy hour. This hotel is located behind a shopping center near the 101; make sure to ask for a room that does not face the freeway to reduce the chance of noise.

Where to Eat:

Firestone Grill – One of the most famous grill spots in the Central Coast, this affordable BBQ joint is known for its Tri Tip sandwich.  This is definitely a mecca for all types including locals, college kids and families.  They have a kids’ menu featuring $3 burgers. Tip: We have seen adults eat off the kids’ menu, as the portions are huge.

Woodstock Pizza – This is the place for a wide variety of pizzas, including a few gluten-free options. The atmosphere is definitely family friendly with picnic tables and sawdust on the floor.  The layout is open, and people walk in and out, so keep an eye on the little ones.

Louisa’s Place – A local favorite for breakfast, it can get packed, so plan accordingly.  This casual diner is affordable, homey and serves great breakfast. The kids will love the chocolate chip pancakes.

How to Get There:

Located directly between Los Angeles and San Francisco, driving to SLO from Palo Alto should take about 3.5 hours with stops.  This depends on whether you choose the scenic route along California Highway 1 or the more efficient route of U.S. Highway 101.

Driving along Highway 1 is a spectacular experience that provides views of many beaches and other marine scenery. However, your drive will be much slower than on the 101  (30 mph on average) as Highway 1 is a one-lane road and has tight curves. There’s also the distractingly beautiful view.

To save time, you can drive to Monterey along Highway 1 and then take the 101 the rest of the way down for the best of both worlds.

Rest stops: If you’re taking Highway 1, kids will delight in the many beach stops that will allow them to run around and explore. Pescadero State Beach is about an hour a way from Menlo Park and is a good first stop for a potty break. The next good stop is Santa Cruz, where you can explore the boardwalk. Last, Monterey is nice area to grab food and perhaps explore the beach and tide pools at Asilomar State Beach. Take exit 399A CA-68 W off Highway 1.

On the 101, San Miquel is a great place to refuel and stretch before heading into SLO, (try the Chevron off exit 299, 10th Street).

Travel tip: One of the best navigation apps is Waze. It will help you find the best routes depending on the time of day. It can also help you take side streets if the 101 gets unbearable.

The content for this article was provided by Desti, an iPad travel app that helps families plan fun, short day and weekend trips in California.

Are you a Monterey maven? A Portland pro? With the Get Outta Town feature, the PAMP newsletter is seeking travel tips for your favorite family-friendly day trips and vacation destinations. Help your fellow members take some of the guesswork out of getting away with the kids, and meet your volunteer commitment at the same time! Email to learn more.

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