A Day Out in San Luis Obispo

by Melanie Haiken
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Want to spend some time with your kids away from malls, computers, sports, and all the stuff that makes urban and suburban life so overwhelming? San Luis Obispo is the perfect place to take a deep breath, turn back the clock, and celebrate the value of unstructured family time. A day out in San Luis Obispo can be many things; it can be a day of walking the quiet downtown, visiting museums, restaurants, and the mission, or it can be an outdoor adventure involving bikes or nearby beaches. Either way, my family always times our visit to include a visit to the bi-weekly farmer's market, a festive music-laced celebration held Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings that's a food-happy destination unto itself.


Melanie and her teenage daughters, Linnea and Melia

Why families love it:

Savor California history in the serenity of a historic mission, shop quiet Spanish-style streets, get creative at a kid-friendly museum, even giggle together at a drive-in movie, and you'll know why California families love to take a time out in SLO whenever possible.

How to get there:

Approximately equidistant from the southern and northern California urban centers of San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo is located directly off Highway 101, one of the state's major north-south arteries, where it heads west to join Highway 1 and continue down the coast. The San Luis Obispo airport also has daily puddle-jumper flights to both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Melanie's San Luis Obispo picks:

1. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

751 Palm Street 
San Luis Obispo CA, 93401

Anchoring the central square of San Luis Obispo along the banks of a picturesque creek, the "old mission" as it's known is the town's central landmark and meeting place. One of the earliest missions, San Luis Obispo was founded fifth as the missionaries moved northward in 1772. Kids will be moved by the grave marker of five-year-old Adeline Eliza Dana, who was interred within the wall of the mission. 

2. San Luis Obispo Downtown Farmer's Market

Higuera Street from Nipomo Street to Osos Street
San Luis Obispo CA, 93401

Laying proud claim to the title of the "original" farmer's market, San Luis Obispo's lively Thursday night market, held all year, is still one of the best nationwide and a model that towns across the country have followed. But don't expect a quiet, farm-centric event; this lively night market is more like a colorful street fair. Kids will marvel at the handmade toys, jewelry, and other crafts on display and sit entranced as jugglers, magic acts, clowns, and other street artists perform eye-popping tricks. 

3. San Luis Obispo Children's Museum

1010 Nipomo Street
San Luis Obispo, California 93401

In some ways your typical "tot museum," in other ways the San Luis Obispo Children's Museum has something special to offer. It's much bigger than your average children's museum, for one thing, with three floors of exhibits, some of them locally designed, others traveling national themed exhibits. There's plenty to keep active kids running happily from activity to activity for several hours. 

4. Yogurt Creations

1075 Court St #130
San Luis Obispo, California 93401

No day in SLO is complete without the sight of gleeful faces over bowls piled high with fruit, candy, fudge sauce, and all manner of toppings and flavors of frozen yogurt. Eating your creative concoction is only half the fun at Yogurt Creations, a cute self-serve fro-yo palace tucked into a cozy alleyway around the corner from the mission. With all toppings self-serve it's an act of creativity to come up with the perfect combination of flavors. 

5. Sunset Drive-In Movie Theater

255 Elks Lane
San Luis Obispo, California 93401

Like a blast from the 1950s, this roadside drive-in is the real thing. Located in a big empty field just off the highway, it's easy to get to and the whole experience is a hoot. The films are typically family fare, with a double feature consisting of two popular current films for a price that's as retro as the theater itself. The sound system is a modern one that allows the film's sound to come through the car stereo. 

6. Big Sky Cafe

1121 Broad Street
San Luis Obispo, 93401

Big Sky Café is that rare find, a bright, artistically decorated dining room serving creative farm-to-table-fresh food that manages to be kid-friendly at the same time. With big picture windows that open to the street on nice days, Big Sky Café has big rough wood tables, lots of bright colors, and friendly low-key waitstaff. The large, varied menu draws from Mexico, the Middle East, and Asia to come up with a fun mix of soups, salads, and entrees that feature lots of kid-pleasers.

7. Peach Tree Inn

2001 Monterey Street
San Luis Obispo, 93401

The minute the kids see the double bench swing hanging from the giant tree in front of the Peach Tree Inn, they'll never want to leave. And when you see the long row of relaxing Adirondack chairs on the sunny porch, you'll never want to leave either. Close to the center of town on "motel row," family-owned Peach Tree Inn stands out from its chain competitors with a long list of personalized touches, including complimentary videos and a lounge with computers and wifi. 

Freelance writer Melanie Haiken is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but travels whenever she gets the chance. She has written about many destinations, both national and international, including San Francisco, New Orleans, Nashville, Costa Rica, the Bahamas, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She lives in San Rafael, California with her two daughters, Linnea, 13, and Melia, 16.


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