GPS: 35°16’N; 120°40’W
The old mission town of San Luis Obispo, or SLO, has a certain something other Cali burgs sorely lack. Maybe it’s the slow-growth policy keeping malls at bay. Or the 30 miles (48 kilometers) of trails crammed inside city limits and the natural wonders that push beyond them: The city is ringed by a chain of trail-scratched Morros, long-dormant volcanoes that extend to the rolling Santa Lucia Range and the Pacific coast. There’s also the weather. The town is close enough to the shore (10 miles or 16 kilometers) to stay cool in the summer, but far enough inland to avoid chilly coastal fog. But most likely it’s the small-town feel and lack of crowds—except on Thursdays, when a raucous farmers market invades downtown. “There’s more time in your day,” says Scott Smith, owner of Art’s Cyclery, “because you’re not sitting in traffic.” Factor in SLO’s six bike clubs, California Polytechnic State University’s groundbreaking sustainable agriculture program, and a general trend toward the irreverent (said university’s most famous alum? Weird Al Yankovic) and you’ll see what locals already know: SLO is on the move.
Hike, bike, or climb your way up 1,493-foot (455-meter) Bishop Peak for bird’s-eye views of the city below. Grab a mountain bike at Art’s Cyclery ($30 a day for rental; www.artscyclery.com) for Montaña de Oro State Park’s 25 miles (40 kilometers) of challenging singletrack, or kayak nearby Morro Bay State Park’s protected wetlands ($65 for a guided one-day tour; www.centralcoastoutdoors.com/spm).
Locals clamor for eclectic comfort food such as Thai-style marinated catfish at Big Sky Cafe (www.bigskycafe.com). After dinner head to SLO Brew to raise a glass of ultrahoppy, award-winning IPA while reggae bands play (http://www.slobrew.com/).
- Nat Geo Expeditions
San Luis Obispo is cluttered with many garden-variety bed-and-breakfasts (read: potpourri and lace), but the Sanitarium ($190; www.thesanitariumspa.com) is an exception. The converted hospital offers wood-burning stoves in each room, local artwork, and Moroccan soaking baths. Campers, meanwhile, can pitch a tent at Montaña de Oro State Park (from $20 a day; www.slostateparks.com), 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of town.