6:54 PM / Tuesday November 28, 2023

29 Nov 2018

Smooth Traveler: California coast ‘town and gown’ college tour, San Luis Obispo (part two)

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November 29, 2018 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa  (Photo: meunierd / shutterstock)


By Renée S. Gordon

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray / California dreaming on such a winter’s day.”

–Mamas & the Papas

California Polytechnic State University (established 1903) and Cuesta Community College (established 1965) are located at the heart of California’s Central Coast, surrounded by vineyards and farmland, in San Luis Obispo. SLO County averages 70 degrees and covers 80-miles of Pacific shoreline and areas conducive to sighting whales from onshore.

As if 300 sunshine filled days were not enough, additional nearby lures include Montana de Oro’s sand dunes, wine country that has been designated one of the “Top 10 Wine Getaways in 2018” in the world, and Hearst Castle, the 165-room millionaire’s incomparable estate. (

The first Spanish land expedition in 1769 was followed in 1773 by the construction of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa near Tixilini, an existing native village. The current mission, at its third location, is the focal point of the downtown area. Guided tours are available and include the mission interior, the garden and museum.

Photo: Renée S. Gordon (Photo: Renée S. Gordon)

Highlights of the church tour include the stations of the cross painted on linen, wall murals of flowers with no two alike and the artworks. The Mission Plaza footbridge connects the plaza to San Luis Creek walk where the mission accessed water. The mission remains an active church and the plaza is the site of community events. (

Near the plaza is the museum of art, the children’s museum and the history center. The three-story children’s museum has an exterior playscape and three interior interactive exhibits. (

“The Path of History” features 22 historic structures. The history center offers a free podcast download of the walk. Tours of the center begin with a 14-minute video, “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Themed galleries display artifacts and memorabilia that interpret regional history starting with pre-exploration and the Native American presence and legacy.  (

Madonna Inn Carousel Bar (Photo: Renée S. Gordon)

Downtown SLO is definitely a shopper’s dream and a diner’s paradise. The culinary choices cover the spectrum and the retail venue selections range from trendy boutiques to unique artisan offerings. Junk Girls is not just a store it is a destination. The owners sell found and vintage objects that stand alone or are incorporated into artworks.

The building is one of the area’s oldest and retains several original architectural elements. (

You must drop into Boo Boo Records. Rolling Stone has called it one of the best record stores in the country. The collection of CDs and vinyl is stunning.  (

Bubblegum Alley (Photo: Renée S. Gordon)

Bubblegum Alley has been featured on television and has the distinction of being designated one of the “World’s Strangest Streets.” Since the 1970s , the 15-ft. high, 70-ft. long alley has filled with 2 million pieces of gum, placed there by passers-by. The nearby SLO Sweet Shop sells gum if you forget to bring your own.

The Thursday Night Farmers’ Market has taken place for 35 years in downtown SLO. Everyone is invited to eat, shop, listen to the entertainment and generally have a fiesta SLO-style.

Old San Luis BBQ is a must. They serve Santa Maria style cuisine from home recipes including cowboy corn pie and tri-tips, the bottom cut of sirloin that has lower fat and more flavor, grilled over red oak wood. There is a self-serve bar with 46 taps, eight of them wine. Be prepared for long lines. (

Alberto and Jessica Russo’s Flour House is an affordable Italian adventure. All of the dishes are based on home recipes and menu items are gluten-free with the exception of the bread. Flour House is renowned for Pizza Napoletana, a heritage-style pizza so precious it is guarded by Italian law and has a UNESCO designation as a property of humanity. They use all authentic ingredients and it is baked in a hand-pressed brick Stefano Ferrara Oven with Italian soil as mortar. (

Granada Hotel & Bistro was located next door to the Elmo Theater and was a favorite of the artists who performed there and those who wished to rent a room by the hour.  It underwent a multi-million dollar renovation and a new 17 room boutique hotel was born. The bistro’s menu is inspired by Spanish cuisine and changes often. (

SLO Provisions is perfectly suited to the city. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and features take-away boxed lunches, baked goods, picnic baskets as well as regional beers, wines and ciders. This is “SLO food made fast”. SLO Provisions is active in the community and supports events and programs. (

San Luis Obispo Barbecue Tap Wall (Photo: Renée S. Gordon)

Only singular accommodations will do and Petit Soleil Bed et Breakfast is a natural choice. Guests park free and enter a picturesque cobblestone patio and the ambience and architecture of Provence in France. Rooms include comfortable beds, deluxe linens and French farmhouse touches. A gourmet breakfast and evening appetizers paired with French wine are part of the experience. (

As we begin our journey further north our final SLO destination is the fabled Madonna Inn & Copper Café. In 1954 Alex Madonna purchased 10 acres to build a hotel that today is “Swiss-chaletesque” and has 110 themed guestrooms on 1,000 acres. Self-guided tours showcasing the Gold Rush Steakhouse, Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge Copper Café, a bakery, spa, pool bar, boutique and fitness center are offered. Of special note are the lobby fireplace, made of Palos Verde flagstone with authentic imbedded dinosaur bones, the elaborately carved coffee bar and the hand-carved marble handrail. The most popular guest room is the Caveman Room, complete with rock features. Stop to dine and stay for the tour. (

When in doubt. Go SLO! (

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