San Luis Obispo (SLO) is located between Los Angeles and San Francisco. I visited as part of a hosted group of journalists selected to experience the sustainable and sophisticated atmosphere that has developed in SLO over the last few years.
The architecture and the feel of the downtown SLO references the Spanish style of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, which is California’s seventh Spanish Mission. This mission was established on September 1, 1772. This year, they are celebrating their 250th anniversary. A sign on the church shares a quote from Mark 16:15: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
Restaurants covered are a blend of those selected by the group I was in, and a few I chose during my trip.
While I was hosted on this trip, all opinions in this article are mine and mine alone.
This fun brunch spot is based on the sustainability lifestyle offering casual food, in-season, and always fresh. The manager, Everett, explained, “This concept is one of a kind, and super local. We want to be convenient, modern, and keep you energized.”
At Seeds, they offer a variety of toast and smoothie bowls, both of which I had never tried. The smoothie bowl concept was actually very good and filling. My smoothie base was banana and spinach, then you could add whatever you wanted. I added granola, nuts, seeds, and more.
2. Antigua Brewing
This is a family brewery. Bambi Banys and her husband Chris grow their own hops on a farm out by the San Luis Obispo airport. Bambi and Chris were brewing beer for ages then decided to grow their own hops thinking others would buy it. “No breweries wanted to use it, so my husband, (who is a lawyer) wanted to open his own brewery. It is a dream of his, and what we wanted.”
The location of Antigua Brewing is perfect because, Bambi added, “all the other breweries are outside of town.”
Besides the beers, they also have food available as well. I loved the Hazy Baby brew that I tried, a smooth pale blend. We also had tasty chips and pretzel bites.
Pro Tip: San Luis Obispo is a very walkable city. Until we headed out for wine tours, we walked everywhere!
3. SLO Delicious Bake Shop
We were scheduled to head out for a Slow Flow yoga class at the SLO Yoga Center, and I needed a nice filling breakfast nearby. I found the SLO Delicious Bake Shop. It was recommended by the staff at Hotel Cerro where we stayed. The food was good, affordable, and I was happy to find something at a bakery accommodating for a diabetic. I had the veggie frittata quiche, then also chose a delectable piece of chocolate to hit my sweet spot.
Michael from the bakery shared that they opened during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the shop was going to be a wine and cheese shop, but when the pandemic hit, only essential businesses could be open. He partnered with Chef Gonzalez and they met the requirements. “We opened June 30th; we supplement the community,” Michael said. “We moved here from Ventura. Chef Gonzalez has been baking for 20 plus years.”
Pro Tip: Scout Coffee Bar is across the street from SLO Delicious, and several people from the group went there to enjoy the coffee. This was a very dog-friendly place where they had several cute canines!
4. Brasserie SLO
Brasserie SLO is the restaurant in the Hotel Cerro, which is a relatively new building. When I took my hotel tour with Kelsey Prins, I learned that the chef uses many items harvested from their edible garden! In fact, hotel guests can sit out in the garden area and graze from the garden selections during their stay! “The chef also used edible flowers in cocktails, and they use them in the spa, the roses for oils,” Prins added.
We ate in the outdoor area, and I chose the chef’s selection for the evening: a flatbread pizza with fresh vegetables. The food was amazing, and the atmosphere was lovely. The cuisine reflects the food of the region and the local bounty.
5. Big Sky Cafe
We had brunch at the Big Sky Cafe. I chose the delectable Macy’s chicken salad with the wonderful homemade ranch dressing. The owner, Greg Holt, joined us and shared his story with the restaurant. He started out as a cook at the Big Sky Cafe and bought it in 2015.
“I have fed people my entire life,” Holt said, “Charles Meyers, the original owner of Big Sky, said buy from the locals. Buy whatever the farmers have. It is easy. Thursday night they have a farmers market; I keep it simple.”
Originally from New Orleans, Meyers was known for Cajun food, and we tried his beignets, which Holt has left on the menu. They were delicious.
Using fresh ingredients from the farmers market, Holt said it gives the restaurant a foundation of knowing where the food comes from. “I want to be as hyper local as possible,” said Holt. “We are also as green as possible.”
I loved the meaning of the name of this restaurant. The name Big Sky Cafe comes from a Chinese proverb: “One big sky covers us all equally.”
Holt said, “Charles was big with inclusivity [for] everyone. Each individual deserves their face and it’s more important than what’s in your pocket.”
Well said, I thought. At the Big Sky, they are also recycling their food waste and working hard to pay their employees a sustainable wage.
6. Wolff Vineyards
Our first stop was Wolff Vineyards. While not a place to dine, Wolff Vineyards is a place to sip. The vineyard was planted in 1976, first with 55 acres of chardonnay grapes by wine pioneer Andy MacGregor. Today, the vineyard includes 53 acres of chardonnay, and 34 acres of pinot noir, along with 14 acres of teroldego, syrah, petite syrah, and resiling varietals.
Jean Pierre Wolff, PhD, has been using various techniques to reduce his use of water and help the wine industry learn to recycle water use overall.
Like Greg Holt at Big Sky, Jean Pierre is recycling his wine waste in the anaerobic digester. This year, he will use their compost on his plants as well.
Jean Pierre said that the history of wine in the Valley hails back to the mission. It was enjoyable tasting the different wines offered by Wolff Vineyards. My favorite was the Rose Wolff 2020, which Jean Pierre said he would pair with a salad with raisins, cranberries, and caramelized pecans. He would add a light, homemade vinaigrette dressing.
I enjoyed the other wines, but perhaps the fullest was the Petite Sirah 2019, which is a huge award winner. Jean Pierre would pair this with a Thanksgiving turkey stuffed with quartered oranges and lemon in the cavity.
Pro Tip: Sidecar tours are offered at the winery. I only got a short ride, but what a fun way to see the countryside while touring the vineyards!
7. Tolosa Vineyards
Tolosa Vineyards was started by lawyer and vintner Robin Baggett. Today, the vineyard offers pinot noir and chardonnay wines in a sustainable atmosphere. Besides the wines that they are famous for at Tolosa Vineyards, they also custom-crush grapes for other wineries as well. While they are most famous for their pinot noir, my favorite wine was from their 1772 series, the Pure Chardonnay. This is a very family-friendly vineyard in a beautiful setting. We enjoyed a wonderful charcuterie board that blended with the wine beautifully.
8. SLO Farmers’ Market
Every Thursday evening from 6–9 p.m. on Higuera Street, SLO’s Farmers’ Market opens. Food vendors set up along with producers and vendors offering a wonderful array of choices. Whitney, the manager of the Farmers’ Market, said, “The market started in 1983, and now it is world famous, bringing tourists to the market as well as locals.”
I enjoyed the variety of produce available and the chance to shop with entertainment. The market has also been a great way for entrepreneurs to see if they want to go into business without a big outlay of cash without a big start up, Whitney shared.
As you dine and shop, be prepared for large crowds. This market is well attended.
9. Hotel San Luis Obispo High Bar
For a great view, sips, and local fare, we chose the Hotel San Luis Obispo High Bar. While famous for small plates, with our big group, we ordered a variety of pizzas. The mushroom pizza was my favorite. The big seller for this stop is the beautiful view!
Pro Tip: While on the rooftop, you can also play bocce ball.
10. Mint + Craft
This is a fun breakfast dining experience. You can watch the chef prepare the food. At Mint + Craft, the food is locally-sourced, and the place is small with expanded outdoor dining. I chose the SLO Sando, a house-baked biscuit with a fried egg, sharp cheddar, arugula, tomato, oregano, and Pasolivo lemon olive oil.
At Bliss, I was able to buy snacks that were good and sugar free. Being diabetic, this can be hard to find. The brand is called Pure Bliss.
These are a few of the many places to dine in this beautiful, walkable city. Enjoy the climate, the architecture, the history, and of course, the food!
Explore more of Central California and beyond: