Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our series, The Four-Hour Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.
This week, we take you to San Luis Obispo. Home to California Polytechnic State University (you know it as Cal Poly), the central coast town is young, progressive and perfectly located for a nostalgic road trip to get you back into that carefree undergrad mindset.
STAY: The Kinney SLO
If the theme of this road trip is revisiting the college life, The Kinney is uniquely suited for your lodging needs. Close to the Cal Poly campus and the action of downtown SLO, this recently revamped boutique hotel has a very collegiate vibe. Heated pool? Check. Skeeball? Check. Outdoor “quad” complete with giant versions of Lite Brite and Scrabble? Check.
The lobby bar, Leroy’s, offers plenty of community-style seating so you can spread out as you build your own flight of local beers. Self-serve mode means you really can have it all. Happy Hour is 3-6.
If only the student union during my undergrad days was more like The Kinney.
1800 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA
Also check out: Slo Brew Lofts
SEE: Bubblegum Alley
Allegedly started in 1950 during a turf war between the high school kids and the Cal Poly undergrads (teenagers…), the gum wall is 15 feet high by 70 feet wide and covered in all manners of chewing gum. Leave a wad, a note, or make some gum art — you’re on vacation. BYOG or use the handy bubblegum machine near the entrance to add a gob to the millions.
Go for the alley and stay for the restaurants, shops and history of this charming downtown. If you’re in town on a Thursday, be sure to hit the Farmer’s Market, which boasts over 100 vendors every Thursday night from 6PM to 9PM.
Also check out: Avila Hot Springs
EAT: Old SLO BBQ
If you’ve still got an appetite after viewing the gum wall, venture a half a block west to Old SLO BBQ. Founded by a Cal Poly student, this is central coast barbecue at its finest. Choose from tri-tip, chicken and pulled pork, then be sure to get a side of Cowboy Corn Pie. The savory family recipe is part cornbread, part mac and cheese, and entirely delicious. Finish strong with their pour-your-own beer or wine station. Choose from 46 craft taps and pay by the ounce. Leave it to a BBQ place to find the perfect use of technology. It’s a sampler’s paradise.
670 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA
Sidecar is the place to reminisce on those college days while safely away from the T-shirt-wearing, shotgun-chugging youths. Order The Replacement, a secret menu item consisting of mint-infused vodka, pineapple juice, lime juice, stiegl radler and pink peppercorn tincture. It makes for a very refreshing, very adult cocktail. Take a break from the nostalgia to remember just how good it is to not be 19 anymore.
1127 Broad Street, San Luis Obispo, CA
Also check out: DIY walking brewery tour (Hit Central Coast Brewing, Libertine Brewing Co., BarrelHouse Speakeasy and Barber Shop, SLO Brew, are all in walking distance)
EXPLORE: Hiking and Beaches
There are tons of opportunities to get out and enjoy the scenery in SLO, so whether you’re looking for hiking, biking or beaching, you’ll stay busy.
Yes, there are beach options, but don’t skip Morro Bay. A 20-minute drive from the hotel will bring you to the famous Morro Rock. The roughly 600-foot-tall mound that you’ve definitely seen photos of is technically a volcanic plug connected to the mainland via causeway, classifying it as a tied island. Drop this fact casually to tourists to assert your geological prowess. Chicks dig that. Beyond the Insta-worthy giant rock, in the morning you can catch otters playing, and in the evening the quaint harbor town is a romantic spot for a sunset and excellent seafood.
Those looking to break a sweat should pick up the trail for the Cal Poly Architecture Graveyard hike. The three-mile hike is flat, allowing your eyes to enjoy the abandoned structures of Cal Poly design projects. The effect is outdoor alien art.
Interested in more traditional hiking scenery? Cerro San Luis Mountain (aka Madonna Mountain) offers sweeping views of the city and Reservoir Canyon Natural Reserve leads to a waterfall.
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