When deciding where to stay in San Luis Obispo, there’s no shortage of incredible options.
Situated halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo is a town surrounded by hills and mountains on California’s central coast, and is just a short drive away from the beach. It is a fun mix of laid-back locals and vibrant college students from nearby California Polytechnic.
As a local, aka “SLOcal”, I’m here to point you in the right direction for where to stay in San Luis Obispo. Whether you are looking to stay in the downtown area, by the beach, or in wine country, there’s definitely something for you.
And while you’re, be sure to bookmark our California travel guide for more inspiration!
With that, let’s dive in!
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Best Places to Stay In San Luis Obispo
Just looking for a quick answer on the best places to stay in San Luis Obispo? Here are my top picks:
- 🌟 Best Overall Hotel – Hotel San Luis Obispo
- 💎 Best Luxury Hotel – Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa
- 👪 Best for Families – Quality Suites Downtown San Luis Obispo
- 🛎️ Best Boutique – San Luis Creek Lodge
- 🍷 Best Near Wine Country – Allegretto Vineyard Resort Paso Robles
- 🛏️ Best Budget – Apple Farm Inn
Now, let’s do a deep dive into where to stay in San Luis Obispo and some of its nearby towns:
5 Best Areas to Stay in SLO (& Nearby)
San Luis Obispo is a relatively small city located at the intersection of California’s famous 1 and 101 highways. As you drive a short way north or south on these routes, you’ll find a series of smaller California towns that have a unique vibe and beauty of their own, ranging from oceanfront settings to the more agricultural wine country.
When choosing where to stay in San Luis Obispo, you may end up preferring to stay in a smaller town nearby. In this article, I’ll start by detailing the neighborhoods in the heart of SLO and expand from there, giving you a better idea of what you’re looking for from your central coast visit!
Downtown San Luis Obispo
Downtown San Luis Obispo isn’t your typical setting of skyscrapers and nightclubs. Rather, it’s about a 5-block stretch of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and clothing boutiques. The old-school vibe of downtown stretches mainly along the historic Higuera Street.
While you can expect this area to be pretty quiet by 9 pm during the week, the nightlife explodes during the weekends. Locals, college students, and residents of surrounding towns descend onto Higuera Street, frequenting its restaurant and bar scene.
While you won’t be near any beach, Downtown San Luis Obispo is centrally located and makes it easy to reach both highway 101 and highway 1.
For families planning a visit to California Polytechnic State University, or Cal Poly for short, I would recommend staying downtown. It’s a short drive from campus, and it’ll provide a glimpse into the extracurricular lives of college students.
Pros of Staying in Downtown San Luis Obispo:
- Tons of fun restaurants and bars
- Good for shopping
- Best place for nightlife
- Easy access to the Cal Poly campus
Cons of Staying in Downtown San Luis Obispo:
- Not near the ocean
- Can get overrun with rowdy college students
📚 Downtown San Luis Obispo Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Dining and Shopping Enthusiasts
🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Downtown San Luis Obispo
🎟️ Top Attractions – Thursday Night Farmers’ Market, Fremont Theater, Mission Plaza
📚 Related Reading: Our guide to where to stay in San Diego is a great resource if you plan on heading south!
Pismo Beach is probably the most well-known beach area near San Luis Obispo. Pismo Beach has tons of great restaurants and plenty of activity going on. However, because of its popularity, Pismo can get crowded and feel quite touristy.
The water is quite cold off California’s Central Coast, but it doesn’t deter many surfers from enjoying its waves. You may get lucky and catch a surfing competition in Pismo. If you want to play in the water yourself, be sure to wear a wetsuit!
Pros of Staying in Pismo Beach:
- Good for dining and shopping
- Lots of outdoor activities, including camping and ATVing
Cons of Staying in Pismo Beach:
- Can be crowded and touristy
📚 Pismo Beach Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Beach Access and Activities
🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Pismo Beach
🎟️ Top Attractions – Oceano Dunes, Monarch Butterfly Grove, Pismo Preserve
Avila Beach is only a few miles north of Pismo Beach but has a completely different vibe.
Avila Beach is much quieter and tends to be a favorite among the locals. As you walk along the pier, you may catch a pair of otters playing in the water beneath you. This area is also great for dogs, as they are allowed off-leash before 10 am and after 5 pm.
While there is plenty of space to lounge on the beach and get in the water to surf, my favorite part of Avila Beach is the forestry and gardens just off the coast. The Bob Jones Trail offers a scenic walk, bike, or run through a beautiful setting of trees and flowers.
Overall, Avila Beach is where to stay in San Luis Obispo for a quiet stay and a more local atmosphere.
Pros of Staying in Avila Beach:
- A less crowded, more relaxed vibe
- Close to hiking and walking trails
Cons of Staying in Avila Beach:
- Not many dining and shopping options
📚 Avila Beach Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Beach Access and Activities
🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Avila Beach
👉 Looking to check out more of the California Coast? This guide to where to stay in Oceanside is great for planning a longer trip!
Morro Bay is a city about 15 miles north of San Luis Obispo on Highway 1. Its quaintness and low traffic make it a quintessential California central coast beach destination. The town is very walkable, and there are plenty of outdoor activities in Morro Bay. For couples looking for a romantic getaway, Morro Bay is a great choice.
Moreso, the town is famous for being home to the Morro Rock – a volcanic mound that makes for awesome photos and is a backdrop to pretty much all the local activities.
Pros of Staying in Morro Bay:
- Quiet space with limited foot traffic
- Plenty of outdoor activity options
Cons of Staying in Morro Bay:
- Not the best option for dining and shopping
📚 Morro Bay Mini Guide 📚
Best Area for a Romantic Getaway
🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Morro Bay
🎟️ Top Attractions – Morro Bay State Park, Morro Bay Golf Course, Black Hill Trail
Paso Robles is a wine lover’s paradise. Sitting among rolling hills and farmland, Paso Robles is home to over 200 wineries.
From the center of San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles is about a 30-minute drive north on the 101. It’s common to stay closer to San Luis Obispo and take a day trip to wine country. However, Paso Robles is a fantastic place on its own, and its downtown and surrounding wineries have a lot to offer.
Pros of Staying in Paso Robles:
- Endless access to wine tasting
- The charming, fast-growing downtown area
Cons of Staying in Paso Robles:
- Not a place for nightlife
- Further away from a large city center
📚 Paso Robles Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Wine Exploration
🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Paso Robles
Tips for Staying in San Luis Obispo
A Car is Essential for Visiting SLO
Like much of California, it is very difficult to get around without a car. The surrounding areas of San Luis Obispo are fairly spread out and are accessed by the freeway. If you need to get somewhere in a pinch, Uber and Lyft are prevalent, but not as abundant as in a larger city.
📚 Related Reading: Where to Stay in Long Beach, CA
Businesses Close Early
Be aware that most restaurants in SLO close by 9 pm, and depending on how busy they are, they may shut down even earlier. This is especially true for the coastal towns, so plan accordingly. In Downtown San Luis Obispo, some bars are open later, and on the weekends some will be going strong until 2 am.
SLO is a College Town
While plenty of professionals and families call SLO home, the student body of Cal Poly permeates throughout the town and often dominates the nightlife scene. This, without a doubt, injects a vibrance into the town, but it’s something to be aware of in case you’re looking for a quiet place to have a bite or a drink.
Expect Temperature Changes
Throughout much of the year, every day will experience volatile temperatures. The early mornings are often quite chilly and sometimes foggy and then, around 9 am, the sun usually starts to warm everything up.
The days are typically very pleasant, averaging to be in the 70s. Once the sun sets, things cool down quite a bit. By the time you crawl into bed, the temperature may be in the low 40s.
These Are Not Caribbean Beaches
You can certainly have a “beach day” in San Luis Obispo, laying down a blanket, soaking in the sun, throwing around the football. But do not expect these beaches and their waters to be a tropical paradise.
These beaches are even different from those in Southern California, such as the beaches in San Diego. During the non-summer months, you may want to bring a hoodie to the beach just in case. Also, the water is very cold, and almost all of the surfers and boogie boarders are wearing wetsuits.
FAQs About Where to Stay in San Luis Obispo
Is San Luis Obispo worth it?
San Luis Obispo is absolutely worth visiting. While lesser known than other California destinations, it has beautiful landscapes and there are endless things to do in SLO and its surrounding areas.
Is there anything in San Luis Obispo?
The town of San Luis Obispo has plenty to offer on its own. It has a great downtown, hiking and biking trails, and a large college campus. What truly makes San Luis Obispo stand out is its central location and proximity to a variety of other great places.
What towns are close to San Luis Obispo?
Do you need a car in San Luis Obispo?
You definitely need a car if you are visiting San Luis Obispo. For short distances, Uber and Lyft are available, and you can reserve a shuttle service for a wine excursion. However, if you want to get the most out of SLO and its nearby towns, having a car is a must.
Thanks for reading my guide on where to stay in San Luis Obispo!
Whether you are an avid outdoors person, a beach lounger, or a wine enthusiast, this area of California can be your playground. Looking for more places to explore in California? Check out our epic guide to the best things to do in Los Angeles!
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