San Luis Obispo offers families small town charm, big city culture, history and old-fashioned fun.
A delightful family getaway, the old mission town of San Luis Obispo is found amidst rolling pastures, vineyard and farmlands. The town’s friendly small town vibe gives way to an abundant supply of first-class attractions, activities and events, blending culture with lots of family fun. The vibrant downtown district centers around several blocks of Higuera Street, site of many family-oriented events. Ringing the town like an urban park are lush hills and vast open spaces with hiking trails luring lovers of the outdoors.
A Glance at the Past
History buffs will enjoy the area missions and adobes that stand as a reminder of the Spanish influence during the early days of California’s history. Housed in the historic Carnegie Library, the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum (805/543-0638) chronicles the area’s past with exhibits of memorabilia, displays and photographs, from Native Americans and rancho periods and the railroad era. There’s a special hands-on discovery room just for kids.
The heart and soul of the city is the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (805/781-8220). Founded in 1772, it is the fifth of the 21 missions established by Father Junipero Serra. Built with adobe bricks made by the local Chumash Indians, it is considered one of the most beautiful in California. Beyond the church, ground and gardens, a museum, housed in the former padre’s quarters, features a rare collection of early California photographs and artifacts, authentic Chumash Indian vessels and the original Mission altar. The Mission is one of only six that still rings its bells regularly today.
Arts, Culture and Learning
California Polytechnic State University, the largest school of Engineering and Architecture in the west, infuses the town with energy, arts and culture. Rave reviews are given to world-class performances that take place on the campus’ Christopher Cohan Center of Performing Arts. Call them at 805/756-2787 for a schedule of family performances.
For the more creative family members, the city is a magnet for painters, sculptors, photographers, potters, jewelers and artisans. Gallery exhibits are sure to please all ages and types of art enthusiasts.
San Luis Obispo Art Center (805/543-8562) exhibits and sells a captivating mix of local, national and international art. The San Luis Obispo Creek Walk in downtown has now been transformed into a living sculpture museum featuring the colorful and sometimes whimsical work of local artists. A family picnic along the scenic creek banks surrounded by fuzzy brown cattails and bamboo creates the illusion of magic.
A walking tour of the city will especially delight the present and future architects in the family and helpful maps are available from the hotel concierge. Highlights are the 1884 Ah Louis Store, the first Chinese store in the county; the c. 1884 Sinsheimer Store, the only “iron front” store on central coast; the c. 1853 Dallidet Adobe, the family’s homestead for 105 years; Fremont Theatre, the city’s oldest and a beautiful example of Art Deco Style; c. 1880 classic Greek Revival Row Houses of the era; and the 1956 Kundert Medical Building, the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in the county.
Nn awesome play date for toddlers through elementary school kids and their parents can be found exploring, investigating and creating at the completely renovated San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum (805/545-5437). The three story 8,400 square foot center houses indoor and outdoor learning environments. Many of the one of a kind exhibits were created in collaboration with students from Cal Poly’s Center for Exhibit Design, and are interactive. Among these is a paleontologists’ dream site, where kids can discover Saber Tooth Cat bones.
The first floor, among many exhibits, houses the M Store, and is the future home of an active volcano. The second floor honors the Museum’s former roots through Zoomtown, a kid-sized town for pretend play at the Diner, Fire Station, Medical Office, Bank, Trolley, Performance Stage and Farmer’s Market. The third floor caters to children 4 and under with a reading nook, messy play table and interactive “life sized” BRIO ® train engine.
If you happen to be in town over a Thursday night, be sure and visit the world famous Farmer’s Market, a colorful and fun fair on Higuera Street. Along with the incredible display of fresh, local garden local produce, everyone will enjoy the culinary delights at the street side barbeques. Top off the evening with live entertainment including puppet shows, jugglers, bands, and a hug from Smokey the Bear.
Where to stay
With the apple as a symbol for its ties to American folklore, mom, and apple pie, the Apple Farm Inn (800/255-2040) is a charming homebase that will appeal to every member of the family. The warm hospitality starts in the Inn’s Victorian lobby that welcomes thirsty guest with their apple cider, delicious warm cocoa, and bottomless trays of chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies. There are 69 rooms in the Inn and 35 in the Trellis Court Motel. Many of the rooms offer canopied beds, seating nooks and bay window and all feature cozy antique style pine furniture. Connecting rooms, sofa sleepers, and cribs are available.
The Apple Farm boasts an authentic working replica of a 19th century gristmill, ice cream maker, cider press and 14-foot waterwheel. Lining the nearby creek are lavish gardens, flower-filled patios and walkways with sycamore and pepper trees. The family shoppers will love the gift shop laden with quilts, kitchenware, old-time toys, and Apple Farm brand products.
Be sure and bring a hearty appetite to enjoy the restaurant’s homestyle traditional favorites, including chicken and dumplings, turkey with dressing, country pot roast oldstyle potato pancakes, pasta, seafood and fresh salads. Few diners can resist fresh baked specialties including the signature apple dumpling drizzled in rich cinnamon sauce topped with the Farm’s homemade apple ice cream. For the young ones, the kids menu has all their favorites.
Apple Farm Rings in the Holidays with its annual Traditional Family Festivities and Celebrations. Visits and photos with Santa, strolling Victorian carolers, cake walk, free bounce house for children, complimentary refreshments including hot cider, cookies and dessert breads, along with hot dogs, goodies, balloons and prizes for the kids, and the return of Dash, the missing elf!
Photos by Mel Greenberg
For further information, visit the San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau or call them at 800/634-1414.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.