Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Let's get one thing out of the way off the bat: locals call San Luis Obispo “SLO," pronounced like “slow."

SLOW is what you want to be, though, when you explore the town and its environs, which includes nearby beaches, Hearst Castle and wine country.

1. Bubblegum Alley

A nightmare for germophobes and schoolteachers, but an oddity of the can't-look-away variety for the rest of us, you can walk between two 15-foot-high walls covered with chewed gum that dates back to the 1960s. Free.

2. Get Chip Wrecked

The side dish here—house-made potato chips—gets star billing with creative preparations, such as “The Mary Rose," lavender salt, goat cheese and a drizzle of honey over a potato chip. Oh, and there are sandwiches. Small side of chips starts at $5, sandwiches go up to $12. 

3. Caffeinate like a local at Kreuzberg Coffee Co.

An open, airy room welcomes you to work, play, listen to music, hang out with friends, eat a salad or sandwich, sip wine, or just down a cup of delicious coffee. Most coffee beverages are under $5.

4. Go fly a kite

Choose from about 200 kites that start at $6 with a good selection in the $15-$25 range at the Sky's the Limit Kite and Toy Shop. 761 Dolliver St., Pismo Beach, CA 93449, 805-773-8697 (the store has no website). 

5. Farmers' market fun

You can get your market fix every day of the week around here, but the main one is Thursday nights in Downtown SLO from 6-9 p.m. Eat dinner for around $10, nibble samples for free. 

6. Catch a wave

Rent a wetsuit and boogie board ($5-$7 each) or a surfboard ($12) and catch a wave on the foamy blue shores of Avila Beach. Beach chair and umbrella rentals are available for spectators. 

7. Hearst Castle

Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst began building a monument to elegance and opulence in 1919, which overlooks the city of San Simeon from a hill. Tour prices start at $12 (children) and $25 (adults)—buy early, as they sell out quickly. 

8. Avila Hot Springs

Play in the pool or soak in mineral hot springs; $12 buys you an all-day pass. 

9. Wine tastings

The sea air is a boon for varietals of Burgundy roots; many Edna Valley wineries open their doors during the day for low-cost and free tastings. 

10. Bike to the sea

The 2.5-mile link from SLO to Avila Beach is a safe, traffic-free way to ride from town to the beach and back. (No bike? No problem, you can rent one from Wally's for about $30 a day.) 

11. Drink hyper-locally

A small-batch breweries can get creative, using local coffee, honey and even chai spices as ingredients. Try Central Coast Brewing Co. or SLO Brew; about $6 for a pint. 

12. Tune in

Flip through new and vintage vinyl (plus CDs, art and more) at Boo Boo Records, in business since the 1970s. 

13. Go indie

The Palm Theater is an arthouse that shows independent films and hosts live events. Movie tickets run from $5-$9. 

14. I scream, you scream

Treat yourself (and your dog!) to a scoop or two from Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream Lab. Cones run about $5. 

15. Clean up your act

Heart's Desire Soap Co. in SLO makes a batch of herbal-infused soaps each morning. $7.95 for one bar. 

16. Chew are you?

Watch the hypnotic process as workers churn out fresh salt-water taffy, caramels and fudge at Tomasko's in Pismo Beach. 

17. See the sea

Rent a single ($20) or tandem ($25) kayak, or a paddleboard ($20) to get up close and personal with the Pacific. 

18. Visit Madonna

If Barbie's Dream House cross-pollinated with a Mad Men-style lounge, you'd get the The Silver Inn Cocktail Lounge at the famously kitschy Madonna Inn. Have a drink, listen to live music and remember the good old days—or wish you were there. A glass of wine is in the $8-$16 range. 

19. Book 'em

Amazon it ain't—Phoenix Books is the kind of disappearing analog business with its eclectic, overflowing shelves. Perfect for those who consider browsing books—the paper ones—a kind of meditation to soothe the soul. 

20. Seal the deal

Prime viewing season for catching a glimpse of the Central's Coast's precious elephant seals is December through March. Most viewing areas are wheelchair accessible, but leave the dogs at home. Free. 

21. Light up your life

The Point San Luis Lighthouse is located in a 30-acre nature preserve, accessible by hike or a docent-led trolley tour that runs Wednesdays and Saturdays. $20 adults, $15 kids 3-12, free for kids under 3. 

22. Make a mission

The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa has served as the heart of the town since 1772. Docent-led tours are free. 

23. Dance in the streets

A free summer concert series brings bands to the Downtown Plaza every Friday from 5- 8 p.m.

24. Take a hike

Options abound for hikers of all abilities, year-round. Lake? Ranch? Breathtaking views? Check, check, check. 

25. Butterfly effect

If you are lucky enough to visit November through February, you can spy the surreal swell of thousands upon thousands of Monarch butterflies as they stop on their migration to Mexico. Free.

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