The sleepy city of San Luis Obispo serves as the commercial, governmental and cultural hub of California's Central Coast. One of California's oldest communities, it began with the founding of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra. Today, still an active church, the mission anchors the center of town alongside Mission Plaza. For those seeking to supplement their visit with liberal stretches of sand and choice libations, consider using San Luis Obispo as a jumping off point for California's Wine Country (stretching north and south from town) and some very balmy beaches.
Before bounding off to bask or tipple, take an afternoon to see what's on offer around town. Mission Plaza is the community's cultural and social center, a historic plaza a stone's throw from a selection of shops, restaurants and sidewalk cafes. Thursday nights are reserved for the all-in Farmers Market, the perfect time to pick up some fresh produce and sample local goodies if you have not yet partaken. However you chose to divvy up your day, be sure to do your sight-seeing on foot in this pedestrian friendly place (though there's also the free trolley which operates two days a week when you're too all in to hoof it one step farther).
In the general area, look for local highlights like Hearst Castle, the palatial estate of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst donated to the state of California in 1957. The mansion's 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, swimming pools, walkways and private zoo are just a part of its grandeur, and it's open for tours. If the Hearst Mansion is a monument to money, The Madonna Inn is a monument to unremitting kitsch - there's even a rock waterfall urinal for the gents. if this doesn't rock your world, local faults just might; east find Carrizo Plain National Monument where visitors can get an up-close look at the San Andreas Fault. In the area find 4WD suitable routes and hiking trails, as well as primitive campsites and ancient pictographs at Picture Rock. Beaches and bay punctuate the coast west and south of San Luis Obispo, though the sands of Pismo Dunes Preserve State Vehicular Recreation Area is given over to Off Highway Vehicle users; sun-bathers will do better to stick to the sands of Pismo Beach or Avila Beach.
San Luis Obispo is located eight miles from the Pacific Ocean, 231 miles south of San Francisco and 200 miles north of Los Angeles at the junction of Highway 101 and scenic Highway 1.