SLO-cation: No need to travel far when this Central Coast gem awaits

VIEW FROM THE TOP of Cerro San Luis, looking east onto the charming Central Coast community of San Luis Obispo.

Story and photos by Chuck Graham

The sturdy coast live oaks gently swayed during a light, southeast wind. Their crunchy leaves rattled and cracked with each wispy gust on the shaded, four-mile-out-and-back Cerro San Luis Obispo Trail, surrounded by the picturesque Central Coast city of San Luis Obispo — affectionately known as SLO.

Once above tree line, I gazed 360 degrees at all the vistas after reaching the summit, 1,200 feet of elevation gain behind me. Cerro San Luis is well known locally as one of the Nine Sisters aka the Morros (Spanish for promontory or headland), nine prominent volcanic peaks that line in a row all the way to Morro Bay, with Morro Rock being one of them.

OUTDOOR DINING can be enjoyed on the picturesque patio of the Granada Hotel’s Bistro, from which visitors can watch the comings and goings of Downtown SLO.

From my lofty perch, mellow SLO was just awakening as I scanned with my binoculars to the east/northeast. Behind me to the west, open lands and agricultural fields stretched to Morro Rock. My perch also revealed the tallest coastal sand dunes in the state at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Sand Dunes National Wildlife Refuge.

After finishing my easy ramble on this sandstone-laden coastal peak, I said to myself, “Nothing is faraway in SLO.” And before I knew it, I was descending into the city’s downtown district.

What’s in a Smell?

Of course, before I clambered up Cerro San Luis, I made an easy pitstop at SLO Provisions. As soon as I walked into the naturally lit café, I was overwhelmed by the fresh smell of cinnamon rolls just pulled from the oven.

SLO Provisions Eats and Sweets.

Located on the corner of Monterey Street, the all-day take-away is also a great eatery for dining inside. Rivaling those delicious cinnamon rolls was the intoxicating smell of freshly cut bacon. Needless to say, I ate well before hitting the Cerro San Luis Trail.

Classically Cool

After getting off the dusty trail, I checked in at the historic Granada Hotel. Tucked away on 1130 Morro Street, the classic brick building with its original wood floors has been a staple in SLO since 1922. For 46 years, up until 1968, Mr. and Mrs. Remage ran their inn. It was a popular enclave for traveling actors and artists alike but, according to the Granada Hotel website, rooms were rented by the hour throughout the 1920s.

At one point the hotel became a low-income housing project up until 2012, when it was slated for demolition. The Nomada Hotel Group took control and restored the iconic building, adding the Bistro restaurant and an adjoining cocktail lounge, Nightcap. The Bistro has indoor and outdoor seating, the lighting is magical, and the staff is always friendly and accommodating.

VINTAGE CHARM at the historic Granada Hotel, established in 1922.

While strolling the low-lit hallways of the Granada Hotel, I couldn’t help feeling the nostalgia and history of the 1922 establishment. Yet, throughout the cozy, 17-room hotel, the walls are adorned with contemporary art and photography by local and international artists. There are two relaxing guest lounges within the hotel, and one more upstairs on an outside balcony overlooking Morro Street. These are great places to relax, read or work remotely.

At the Bistro, the fried potatoes and pan-seared seabass were exquisite, and the decadent peanut butter cake was a real topper. After dinner, I stepped across the hallway to Nightcap, where I made the difficult choice over which martini to sip on. The next time I’m visiting SLO, however, the decision on where to stay will be an easy one.

City Farming

The next morning, I met the owners and a slew of volunteers descending on City Farming SLO. Located just off Highway 101 between the Madonna Inn and Prefumo Creek, the farm was established in 1994 and has far-reaching community involvement.

I received a tour of the roughly 180-acre farm, admiring the diversity of projects and its sustainable agricultural production. Students from area schools and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo participate in all the farming practices. City Farm SLO supplies produce to many local restaurants and hotels in SLO. Some of those include SLO Provisions and the Granada Hotel and Bistro.

The 180-acre City Farm SLO, known for its sustainable agriculture program.

One of the more interesting projects the farm contributes to is assisting with the restoration of Prefumo Creek. The nonprofit keeps two species of sheep on the farm. Each morning, the sheep are led by volunteers to areas along the edge of the creek to feed on pesky non-native vegetation that’s challenged restoration efforts. Prefumo Creek eventually converges with San Luis Creek where reestablishing schools of steelhead trout is a priority.

The morning I was there, I got to follow along as several Cal Poly students herded the small band of sheep toward a section of the creek tangled in non-native ivy. There’s nothing like letting hungry ranch animals take care of the invasive flora to reestablish habitat for native species.

That Faraway Feel

It felt like I was miles away from anywhere while sipping a glass of pinot noir at the Tolosa Winery in Edna Valley. Yet, the long-time winery is only a short, 10-minute drive east of Downtown SLO.

Pinot noir at Tolosa Winery.

Still, Tolosa possesses that faraway feeling, where visitors can enjoy one of the winery’s many varieties of pinot noir and chardonnay on a shaded patio overlooking acres of vineyards. Tolosa relies on its rich, volcanic soil, consistent coastal fog and plenty of sunny days; natural resources to get the most out of the grapes.

Sisterly Love

Sunset was looming over the Central Coast. It was time for another hike on another one of the sisters. Cerro Cabrillo juts just northeast of the Morro Bay Estuary and northwest of Highway 1.

There was no one on the narrow, rolling route as stupendous vistas of the serpentine-like channels of Morro Bay came into view. The tide was receding, and herons, egrets and shorebirds milled along the exposed tidal flats.

The trail gradually ascended east and then looped westward back toward the coast. A northern harrier swooped over the rolling grasslands, and a pair of turkey vultures soared over Cerro Cabrillo. As I made my way back to my van, the sun glistened across the estuary. I heard a red-tailed hawk call out above me, but the surf crashing on the coast also played its part.

It was then I heard myself reiterating once again, “Everything is so close in SLO.”

Cerro San Luis and other hikes near San Luis Obispo:

Cerro Cabrillo Morro Bay State Park

SLO Provisions
1255 Monterey Street, Suite B, San Luis Obispo

Granada Hotel
1126 Morro Street, San Luis Obispo

City Farm SLO
1221 Calle Joaquin, San Luis Obispo

Tolosa Winery
4910 Edna Road, San Luis Obispo