San Luis Obispo: California’s last sleepy stretch of coast, hidden in plain sight

“I all of the sudden realised I used to be in California. Heat, balmy air – air you’ll be able to kiss – and palms.”

I thought of these phrases Jack Kerouac wrote in 1951 as I turned off the state’s well-known Freeway 1 and adopted the street round, the gleaming Pacific Ocean in sight. Every little thing round me was tinted pastel pink in the early night gentle. A liquor retailer’s neon flickered, sun-faded motel indicators promised vacancies, a pair strolling arm-in-arm crossed the huge road framed by the rolling Irish Hills. If the right sleepy seaside city nonetheless exists in California, I questioned if I’d discovered it.

“The key is out and there’s a bit of gentrification, but it surely’s nonetheless the identical because it’s been for 30-odd years,” stated Ryan Fortini, born and raised in the realm and proprietor of the boutique Pacific Motel, my base for 2 nights.

Dawn view in the direction of Morro Rock from Cayucos

(Ellie Seymour)

I used to be in Cayucos, a hidden surf city in San Luis Obispo County on California’s crowd-free central coast – or SLO-CAL because it’s identified. Precisely midway between San Francisco and LA, this peaceable paradise is residence to world-class surf, wonderful wine nation, seal colonies, Michelin-starred eating places, the kitschiest lodge in the world, and even an opulent citadel.

Regardless of SLO-CAL’s charms, it’s a area most road-tripping guests alongside the Pacific Coast Freeway merely cross by on their option to bigger-ticket coastal hotspots like Large Sur. However after they do uncover it, they quickly realise it’s a vacation spot worthy of a vacation in its personal proper and vow to return.

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The subsequent morning, from the terrace of my new favorite café, Hidden Kitchen, I watched individuals clearing the butter-soft sand of driftwood after a storm. After which I met my Cayucos Cowboy: an enormous blue corn waffle topped with eggs, smoky black beans, inexperienced salsa, avocado, and cilantro (that’s coriander to us throughout the pond). It was California on a plate; the right post-surf breakfast, too, in accordance with my husband Dan, who’d caught a number of waves that morning and was ravenous.

With two days to play with, we spent the primary exploring north of Cayucos, beginning at Concord, inhabitants 18. Based in 1869 as the house of the Concord Valley Creamery Affiliation, right this moment it’s a quaint day-out vacation spot the place you’ll discover the Concord Valley Creamery Scoop Truck, Concord Glass Works, Concord Chapel and Gardens – individuals rent the entire city for weddings – and the Concord Pottery Store artisan galleries. Right here I met Devra, an area from Backwood-Los Osos, not removed from Cayucos. “Even sleepier,” she promised of her residence city, “It’s essential to go to. It’s an actual native place.”

(Cali soul meals at Hidden Kitchen)

Additional north, simply previous San Simeon on the Piedras Blancas Rookery, I had a pinch-me second, watching lots of of elephant seals lolling round this protected eight-mile expanse of sand. And one other throughout a stroll on the coastal cypress-scented Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. It’s set on the southern boundary of the Monterey Bay Nationwide Marine Sanctuary, the biggest marine sanctuary in the US. Strolling the gravel paths lined with purple wildflowers, white-tailed kites soared overhead, and two southern sea otters performed collectively amid the waves.

On an inland detour again to Cayucos by velvety inexperienced hills, we made a shock discovery: Stolo Winery. It opened in 2000 however continues to be a secret spot for some locals. “I hadn’t even heard of it till last yr, and I’ve lived in the realm for years!” stated Jessica as she poured me a glass of Creekside Property Pinot Noir to drink in the suntrap English-style nation backyard.

“We come for a weekend in subsequent door Cambria twice a yr with our canine, Maggie,” stated Joyce, a girl who was sitting on the wood bench subsequent to us, of her and her husband Invoice, each members of the vineyard. “It’s only a beautiful spot, good and quiet, nobody to compete with.”

The key is out and there’s a bit of gentrification, but it surely’s nonetheless the identical because it’s been for 30-odd years

SLO-CAL has had eight Michelin nods in 2023, however we opted for an informal dinner at local-favourite Beerwood, on Devra’s residence turf, Baywood-Los Osos. On the sight of a person getting out of a traditional convertible Pontiac outdoors the Merrymaker, a traditional nook dive bar, and one other dressed in a pastel tie-dyed hoodie parking his VW campervan, I felt transported to Sixties California. The gradual drive residence was by the magical Montaña de Oro, alive with wildflowers and towering eucalyptus timber; individuals in campers and automobiles have been parked up in anticipation of watching the sundown over the Pacific.

It’s all too straightforward to get sucked in a bubble of California’s tiny central coast seaside cities, so on day two I hit the city of San Luis Obispo, a 20-minute-drive south. On the best way, I sneaked a peek on the majestic Morro rock – one of the 9 Sisters, a sequence of volcanic rocks dotting the coast from Morro Bay south to San Luis Obispo. It was as soon as the setting for the primary motel, now a lilting facade past a sequence hyperlink fence. It opened on 12 December 1925 and provided accessible luxurious to the travelling Common Joe and celebrities alike – Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe are stated to have stayed right here on their honeymoon.

Each Thursday evening, the smoky scent of barbecue from F McLintocks’ stall – an area establishment – fills the air on the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market, luring me in for a sticky, shiny rib. Although I made positive I left room for dessert at SLO-Cal’s most surprising landmark, The Madonna Inn, a kitsch lodge the scale of a small village.

(Ellie Seymour)

On my bucket listing for years, this unbelievable Swiss-Alps-meets-Barbiecore-style resort was initially created in 1958 by the late development magnate Alex Madonna and his spouse Phyllis. Fortunate for me, the Copper Café is open to non-guests and right here I tried – and completely failed – to devour a whole slab of the pink champagne cake it’s famed for, served to us by a waitress in Lederhosen.

Testing of Cayucos is a tragic second, eased with a chew of my first brown butter cookie – crumbly, caramelly – from central coast bakery, the Brown Butter Cookie Company, and a view over this chic coastal stretch from the extravagant historic property, Hearst Castle. It was constructed in 1919 in a main spot overlooking the village of San Simeon and the Pacific Ocean, by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. He, no less than, realised early on that SLO-CAL deserved greater than a cursory look on the street to some other place.

Journey necessities

Getting there

Return fares from London Heathrow to San Francisco begin at £577 with United Airways. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic additionally supply direct flights.

Staying there

Rooms on the new Pacific Motel in Cayucos from $299, room solely.

Extra data

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