Hit this sunny city for beach camping, mountain trails, monarch butterflies, and wine tasting.
Set between the ocean and Santa Lucia Mountains, San Luis Obispo is a fantastic base for exploring the beaches and natural attractions of California's Central Coast. This inland town is known for its abundance of wine tasting rooms and its Spanish-style architecture downtown, including the 1772 Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. From the rugged mountains to whales breaching in the bay, SLO also within 15 miles of three public beaches (Pismo State Beach, Morro Strand State Beach, and Avila Beach) and just a short drive from some of the region's other most popular parks, including Santa Margarita Lake Recreation Area and Montaña de Oro State Park, both of which offer camping.
San Luis Obispo County is full of spots to visit, from the hot springs and wineries of Paso Robles to the ornate Hearst Castle near Cambria. The closest beach to SLO, Avila Beach, is small and secluded, making it popular among families and sunbathers. A short drive further up Highway 1 is Morro Bay State Park, which offers not only tent and trailer camping sites with showers, but also an 18-hole golf course, its own Museum of Natural History, and wildlife like sea otters, birds, and whales. Nearby Morro Strand State Beach is another sandy, 3-mile stretch popular for surfing and long walks. Its campground is right on the beach—a rarity in California. Lastly, Pismo Beach is a classic California beach town with a historic pier and a protected monarch butterfly habitat.
On the opposite side of Santa Barbara County, Ventura County is great for camping and exploring, with a mix of forest areas and more arid expanses—not to mention tons of beaches with county-run campgrounds. Head to the Ojai Valley to soak in hot springs or venture into the Simi Hills for a bit of canyon hiking.
San Luis Obispo is a year-round destination, and while winters get some rain, temperatures generally hover between the mid-40s and mid-60s. If you like warm weather but want to avoid the summer vacation crowds, it's wise to camp in SLO during in late spring or early fall. To see wildlife, winter is the best time, as monarch butterflies overwinter at Pismo Beach from November through February, which is also high season for whale-watching along the coast.