The Wayfarer

William Randolph Hearst, the famous newspaper publisher, could have built his castle anywhere. But he chose the beautiful Central Coast of California in San Luis Obispo County. 

Of course, he missed the best location by an hour’s drive. That would be the little town of San Luis Obispo, where it’s not just a stopover on the way to San Francisco and all points north but a town to spend a bit of time.

The first thing to know about this little college town — it’s the home of California Polytechnic State University — is the correct way to say the name. The natives will know you’re a tourist if you call the town SLO (pronounced “slow”) or S-L-O, so call it San Luis (pronounced “San Louis”), which is what anyone born there calls it. 

“San Luis Obispo is shortened to San Luis,” local resident Margaret Doyle says. “S-L-O is what Cal Poly students say. ‘Oh, I live in SLO now.’”

This is a town where visitors can choose from a wide assortment of pleasures. There’s shopping, wineries and restaurants to name a few things. For those who love the outdoors, the many hiking trails of all levels of challenge afford gorgeous views from bayside bluffs and mountain tops.

Stay: The Wayfarer San Luis Obispo a Tapestry Collection by Hilton

Check into the Wayfarer Inn on Monterey Street, where the road weary can get some peace. 

The newly renovated lobby features a fireplace; a wall of hardcover, used books; and an old-school record player and records. Off to the side is the Schoolyard, the hotel’s restaurant. Eating spaces are casual and welcoming. There’s even a work table if you want it, where a multitude of lighted globes watch over the spacious table. Finally, if you feel like it, visit the patio, a spot that encourages conversation or contemplation. While sitting outside in the sun, enjoy the lovely sea breezes that blow in off San Luis Obispo Bay. The point is to enjoy these public spaces in any way you would like; that’s what they were designed to do.

“One of the pillars with the Wayfarer brand is strictly unstructured,” general manager Megan Taylor says. 

“It’s not a restaurant; it’s not a business center; it’s not a lobby. It’s a gathering space; it’s a meeting room; it’s a dining room. It can be what you make it.”

Don’t expect the usual when you get to your room.

“You’re going to have something different than beige walls,” Taylor says.

The rooms are spacious with enough expanse to accommodate a bed and two televisions, a sofa and a coffee table. Multiple framed photos hang on the wall behind the bed. When you lie down, look up at more photos attached to the ceiling. 

Then fall asleep.

Honestly, there are plenty of places to stay in SLO, but what you get at the Wayfarer is a staff that remembers your name and delivers top-notch service. 

Eat: Red Luna, Highwater, Schoolyard

Right next to the San Luis Obispo Mission de Tolosa Bell Tower just Downtown, Red Luna is a place for fine dining and casual conversation. Seating inside is quiet enough to enjoy your companion’s company, but not so stuffy you have to wear a tie. Outside, the dining is more casual. Because the ocean breezes can be nippy, staff are only too happy to turn on overhead heaters. Diners may also sit at an outside bar.

Begin the meal with a mixed drink, or if you do not partake, order the house-made cucumber/pomegranate soda. It sounds weird, but it is surprisingly delicious and refreshing. 

Now for the menu.

There are the ubiquitous tacos, though it is doubtful diners will find them anywhere else made with handmade soyrizo with kale and potato or miso mushroom with chili miso sauce. Of course, you may also order chicken tacos.

Better yet, try the gambas al ajillo — wild-caught shrimp sauteed with chili flakes, paprika-garlic oil, grilled lemon and parsley, then laid on a slice of toasted garlic sourdough that’s dripping with butter. It has just a tiny bite.

Maybe you’re hungry for something more exotic. If that’s the case, try the paella. It’s a bit of a specialty at Red Luna, where it’s served family style; the small portion serves two to four diners. For dessert there’s mocha cheesecake, churro tiramisu and a few other selections.

Other places to eat (though there is a bistro or restaurant is on just about every corner and in between, too) include Highwater, where you may order a chicken dinner for the fam with all the fixings or a Reuben lumpia with corned beef, sauerkraut, Gruyere cheese and Russian dressing. 

If you don’t feel like going out, eat at Schoolyard, where grub is available for every meal. If you’re feeling puckish, get a smash burger, the restaurant’s specialty. Among them: the California burger, made with smashed avocado, smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and slaw. It’s bartender Miguel Lucas’ favorite. His specialty drink, he says, is a margarita el fuente. Closing time is early, however: 10 p.m.

Bring quarters; there’s a Super Mario Bros. arcade game beckoning.

Experience: Downtown

Ask anyone what a first-time visitor should do, and you will receive any number of suggestions, but desk clerk Hailey Keidel says no visit would be complete without simply walking the five blocks into SLO’s downtown. 

“It’s easy access (from the hotel), nice fresh air,” she says. “It’s a way to check out the local atmosphere while staying close because you’re not too far from your resting space.”

“Yes, we want you to come here; we want you to spend time in our restaurant, but we also want you to see San Luis Obispo,” Taylor says. “We really want you to get out, explore the area.”

However, the sidewalks can be uneven in places so wear sturdy shoes. You can drive it from the Wayfarer, but why? The walk is revitalizing.

Downtown is vibrant to say the least. Interesting, fun shops and restaurants cover most of it, but there’s also SLO’s Museum of Art and Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

Really, a visit to the art museum is worth any visitor’s time. It only takes about 30 minutes or so to go through the three galleries, but hangs on the walls are extraordinary.

The mission offers a glimpse at what the Spaniards might have seen when they came. The original chapel is updated, but still retains some of the original artwork. The gardens are fine and every afternoon a docent gives a tour. There’s also a museum and gift shop. 

Near the mission is a couple of buildings left over from the original Chinese American community in SLO. One of them, the Ah Louis building, is today home to a cute shop that features party items you’re not likely to find anywhere else. History buffs should make time for the San Luis Obispo History Center’s walking tour. 

A little farther down the main drag, Higuera Street, and just a couple of blocks beyond Downtown, are a few of SLO’s thrift stores. If you choose to visit Wilshire Hospice Hope Chest — a visit worth making — you will find a flier with a list of all seven of the thrift stores in town. 

Other shops you might want to visit are listed below.

Last, no visit would be complete without a stop at the Central Coast Veterans Memorial Museum, which is just across the street from the Wayfarer. You can’t miss it because there’s a tank in the front of it. The museum focuses on SLO’s veterans, though there is plenty more to see that would be of interest to any veteran, including a recently acquired piece of the USS Arizona. The museum begins with WWI and is manned by local veterans who are justifiably proud of the town’s contributions to the United States’ military efforts. Admission is by donation.

Hike: Madonna Mountain

It’s not really called Madonna Mountain; its real name is Cerro San Luis Obispo, and it’s not the only good hike in the area, according to locals. However, it is the most often mentioned when you ask what a first-time visitor should do. It’s because of the spectacular view that’s afforded of nearby mountains and the vast Pacific Ocean. The M Trail, at about five miles, ranges from easy to moderate and most can complete it in a few hours. Start the hike at one of two places: the Charles A. and Mary R. Maino Open Space or Laguna Lake Park Open Space, but take a photo of the map posted at the trailhead and keep track of where you are. It is easy to get lost on adjacent trails. 

Picnic: Wine Country

and Baileyana

With more than two dozen wineries in San Luis Obispo County, visitors should plan to visit at least one. The ride to the country is not far from town but beyond description with its rolling hills and symmetrically planted grape vines. 

At most of the wineries picnics are welcome. In fact, at Baileyana Wineries there are umbrella-topped tables so visitors can dine in the shade, and public restrooms. 

Children and leashed pets are welcome. Just don’t bring alcohol; get that in Baileyana’s tasting room. It’s housed right on site in restored and remodeled Independence Schoolhouse, which was built in 1909 and, according to tasting room lead Doyle (remember her?), later moved down the street to its present location. 

Indulge in a flight of wines produced from local grapes and nibble on a charcuterie board, also available at the tasting room. It’s a great place to relax.

The area grows pinot grigio and shiraz grapes that produce Baileyana’s red wines. Doyle says it’s the area’s microclimate that grows these varieties. Hint: Bring a sweater. It can get chilly. Head northeast some 30 miles (a mere 30 minutes drive) to Paso Robles, where the weather is a different, much warmer story.

“They are the only two grapes that will ripen on the Central Coast environment,” Doyle says. “We are four and a half miles from the ocean, so we have a really long growing season. Our summer temperatures are anywhere from 68 to 73 degrees every day. … This wind is constant, and that’s why these grapes thrive.”

Bud break is mid-May, and harvest happens at the beginning of November.

“It really develops color and flavor and structure below that very thick (grape) skin (during) a super, calculated, long expanse of time,” she adds.

There’s also the soil.

“Volcanic soil enhances anything you grow in it,” Doyle says. “Volcanic soil is nutrient-rich, and it’s also natural aerated. It’s just wonderful in all ways.”

They grow Grüner Veltliner, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc grapes, among others that make Baileyana’s white wines.

Doyle is proud of her winery and her town. It’s a place that encourages visitors to take it easy.

“Everyone who visits here will be able to take a pause,” Doyle says. “We can take a breath from the busy environment.”

That’s true of just about everywhere in San Luis Obispo, and we didn’t even talk about the beach.


Locations to check out. All of them are in San Luis Obispo, unless otherwise noted. Have fun! 



Tom’s Toys

682 Higuera Street




863 Monterey Street




863 Monterey Street



Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop

699 Higuera Street



Picking Daisies Modern Quilting, Sewing, Fabric and Napkins

570 Higuera Street, Suite 120



Thrift stores

Wilshire Hospice Hope Chest

445 Higuera Street



Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County Thrift Store

697 Marsh Street, Suite A




San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

1010 Broad Street



Central Coast Veterans Memorial Museum

801 Grand Avenue



Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

751 Palm Street




The Wayfarer San Luis Obispo, Tapestry Collection by Hilton

1800 Monterey Street





The Wayfarer San Luis Obispo, Tapestry Collection by Hilton

1800 Monterey Street



Red Luna

1023 Chorro Street




1127 Broad Street, Suite B



Golden Moon

1165 Grand Avenue, Arroyo Grande



Brown Butter Cookies

897 Higuera Street

805-541-2525 ext. 8


Baileyana Winery Tasting Room

5828 Orcutt Road