SLO Secrets: The Sunset Drive In

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The Sunset Drive-In in San Luis Obispo stands as a classic memorial of simpler times. This theatre conjures up the potential for memories of balmy summer nights (or even winter nights… because SLO luckily doesn’t get too cold!) spent under the clear sky with car windows wide open, enjoying the breeze as your stereo speakers let in the radio frequency sound of the cinema’s current features.

It was originally built way back in the 1950’s, and still retains its retro charm with old-fashioned commercials, a an old-style snack shack, and pink neon sign proudly facing 101 North to draw in movie goers seeking a nostalgic atmosphere.

Be prepared that Sunset only accepts cash for tickets and concessions. It’s a great place for a deal, to be able to see two movies for the price of one. Also, try to get to the cinema a bit early because the line of cars waiting to get in can run out long onto the street on a busy night.

So, if you’re seeking a fun place for a date night with a retro charm or a fun night out with friends, find a car with a great big backseat or a truck bed, some comfy blankets and get ready for a night of watching a movie in the cinema under the stars.

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Luna Red in SLO’s Legendary Happy Hour

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I love happy hour, and I LOVE sangria. Luna Red in downtown SLO combines the best of both worlds. At their happy hour from 3-6pm every day (yes, EVERY day!) they offer $6 drink specials and tapas. What are “tapas” you ask? Keep reading 😉 Because this restaurant features a menu with an authentic Spanish taste which brings me straight back to my study abroad term in Barcelona.  

They offer both indoor and outdoor seating (with heat lamps outside in the colder months) and an outdoor bar. There’s something special about sitting outside on their patio on a warm SLO day underneath the twinkling string lights and brightly colored umbrellas. You enjoy a prime view of the San Luis Obispo Mission de Tolosa which is right next to the restaurant, as well as the babbling waters of the adjacent creek.

 

If you’re interested in an eatery where you can go family style and share a variety of different appetizers and combinations, then this is the right place. Their bacon wrapped dates are legendary among the  SLOcals and the paella portion size is large enough to feed you and your best three friends, at least.

They feature a diverse enough cocktail selection to keep you coming back again (and again and again) for more, but like I said I’m a sucker for their classic red sangria.

 

Luna Red has special deals available almost every day of the week, in addition to their everyday happy hour. The vibrant and lively atmosphere is present no matter what time or day of the week you decide to go.

 

An additional quality I appreciate about this restaurant is their value of the local culture. They recruit local artists for live music on Friday and Saturday nights and use products from local farms to support the agricultural industry on the Central Coast.

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The easiest place to leave your car while you’re at Luna Red is the parking garage on Palm Street which is about 300 yards away from the restaurant and easily walkable to get to. Right now as of 2018 the first hour in the garage is free and after that it’s $1.25 per additional hour.

So go grab some of your friends who enjoy sangria almost as much as I do, and check out the artsy ambiance of this little slice of Spain right in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo.

SLO Secrets: Prefumo Canyon Road

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I’m starting a new category! It’s called “SLO Secrets.” They’re places and experiences you might not have heard about unless someone who lives in the San Luis Obispo area gives you a secret tip 😉 My first SLO Secrets post is on Prefumo Canyon road, which in my opinion is one of the most grand views in SLO of the  entire San Luis Obispo county and coastline.

 

I usually start the drive up Prefumo Canyon Road on the Los Osos Valley Road connecting side near Target, and then just turn back and come down the same way to get back to SLO. If you want to, you can take the road all the way to connect to See Canyon Road and end up in Avila Beach.

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This drive takes you along the crest of the mountain to view 360 degrees of breathtaking sights including Morro Rock and all of the rest of the nine sister mountains. The trip is not a long one but make sure to take your time and go slow, because it can get pretty windy, twisty, and has seen landslide damage in the past couple years of wet winters.

Prefumo Canyon Road is the perfect place for a sunset picnic or sweeping SLO valley views.

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My family enjoyed an Easter dinner sunset up at the top!

I have linked to an informational video by SLOAmbassadors on youtube if you’re interested in checking out the scenery before you go, and the map below shows the route along Prefumo Canyon Road from LOVR to See Canyon in Avila 🙂

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Pecho Coast Trail Hike and San Luis Lighthouse Tour

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The Pecho Coast Trail is located in Avila Beach and features gorgeous scenic coastal views of Avila and the Pacific Ocean. It has been open for guided hikes since 1993 and is located on PG&E property, and is a joint partnership between PG&E, the California Coastal Commission and the Port San Luis Harbor District, so it can only be accessed through reservations by a guided hike which are available to do in the morning on  Wednesday for 20 people and Saturday for 40 people. Reservations are strongly encouraged and can be made on the PG&E website. This hike will ultimately take you to the Port’s Historic Point San Luis Lighthouse where you can learn the history of the property on a docent-led tour for a $5 donation.

When you arrive to Avila, there is plenty of free parking at the pier where it’s a short walk along the road to the group meeting spot at 8:45 a.m., the Fisherman’s Memorial in Port San Luis Harbor. Here, the docents will have you sign a waiver of liability and explain the itinerary of the hike. Make sure to pack some water and sunblock because even if the weather is foggy when you start the hike as it often is on the Central Coast, it will most likely warm up and be sunny by the time you leave the lighthouse.

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The journey is not a particularly strenuous trek as there’s only around 400-500 feet of elevation gain, but be warned that the first part of the hike has sudden steep elevation changes as well as poison oak/tics on the trail to be mindful of. On the way up, the docent will stop the hike about every ten minutes to recollect the group and explain some of the historical and geographical information of the area.

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Summer on the Central Coast = Morning fog!

The first part of the hike is a short steep climb up to a road that the trolley takes visitors on to the lighthouse. You’ll hike about half a mile along that paved road stopping along the way to be educated on the geology, biology, and history of Avila and the Pecho Coast Trail including the three piers which are visible from the access road. The closest pier is the Harford Pier at the Port San Luis, then the pier which is owned by Cal Poly for marine science purposes, and finally the Avila Pier in the distance. After walking for a bit more along the paved section of the hike, you’ll reach the official entrance to the Pecho Coast trail and descend down the bluff of the hillside. There are stairs built into the hill to make it easier to walk down.

The trail passes through an oak grove with a plaque dedicated to Patsy Stow Stebbins who was a key player in negotiating the creation of the Pecho Coast Trail and a fighter for Coastal California public access her whole life. California Coastal Access signs (a footprint with an ocean wave) can be found all over California by the beach and inform visitors and residents of places that they can gain public access to the coast. Now that I know what the sign means, I’m noticing its presence everywhere!

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After more hiking along the gorgeous views of the coast, the docent will take time to explain the history of whaling in Avila and of Smith Island which is a rock just off the coast that somehow at one point housed five families (yes, on a rock in the ocean!). Then you’ll begin the final descent down the stairs where you’ll cross the same service/trolley road from earlier in the hike.

After you cross the trolley road you will have reached the trail’s end at the Point San Luis Obispo Lighthouse grounds. There are restrooms and a water fountain as well as a gift shop with small snacks and trinkets available for purchase. The grounds are free to explore once you’re there, but in order to go inside for a tour it’s a $5 donation fee which goes toward the preservation and restoration of the property. In my opinion it was completely worth it to pay the five dollars to hear the incredible history of the lighthouse.

This restored lighthouse is a two story Victorian style building which was officially decommissioned in 1974. It has been remodeled to look like it would have looked like when it was built and used back in 1890. The first building you’re taken to is the fog signal building. It’s home of the horn that was used to signal ships when the light could not reach them. You’ll get to see the extremely cool “fourth-order Fresnel lens.”

The lens is an impressive two and a half feet tall and is displayed on a turret that rotated back when it was in operation. It’s a beautiful piece of engineering and amazing to think about how important its purpose was when it was in operation. Fun fact: Different lighthouses use different intervals of time in which the beam of light rotates out to sea, to use as a signal for their specific location. For example, this lighthouse at Avila signals every 30 seconds which is how the sailer would know where he was out in the ocean: he would count the number of seconds between each beam and check his log to see where he was according to that interval of time. In 1890 this lens would send beams of light 17 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean.

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Climbing into the lighthouse tower is a tight squeeze!
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The view from where the Fresnel lens was located

I don’t want to give too much information about the tour away because you should definitely go take it yourself and learn all of this exciting information, but these are some photos of the inside of the lighthouse where the lighthouse keeper and his family would have lived.

Kitchen

Bedrooms

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Dining Room

Sitting Room

If you’re just wanting to tour the lighthouse without hiking the Pecho Coast Trail, tours are offered year round on Wednesdays at 12pm and 1 pm and on Saturdays at 12pm, 1pm, and 2pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for kids 12 and under. Children under 3 are free. The tours last about 1hr and 45 minutes, and the cost of the tickets includes the trolley ride to the lighthouse. Hiking the Pecho Coast Trail is free, with a $5 donation upon arrival to the lighthouse for a a tour. After the trek and those gorgeous views of the Central Coast ocean, you’ve earned it!

Here’s a map to the trailhead. Parking is located near Fat Cats Cafe, in the shipyard. Happy hiking!

Lincoln Market Deli: Loaded Tater Tots, Delicious Sandos, and Local Groceries

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I can’t believe I waited until my last week in SLO to visit Lincoln Market Deli. Because I liked it so much that on that day, I went twice… (once to get a sandwich and once to get some locally sourced charcuterie meat and cheese for a beach picnic 😉 )

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Lincoln Market Deli has a prominent history in the city of San Luis Obispo. It was originally built in 1941 and known as “Ellsworth’s Market,” the San Luis Obispo’s original grocer and butcher. Nowadays their market features delicious make-and-order hot and cold deli sandwiches, refrigerated products including bliss cafe desserts, beer and cider on tap, and so much more.

If I were to have to pick my favorite part of Lincoln Deli it would be challenging. But I think I would have to go with the lazy/funky and chill atmosphere which is so truly a local “San Luis Obispo” feeling. Even their craft beer and wine selection is incredibly diverse and primarily local. In fact, the market is mostly locally sourced items from their meats, to their cheeses, to their cal poly eggs, even to the wine from the Edna Valley. Locally made artwork is displayed for purchase.

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One of Lincoln Deli’s unique features includes a “tater tot” nacho menu with a generous selection of tot nachos buried in toppings like bacon, jalapeños, onions, cheeses of course, and so much more. As if that’s not enough to choose from, don’t forget to check out their SECRET MENU 😉 

There are usually plenty of seats available at tables to eat inside, as well as on their outdoor patio to soak up the sunshine on a warm SLO day. Taryn and I ate outdoors and watched the bustle of the busy intersection on the corner. I enjoyed a turkey sandwich with all the fixin’s and added avocado on marbled rye… it was stuffed full. I couldn’t even finish the whole thing. We also got Golden State hard ciders which are available on tap and they came out in really cute mason jars to drink.

The deli is located in a residential area, right on the corner of Broad and Lincoln Street off the 101, at the base of Madonna mountain. It’s open from 8am-7pm Monday-Saturday and closes at 6pm on Sundays.

“Seeds” Health Food Cafe in San Luis Obispo

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“Seeds” on Garden Street in downtown San Luis Obispo is a health food cafe featuring delicious acai bowls, juices, paninis, and even fun alcohol infused juices like “frose’s” and “pressed mimosas.” They also offer a variety of different kombuchas on tap and an assortment of yummy snacks (I didn’t even know some of the Rx bar flavors they had existed).

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The shop has a wonderful (but a bit small) garden patio out back with a few tables and plenty of seating on the street to soak in the sunshine. You can also sit inside at the wall bar or underneath their insta-worthy neon sign which you will be compelled to take a photo of your food with (talk about quality free marketing).

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I ordered the #8 bowl which was blended almond butter, almond milk, bananas, maca, and spinach topped with bananas, raspberries, almonds, and cocoa. If there’s something more you’d like to add into your bowl, there are a variety of extra toppings and mix in’s like hemp protein powder, chia seeds, and Nutella.

My almond butter maca bowl was HEARTY! It kept me full for hours. The fruit topping was incredibly fresh and blended combination of delicious healthy ingredients was overall creamy and satisfying.

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I know that I’m going to have to come back to try their one of their toast options like peanut butter with fruit or savory avocado and sprouts, because they all looked and sounded delicious.

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“Seeds” is located on 1133 Garden Street in San Luis Obispo and is open from 8am-6pm every day. It’s a yummy treat any time of the day for a snack or meal that will leave you feeling good on the inside.

What’s YOUR SLO Bucket List?

I’m almost done with my time in San Luis Obispo and fulfilling my bucket list, but this blog will continue to live on forever and share insight to the many amazing activities to do in the area.

There are so many wonderful experiences I have gotten to enjoy on the Central Coast, and although I wish I had time for more, I have to move on… But now I want YOU to tell me what your favorite Central Coast spots are and if I haven’t written a blog about the spot already, I will post your story as a guest submission! It can be a coffee shop, a secret hike, or a day trip adventure you’d like to share. 

Send me your stories at mollyobrien1996@att.net. I’m looking forward to hearing about your adventures!