Straddling Highway 101 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo is a quaint, convenient stop-off for travelers on Highway 1, the scenic coast highway. It's the home of California State Polytechnic University and is known for its Thursday Night Farmers Market downtown—one of the best anywhere. It's a great walking town where visitors can stroll by historic landmarks, Victorian homes, shops and restaurants. The town has a lovely Mediterranean climate and an even more lovely setting, as it's surrounded by the Nine Sisters—former volcanic plugs. Toll-free 877-756-8696. http://www.sanluisobispovacations.com.
Inland of San Luis Obispo, the Paso Robles area is one of California's up-and-coming wine-growing regions.
Nearby is the coastal town of Morro Bay, which has an active harbor and lively fishing industry. It's the best place in SLO County to try local oysters and salmon. A massive rock formation juts out of the water just offshore, and the area has many nature and wildlife preserves. One of the most interesting is the Morro Bay National Estuary, which includes 2,300 acres/930 hectares of mudflats, tidal wetland and open bay. The estuary is home to two dozen threatened and endangered species, including the peregrine falcon, brown pelican and sea otter. http://www.mbnep.org.
A wide array of plant species are found on the southwestern shore of the bay, in the pedestrian-only Elfin Forest Natural Area. Morro Bay is considered globally important for migrating birds on the Pacific flyway, and the return of the birds is celebrated in January with a winter festival held over the Martin Luther King Day weekend. Phone 805-225-1633. http://www.morrobay.org.
Just outside of San Luis Obispo you'll find more than 20 mi/32 km of beach in Pismo Beach, where visitors can find affordable oceanside accommodations and laze away the afternoon watching fishermen on the pier and surfers catching the break. Collecting clams is a local tradition each October, when it hosts the annual Clam Festival. The Oceano Dunes, nearby, are a major recreational venue for quad bikes and dirt bikes. Phone 805-773-7924. http://classiccalifornia.com.
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