Got a Sunday with nothing to do? Looking for an out-of-the-way spot to visit where you can learn about San Luis Obispo County’s history and natural environment without too many crowds? Here are some of our favorite places in county that are off the beaten path but well worth a look. Text by David Sneed | firstname.lastname@example.org
1. OSO FLACO LAKE | Part of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, this small freshwater lake is the heart of a natural area that features scenic views of the dunes and good wildlife viewing opportunities. Oso Flaco is Spanish for skinny bear. A boardwalk takes visitors over the lake and out into the dunes. This is a good area to enjoy the dunes away from off-road vehicles.
2. SEE CANYON | This is one of the prettiest drives in San Luis Obispo County. See Canyon Road winds its way through oak forests and past apple orchards as it makes its way up the Irish Hills near San Luis Obispo. Great views of the Irish Hills and the coast are available from the top of the ridge. The road then becomes Prefumo Canyon Road and takes you back into San Luis Obispo.
3. SAN CARPOFORO CREEK BEACH | Located between Piedras Blancas and Ragged Point, this is a small, secluded beach at the southern end of Big Sur. A short hike from Highway 1 takes you through chaparral and to the beach formed by the mouth of San Carpoforo Creek. There you’ll find great beachcombing and a picturesque cove with lots of driftwood and interesting rock formations.
4. SAN ANDREAS FAULT | The powerful San Andreas Fault is one of California’s most important geologic features. The best place to see the fault and how it has altered the landscape is the Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail in the Carrizo Plain National Monument along the county’s eastern boundary. The trail has five interpretive stops that show how the course of the creek has been diverted over the millennia as the fault has slipped an average of 1.3 inches per year.
5. RESERVOIR CANYON | Lush is not a word you often hear applied to the chaparral-dominated open spaces surrounding San Luis Obispo, but Reservoir Canyon is a notable exception. Located north of the city just off Highway 101, Reservoir Canyon is shaded by large, majestic sycamore and oak trees. A hiking trail featuring multiple crossings of a babbling creek follows the canyon about a mile upstream.
6. JAMES DEAN MEMORIAL | It’s easy to miss the metal memorial sign as you are driving on Highway 46 through Cholame. But this rural road junction marks one of the most notable tragedies in San Luis Obispo County’s history: the accident in 1955 that claimed the life of actor James Dean. The accident gave the 24-year-old actor a cult status and caused the intersection to be officially known as James Dean Memorial Junction. You'll find the memorial just down the street from the Jack Ranch Cafe.
7. HI MOUNTAIN LOOKOUT | San Luis Obispo County sits in the heart of the historic range of the California condor, a huge vulture that was pushed to the brink of extinction. In the Los Padres National Forest between Pozo and Lopez Lake sits Hi Mountain Lookout, an old fire lookout that has been transformed into a field research station and interpretive center for condor biologists. It’s the best place in the county to see a condor.
8. POINT BUCHON TRAIL | In 2007, PG&E opened this trail on land it owns north of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The trail goes from the southern boundary of Montaña de Oro State Park to Crowbar Canyon, a point just north of the power plant. Hikers must sign in but do not need to be accompanied by docents. It is an opportunity to enjoy a rarely seen part of the coastline with panoramic views and interesting geological features.
Jayson MellomThe Tribune
9. POINT SAN LUIS LIGHTHOUSE | Tucked out of sight just north of Port San Luis, the lighthouse is easy to miss. This historic light station has been lovingly restored to its 1890 splendor. Surrounded by PG&E land, the lighthouse is accessible for docent-led tours with reservations via a trolley, hiking trail or kayak.
10. SEA CAVES | Pismo Beach is most well known for its wide sandy beaches but it also has plenty of coastal bluffs that produce a fascinating geologic phenomenon: sea caves. Also called littoral caves, sea caves are formed where cracks or other weak areas of sea cliffs are worn by the surf. Kayakers have the best access to sea caves, but others can enjoy them at Dinosaur Caves Park and the north end of Pismo State Beach where five caves can be found.