What is SLO best at? Judging from these ‘best of’ lists, just about everything

The San Luis Obispo City Council is seeking public input on city spending goals and priorities.
The San Luis Obispo City Council is seeking public input on city spending goals and priorities. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Six years after “The Oprah Winfrey Show” crowned San Luis Obispo the “happiest city in America” — a distinction so prized it’s become part of Central Coast lore — the accolades keep rolling in.

Recent months have been filled with one reason after another why you should either live here, go to school here, visit here or drink wine here.

Let’s take a look at some of the best “best-ofs” from the last year:

A best town ever

As if being the nation’s happiest town weren’t enough, SLO added another notch in its belt in June when Outside magazine named it one of its 25 best towns ever.

The list looked for “places that are great for kids, have drool-worthy food and drink scenes, are welcoming to people of any background, and have all the bike lanes and singletrack you could possibly want.”

San Luis Obispo was named “Best Blend of Sunshine, Food, and Beaches.”

“Set just minutes from both the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Range, San Luis Obispo is roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles — and, fortunately, is nothing like either city.”

Best college town

In September, the website College Rank tallied its 50 best towns in the nation for college students.

Sitting right at the top was San Luis Obispo.

Author Kara Mayer Robinson researched hundreds of college towns based on factors such as outdoor space, the number of boutiques and cafes, pedestrian friendliness, culture, nightlife and “the general vibe” when creating the list that included communities in 33 states.

When it came to San Luis Obispo, Robinson wrote that the “stress you endured while applying to colleges will instantly melt away.”

“This collegiate town on California’s scenic Central Coast has a contagious kick-back-and-relax vibe,” she wrote. “It’s not just college students who love the SLO life. Many people settle in here because of its culture, entertainment and surroundings.”

Best small town in California

It seems everyone wants a piece of praising SLO, and the website Thrillist is no exception.

In May, it compiled a list of the best small towns to visit in all 50 states, naming San Luis Obispo the honoree for California.

What put San Luis Obispo over the top, in comparison to other little towns such as Solvang or Napa, was the convenient location to Hearst Castle and wine country, as well as events like Art After Dark and attractions including hiking and biking trails.

Hooray for Paso Robles

Before you think that all the praise goes to SLO, don’t worry. Paso Robles gets a lot of love too.

In December, the Travel Channel named the town one of its “New Top 10 Cities for Wine Snobs,” which sounds snarky but was meant as a compliment — if it hadn’t also indicated the city was located somewhere in the greater Fresno/Bakersfield area.

“Paso Robles, one of the cowboy-meets-winemaker towns in the Central Valley, has more than 200 wineries and 26,000 acres of vineyards, but often takes a backseat to its better-known and older sibling up north (Napa),” reads the description. “Situated slightly inland, its warmer climate is ideal for zinfandel, bordeaux, and Rhône-style vintages — and it’s often referred to as ‘American Rhône.’ Not to mention completely stunning.”

In January, Paso Robles also made Orbitz’s list of 17 amazing places to visit in 2017.

Orbitz gave special attention to two Paso lodging options — Hotel Cheval and Allegretto Vineyard Resort — as potential places for North County newbies to crash. When it comes to food, the site mentioned Artisan and Thomas Hill Organics as culinary landing spots for visitors.

Last but not least, Orbitz saluted Paso Robles’ “legendary wineries” and mentioned Eberle Winery and Justin Vineyards & Winery.

On the subject of alcohol

San Luis Obispo County didn’t only earn applause for its wine. In April, it was named a top craft spirits tourism destination by Travelocity and the American Distilling Institute.

The county ranked fifth among small metro areas in a new craft spirits tourism index created by the travel booking website and the trade group to “help people find the best places to experience craft spirits and the artisans who create them.”

The index highlights the Paso Robles Distillery Trail, describing it as “a 23-mile-long trail that incorporates some of San Luis Obispo County’s best craft distilleries into an easily drivable scenic tour of Central California.”

Two top travel destinations

Also in April, not one, but two San Luis Obispo County spots made Expedia’s list of the top 50 vacation destinations in North America.

Cambria and Paso Robles came in at Nos. 6 and 7 respectively, with hot springs, Hearst Castle and wine listed as highlights. Another Central Coast locale, Solvang, came in at No. 30.

In particular, Expedia noted Paso’s River Oaks Hot Springs Spa, Studios on the Park and Rabbit Ridge Winery & Vineyards as top attractions. The company also highlighted Cambria’s boardwalk at Moonstone Beach, the Black Cat Bistro, 927 Beer Company, and proximity to Hearst Castle.

Again, however, a travel website displayed a tenuous grasp of state geography, saying Paso is located in Southern California.

Gabby Ferreira, Lindsey Holden, Nick Wilson and Sally Buffalo contributed to this report.