What does the SLO International Film Festival, Jurassic Park and Sleepless in Seattle all have in common? They’re all celebrating a 30th birthday this year! A lot can happen in three decades, but San Luis Obispo’s award-winning film fest (April 25-30, 2024; encore May 1-5) continues to delight audiences with more than 100 films, top filmmakers, iconic venues and star-studded events. Located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, SLO CAL’s (San Luis Obispo County’s) larger-than-life setting captivates audience-goers as much as the movies.

This year, venture beyond the big screen and create a SLO CAL sizzle reel all your own: From speakeasies and art museums to wild animal sightings and foodie fun, direct your own cinematic experience. While this year’s SLO International Film Festival Q&As, workshops and soirees are sure to be a blast, there’s always more to explore between the scenes. Read on for 15 (plus an encore) showstopping ways to maximize your SLO CAL visit!

Grab Dinner and a Movie

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food dishes from Luna Red in SLODinner? Good. Movie? Good. Together? Great! Before, during or after SLO International Film Fest, downtown San Luis Obispo invites visitors and locals alike to enjoy excellent eats. Kick back with indie flicks at the historic Palm Theater before walking over to Ox + Anchor for expertly-cooked steak and seafood courtesy of Chef Ryan Fancher. Also nearby, find time-honored Mee Heng Low Noodle House (opened in 1920) serving delicious chow mein, low mein and chop suey. Heading to Downtown Centre Cinemas? This plush theater features more than reclining seats and a beer and wine bar. Conveniently located walking distance from a smorgasbord of downtown dinner options, take your pick of after-movie delights: Grab northern Italian eats from cozy La Locanda, epic wood-fired pizza at Flour House or a juicy American Wagyu beef burger topped with blue cheese and farm-fresh veggies at Koberl at Blue, just to name just a few.

Check Out SLO CAL's Famous Film Sites

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With its striking natural beauty and dreamy, golden light, it’s no wonder SLO CAL has served as a coveted film locale since the dawn of the Hollywood entertainment industry. This year, follow the SLO CAL film trail to experience that magic first-hand. You won’t want to skip the undulating Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, film site of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007). After taking in the sandy landscape, head to the nearby Oceano Dunes Visitor Center for a slice of Hollywood history. There’s even a massive sphinx head still lurking under the sand, a relic from the 1923 classic, The Ten Commandments!

The SLO CAL film trail winds from coast to countryside, bringing visitors face-to-face with iconic film locations: The 1939 film adaptation of Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men was shot at Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, while moody film noir The Lady from Shanghai (1947) captured pivotal scenes at majestic Morro Rock. Fans of over-the-top B horror movies will get a kick out of the fact that 1959’s The Monster of Piedras Blancas was filmed in the quiet SLO CAL beach town of Cayucos (the “monster’s lair” is now the antique store, Remember When). From Paso Robles wine country (Destination Wedding - 2018), to San Simeon’s fantastical Hearst Castle (Spartacus - 1960), explore classic film sites aplenty.

Experience SLO CAL's Historic Theaters

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SLO Film Fest event at Sunset Drive InWe all remember our first movie-going experience—when the lights first dimmed and the screen flashed brilliantly to life. Film lovers can relive that joy at SLO CAL’s unique movie theaters, which range from ultra-modern to time capsule-worthy. Built in 1941, the Fremont Theater in downtown San Luis Obispo is the most flashy of the bunch, combining retro style with modern productions. A longtime location of the SLO International Film Festival, its flashing, pink neon facade lives on as an homage to the ongoing power of film.

The Palm Theater—a cherished SLO International Film Fest venue—is a longstanding independent art house situated across from the historic Ah Louis building in San Luis Obispo’s colorful Chinatown. Strung up with glowing lights and paper lanterns, this cultural corridor evokes a bygone era when popcorn was made with real butter and cost just a few bucks (at the Palm, both remain true). Meanwhile, on the south end of town, find the beloved Sunset Drive-in: one of California’s last remaining Mid Century hangouts where folks can enjoy candy and a flick all from the comfort of the driver’s seat. Yes, the Sunset Theater plays the classic “Let’s all go to the lobby” jingle in its entirety, complete with dancing snacks.

More Fun Behind-the-Scenes in SLO CAL:

Feel the Hometown Hospitality

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Sure, directors might film here, but everyone receives “the star treatment” in SLO CAL. In fact, we’re well known for our warmth and hospitality, which spans diverse restaurants and entertainment venues to fancy hotels and cozy inns. You don’t have to be a VIP to grab the best table at Oyster Loft in Pismo Beach or to book an epic room at San Luis Obispo’s kitschy pink palace, the Madonna Inn. Explore stellar seaside stays in Cambria, charming vineyard vacation rentals in Paso Robles and family-friendly accommodations in Atascadero, many of which are proudly dog-friendly. Feeling that main character energy now? Downtown San Luis Obispo—ground zero for the SLO International Film Fest—is home to a handful of dynamic boutique hotels featuring everything from rooftop swimming pools to spas and onsite chef’s gardens (no velvet rope required).

Listen for Live Music

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Cue the soundtrack to your own SLO CAL experience. Around here, we love live music of all kinds, from reggae and folk to hip hop, country and rock. Intimate music venues can be found all across the region (Bethel Rd. Distillery in Templeton, Frog & Peach Pub in San Luis Obispo, among many others). Plus, we’re home to larger stages like The Siren in Morro Bay, Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles and SLO Brew’s The Rock. Whether you catch a national headliner or discover a local gem, you’ll be glad you put that predictable Spotify playlist on pause. Check out our calendar of music events before heading out–and don’t forget your dancing shoes.

Meet the Farmers

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Lights in trees above street farmers market at nightThe farmers are ready for their close-up. Did you know that SLO CAL is home to more than 2,000 farms growing everything from lettuce and citrus to avocado and heirloom tomatoes? We love giving these amazing local farmers, ranchers, artisans and purveyors the spotlight they deserve. After all, they provide fresh color to SLO CAL’s many farmers' markets, unfolding across the area seven days a week. From the coast to wine country, discover diverse farmers’ markets showcasing the most luscious local bounty.

Tip: Be sure to check out downtown San Luis Obispo's famous Thursday Night Farmers’ Market, chock full of vibrant produce, olive oil, cheese, wine, sizzling barbecue, live entertainment, handmade goods and community spirit.

Savor Divine Food & Wine

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Food and wine make a dynamic duo in SLO CAL (not unlike some of our favorite buddy cop films). Here, diverse cuisines, farm-to-table restaurants and world class wine collide with Oscar-worthy results. In Paso Robles Wine Country, Tin City awaits with a tapestry of delights: Sip local wine, beer and cider, dine on house made pasta or grab some sheep’s milk ice cream all in one hip industrial hangout. In Grover Beach, find elevated American eats at Spoon Trade, a stone’s throw from rugged ATV adventures. Plus, there’s exciting hands-on foodie fun to be had, too: Forage for seaweed in Cayucos before tucking into a hot bowl of ramen at Kuma or embark on an educational vineyard tour of lush Edna Valley. Wherever you roam in SLO CAL, you’re never far from five-star flavors.

Soak Up a Beach Day

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Pismo Pier at sunsetEvery star needs a break now and then. Call cut and hit the sand in SLO CAL. From San Simeon to Nipomo, we present visitors with some of the best beaches and most awe-inspiring coastline on the West Coast. Whether you horseback ride along the surf at Montaña de Oro or find an escape via kayak in Cayucos, your perfect beach day in SLO CAL awaits. Paddle to the SLO Light Station in Avila Beach to catch a rarely-seen view of the boundless Pacific, surf sweet waves in Pismo Beach or stroll Morro Rock beach with your pup. Whatever your imaginary “beach dream sequence” looks like, you’ll find it here.

Chase Wildflower Blooms

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Go from black and white to technicolor in SLO CAL. Under the right conditions, SLO CAL is known to erupt in a vivacious display of spring wildflowers. Thanks to a particularly wet winter, experts agree that SLO CAL is ripe for an epic super bloom this April-May, a phenomenon so colorful it can sometimes be seen from outer space. Head to the calming countryside of the Carrizo Plains for an eyeful of gold, purple and pink bliss that rolls on like a psychedelic carpet. Not only will you find large swaths of wildflowers at this remote location, but patches of blooms can be found throughout SLO CAL, if you know where to look.

Tip: You can also head to Creston’s rural back roads for a colorful drive or cruise Prefumo Canyon for an astounding coastal view sprinkled with bursts of floral bliss.

Cycle the Coast

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Man biking on a road through green hills with blue sky and clouds abovePlan your own action sequence along the SLO CAL coast. Spring is a superb time to traverse SLO CAL by bike—and enjoy the views you’ll find along the way! Avid cyclists adore the challenging coastal journey from Ragged Point and San Simeon—one of the most photographed routes in the world—while everyone can appreciate the lush backroads of Cambria (you’ll even find wine tasting at Stolo Vineyards, home to the beachiest vines in SLO CAL). Of course, not all peddlers are ready for an intense workout: Beach cruisers and e-bikes can be found across the region, allowing all ages and abilities to zip around with ease.

Find a Speakeasy

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Swanky movie stars aside, everyone can feel a little “extra” at SLO CAL’s best cocktail hangouts. Roll out the red carpet for a night on the town: Whether you head downstairs to BarrelHouse’s cozy quarters or head to downtown Paso’s 1920s-inspired 1122 Speakeasy, you’ll be sure to celebrate the SLO International Film Festival in style. Toast to 30 years of cinematic magic with a crisp craft cocktail or mocktail. There’s always a fresh concoction in SLO CAL’s cocktail shaker.

Take a Hike

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Female walking through light shining through treeNo nature documentary compares to SLO CAL’s panoramic vistas. With epic protected open space trails located all over the region, find the perfect hike to balance the glorious hours you’ll spend sitting at the theater. The Pismo Preserve showcases the best of native oak woodland and elevated seaside views while Irish Hills Natural Reserve in San Luis Obispo reveals lush greenery and a trickling waterfall each spring. Don’t forget your hat, comfortable shoes and binoculars (you never know what you’ll find around the bend).

Walk on the Wild Side

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SLO CAL is home to a wild cast of characters, to be sure. Meet and greet with animal celebrities at Avila Valley Barn, where you can feed miniature farm friends like cows, goats and sheep. In San Simeon, a famous population of Elephant Seals plays out the dramas of our lives (mating, birthing, fighting) on the sand for all to see. Plus, mysterious zebras can be found romping around Highway 1 in San Simeon, descendants of Hearst’s famous menagerie. For more animal fun, head to the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, home to a Malaysian tiger, flamingos, several monkey species and more.

Hit the Breweries

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Server pouring beer from wall of tapsCelebrate the craft of filmmaking with killer craft beer in SLO CAL. Our love affair with malt, hops, yeast and water dates back to Paso Robles pioneers Firestone Walker Brewing Co. (open for brewery tours, hearty meals and fresh pints of 805 ale). Since the 90s, our brews may have evolved to encompass sours, ciders and more, but the vibe remains the same. Enjoy casual beer gardens and breweries across SLO CAL, many of which are pet and family-friendly. From the chill digs of Ancient Owl in San Luis Obispo to The Backyard on Thirteenth in Paso Robles, find plenty of refreshing ways to kick back with a cold one.

Hooray for Historic Sites

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Step into a period drama all your own. Learn all about early California history at the Dana Adobe in Nipomo or take a closer look at the legacy of train travel at the Oceano Train Depot. Of course, world famous Hearst Castle is the crown jewel of the San Simeon coast (its grand rooms and lavish pools are well worth an excursion up Highway 1). With a vintage one-room school house and a swinging footbridge in Arroyo Grande, Bubblegum Alley in the City of San Luis Obispo and several California Missions to choose from, SLO CAL is brimming with the fascinating relics of yesteryear.

Explore Awesome Art

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Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? Ponder this age-old question at SLO CAL’s most popular art museums. At SLOMA in downtown San Luis Obispo, modern works (paintings, photography, sculpture, mixed media, ceramics and more) are as diverse as the artists behind the info placards. Paso’s Studios on the Park allows everyday folks to peer inside working artists’ studios while Forever Stoked in Morro Bay presents eclectic works inspired by SLO CAL’s quirky back beach culture.

That’s all, folks!

Interior of theater with red seats and colorful ceilingAs the curtains close on another viewing at the stellar SLO International Film Festival, SLO CAL’s star power continues to shine beyond the silver screen. Whether savoring divine food and wine, soaking up the sun or embarking on our SLO CAL Film Trail, visitors script their own unforgettable story. As we celebrate 30 years of cinematic wonder of the SLO Film Fest, let’s all raise a glass to SLO CAL’s warm hospitality and enduring charisma. See you next time for a spectacular sequel.