The best vacations leave a smile on your face and a good taste in your mouth. Smell the tri-tip sizzling and savor a hot bread bowl of clam chowder. With so many famous SLO CAL (San Luis Obispo County) foods to devour, put your diet aside. Make your Instagram followers drool with these iconic bites that taste as good as they appear (#nofilter). Looking for the best food in SLO CAL? Wondering where do the locals eat? Here's your must-munch meal plan of the most iconic SLO CAL eats every visitor should try:

Pink Champagne Cake

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1. Madonna Inn Cake

The Madonna Inn's classic Pink Champagne Cake might have been initially whipped up by angels—if angels lived in the Malibu Barbie Dream House. From the fluffy, cloud-like white cake to the scrumptious champagne filling to the undeniably eye-catching hot pink white chocolate curls on top, this famous slice of sugary sin must be on your radar. Of course, there are plenty of desserts to choose from in the Copper Cafe (cookies, black forest cake, carrot cake, plus a slew of pies), but if you want to really experience the Madonna Inn's mid-century hospitality in style, ya better think pink.

📍Madonna Inn Bakery: 100 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo

Madonna Inn Pink Champagne Cake

Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip

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2. Tri-Tip - A Cut Above the Rest

It's a cut of beef that plenty of well-meaning Americans may scratch their heads at. In fact, many folks across the globe have no idea that SLO CAL's classic Santa Maria style tri-tip (a triangular cut of beef from the bottom sirloin subprimal cut consisting of the tensor fasciae latae muscle) is the best cut of the entire cow. When seasoned and prepared just right, a SLO CAL tradition happens. Cut into this slab o' love and find tender, juicy beefiness marbled for your pleasure. Wondering where do the locals eat? Try it at Jocko's Steakhouse in Nipomo (a tri-tip stable since the 1940s) or, if in a rush, grab a tri-tip sando from where the locals eat: Firestone Grill, Old San Luis BBQ Co. or at The Ribline. Many other SLO CAL restaurants serve some variety on their menu, so be on the lookout wherever your adventure takes you.

📍Jacko's Steakhouse: 125 N Thompson Ave, Nipomo

📍Firestone Grill: 1001 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo

📍Old Sand Luis BBQ: 670 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo

📍Rib Line by the Beach: 359 W Grand Avenue Suite B, Grover Beach

SLO CAL Tri Tip Firestone

Firestone. Photo courtesy: halzncalzeatz

Morro Bay Oysters

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3. Pacific Gold & Grassy Bar - Morro Bay Oysters

Did you know that oyster farming in Morro Bay has been a tradition since the 1930s? The calm, protected bay isn't just the perfect place to raise millions of oyster babies. The estuary's mix of salt and freshwater help bring out the unique terroir (or merroir, as the foodies call it) in these meaty mollusks. Head to the coast and see for yourself. Fresh shucked or with a squeeze of lemon, morsels raised by Morro Bay Oyster Company and Grassy Bar Oyster Company taste distinctly of the SLO CAL seascape. Find them at high-end restaurants across the US, but these taste especially best local. Check out restaurants, farmers markets or straight from the source along Morro Bay's Embarcadero.

📍Morro Bay Oyster Company: 1287 Embarcadero, Morro Bay

📍Grassy Bar Oyster Co: 1215 Embarcadero Suite D, Morro Bay


Classic California Clam Chowder

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4. Splash Cafe Clam Chowder

Pismo Beach is often called a “Classic California” beach town, and for good reason. With surfboards bobbing in the water, a bustling pier and mom and pop shops galore, this sunny untouched paradise feels plucked straight from a old California postcard. But if you traveled to Pismo Beach and didn't try Splash Cafe's rich clam chowder, you would miss out on the full SLO CAL experience. Of course, you can grab a bowl from a local grocery store's soup bar, but there's always something special about enjoying this steamy meal in its OG stomping grounds. Bikini or not, we recommend grabbing the bread bowl, which becomes even more delicious as the hot soup soaks into all that bubbly sourdough goodness. Super clam chowder tip: consider a cup and opt for the grilled sourdough slice. 

📍Splash Cafe: 197 Pomeroy Avenue, Pismo Beach

Splash Cafe Pismo Beach

Endless Deli Sandwichs

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5. Deli Subs in SLO

San Luis Obispo is known for deli culture. Maybe it's due to the college-aged, grab-and-go crowd, but check out a deli grinder (or sub) while you're here. The hard to deny High Street Deli is piled high with delectable goodness that is customizable, or select one of their top-selling subs. These sandwiches are some of the best food in SLO. This must-see spot has merchandise galore, and after 4:20pm, check out their half-off deal for the last hour they're open. Pro tip: call ahead or order online, the wait can really crowd up a sidewalk, but then again, does it matter when you're relaxin' on High Street? Plenty of other sandy snacks are available around town if you're not a wait-in-line type of person. Jaunt around town to sample more deli life, like the grungier Gus's Grocery, lettuce-piled Ben Franklin's, Hawaiian sweet rolled Kona's Sandwich or also in-demand Lincoln Market and Deli

📍High Street: 350 High Street, San Luis Obispo

📍Gus's Grocery: 1638 Osos Street, San Luis Obispo

📍Ben Franklin's: 313 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo

📍Kona's Deli: 977 Foothill Boulevard, San Luis Obispo

📍Lincoln Market and Deli: 496 Broad Street, San Luis Obispo

High Street Deli

Photo courtesy: High Street Deli

Legendary Beef Jerky

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6. Cattaneo Brothers Jerky

SLO CAL residents will tell you, there is no better snack to munch on during a movie, ballgame or wine tasting excursion than Cattaneo Brothers jerky and sausage. This locally made, grass-fed beef jerky is legendary, available in flavors like sea salt, cracked black pepper, chipotle and cayenne. Yes, it's a whole lot different from what you might find at your average gas station pit-stop, and yes, you can visit their production facility, located just a few blocks from downtown San Luis Obispo. After you gnaw on these dried SLO CAL strips, any ole jerky simply will not do. So go ahead, spoil yourself with this addiction, we want you to come back for more!

📍Cattaneo Brothers: 769 Caudill Street, San Luis Obispo

Cattaneo Bros Beef Jerky

Photo courtesy: Cattaneo Brothers

Almond Brittle & Local Produce

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7. Fruits and Nuts - Nature's Candy

SLO CAL has a bounty of harvest to enjoy. We know the beautiful terrain for wine now, but Paso Robles was once the almond capital of the world. Hearken the days with the delectable Paso Almonds. Available in brittle, corn or hots, you'll love this nutty delight any way it comes. Especially pair with the hots with jerky (above). Though, our favorite will always be the one that brought us to the dance—brittle. Never leave your sweet tooth unsatisfied with either candy sugar, or natural sugar. SLO CAL is home to the best strawberries you've ever tasted. Local Hayashi Vegetable Stand strawberries are also available during farmer's markets alongside many other vendors. We've got a bevy of these farm stands, and CSA boxes to reward yourself once you make yourself a SLO CAL local. That's're getting weak. Give in to our sugar!

Downtown SLO Farmer's Market Stand

Big, Hot & Juicy Burgers

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8. Best Burger Options

A burger is just a burger, right? Not in SLO CAL. Head to Sylvester's Burgers in Atascadero is famous for its “big, hot, 'n juicy” burgers, too. Grab a one pound behemoth in any style, including wild boar, elk, turkey, beef, or “hippie black bean.” Sylvesters also has locations in Los Osos and Oceano. San Luis Obispo's The Brewery has taken many forms over the past few years since its current move out to The Rock. Try out their selection of top-notch burgers against a backdrop of another SLO CAL staple, mountains. Okay, this "rock" may not qualify as one of the Nine Sisters in the mountain range, but it does cast a shadow on you when you dine beneath. Other options to try is Linn's Hearst Beef burger (for the local, grass-fed fans) or Flavor Factory and Wee Shack in Morro Bay

📍Sylvester's Burgers: 6544 El Camino Real, Atascadero

📍 1099 Santa Ynez Avenue, Los Osos

📍 1875 Front Street, Oceano

Sylvesters Burger Atascadero

Photo courtesy: Sylvester's

Brown Butter Cookies

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9. Brown Butter Cookie Co.

Love a salty yet sweet flavor combo? Check out Brown Butter Cookie Company in Cayucos, Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo. Wise locals know that you should save your pennies, because you'll always end up purchasing two bags at a time; one of the bags never makes it past the car ride home. While the original Brown Butter cookie is certainly a fan favorite, their other flavors like cocoa, almond and citrus (heck of all of them) are definitely worth giving a try. 

📍Brown Butter Cookie Company: 98 N Oceano Avenue, Cayucos

📍 801 12th Street, Paso Robles

📍 897 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo

Outside of Brown Butter Cookie Company in Cayucos

Olallieberry Pie

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10. Linn's Olallieberry Pie

Seasonal pies procured from Avila Valley Barn are just better (maybe it's the assortment of cute farm animals). Olallieberry filling is a fabulous regional treat, so although you might be tempted to go with a fruit you already know, we say throw caution to the wind, especially when ordering from the original Olallieberry enthusiasts, Linn's Fruit Bin in Cambria. Somewhere between blackberries and raspberries, seedy and tart with flavorful juice to spare, you may dribble down your shirt, but by golly—it will be worth it! Consider this the ultimate foodie souvenir.

📍Avila Valley Barn: 560 Avila Beach Drive, San Luis Obispo

📍 Linn's: 2277 Main Street, Cambria 

Linn's famous ollalieberry pie

Unusual Pizza

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11. Pizza by the Slice or Pie

Nardonne's Pizza in Baywood and Atascadero is a staple of family dinners, drive-in movies and little league games here in SLO CAL. Why? Well, when you bake copious amounts of toppings under (yes—under) oodles of bubbling cheese, dinner is served, sometimes for days. These delish pan pizzas are a lot to handle, so expect leftovers. Arroyo Grande is home to a hole in the wall joint that might not be friendly to those with peanut allergies. Klondike Pizza lets you walk over the peanut shells you enjoy while waiting in line for this in-demand Alaskan themed restaurant, complete with reindeer sausage on the menu. Their edgeless creations are agreeable for the whole family, but you might not want to tell the kids about the reindeer part during the month of December.

📍Nardonne's Pizzeria: 715 Santa Maria Avenue A, Baywood

📍8501 El Camino Real, Atascadero

📍Klondike Pizza: 104 Bridge Street, Arroyo Grande

pizza from Petra in SLO
Photo courtesy: Petra SLO

Sheep's Milk Ice Cream

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12. Negranti Sheep's Milk Ice Cream

Looking for a unique sweet treat? This creamy and cold dessert is the perfect treat for an after-lunch stop or a mid-day pick-me-up! At Negranti Creamery in Paso Robles, Templeton and Atascadero you can try sheep’s milk ice cream- yes, ice cream made from sheep’s milk! This ice cream is just as tasty as your typical ice cream made from cow’s milk, but its more lactose-friendly. As one of the first ice cream companies in the country using sheep’s milk, Negranti is making sweet strides with its fresh, local ingredients and tasty flavors. Stop in to try a scoop, a milkshake, an ice cream sandwich, an affogato or more! 

📍Negranti Creamery: 1211 Pine Street, Paso Robles

📍2989 Limestone Way, Paso Robles

📍6090 El Camino Real, Atascadero

Ice cream from Negranti Creamery
Photo credit: Acacia Productions