The best vacations leave a smile on your face and a good taste in your mouth. Can you smell the tri-tip sizzling? How about that 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). Here's your must-munch meal plan:
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.
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. 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 to go from Firestone Grill, Old San Luis BBQ Co., Mo's Smokehouse 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.
Firestone. Photo courtesy halzncalzeatz
3. 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.
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 at the eatery's San Luis Obispo location, 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.
5. Deli Sub 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. 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. Just up the street, try out the newer, and probably cleanest shop, Broad Street Grinder if you're looking for the most affordable, largest subs you've ever seen. Their HALF sandwich measures in at 9"! If you're not a math nerd, imagine the size of a full sandwich! 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.
Photo courtesy High Street Deli
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!
Photo courtesy Cattaneo Brothers
7. Fruits and Nuts
Yes, we've heard the joke. And yes 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 right...you're getting weak. Give in to our sugar!
8. Burger Me Up
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.
Photo courtesy Sylvester's
9. Apple Farm Comfort Food (check Covid-19 restrictions)
You know that feeling of coming home to grandma's house? That's the embrace you'll feel at Apple Farm's dining destination. It's much better than any Cracker Barrel joint. SLO CAL that has welcomed road-weary travelers for decades on Apple Farm grounds—which was actually the location of the world's first motel. Today, the time-honored tradition of old school from-scratch recipes (hello turkey meatloaf) paired with new school local wines will comfort food you like a warm blanket. Plus—and here's the headline—the bakery cooks up fresh, unbelievably addicting pastries each day. You don't have to check-in to the Apple Farm's cozy inn to snag a few cookies or a sumptuous cinnamon roll, although you may want to.
Photo courtesy Apple Farm
10. 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.
Photo courtesy Brown Butter Cookie Co.
11. 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. 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.
12. Smoked Fish Tacos
So you've had fish tacos, I'm sure. But have you had smoked fish tacos? More importantly, have you had the smoked salmon fish tacos from Ruddell's Smokehouse in Cayucos? Just to warn you—one is enough to feed a hungry belly, although you may be tempted to gobble down two or three! Choose from salmon, albacore tuna, or shrimp and get it with “everything,” which includes a refreshing sprinkle of celery on top. Extra points for adding a bit of locally made Cayucos Hot Sauce. You'll find them all over the plastic tables outside, so there's no excuse. When in SLO CAL, right?
Photo courtesy Ruddell's
13. 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. But for San Luis Obispo, take a pie from Woodstock's. You'll love their dough and secret signature sauce, enjoyed at their extra long tables for family fun and enjoyment. 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.
Photo courtesy Woodstock's