Located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo County is one of California’s largest wine regions. It also has more than 80 miles of pristine beaches, a diverse food culture, and an average of 315 days of sunshine per year. But 'SLO', as the locals call it, is also one of the best adventure destinations in the United States, with countless things to do between (and over) the vines. From hot springs to paragliding, here’s some of our favorite SLO adventures:

An orange parachute carries a paraglider through a blue sky above the grape vines at a vineyard in San Luis Obispo County, Calfifornia
Getting above the vineyards of San Luis Obispo County will bring a whole new perspective © Suzie Dundas

Paraglide in Cayucos

Imagine the serene beauty of paragliding over the heavenly coastal terrain of San Luis Obispo County – the ocean, the vineyards, the views. Go for an early morning launch for the best chance of favorable winds. Don’t worry about being distracted by all of the grandeur, your tandem pilot from WingEnvy will make sure you don’t forget to land. Experiencing San Luis Obispo from above is out of this world.

Relax in the Sycamore Mineral Springs

Have a healthy lunch at The Gardens of Avila Restaurant, then stroll over to Sycamore Mineral Springs on the same property for a dip in the natural hot springs. There are 23 open-air, naturally heated mineral spring tubs open to the public year round, all of which can be reserved by the hour. One of the best features of the resort is the Oasis Waterfall Lagoon. It’s a private pool of jade green mineral water designed for total relaxation.

Rows of grape vines are covered in a light mist or fog at a vineyard in California
San Luis Obispo County is known for its vineyards, which you can explore by bicycle © Courtesy of San Luis Obispo

Bike through the Edna Valley wineries

Known for its pinot noirs and chardonnays, Edna Valley is fewer than ten miles from San Luis Obispo Bay. Miles and miles of beautiful vineyards make perfect route options for half- and full-day cycling tours. Sign up for a guided half-day tour with Central Coast Outdoors for a ten-mile ride through Edna Valley’s picturesque rolling vineyards, and stop a few times along the way to taste some of the best fermented grape juice in the land.

Learn to sail on a whale watching trip in Avila

Captain Mark with Central Coast Sailing Charters will show you the ropes (literally), and help you with your whale-watching quest. For a few glorious hours, you will learn how to sail on a 44-foot Beneteau along the San Luis Obispo coast. Watch the sunset aboard the Spirit and take in the marvelous seascapes. From April through October, guests have a good chance at humpback whale watching. Take lots of photos – your friends will be jealous.

A tan humvee rolls over sand dunes; San Luis Obispo adventures
A seasoned driver will help add a little more adrenaline on the Pismo Beach Sand Dunes © Melissa McGibbon / Lonely Planet

Ride in a Hummer at Pismo Beach Sand Dunes

Sure, you could try this in your own high-clearance SUV. But why would you, when you can do it in a US Marine Corps Humvee driven by a pro from Pacific Adventure Tours? Having a skilled driver behind the wheel will help you avoid tumbling down the sand dunes. Magnificent views and fairytale dunes paired with squeal-inducing turns and jumps make this a must-do adventure.

Hike the Boucher Trail in San Simeon

At just under two miles, the Boucher is a great trail-running option, starting at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery and ending at the historic Piedras Blancas Light Station. The rookery is the only one in the world easily accessible, free, and open to the public every day. During peak times, there are more than 17,000 animals on these shores. Once you have your fill of watching the adorably lazy elephant seals, pick up the pace on the Boucher Trail, winding over coastal bluffs, grasslands, and wetlands. The rugged views along this journey are spectacular.

The facade of an ancient greek temple is seen across the sparkling blue water of the pool at Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo
The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle might be the most famous pool in the world © Melissa McGibbon / Lonely Planet

Tour Hearst Castle in San Simeon

Between 1919 and 1947, media magnate William Randolph Hearst built a sprawling estate overlooking the San Simeon Valley in San Luis Obispo County, with 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, a zoo, and perhaps the world’s most talked about swimming pool. Famous guests of the castle include President Calvin Coolidge, Sir Winston Churchill, Bette Davis and Clark Gable. After Hearst’s death, the Hearst Corporation donated Hearst Castle to the state of California. There are more than 12 tour options including a seasonal ‘Hollywood Tour.’

Zipline in Santa Margarita

Maybe you’ve gone ziplining before, but have you ever soared over vineyards? Margarita Adventures is a family-owned company offering six zip lines across 7500 feet. Double Barrel gives riders an opportunity to race each other down twin 2800-foot lines. Renegade offers 1200 feet of gliding over the Santa Lucia Mountains. The Woodlander and Hilltopper take you over tree canopies and panoramic vineyard views. On the Archway, you can attempt to drop a bean bag into a bucket from above to win a prize, but it’s harder than it seems! The final zip is the Pinot Express, which provides a gorgeous 1800-foot descent across the famous San Luis Obispo pinot noir vines.

Morro Rock stands out in Morro Bay, covered in fog, as a group of paddleboarders in blue jackets explores the water around it
Paddleboarding in Morro Bay is a chance to get close to wildlife © Melissa McGibbon / Lonely Planet

Paddleboard with wildlife in Morro Bay

This is no ordinary SUP excursion – it’s a paddleboarding safari. You’ll paddle past otters and sea lions on your way to Morro Rock, a mammoth volcanic plug. If you’re lucky, you’ll see an elusive leopard shark and bat rays. Along the way, your guide from The Paddleboard Co. will give you the background on the estuary and its importance as a coastal waterway. It’s a haven for animals to eat, breed, and rest during migration and it’s a great place to spot pelicans, herons and peregrine falcons.

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