21 Best Places To Eat And Drink In California's SLO County

San Luis Obispo County lies halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on the California Central Coast. The region is nestled between Santa Barbara and Monterey counties covers 3,300 square miles, including 100 miles of the Pacific coastline. SLO County has a small-town feel. The community comprises ranchers and farmers, winemakers, and brewers who focus on family while taking the time to slow down and enjoy life.

When considering the food and drinks of SLO County, one commonality exists across the board: a focus on local. The people who live and work in SLO are fiercely proud of what their community offers, including fresh seafood, local meats, olive oils, abundant produce, wine, spirits, and more. Using ingredients sourced from their land is at the forefront of many of the region's best restaurants and bars. We traveled throughout the region, tasting and sipping, narrowing down the best places to eat and drink in SLO County. Here are our favorites.

Best place for sunset drinks: Terrace at Sensorio - Paso Robles

The best place to enjoy a glass of wine as the sun sets is on the terrace at the Light at Sensorio exhibit in Paso Robles. Inspired by the wildflowers that bloom each spring in abundance in the region, Sensorio brings a garden of solar-powered bulbs to life in a blanket of vibrant color every evening as the sun sets. As dusk becomes night, the lights shine even brighter, enchanting visitors with their awe-inspiring beauty.

The immersive outdoor experience is a walk-through exhibit. Visitors become engulfed in a magical field of illumination, opening their imaginations. Enjoy the experience with a glass of wine or local beer on the private, reservation-only terrace. Your terrace ticket includes a cocktail and reserved seating. Prepare to be amazed.

Best wine bar: Saints Barrel - San Luis Obispo

There are a lot of California wines served in San Luis Obispo. It makes sense, as the county is home to the Paso Robles and SLO Coast wine regions. The regions produce everything from cool-climate whites to robust, tannic reds. However, sometimes we want something outside the norm of what you can find in SLO's backyard. That's when we go to Saints Barrel.

We enjoy the relaxed wine bar's selection of international bottles, including interesting options from France, Germany, Greece, Australia, and Italy. Saints Barrel's in-house sommelier also hosts educational wine-tasting classes every weekend, digging into why a region's terroir affects the grapes, influencing the character of the wine, including the taste, texture, structure, and complexity.

Best Michelin star experience: Six Test Kitchen - Paso Robles

To earn a Michelin star from the prestigious food guide, everything between the house's front and back must be harmonious, with chefs and service working in unison. This synchronization occurs Wednesday through Saturday evening at the 1-Michelin star Paso Roble's restaurant, Six Test Kitchen.

A single seating of 12 diners a night enjoys the open-concept chef's counter restaurant sitting around a center island. The atmosphere is dark, with pendant lights illuminating the central kitchen stage where Chef Ricky Odbert and his team create elevated plates for eager diners.

All ingredients come from within 150 miles of Paso, with Odbert personally sourcing produce just after harvest. Focusing on the season, dishes display an elegance and style expected from a chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant. The restaurant will not adhere to any dietary restrictions other than allergies. Reservations are difficult to secure, so plan ahead, as this experience is not one to miss.

Best cocktail program: Alchemists' Garden - Paso Robles

The Alchemists' Garden mixes and shakes some of the best cocktails in Paso Robles. With a fresh, clean feel, the decorations are straightforward. But the drinks are not. Cocktails include modern takes on the classics and an evolving list of seasonal options inspired by Mother Earth's garden.

Alchemists' Gold is the spot's take on an Old-Fashioned cocktail. It includes 100-proof Old Forester bourbon infused with cocoa nib. The cocktail smokes under a cloche, with bartenders removing the lid after serving, releasing a whiff of smoke, creating a theater for the senses. If you are cocktailing with friends, opt for one of the group options, including the aromatic Garden Spear. It is a take on a lemon drop martini, mixing hibiscus-infused vodka with house rosehip liqueur, mint, and lemon that is beautiful and delicious.

Best farm to table: In Bloom - Paso Robles

Michelin Guide-recognized In Bloom serves an updated, unique take on classic California fare in a welcoming, energetic atmosphere. Opened in 2022, its goal is to ensure that every dish, cocktail, and glass of wine celebrates the region. The restaurant's farm-to-table cuisine highlights the vibrant colors fresh fruits and vegetables provide.

The plates are eye-catching, and the flavors are also delicious. From a California citrus salad with bitter endive and fresh ricotta to Snake River wagyu with a parsnip demi-glaze to asparagus with black rice, Champagne cream, and dill oil, the creativity of the combinations will make your head spin. If deciding on one dish proves impossible, try the six-course pairing menu of the chef's favorites of the night. As In Bloom features seasonal ingredients, the menus constantly change, meaning you are in for a new experience each time you visit.

Best place for lunch wiht a view: Daou Winery and Vineyards - Paso Robles

Sitting at one of the highest elevations in Paso Robles, the Daou brothers have created a serene venue for wine-tasting Bordeaux-style wines while serving stellar fare. Estate chef Spencer Johnston creates memorable feasts using unique flavor combinations atop 2,200 feet above sea level mountain, looking out on the winery's vineyards. Using locally sourced goods from Central Coast purveyors, the flavorful dishes enhance the flavors of the Paso Robles wine.

We dined as a guest of Daou, enjoying flavors like a farro and cauliflower salad with a curry-lime vinaigrette, seared scallops with coconut butter, and seasonal kale risotto with spring chantarelles, all paired with Daou's red blends. Reservations are required, and it is expensive. However, the flavors and the setting make this the best place for lunch with a view.

Best modern comfort food: Spoon Trade - Grover Beach

In Grover Beach, Chef Jacob and Brooke Town's neighborhood restaurant, Spoon Trade, is where, as they like to say, "You spoon food and trade stories." With a welcoming, laid-back atmosphere, diners can relax and enjoy a vermouth-based signature cocktail while perusing the menu.

Offering an inspired mix of flavors, options include buttermilk fried chicken and waffles with house-made kimchi and local halibut with coconut and white wine butter. Or, dig into a bowl of duck ramen made with three-day bone broth and homemade noodles.

The couple also owns the Grover Beach Sourdough bakery across the street from Spoon Trade. The bakery provides the bread for the restaurant. The savory, cheesy bread pudding, made from the hot, chewy, tangy sourdough, is a must-try. Cubes of tangy bread are mixed with Havarti, crème fraïché, and rosemary and baked until golden brown.

Best tasting room: Tolosa - Edna Valley/SLO Coast

Tolosa Winery and tasting room sit at the entrance to Edna Valley, a part of the SLO Coast wine region with close proximity to the Pacific. The SIP-certified winery makes white wines that are zesty, refreshing, and crisp and red wines that are pure, fresh, and lively.

Tolosa's inviting tasting room features multiple indoor and outdoor areas where members and guests can enjoy the flavorful wine. Visitors can sip communally or privately, enjoying zen-like relaxation in a wine-country chic atmosphere. The winery offers various tasting experiences, including enjoying a bottle in the charming olive grove. Reservations are required, with tastings lasting around an hour and a half. However, the atmosphere is so welcoming that you may want to stay all day.

Best brunch: Novo Restaurant & Lounge - San Luis Obispo

Novo Lounge utilizes locally grown ingredients to create elevated plates with style. The flavors are globally inspired, including influences from Thailand, Singapore, Italy, and India, that, when married with California produce and proteins, create thoughtworthy dishes that bring authenticity and character.

We love Novo's Sunday brunch, enjoyed on the outdoor deck above a flowing creekbed. Though the menu changes with the season, you are likely to enjoy dishes like light and fresh spring rolls with shrimp and avocado, salmon bisque, an assortment of Benedict options, fluffy farmers' market vegetable omelets, and a hearty grilled ribeye with bordelaise sauce and two eggs your way. Bonus: The restaurant's deck is dog-friendly if you brunch with your four-legged children.

Best cider: Bristols Cider Co. - Atascadero

The winemaker for Paso Roble's organic Tablas Creek Winery is also a cider producer, creating innovative combinations that highlight the essence of apples. Neil Collins grew up in Bristol, England, an area known for crafting delicious fermented apple cider. The story goes that Collins couldn't find a comparable cider to those he loved from his English homeland, so he began brewing batches from locally grown apples using only native yeast for fermentation. Soon after, Collins started a cidery inside Lone Madrone Winery along with his wife and sister.

The seasonal Mangelwurzel is our flavor of choice. Collins co-fermenting beets, fennel, and granny smith apples to create a savory, earthy, licorice-filled combination with a dry palate and a vibrant fuchsia hue.

Best Cal-Italian: Ember - Arroyo Grande

Ember fulfills its name by creating hand-crafted, Italian-influenced dishes cooked with wood-fired flames. Highlighting seasonal flavors with ingredients from local farms, Chef Brian Collins leans into the "less is more" mentality captured in classic Italian cooking. The atmosphere is inviting, and the food is honest.

Collins allows the authentic flavors to shine through simple but perfectly executed preparations, enhanced by the kiss of char and smoke that cooking over a wood-burning hearth brings. Wood-fired pizzas bake alongside California swordfish, pork chops, chicken, and steak, each sauced with fresh olive tapenade, Calabrian salsa verde, or mustard au jus. Try the meaty, rich 50-layer lasagna with pork and beef bolognese and prosciutto béchamel if you prefer pasta. It is delicious.

Best distillery: Rod & Hammer's SLO Stills - San Luis Obispo

Craft distilling is on the rise in SLO, with over a dozen distilleries producing artisan spirits throughout the county using grape must, local botanicals like butterfly pea flower, and California-grown barley. One of the best with a cool, surfer vibe and tasty drinks is Rod & Hammer's SLO Stills.

The distillery was founded by two friends who share a love for quality spirits, good beer, and the feel of the water. They began 30 years ago, opening SLO Brew. In 2019, they added SLO Stills to the back of the brewery, creating a unique destination for all things boozy.

Their liquor-making process begins by making beer, which is handy since it is readily available, and then distilled into liquor. All spirits use purified water from the Pacific Ocean, another nod to their love of the Central Coast's water. We recommend stopping for a cocktail, then taking a bottle home, like SLO Stills straight rye whiskey. It is made from 95% rye and aged two years in American oak, producing a smoky, spicy, earthy whiskey.

Best breakfast: Hidden Kitchen - Cambria & Cayucos

Clean eating is the focus of Hidden Kitchen. With two locations, the tiny original location in an alleyway in Cambria, and the slightly larger beachside spot in Cayucos, the breakfast spot is known for its sweet and savory waffles.

The restaurants make everything 100% gluten-free using organic and sustainably-sourced produce and products. Instead of grain or flour, Hidden Kitchen creates morning waffle delicacies from bioregional blue corn, creating combinations like organic turkey, havarti, caramelized onion, and avocado. Or try one we know Elvis would love, with Niman Ranch bacon, fried bananas, peanut butter, and maple syrup. If visiting the Cayocus location, you can also enjoy blue corn tacos made from hand-rolled tortillas. Pair either with an organic superfood smoothie, and your appetite will be satisfied until sundown.

Best place for a nightcap: Nightcap - San Luis Obispo

Suppose you're looking for nightcap late-evening drinks in SLO County. In that case, Nightcap Cocktail Lounge inside the Granda Hotel is for you. With a sexy speakeasy ambiance, the dimly lit, intimate atmosphere feels like a scene from a film noir movie.

Cocktails include tricked-up classics and a bevy of new creations, like the Oaxacan In The Park mixing tequila, mezcal, lemongrass jalapeño coriander syrup, and gusano. Or try the fruity gin, berry, and lemon-filled Raspberry Cobbler cocktail. If you prefer wine, the list is small and predominantly local, with selections like Valdiguie rosé from Paso's Avenales Ranch and Delmore pinot noir from SLO Coast. If you're an early bird instead of a night owl, stop in when the bar opens at 6 p.m. for the nightly martini happy hour.

Best beer garden: BarrelHouse Brewery - Paso Robles

Tin City in Paso Robles is a food and drink lover's destination. It is home to many different wineries, distilleries, craft breweries, and restaurants, including BarrelHouse Brewery. The over 10-year-old brewery has various Central Coast locations, with the Paso Robles taproom and beer garden holding the top spot as the best.

The beer garden spreads over multiple acres, with picnic tables and lawn games, two concert stages with local musicians playing most weekends, a mobile kitchen, and, most importantly, delicious beer. The menu changes with the seasons, but you are likely to find the BrarrelHouse standard, a light beer with low alcohol and gluten, IPAs like the powerful BIG SUR double IPA with earthy, hoppy intensity, and a selection of refreshing seltzers, including a dangerously easy to drink strawberry-lemonade.

Best seafood: Ada's Fish House - Pismo Beach

Ada's is the place for seafood lovers. Chef Doug MacMillan brings the influence of his family's Italian and Northeastern roots to Ada's Fish House sitting a few blocks from the ocean in Pismo Beach. Using ingredients caught right outside his backdoor on the Californian coast, the chef's dishes are clean, fresh, and flavorful. The dishes are expensive, but the flavors are on point.

We highly recommend freshly caught Pacific Gold oysters from nearby Morro Bay, Pacific Coast sand dabs cooked Piccata-style with lemon, white wine, and capers, or the best lobster rolls packed with sweet, succulent lobster. MacMillan's seafood linguine includes a mix of seafood and shellfish with a briny tomato sauce that tastes like the sea.

Best steak: Jocko's Steakhouse - Nipomo

The smell of grilling meat fills the air of Jocko's Steakhouse at the southern end of the county in Nipomo. For almost 100 years, the Knotts family has been slinging drinks and barbecuing meats in the small inland California town with a rugged, Old West feel.

The restaurant is rustic, lacking the ambiance of an upscale dining destination. Instead, this no-frills spot with cattle brands decorating the walls focuses on what matters, the meat. And it is delicious. Grilled steaks, lamb, chicken, and barbecue are cooked Santa Maria-style over red oak coals to achieve the perfect char and smoky flavor. Every meal includes salad, beans, potato, dill pickles, and garlic bread. There is even complimentary ice cream for dessert.

Best clam chowder: Splash Café - Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach was once a clamming mecca. The bivalve has called Central California beaches home for generations, with the Pismo Beach taking its name from the Pismo clam. Clams were harvested commercially and recreationally through the 1980s when populations began to shrink.

Though clamming is not as common today, you can still enjoy the best clam chowder at Pismo Beach's Splash Café. Since 1989, the tiny, beach-side eatery has been serving creamy chowder to locals and tourists who often face long waits as lines wrap around the building. Eating a piping hot cup of creamy New England clam chowder at the beach may seem odd. However, Splash Café proves the hearty potato, heavy cream, and clam-filled bowl of chowder is the perfect beach food.

Sitting oceanfront, the small eatery enjoys cooling breezes off the Pacific year-round. In the chill of the evening air, nothing is more comforting than a warm bowl of the café's soup. We suggest adding the seafood and clams topper. You can thank us later.

Best Italian: Café Roma - San Luis Obispo

Nestled in San Luis Obispo's Historic Railroad Square, just outside downtown, family-owned Café Roma has served old-fashioned, classic Italian fare for over 40 years. Using products from local purveyors, like Talley Farms and Rinconada Dairy, the flavors take inspiration from matriarch Maria Rosa Rizzo's Italian family recipes. The recipes have been passed down through the generations, with favorite dishes including spring artichoke and asparagus lasagna, osso bucco braised veal, Bistecca alla Fiorentina, and short rib ragu with pappardelle.

The restaurant has an inviting family atmosphere, with singing servers, a cozy bar likely showing an Italian soccer match and a lovely garden area for outside dining year-round. We suggest stopping in on a Tuesday night when bottles of wine are half-price.

Best coffee house: Amstrdm - Paso Robles

There are a lot of coffee shops in SLO County. One of the best is Amstrdm in Paso Robles. Owned by classically trained pianist Corey Jordan and his partner, Kate, the coffee house opened in 2020 as a coffee house and piano bar, with the duo making all syrups in-house, using locally roasted beans from Spearhead coffee located right outside their door. Breakfast specialties feature fresh pastries and made-to-order brunch items, including wraps and sandwiches.

The drink of choice is the Himalayan salted caramel latte. Salty and sweet flavors are layered with rich, bold roasted coffee for a completely satisfying way to caffeinate your morning. Pair with a made-to-order egg, bacon, avo sando, or a flaky, buttery chocolate croissant.

Best bakery: Old West Cinnamon Rolls - Pismo Beach

For over 50 years, the family-owned Old West Cinnamon Rolls has been baking the sticky, sweet, and spicy breakfast bread in a Pismo Beach strip mall. Each massive roll includes a hearty helping of shortening to create a moist and fluffy texture, along with loads of cinnamon and sugar that, when baked, caramelizes to develop that gooey consistency we know and love.

Toppings include almonds, pecans, walnuts, chocolate sauce, bacon, or cherries. Or, we suggest Old West's creamy, dreamy classic cream cheese frosting rich with butter and real vanilla. The bakery bakes other sweets, including pumpkin pie and carrot cake. However, this is where you come here for decadent cinnamon rolls served hot, straight from the oven.