San Luis Obispo is a sweetheart of a town. This charming college community on the Central Coast touts the "SLO life," encouraging everyone to slow down and enjoy all that San Luis Obispo has to offer: good food, good vibes, sunshine and a healthy lifestyle. Downtown is the place to be, thick with tree-lined streets, stores, bars and restaurants; there's also the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and a meandering creek ideal for rock hopping. When our son was a tyke in the 1990s, it was our favorite getaway. Times have changed since those days of slow growth and mostly indie stores; today, chain stores are popping up like whack-a-moles, but SLO retains its bohemian flavor and cool village atmosphere despite the new construction. The tab: My husband and I spent $378 (excluding taxes) for two nights at the Quality Suites and about $135 for meals.
I wanted to stay at the boutique Granada Hotel & Bistro (1126 Morro St.;  544-9100, www.granadahotelandbistro.com) downtown, which has a chic vibe to go along with its exposed brick walls, wood floors and custom artwork. Unfortunately, it was booked that weekend. (Here's what I missed: small rooms, understated luxury, a cozy bistro. Oh, well, next time.) But, no worries, for substantially less we stayed at our old standby, Quality Suites (1631 Monterey St.;  541-5001, www.qualitysuitesslo.com), five minutes from downtown. If you're looking for value and space, this is a great option. Every suite has two rooms, one with beds and one with a pullout sofa. Guests get a cooked-to-order breakfast, and the nightly happy hour in the lobby has free beer and wine.
We hit an old favorite, Big Sky Café (1121 Broad St.;  545-5401, www.bigskycafe.com), and had buttermilk-fried chicken salads and biscuits but were bummed because they had run out of beignets. Big Sky's New Orleans-style doughnuts are a must-have. The next night, we tried the Sidecar (1127 Broad St.;  540-5340, www.sidecarslo.com), which attracts a hipster crowd. We shared small plates: pork belly sticky buns, carnitas street tacos, house-made meatballs and Bolognese pasta. We had great clam chowder at Splash Café (1491 Monterey St.;  544-7567, www.splashcafe.com/slo.php), a casual fish-centric venue with two SLO locations.
It's easy to lose track of time at Captain Nemo Games & Comics (563 Higuera St.;  544-6366) and Cheap Thrills Records ( 544-0686), which share space in a converted muffler shop. The two stores have stacks and bins of new and used stock for casual and serious fans: comic books, graphic novels, board games, trading cards, action figures, videos and DVDs at Captain Nemo; CDs, cassettes, EPs, singles, 7-inch records, 8-track and vinyl music offerings at Cheap Thrills.
Don't jump on the 101 Freeway in a rush to get home. Instead, take the wine trail that starts just outside the city limits and ends in Arroyo Grande. The trail winds though classic California open space. Some of the more better-known vintners include Edna Valley and Claiborne & Churchill. Info and map at www.slowine.com.