Best Hikes In San Luis Obispo County
Central Coast

12 Best Hikes In San Luis Obispo County, California

Planning a trip to the Central California Coast and looking for nature trails to do on your trip? Then you’re in luck! In this post, we cover 12 easy hikes in San Luis Obispo County that offer stunning scenery and a quick escape into the beautiful outdoors.

Most of the hikes that we cover are beginner friendly and allow pets – so you can bring your four-legged friend along.

These trails are situated within San Luis Obispo County between Pismo Beach and San Simeon so there is plenty to choose from. Let’s get started!

Hiking Tip: Before heading out on any day hikes, we like to download an offline map from the AllTrails hiking app. This way we always have access to the trail map, even if we lose reception or get lost!

Best Hikes In San Luis Obispo County:

1. Spring To Spring Trail At Pismo Preserve

View of Pismo Beach from Pismo Preserve.

Situated just north of Cabrillo Highway 1 is Pismo Preserve, one of the best wilderness spaces on the Central Coast. Whenever we visit Pismo Beach on the weekends for quick camping getaways, we like to venture into the nearby Pismo Preserve to explore some of the wilderness trails that it offers.

You can easily reach Pismo Preserve from Pismo Town. There is a designated visitor parking lot off Mattie Road with restrooms and trail maps next to where the main trailheads start.

One of our favorite trails at this nature preserve is the Spring to Spring Trail. This is a 3.4-mile long loop that climbs up and down rolling hills with views of the Pacific Ocean along the way.

One of the best parts about visiting Pismo Preserve is the beautiful vistas that it offers from the summit! There are plenty of scenic benches and tables along the way if you want to take a rest break or bring a picnic for lunch.

Trail Summary:

2. Ontario Ridge To Shell Beach Bluff Trail

Ontario Ridge is a moderately challenging hike but the views from the summit are well worth it!

Ontario Ridge To Shell Beach Bluff Trail is another one of our favorite trails in San Luis Obispo County for its stunning views. This oceanside hike is located in Avila Beach, just a 15-minute drive from Pismo Beach.

The Ontario Ridge Trail starts with a steep climb up a slippery, dirt trail that quickly gains over 500 feet of elevation in just 0.5 miles. This is by far the most difficult part of the loop so we recommend getting it out of the way first!

As a reward for the hard climb, you will be able to enjoy beautiful ocean views from the summit. Be sure to also keep an eye out for a ‘secret swing’ that hangs down an oak tree with the ocean as its background.

The best time to hike the Ontario Ridge To Shell Beach Bluff Trail is on a sunny day in spring or fall when the weather is at its best. The sun’s reflection can make the water look very turquoise and tropical which is great for photo opportunities!

Photography tip: For capturing outdoor photos, we use the Sony a7c camera and a polarizing filter to remove the sun’s reflection in the water. Polarizing filters are great for enhancing color and adding a bit more ‘pop’ to photos!

Trail Summary:

3. Black Hill Trail In Morro Bay

At the summit of Black Hill Trail.

There are quite a few hikes near San Luis Obispo to consider for a Central Coast getaway. If you’re planning a trip to Morro Bay, be sure to add the popular Black Hill Trail to the top of your list!

The Black Hill Trail is a 3 mile hike that starts at the Morro Bay State Park Campground. This trail is situated on the outskirts of Morro Bay town making it a popular choice for both campers and those staying at a vacation rental or a hotel in Morro Bay.

Along the hike, you will receive excellent views of Morro Rock, the bay, and the nearby Morro Bay Estuary. The hike ends at an overlook at the summit with panoramic views all around!

Tip: We recommend hiking this trail on a sunny day or after the fog has cleared, otherwise the views might be obstructed at the summit.

Trail Summary:

4. Irish Hills Natural Reserve In San Luis Obispo

Beautiful rocky terrain at Irish Hills Natural Reserve in San Luis Obispo.

Irish Hills Natural Reserve is home to some of the best hikes in SLO! This nature reserve is situated on the outskirts of downtown San Luis Obispo making it a great place to escape into nature just minutes from the city.  

Irish Hills Open Space offers a variety of day hikes that intersect with each other. If you’re looking for a longer trail option, the 9-mile-long Irish Hills Open Space Loop is a great choice. For something a bit shorter, we recommend checking out the 3.2-mile-long Sterling, Mariposa, Poppy, and Canyon View Tail Loop.

Irish Hills Natural Reserve consists of 720 acres of wilderness. This is one of the go-to outdoor destinations for locals because many of the trailheads start in town.

As you explore the various trails, you’ll be greeted with amazing views of San Luis Obispo and the nearby Morros. The further you hike, the more rugged the landscapes will look, and soon you’ll forget that you’re just outside the city!

Trail Summary:

5. San Simeon Bay Trail

San Simeon Bay Trail is an excellent hiking trail with gorgeous ocean views!

San Simeon is located in the northern part of San Luis Obispo County and is the perfect place to visit if you’re seeking a relaxing weekend escape on the Central California Coast.

San Simeon Bay Trail is one of the best beachfront hikes in San Simeon that features stunning views of the ocean, San Simeon Pier, enchanting tree tunnels, and elephant seals. This trail is situated near the famous Hearst Castle and is part of the Hearst San Simeon State Park system.

To do this hike, you can park by the William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach and walk along the sandy shoreline until you reach the trailhead.

The hike is just over 4 miles long out and back and travels to an overlook of a secluded cove where you can often spot elephant seals lounging in the sand. Along the way, you will pass San Simeon Point which offers beautiful views of rugged ocean cliffs.

Trail Summary:

Read Next: 18 Best Places To Stay In San Simeon, California

6. Fiscalini Ranch Preserve In Cambria

Fiscalini Ranch is home to some of the most scenic hikes on the Central Coast!

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is another excellent place that offers hiking trails near San Luis Obispo. With 17 trails to choose from with various distances and difficulty levels, there is plenty to explore at the beautiful Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria!

Fiscalini Ranch offers a variety of terrain from serene forest paths to pristine coastal trails and wooden boardwalks. This location is also a great place for wildlife watching and exploring tide pools. Visitors can often spot whales, seals, otters, and a variety of birds from the pathways that travel next to the rugged ocean bluffs.

One of the most popular routes at this nature preserve is the 4-mile-long Ridge, Bluff, Arch, and Dolphin Trail. This trail starts in a beautiful Monterey Pine forest and then travels down along the bluffs with beautiful views of the ocean.

Hiking Tip: In the warmer summer months, be sure to bring plenty of water bottles, sunscreen, lip balm, a hiking hat, and polarized sunglasses to battle the harsh California sun!

Trail Summary:

7. Monarch Butterfly Grove And Meadow Creek Trail

Pismo Beach offers some of the best beachfront trails in SLO County!

Looking for easy hikes in San Luis Obispo County? Then be sure to check out the Monarch Butterfly Grove And Meadow Creek Trail in Pismo Beach!

Meadow Creek Trail is a short and easy pathway that follows a wooden boardwalk next to the beach and sand dunes. We like to come here when camping in Pismo Beach to stretch our legs and take our dog for a quick walk. This trail offers great whale-watching opportunities as it’s located right next to the ocean!

As part of this hike, you’ll also get to explore Pismo Beach Monarch Butterly Grove. This is one of the largest butterfly groves in California that attracts over 10,000 butterflies in the winter season!

We recommend visiting this grove between October to February to see giant clusters of butterflies resting in the eucalyptus trees. In the winter, the park staff sets up binoculars so you can see the butterflies up close!

Trail Summary:

8. Elfin Forest Trail In Los Osos

Elfin Forest hike is a short trail suitable for all skill levels.

Elfin Forest is a bit of a hidden gem that’s located in Los Osos, just south of Morro Bay. This is one of the best hiking trails in San Luis Obispo County if you’re looking for a bit of peace and solitude away from the crowds.

Located next to the Morro Bay Estuary, Elfin Forest Natural Area consists of 90 acres of wilderness and walking paths. This is a great place to come for a leisurely walk, breathe in the fresh ocean air, and take in panoramic views of Morro Bay.

Several access points lead into the Elfin Forest Natural Area from the Los Osos neighborhood. A few of the main trail attractions include Lupine Point, Siena’s View, and the unique Pygmy Oak forest. This is a beautiful grove of 100-year-old Pygmy Oak trees that look very mysterious and offer great photo opportunities!

Trail Summary:

9. Dinosaur Caves Bluff Trail In Pismo Beach

Dinosaur Caves Bluff Trail is a great place to observe scenic ocean cliffs and wildlife.

If you’re looking for family-friendly hikes near SLO, put the Dinosaur Caves Bluff Trail on top of your list! This easy 1.2-mile-long hike wanders along rugged ocean cliffs at the center of Pismo Beach town.

The trail starts at Dinosaur Caves Park which is a great place to take the little ones for some playtime. The walkways continue along Ocean Blvd up to Margo Dodd Park and back.

Along the way, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to enjoy the stunning scenery of ocean cliffs (just be sure to keep an eye out for the steep drop-offs). You can often spot a variety of different bird species that live on the giant rocks scattered along the shoreline.

Trail Summary:

  • Length: 1.2 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change: 100 feet
  • Dogs Allowed? Yes
  • Location: Dinosaur Caves Park

10. Cayucos Cass Hill

The viewpoint of Morro Bay and Cayucos from the summit.

Cayucos Cass Hill is one of our favorite places to hike in San Luis Obispo County for its stunning ocean views. Plus, this outdoor space is very little known so you’re almost guaranteed to have it all to yourself!

Cayucos Cass Hill is situated just north of Highway 1 between Cayucos State Beach and Whale Rock Reservoir. The entire trail is around 3 miles long out and back, but we usually only hike a portion of it to a viewpoint of the ocean and Morro Rock in the distance.

These trails are also used by mountain bikers so you might occasionally see one zooming up and down the surrounding hills. The Cass Hill does have a few sections with steep inclines but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views from the summit that are well worth it!

Trail Summary:

11. Cloisters Wetland To Morro Rock

Morro Rock is one of the most recognizable landmarks on the Central Coast.

Morro Bay has some of the best coastal views in Central California! This easy hike starts at Cloisters Community Park and travels down to Moro Rock Natural Preserve and back for a total of 4.5 miles.

The Cloisters Wetland To Morro Rock Trail follows a variety of terrain from paved paths to wooden boardwalks, dirt paths, and sand dunes.

The trail ends at Morro Rock, an easily recognizable 580 feet tall volcanic plug situated next to the Morro Bay harbor. This is a great place to walk around, watch sea otters float around in the marina, and take a few photos.

If you plan to bring your dog along, keep in mind that parts of this trail pass through Morro Strand State Beach where dogs are not allowed.

Trail Summary:

12. Coastal Access Trail In Pismo Beach

Coastal Access Trail is an easy walk along the ocean in Pismo Beach.

If you’re looking for easy hikes in San Luis Obispo County, the Coastal Access Trail In Pismo Beach is one to do! This is not your typical wilderness hike with dirt paths and trees, instead, it follows next to the ocean with stunning views of the coastline.

The trail starts at Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve State Park and follows the Meadow Creek Trail up to North Beach Campground. From the campground, you can take a sidewalk up to Pismo Creek where you’ll want to venture down to the shoreline.

The rest of the way you can walk along the sandy beach as you pass Pismo Beach Pier and rugged ocean cliffs. The trail ends at the scenic SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel at which point you can turn around and head back the same way.

Trail Summary:

This list of San Luis Obispo trails covers just a few of the top places to head for nature and wilderness trekking in Central California. There are so many incredible trails in this region that if we didn’t mention your favorites, let us know in the comments below!

Looking for more things to do on the Central California Coast? Be sure to check out some of the most popular posts below:

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