A San Luis Obispo County Stay, Three Ways

The pink 1959 Shasta at The Trailer Pond.

The pink 1959 Shasta at The Trailer Pond.

By Anne Roderique-Jones

Anne is a New Orleans-based freelance writer who covers travel, food and lifestyle topics.

New California residents try camping, glamping and a destination hotel, all in one road trip.

This summer, my husband and I purchased our first-ever tent on Amazon for a California beach trip. Just before we left, we also bought a blow-up air mattress, an LED lantern and a tarp. Then we shoved our new equipment into the trunk of our rental car. To put it mildly, we are not camping people.

But we hoped to change that because we’ve temporarily relocated from New Orleans to California, the land of outdoorsy types. Instead of enjoying second lines in jazz parades and cocktail crawls, West Coast folks seem to spend their time hiking, juicing and sleeping in tents.

We wanted to try the outdoors life, so we set our sights on San Luis Obispo (SLO) County, a destination that’s not only beautiful but convenient — just a three-hour drive north from Los Angeles and a four-hour drive south from San Francisco.

Sleeping on the Sand


Our first stop was along California State Route 1 at Morro Strand State Beach, where campsites butt up to the ocean. When we arrived, we were sad to realize we forgot the LED lantern. We also forgot cups and the proper batteries to inflate that air mattress. But drinking coffee out of a flimsy plastic bowl didn’t dampen our spirits.

We had originally mapped out a hike at nearby Montaña de Oro State Park, but multiple online reviews about rattlesnake sightings thwarted our plans. (We’re not that outdoorsy.) Instead we decided to walk just 2 miles south from our campsite to Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic mound that appears to grow out of the ocean. We bundled our bodies in layers and strolled along the sand, oohing and ahhing as the surfers maneuvered the massive waves.

That evening we built a fire to keep us warm and fell asleep to the sounds of crashing waves. I’m not quite ready to trade in my French 75 cocktail for green juice, but I could get used to the laid-back California lifestyle.

The charming surfer town of Morro Bay was about 3 miles south, so we drove there for a seafood lunch at the waterfront Bayside Café and perused at Coalesce, a bookstore that first opened in 1973. On a whim, we drove another half-hour south to the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, located in the town of Avila Beach. Built in the late 19th century, the resort has attracted visitors who come for the naturally-heated mineral spring water. Anyone — even a couple of sandy campers — can rent a hillside hot tub for an hour. It’s not a shower, but it feels fantastic. And outdoorsy.

As regular outdoors people probably already know, camping feels mostly like an exercise in appreciating nature. We may have forgotten our LED light, but as it would turn out, we had moonlight instead. We learned that when you’re camping in the sand, a fancy air mattress isn’t necessary, either. But you can always borrow from a neighbor — camping is a communal experience.

Trailer Time


We still had more of SLO County to explore, so we drove 45 minutes north to the Trailer Pond in Paso Robles, where five candy-colored vintage Tinker Tin trailers sit on the Alta Colina Vineyard’s 130-acre property. The vineyard looks like it was built for Instagram, but the remote location and lack of luxury amenities — like air conditioning on hot summer days — embody the glamping spirit. Many visitors come to Paso Robles to visit some of the 200 wineries in the region, but we sought solitude. The trailers don’t have Wi-Fi, so our evening was spent playing cards and chatting on the dock. As we looked at the night stars blanketing the sky, we sampled a bottle of Alta Colina’s Toasted Slope Syrah.

Before bed, we opened all the windows and fell asleep in the cool central California breeze. I could see those magnificent stars from my cozy down comforter-topped bed, and we awoke to chirping birds and a gourmet cup of Joebella Coffee Roasters brew. The Trailer Pond didn’t forget the cups.

I would have been disheartened to leave this glamping hamlet on the water, but we desperately needed a shower. I wanted to look presentable because I was about to visit a hotel that’s been on my travel bucket list for ages: the Madonna Inn, situated in the heart of San Luis Obispo.

Think Pink


We drove about a half-hour south on U.S. Route 101, checked into our room and made a beeline for the pool. Nearly everything at the Madonna Inn is gloriously pink: We sipped a pink cocktail under a bright pink umbrella, walked by the pink tennis court and sat in bright pink banquettes at the hotel’s Steak House. I donned a pink dress to coordinate.

The destination resort has been operating since 1958 and boasts 110 unique guest rooms. Some have waterfalls; others may have a spiral staircase or a fireplace. Ours was a bilevel room with a cavelike shower constructed entirely of rock. Maybe this is my kind of outdoorsy?

Going from camping on the beach to a fancy trailer on a pond felt like a seamless transition. For both, I focused on the natural surroundings. But this pink fantasyland was jarring. Where were the birds? The fresh air? Who was I?

On the last day of our trip, I tiptoed out of our room for an early morning swim. Waterfalls and lush landscaping flank the Madonna Inn’s pool, and I had the place completely to myself. While looking at the Cerro San Luis Obispo mountain and gliding through the smooth water, I realized I could be an outdoorsy person in California — especially with a pink cocktail in hand.


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