Roadways In San Luis Obispo, CA

San Luis Obispo, often referred to as SLO, is a mid-sized city on California’s scenic Central Coast. With its mild climate, thriving downtown, and proximity to beaches, wineries, hiking trails, and Cal Poly University, SLO has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists and new residents alike.

Part of what makes SLO so livable is its easily navigable network of roads connecting neighborhoods, businesses, and recreational sites around the city and county. Whether you’re a new visitor or long-time local, this guide will help you get to know the major roadways of San Luis Obispo and successfully navigate your way around town.

Main Arterials and Highways

The major highways running through and around SLO provide primary access for visitors traveling to the city by car. For those coming from the south, US 101 runs directly through town. From the north, drivers can take Highway 1 which winds along the coast before connecting with US 101 in the southern part of SLO. Here are some of the main highways and arterial roadways to know:

US 101

  • Runs directly through SLO in a north-south direction
  • Main artery connecting SLO to other cities along the Central Coast
  • 4 lanes through most of SLO, with a speed limit of 65 mph
  • Key exits lead to downtown SLO, Cal Poly, regional shopping centers

Highway 1

  • Legendary Pacific Coast Highway, winds along the coast north of SLO
  • Merges with US 101 south of the SLO city limits
  • Main route from coastal towns like Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria
  • Scenic road with ocean vistas – take your time driving and enjoying the views!

Madonna Road

  • Major east-west artery on the north end of SLO
  • 4 lane road with a center divider and 55 mph speed limit
  • Crosses US 101 and leads to Madonna Plaza shopping centers

Los Osos Valley Road

  • Heads northwest from downtown to the community of Los Osos and Baywood Park
  • Passes by Cal Poly, shopping centers, and Hwy 101 interchange
  • Turns into South Bay Boulevard nearing Los Osos

Tank Farm Road

  • Leads southwest from Broad Street towards the airport
  • Passes by industrial areas, office parks, and new development
  • Provides access from Hwy 101 to SLO’s southern commercial areas

Downtown Streets

Historic downtown SLO is centered around Higuera Street and Marsh Street, two parallel one-way streets running northwest-southeast through the heart of the city. Many restaurants, shops, galleries, and other businesses front these streets, which are easily walkable. Here are some key downtown streets:

Higuera Street

  • Main one-way thoroughfare through downtown
  • Street parking, wide sidewalks, restaurants with outdoor seating
  • Farmers Market takes place Thursday evenings on Higuera
  • Sections include Upper Higuera by the Mission and Lower Higuera by City Hall

Marsh Street

  • One-way street parallel to Higuera running in opposite direction
  • Location of Downtown Centre Cinemas movie theater
  • Home to many boutiques, cafes, bars, and retailers
  • Look out for cool murals and street art along Marsh

Monterey Street

  • Diagonal street bisecting Higuera and Marsh
  • Location of San Luis Obispo Museum of Art and Mission Plaza
  • Sections include Downtown Monterey, Mid-Higuera, and Upper Monterey

Osos Street

  • Runs northwest connecting Higuera to Highway 101
  • Location of Amtrak station, Greyhound stop, public parking
  • Bustling section lined with restaurants, coffee shops, hotels

Chorro Street

  • Runs perpendicular to Higuera and Marsh downtown
  • Location of popular farmers market on Thursday nights
  • Home to boutiques, offices, restaurants, and civic facilities

Nipomo Street

  • Runs parallel to Marsh one block over
  • Location of Children’s Museum, restaurants, Creekside Brewing Co
  • More relaxed neighborhood vibe just off the main downtown drag

Major Roads Around Town

Branching out from downtown, a number of arterials, boulevards, and thoroughfares connect SLO’s neighborhoods and commercial districts. Here are some of the main roads to know beyond downtown:

Broad Street

  • Major east-west route south of downtown
  • Passes by airport and industrial areas
  • Home to motels, chain restaurants and other services

Foothill Boulevard

  • Major road leading north from downtown through the Foothill neighborhood
  • Close to Cuesta College and residences along the hillside
  • Location of chain retailers, restaurants, medical offices

Santa Rosa Street

  • Main street through the historic Railroad District
  • Parallels Hwy 101 north of downtown
  • Walkable area with restaurants, breweries, shops

Johnson Avenue

  • Leads northwest from downtown across Hwy 101
  • Location of grocery stores, gym, hardware store, other businesses
  • Surrounded by residences and student apartments

Buckley Road

  • Winds along the base of the hills south of downtown
  • Location of Avila Beach Golf Resort and other recreation areas
  • Provides access to popular Avila Beach and Port San Luis

Orcutt Road

  • Heads east from SLO to Orcutt and Santa Maria
  • Home to ranch lands, wineries, and more rural areas
  • Watch for cyclists training along this scenic road

Edna Road

  • Runs south towards the Edna Valley and wine region
  • Location of many picturesque vineyards and winery tasting rooms
  • Leads to resorts and recreation areas around Lopez Lake

Madonna Road

  • Major commercial thoroughfare on the north end of town
  • Location of shopping plazas, car dealerships, chain retail
  • High-traffic artery connecting Hwy 101 to Hwy 1 north of town

Navigating Cal Poly’s Campus

Cal Poly University is a defining part of life in SLO, with over 20,000 students imparting youth and energy to the town. The campus has a complex web of roads and is essentially a traffic-controlled pedestrian zone during school terms. Here are tips for driving on and around campus:

  • Grand Avenue – Main entrance and thoroughfare running through campus
  • Perimeter Road – Loop road around campus with parking lots and access to buildings
  • Obey 25 mph speed limits and watch for pedestrians
  • Expect heavy traffic during start and end of term
  • Access is restricted past the Performing Arts Center without parking pass
  • Consider alternate routes like Highland Drive to bypass campus
  • Poly Canyon Road leads to popular hiking trails with campus access

The One-Way Streets:

  • Via Carta runs one-way north
  • North Perimeter runs one-way east
  • South Perimeter runs one-way west
  • College Avenue runs one-way south

Parking Structures:

  • Grand Avenue Parking Structure near Performing Arts Center
  • H-14 Parking Structure off Perimeter north of campus
  • H-12 Parking Structure off Via Carta north of campus

Bikeability of SLO Roads

With its generally flat terrain and mild climate, SLO is highly bikeable for cycling around town. Here are some of the most popular and cyclist-friendly roads:

  • Railroad Safety Trail – Flat paved path following the rail line, used heavily by bike commuters
  • Bob Jones Trail – Paved path connecting Avila Beach to SLO through parklands
  • Foothill Boulevard – Wide shoulders and bike lanes make this a favorite route
  • Murray Street – Designated bike boulevard running east-west across town
  • Old 101 Parallel Trail – Separated path paralleling Hwy 101 north of downtown

Roads to Avoid:

  • Los Osos Valley Road – Narrow shoulders west of town
  • Madonna Road – High traffic and speeds on north end
  • Orcutt Road – Popular training route but narrow in sections
  • South Higuera – Sections lack bike lanes through commercial areas

Cycle Safely:

  • Follow traffic laws and ride predictably
  • Use lights and reflectors if riding at night
  • Watch for cars backing out or dooring along parking lanes
  • Use hand signals and check blind spots before turning

Navigating SLO Transit Buses

The SLO Transit system provides public transportation throughout the city on six fixed routes. Buses are equipped with bike racks and are free to ride. Here’s an overview of the main transit routes:

Route 1A & 1B – Downtown SLO loop passing Mission and Cal Poly

Route 2A & 2B – North-south route from Cal Poly to Avila Beach

Route 3 – Madonna Plaza and Orcutt areas

Route 4 – Cal Poly via Foothill to Laguna Lake

Route 5 – Cal Poly and Airport via Margarita area

Route 6 – Downtown SLO to Los Osos and Baywood Park

Major Transit Stops:

  • Downtown Transit Center on Osos Street
  • Kennedy Library at Cal Poly
  • Madonna Plaza by Theatre and REI
  • SLO Regional Airport

Tips for Riding:

  • Check SLO Transit site for route maps and schedules
  • Have exact change ready or use RTA GoMobile app to buy pass
  • Load bikes on front rack or bring on if space permits
  • Exit from rear doors unless needing bike rack or ramp
  • Wave hand to request a stop from approaching drivers

Scenic Drives Around SLO

Beyond just getting around town, SLO’s surrounding roads provide plenty of opportunities for scenic drives. Here are some favorite scenic routes and detours around the area:

Drive to Avila Beach

  • From downtown take Marsh Street west over 101
  • Follow Avila Beach Drive past farms, wineries, and Sycamore Mineral Springs
  • Arrive at the oceanfront town of Avila Beach

Seven Sisters Road to Cayucos

  • Take Santa Rosa Street northwest from downtown
  • Follow scenic Seven Sisters Road high above the coast
  • Descent to the seaside town of Cayucos

See Canyon through Edna Valley

  • Head east from downtown on Edna Road through wine country
  • Turn onto See Canyon Road to parallel the creek and reservoir
  • Rejoin Branch Mill Road to complete loop

Baywood Park and Los Osos

  • Take Los Osos Valley Road northwest past Cal Poly
  • Follow South Bay Boulevard to quaint Los Osos downtown
  • Continue to small coastal community of Baywood Park

North Coast Cruise

  • Take a drive up Highway 1 north of town
  • Stop at beach access points and state parks along the coast
  • Consider detours on Old Creek Road and See Canyon Road
  • Destination of Cambria makes a nice turnaround point

Orcutt Wine Tour

  • Head east from SLO on Tank Farm and Orcutt Roads
  • Weave along foxen Canyon Road through vineyards
  • Follow the wine trail with stops at tasting rooms
  • Return via Blosser Road through golden hills

So get out and explore SLO’s roads and scenic backdrops. With this guide you’ll feel equipped to successfully navigate your way around and fully appreciate the natural beauty surrounding town. Enjoy the ride!

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  • Take US-101 N 10 miles. Exit LOVR, turn left. Drive 3 miles, turn right on Prefumo Canyon. After 2 miles turn left to Squire Canyon. 300 Squire Canyon is on the right after 0.3 miles.
  • Take Monterey to Santa Rosa. Get on US-101 N, then CA-1 N toward Morro Bay. Exit Prefumo Canyon, turn right. Turn right to Squire Canyon. 300 Squire Canyon is on the right.
  • Head west on Monterey. Turn right Santa Rosa. Left on CA-1 N. Take Price Canyon exit to Prefumo Canyon. Turn right then left to Squire Canyon. 300 Squire Canyon on the right just past Dahlia Court.