San Luis Obispo (known as SLO for short) is one of the coolest towns along the California Central Coast. South in Santa Barbara you have wine and waves and north in Monterey you have rugged rocks and the Bay. But SLO is set inland, 8 miles from the beach flanked by the low rolling hills and dormant volcanoes. Historically filled with a mix of B&Bs, chain hotels and a few family-owned spots, it has always lacked the kind of lodging with a mix of hip and trendy with historical cool…until now.
The Granada Hotel & Bistro has opened its doors. Originally built in 1922 and operating as a hotel, it was located next to a theatre and was thought to be part of the red light district. Regardless of that tidbit, there is a speakeasy feel to place, a nod to the roaring 20s. Today the Granada has the only rooftop lounge in San Luis Obispo. In the mornings from the trees that front the building you can hear flocks of black birds carrying on, a happy, natural wake-up call. During my stay I stood out on the second floor balcony not only watching the birds, but the slow steady rhythm as day began and the ever-increasing people began to move about this compact city.
|The Granada Hotel is all about the moody details|
The Granada succeeds because it is cool and hip without trying to be cool and hip. The attention to detail with rich hardwoods, exposed brick walls and small noticeable elements like door handles, and light fixtures are all perfectly suited for this space. It creates a blend of vintage with an almost European sensibility. Upstairs the rooftop lounge has an outdoor fireplace, a perfect spot for the morning coffee ritual. Nearby a small blue phone on the telephone table allow guests to order something directly from the bistro downstairs, like it’s your personal Bat Phone. The rooms here are small; “intimate” would be the word used by the hotel, and they are that, but they also feel just about right with an intelligent design for the space to maximize the room. The accompanying bistro located on the first floor has original tin pressed ceilings, a small bar, a large communal table and a terrific outdoor patio for day or night dining. This is quite honestly the nicest property in all of San Luis Obispo to stay.
There is also the Art Bar located next door. Wine, beer and charcuterie ($40) are provided in a two-hour class where you can tap your inner artist. Local artists guide you through a version of their own painting and though you may imbibe the wine, no one will judge you on the outcome of your painting, even if it looks nothing like the original. There is also a small spa on site and given the roped off access and dark curtains to keep non-guests at bay, you feel as if this is your own private club.
|Bubblegum Alley is a must see.|
And of course, you’re right downtown a few steps off Higuera Street so you can walk to most everything. A few additional things to do: check out Bubblegum Alley (700 block of Higuera Street) a sticky, if unusual, landmark. It doesn’t resemble anything but what it is; tens of thousands of wads of multicolored gum rejects squished one on top of another in a masticated mosaic some 70 feet long and 15 feet high. It is urban pop art, a unique expression of individuality in the form of chewing gum. Some people seek to make a statement, spelling out their love, their hopes, or merely pressing tasteless gum onto a wall. Some find this disgusting, but it is modern art in gum form, yes, used art, as it were. There are gum dispensers on either side of the alley and for a mere 25 cents, you can add your chewed up message to the ages. Don’t pass by and pass judgment, walk the alley and observe.
|The author at the summit of Madonna Mountain|
And take a hike up Madonna Mountain for awesome 360 views which will take you an hour to reach the top, and in spite of the hike being all uphill, it’s worth the effort to have so much of the Central Coast splayed out before you. So consider SLO as your next destination, but book the Granada for your lodging.
Check out my post on the San Luis Obispo Mission, close to the Granada here: MISSION SAN LUIS OBISPO