San Luis Obispo is located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, with theoretical car driving times of approximately 3 – 3.5 hours. Unfortunately, massive traffic jams are an everyday occurrence in LA as well as around San Francisco, making the car travel duration more likely up to 5 – 6 hours. The California coast provides for a beautiful drive, but the most stunning parts of the central coast, such as Big Sur, Cambria, Avila, and Morro Bay, are close to SLO anyway and should not be considered a reason to travel by car to San Luis Obispo from LAX or SFO!
We strongly recommend flying into San Luis Obispo.
Getting to San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo houses a regional airport with the airport code SBP and has connections to international airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle and Phoenix. More information about destinations can be found here. The airlines operating this routes are United Airlines (“United” in short), American Airlines and Alaska Air.
United is a member of Star Alliance, which makes it possible to book directly from many destinations and major airlines from Europe and Asia/Australia, such as Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, All Nippon Airways (ANA), Jetstar Airways, Eva Air, Thai Airways, Air India, Air China, and Air New Zealand.
American Airlines is part of an alliance as well, Oneworld, and SLO can be booked directly from airlines such as British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Fiji Airways, and China Southern Airlines.
Unfortunately, other major airlines such as Air France, KLM, and Virgin Australia do not have alliances or connection codesharing, and one must book the flight to SLO directly at United, American Airlines, or Alaska Air. Round-trip tickets on United between LAX and San Luis Obispo for travel dates around the time of the conference time are priced at approximately $280 (as at August 2019).
International arrivals and visa requirements
San Luis Obispo is connected to international airports in Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Denver (DEN), Seattle (SEA), and Phoenix (PHX). Upon arrival in the U.S., you will need to go through customs before boarding your domestic flight or leaving the airport. This can vary between 30 minutes and 3 hours (!), so be prepared and plan ahead to give yourself sufficient time to make any connecting flights!
If you are an international attendee who is neither a U.S. citizen nor a U.S. green card holder, in order to come to the U.S. to attend the conference you will likely need to apply for either (a) authorization via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) or (b) a visitor visa, depending on the country of your passport:
- If you are a citizen of one of the countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you may be able to apply via ESTA. The VWP permits citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa.
- If you are not a citizen of one of those countries, you will need to obtain a visa. This is a much lengthier and time-consuming process than ESTA. See the U.S. Department of State website for more information and to determine the class of visa you require.
In both cases a fee is involved, and the ESTA travel authorization or visa has to be obtained prior to your travel to the U.S.! It is your responsibility to ensure that you have the necessary documents and permissions to enter the country.
We strongly urge you to begin your visa application process as early as possible, as it may take a longer duration to complete in some instances.
For those requiring official letters to support their visa applications, these can be obtained after registration and payment has been completed. We will refund registration fees if your visa application is rejected, provided you are able to provide us with a copy of the rejection letter.
Getting there by train
Instead of flying to SLO from LAX or SFO, you can also take the train. Amtrak information and tickets are available here. The train takes about 5-6 hours from LAX or SFO, and costs approximately $50 per trip. We do not recommend traveling per train from other international airport destinations outside of California due to unreasonable travel times.
Getting there by car
If you still insist on renting a car at LAX or SFO—we consider other international airport destinations such as Denver, Seattle, and Phoenix too far away for a reasonable car journey—all major rental car companies (Avis, Alamo, National, Hertz, Budget, Enterprise, etc.) can be directly accessed at the airport. We recommend taking the highway 101 to San Luis Obispo.
Getting around San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo’s downtown can be easily explored walking, but there are many other attractions, landmarks, and special locations outside of town, and transport becomes necessary. There is a local and regional public transport system, but exploring the wine country or visiting Big Sur requires an Uber or a rental car.
The City of San Luis Obispo’s Transit Division operates a quality fixed route service as well as a seasonal trolley. Travel conveniently from neighborhoods to major shopping centers, local schools, including Cal Poly, medical offices, and work sites on one of SLO Transit’s eight fixed routes.
Regional Transit bus
The San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is the provider of intercity mass transportation in San Luis Obispo County, California, with service between most cities in the county: Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Paso Robles, Grover Beach, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, Cambria, San Simeon, Los Osos, Cayucos, and San Luis Obispo. Hourly routes operate Monday through Friday, with more limited Saturday and Sunday service. The base travel fare is $1.50-$3.00 each way, or a Regional Day Pass may be purchased for $5.00, good for unlimited trips on all fixed routes in the county. Five routes are branded as part of the SLORTA (9, 10, 12, 14, and 15). RTA also operates fixed route transit service in the Five Cities Area for South County Transit (Routes 21, 23, 24, & 25) and the free Avila Beach Trolley on a seasonal runs.
Several rental car companies such as Enterprise, Avis, Hertz are operating in SLO, but also local companies like Cheap Wheels Rent-A-Car and Funride. They can be found on the map here.