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Dating in college is hard; it’s easy to let school, work and other responsibilities get in the way of our relationships. When we do make time for our partner, we often feel pressure to plan extravagant and expensive dates, which isn’t necessarily a realistic practice for college students who often live on a budget. 

Attending school at Cal Poly, we have the unique opportunity to explore a thriving downtown and the best of southern California’s landscape. Many of the amazing experiences we have access to are free or come at minimal costs, so why not take advantage of them?  

Below are five inexpensive date ideas to do in and around San Luis Obispo. 

1. Sunset Drive-In

One of San Luis Obispo’s greatest attractions is the Sunset Drive-In Theater, which has been a staple of the community for decades. For $10 a ticket, you can watch one of the two new showings they put on nightly. Instead of going to a traditional theater where tickets and food are much more expensive, you and your significant other can cuddle up in the privacy of your car and enjoy a movie under the stars. 

2. SLO Farmers’ Market

Every Thursday night, downtown San Luis Obispo is filled with local vegetable, fruit, flower, craft and food vendors for you to peruse and enjoy. If you don’t have access to a car, this date idea might be a great option for you since SLO Transit picks up and drops off throughout the Cal Poly campus. The Farmer’s Market is a great, casual way to spend time with your partner while enjoying the best SLO has to offer.

3. South Palisades Park, Shell Beach

Located just 15 minutes away in Pismo, Shell Beach provides stunning views of the San Luis Obispo Bay. You can stroll the beach, go tide pooling, watch the surfers, or have a picnic and watch the sun set. Lacking the large crowds that often populate Pismo and Avila Beach, Shell Beach is a serene spot to unwind and spend time with your significant other.

4. Monarch Butterfly Grove

Also located in Pismo is the Monarch Butterfly Grove where visitors can walk through a forest of towering eucalyptus trees filled with monarch butterflies. Every winter from November to February, the Grove hosts thousands of butterflies as they migrate south, often all the way to Mexico. This magical and once-in-a-lifetime experience is a great way to spend the day with your partner, and it’s only 20 minutes away!  

5. Bluff Trail Montaña De Oro

Bluff Trail is a flat, roughly two-mile trail that is perfect for anyone looking to spend a few hours along the coastline of Montaña De Oro State Park. It is suitable for walkers, hikers, bikers, and even those who require wheelchairs. The many optional side trails provide access to explore beaches, tide pools, and natural rock formations. Bluff Trail can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be, making it a great date spot for whatever level of adventure you are seeking.

Relationships are hard enough without the added pressure of planning extravagant dates, so take advantage of the affordable opportunities SLO has to offer to spend some quality time with your significant other.

Lena Van Duzer

Cal Poly '24

I am a sophomore Journalism major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. I also plan to pursue an economics minor. My hobbies include writing and reading and outside of the university I am a competitive horseback rider.
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