The San Luis Obispo Tri-Tip Challenge

Hiking is an easy and affordable thing to do in San Luis Obispo. Not only is it great exercise, but the surroundings of San Luis Obispo, including the rolling hills and sometimes even the ocean, create the best scenery .

“The best part is always arriving to the peak and just being able to view SLO from a different perspective and just take in where you live,” said Shirin Beroukhim looking back on her favorite hiking memories. “I really enjoy seeing the green hills all surrounding me because I see those on a daily basis, but you get to see them from a new perspective when hiking.”

But the most adventurous of those who live in SLO participate in what is known as the Tri-Tip Challenge

This challenge consists of hiking three main peaks in the San Luis Obispo area: the Cal Poly “P”, Cerro San Luis Obispo (Madonna) and Bishops Peak. Participants then complete the challenge with a classic tri-tip sandwich from SLO’s Firestone Grill. This adventure, however, should definitely be planned ahead being that it will take at least five hours out of your day, depending on one’s hiking (and eating) speed.

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How To Prepare:

  • Bring lots of water
  • Bring snacks like an apple or granola bar to keep energy up while hiking
  • Wear sunscreen to avoid sunburns
  • Get a good night’s sleep

” Go with a healthy and determined group so that you all can help motivate each other to finish,” said recent ‘Tri-Tip Challenge Survivor’ Kelly Toppenberg. “The hardest aspect of the Tri-Tip challenge is simply not giving up, turning back, or ending early.”


Hike Number One: the Cal Poly “P”

The Cal Poly “P’ is considered the easiest of the three hikes. Access to this trail is right behind the Cal Poly “red brick” dorms and is an easy 20 minute hike. The hike consists of two routes, one more steeper than the other. Students enjoy taking the hike as a way of stress release or to even paint the “P’ after getting approval from the right people. When reaching the top, hikers behold a view of the whole Cal Poly campus as well as the mystery behind the hills. This hike is popular at sunset in which the hills provide a great scenery to catch the sun as it sets.

View of the beautiful sunset from the peak of the "P."

View of the beautiful sunset from the peak of the “P.”


Hike Number Two: Cerro San Luis Obispo (Madonna)

Madonna is easily recognized by the large white “M” on its west side. Although most think the “M” stands for Madonna, the family who owns the land, its actual representation is for Mission High School. The Cerro San Luis Obispo, more commonly known as Madonna, hike can be accessed by multiple trails. Its most common entrance begins off of Marsh Street. The hike begins in the grassy hills and progresses into a steep dirt trail to the top of the mountain in which you meet the view of San Luis Obispo County. The trial is approximately four miles.

Cerro San Luis Mountain is found in the foreground with Bishops Peak, our next hike, in the background.

Cerro San Luis Mountain is found in the foreground with Bishops Peak, our next hike, in the background.


Hike Three: Bishop’s Peak

Bishop’s Peak is the third and final hike of the Tri-Tip Challenge. Although steep towards the peak of the mountain, it is still found to be a town favorite. “It is the highest point in San Luis Obispo, so it provided the best view,” said Cal Poly student Jay Matsumoto. Reaching a peak of 1,559 feet, the hike is about 3.5 miles. There are three different trail options which start at Highland Drive, Foothill Boulevard, and Patricia Drive. When reaching the peak you can either rest at the two memorial benches presented or prepare for some rock climbing to reach an even higher point.

Jay Matsumoto looks out upon San Luis Obispo from the top of Bishop's Peak, his favorite hike so far in SLO.

Jay Matsumoto looks out upon San Luis Obispo from the top of Bishop’s Peak, his favorite hike so far in SLO.


The Finish Line: Firestone Grill

As mentioned in my post 5 Classic and Cheap Bites to Eat, Firestone Grill is a town favorite. Located in the heart of downtown SLO on Higuera Street, Firestone is most known for their hearty BBQ Tri-Tip sandwich for only $9.25. After hiking all day, a Tri-Tip sandwich after one’s ‘Tri-Peak’ accomplishment definitely serves as quite the award.

Most known for their BBQ tri-tip sandwiches and lively atmosphere, Firestone is the perfect spot to finish your long day of hiking and completing your Tri-Tip Challenge!

Most known for their BBQ tri-tip sandwiches and lively atmosphere, Firestone is the perfect spot to finish your long day of hiking and completing your Tri-Tip Challenge!


The Tri-Tip Challenge is a bucket list item for many in the area. Some even spend a week or two preparing to ensure their ability to finish. But the reward and bragging rights of completing the infamous “Challenge”is worth the blood, sweat and tears put into it.

“The best part of the Tri-Tip Challenge, asides from the food as a reward once it was over,” said Kelly Toppenberg, “was definitely sitting at the top of each mountain, looking out at San Luis Obispo just thinking about how thankful I am to live in such a beautiful place with such amazing people!”

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Embrace the Sun

After checking the weather in SLO today and noticing its 80 degree weather (happy January?), I thought it would be the perfect day to take a trip to the beach! Follow me on Twitter and receive some live tweets about the classic beach experience here in San Luis Obispo. SLO and on a Budget Twitter Page

Things Are Poppin’ at Bubblegum Alley

Bubblegum Alley in downtown San Luis Obispo stretches 70-feet long and 15-feet tall.

Bubblegum Alley in downtown San Luis Obispo stretches 70-feet long and 15-feet tall.

San Luis Obispo’s Bubblegum Alley is a 15-foot tall and 70-foot long alley covered with gums of all sorts found off of Higuera Street in between Garden and Broad Streets. The alley is thought to host hundreds of thousands of people a year with more than 1.7 million pieces of gum accumulated over the years. It was even nominated by VirtualTourist.com to be the unofficial 8th Wonder of the World in 2013, according to The Tribune. And best of all, it is located conveniently in downtown SLO and is completely free.


The History

Some believe that the Alley started after WWII, however, “others believe it to have started in the late 1950’s as rivalry between San Luis Obispo High School and Cal Poly students,” says California Through My Lens. A competition between schools began to see which school could create the biggest gum wall in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly students decided to one-up all that had been done in the past and took over, what we now know as, Bubblegum Alley.

In the 1970’s, nearby shop owners began to complain about the unsanitary conditions of the wall and conducted a full cleaning to clean the wall of all gum.The Alley, however, survived two full cleanings and is now here to stay.


The Wall

The gum wall is definitely a rare sight, complete with gum “graffiti” of all types. Visitors arrange their gum in pictures, words, and even leave hidden notes in their gum. Political and world events are often seen documented on the wall and therefore serves as a great reflection on current events.

Annalisa Collins "follows" her boyfriend Chris Barr into the Bubbblegum Alley for his first visit.

Annalisa Collins “follows” her boyfriend Chris Barr into the Bubbblegum Alley for his first visit.

To join in the fun, shops along the nearby streets sell their own gum to help contribute to the wall. San Luis Obispo Vacation Spots recommends stopping by Powell’s Sweet Shoppe’s gum ball machine to pick up a gum ball and participate in the tradition of the wall.


Bubblegum Alley is a perfect place to bring the classic tourist that is new to the area or to stop by during your own downtown adventures. So, grab a friend, a camera (for you Instagramers out there), and a piece of gum and interact with San Luis Obispo’s own “Wonder of the World.”

The Alley is thought to contain over 1.7 million pieces of gum... and counting!

The Alley is thought to contain over 1.7 million pieces of gum… and counting!

Let’s Start From the Very Beginning

A view of San Luis Obispo  with Bishops's Peak on the right and Cerro San Luis on the left

A view of San Luis Obispo with Bishops’s Peak on the right and Cerro San Luis on the left

Welcome to SLO and on a Budget, a blog for the broke college student looking for easy and affordable activities in the San Luis Obispo area. With college classes, jobs, clubs, and other commitments, students are often searching for a source of stress release to have some fun. However, “stress release” often comes with quite the price tag. San Luis Obispo offers inexpensive opportunities for students to have a good time, both on and off campus, that one might not be aware of.

Other blogs that relate to the adventures offered in San Luis Obispo include No Place Like SLO. This blog provides insight on why San Luis Obispo is a city like no other. From the history of San Luis Obispo, to the top ten places to visit, this blog helps you learn why San Luis Obispo is known to be one of the happiest places to live. Another blog offering insight to living in SLO is Struggles of a Cal Poly Student, focusing on the challenges a Cal Poly student faces throughout their 4 years here. (This blog supports my claim of needing a stress release very, very well.) Covering the difficulties of switching majors to finding the best study spot for you, the blog provides advice on how to trouble shoot these areas.

In regards to aesthetics, I hope to model my blog off of San Luis Obispo Vocals, Humans of San Luis Obispo, and SLO Cuisine. San Luis Obispo Vocals presents their blog in a black and white color scheme that catches the eye and adds a classy touch. Humans of San Luis Obispo opens their site with an easily accessible format in which you can click on different pictures to reach each story. SLO Cuisine provides an array of videos and pictures that keeps the blog colorful and easy on the eye.

With lots of things to do in the area, this blog will be buzzing with information of the newest and most popular locations to visit. I will try my hardest to stay up to date with new activities coming to SLO, but most of all, the new deals! Thank you, and check back in soon with some new hot spots to add to your SLO bucket list!