San Luis Obispo, California
San Luis Obispo, one of California’s oldest cities and the county seat of San Louis Obispo County, is a vibrant and buzzing town serving as the cultural and commercial hub of the Central Coast.
Referred to locally as SLO and situated half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo is both a travelers stopover and a destination for visitors who wish to visit one of the many wineries in the nearby Edna Valley, bike on the county’s numerous trails or visit one of the beautiful beaches and watch the sunset while having dinner in the nearby costal towns of Morro Bay or Pismo Beach.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
San Luis Obispo takes its name from St. Louis, the 13th century bishop of Toulouse, France. The city is located on the original site of a Chumash Native American village called Tilhini. The town itself was the site of the 5th Spanish Mission established in California—Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa—and founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1772. It was not however until the late 19th century when land transportation prospered that the city truly began to grow. The expansion of the Pacific Coast Railroad in the 1880s coincided with the rush of gold miners to the area and caused the city and surrounding areas to prosper.
Historic Buildings in SLO
The Ah Louis store is about all that is left of the Chinese community that once thrived in San Louis Obispo populated by laborers who dug railroad tunnels along Cuesta Grade north of town.
Another historic building, the Art Deco style Fremont Theatre built in the 1940s, still screens first run movies. Additionally, the city is home to one of a very few commercial buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; a dentist’s office on the corner of Santa Rosa and Pacific.
Finally, it was in San Luis Obispo that the term “motel” was coined when the Motel Inn of San Luis Obispo was opened in 1925.
San Luis Obispo’s tree lined Downtown area is perhaps the most popular destination point in the city. It is here, on Higuera Street, that the Farmers’ Market is held every Thursday from 6pm to 9pm throughout the year.
Visitors may shop for local fresh produce, including vegetables from the Cal Poly Organic Farm or fresh oysters from nearby Morro Bay Oyster Company, while taking in street performances and enjoying tasty meals prepared at various booths throughout the market.
Additionally, the yearly San Luis Obispo International Film Festival takes place in the downtown area and attracts people from the Central Coast and beyond.
The city also holds claim to a handful of truly unique attractions including the original Jamba Juice and Bubble Gum Alley, perhaps the city’s most bizarre attraction.
Since 1960 residents and visitors have been sticking gum on the walls of an alley on Higuera between Broad and Garden Streets creating a large piece of art, or a sticky mess, depending on one’s point of view. Feel free to add to the display.
Cal Poly and Cuesta College
College Students make up about a third of SLO’s population. California Polytechnic State University—Cal Poly—offers degrees in Engineering, Architecture, Agriculture, Science and Math, Business and Liberal Arts to more than 18,000 students on its 6,000 acre campus. Its “learn by doing” educational philosophy and excellent academic reputation make Cal Poly graduates popular with business and industry.
Cuesta College, the local Community College, also contributes to the high percentage of college age residents in San Louis Obispo.
Two popular attractions just outside San Luis Obispo are the Hearst Castle, a sprawling mansion once owned by newspaper magnet, William Randolph Hearst and the Morro Bay Estuary. Hearst Castle, situated on 250,000 acres and designed by architect Julia Morgan, consists of the 165-room mansion as well as 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways.
The Morro Bay Estuary is one of the largest unspoiled coastal marshes and attracts over 200 species of native and migrating birds. The estuary is a popular spot amongst naturalists due to its views and serene atmosphere.
Grapevines were planted at the Mission shortly after it was founded but the vineyard was abandoned when Mexico secularized the missions. Edna Valley—five miles south of SLO—has proven to be an ideal wine growing AVA with one of the longest seasons in California. A recent visit gave the impression of the more famous Napa Valley, north of San Francisco, twenty years ago.
Regardless of one’s interests, whether they be wine, education, nature, art or culture, San Luis Obispo truly has a great deal to offer any visitor.