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Destination:

SAN LUIS OBISPO

Discover what makes this city the happiest place in America.

Information by WIKIPEDIA Photographs by BRADY TEUFEL

> California poppies grow on a hill overlooking Pismo Beach.

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Destination: SLO

T

he earliest human inhabitants of the local area were the Chumash peoples. One of the earliest villages lies south of San Luis Obispo and reflects the landscape of the early Holocene when estuaries came farther inland. These Chumash people exploited marine resources of the inlets and bays along the Central Coast and inhabited a network of villages including sites at Los Osos and Morro Creek. During the Spanish Empire expansion throughout the world, specifically in 1769, Spanish Franciscan Junípero Serra received orders from Spain to bring the Catholic faith to the Natives of Alta California; the idea was to unify the empire under the same religion and language. Mission San Diego was the first Spanish mission founded in Alta California that same year. On September 7–8, 1769, Gaspar de Portolà traveled through the San Luis Obispo area on his way to rediscover the Monterey Bay. The expedition’s diarist, Padre Juan Crespí, recorded the name given to this area by the soldiers as llano de los Osos, or the level of the bears (Bear Plain), as this was an area with an abundance of bears. Since then, various translations of the Crespí Diary have called this area La Cañada de Los Osos.

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> The sun sets in Morro Bay, a beach town 15 minutes from SLO.

In 1770, Junípero Serra founded the second mission, San Carlos Borromeo, in Monterey which was moved to Carmel the following year. As supplies dwindled in 1772 at the then-four missions, the people faced starvation. Remembering the Valley of the Bears, a hunting expedition was sent to bring back food in the summer of 1772. Over twenty-five mule loads of dried bear meat and seed was sent north to relieve the missionaries, soldiers, and neophytes (baptized Natives). The Natives were impressed at the ease by which the Spaniards could take down the huge grizzlies with their weapons. Some of the meat was traded with the local people in exchange for edible seed. It was after this that Junípero Serra decided that La Cañada de Los Osos would be an ideal place for the fifth mission. The area had abundant supplies of food and water, the climate was also very mild, and the local Chumash were very friendly. With soldiers, muleteers, and pack animals carrying mission supplies, Junípero Serra set out on a journey to reach the Valley of the Bears. On September 1, 1772, Junípero Serra celebrated the first Mass with a cross erected near San Luis Creek. The very next day, he departed for San Diego leaving Fr. José Cavaller, with the difficult task of building the mission. Fr. José Cavaller, five soldiers and two neophytes began building what is today called Mission San Luis Obispo.

After Junípero Serra left, the difficult task of actually building the mission remained. The mission was built with adobe and tile structures. The mission included: the church, the priest’s residence, the convento, the storerooms, residences for single women and families from Spain, soldiers’ barracks, and mills. The mission also had land for farming and raising livestock, as the whole community of priests, Natives and soldiers needed to produce goods for their own livelihood. When the Mexican War of Independence from Spain broke out in 1810, all California missions were virtually self-sufficient, receiving few funds from Spain. With the independence from Spain there was little left of the thriving community of earlier times. Soon after Mexico won her independence from Spain (1821), the Missions were secularized by the Mexican government. However, the community remained in the same location of what is today San Luis Obispo. San Luis Obispo once had a burgeoning Chinatown in the vicinity of Palm St. and Chorro St. Laborers were brought from China by Ah Louis in order to construct the Pacific Coast Railway, roads connecting San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles and Paso Robles to Cambria, and also the 1884 to 1894 tunneling through Cuesta Ridge for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The town’s Chinatown revolved around Ah Louis Store and other Palm Street businesses owned and run by Chinese business people.


The city is home to San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport which offers private air service and non-stop commercial air service to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. Amtrak provides daily rail transport service here as the northern terminus of the Pacific Surfliner line from San Diego, and as a stop on the Coast Starlight line. The Amtrak train goes north to Oakland, San Francisco (via Emeryville, CA), Portland, and Seattle, and south to Los Angeles. Greyhound closed its doors in San Luis Obispo on March 12, 2009. It still continues to service San Luis Obispo and currently uses a transit bus stop on Railroad Avenue. Public transit includes the city-wide SLO Transit bus lines as well as the county-wide SLO Regional Transit system. Rideshare encourages the use of the local public transit, as well as carpooling and cycling. Riders for the SLO Transit system are now able to plan their trips using Google Transit. The SLO Car Free program provides an online one-stop-shop for all car-free vacationing needs from bus schedules and bike maps, to discounts on transportation, lodging, and attractions. U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1 are the major north-south highways in San Luis Obispo, linking the city to the rest of the Central Coast region, San Francisco to the north, and Los Angeles to the south. Both enter the city from the south as a concurrency. As they head north, Highway 1 then splits towards the coast to Morro Bay, while Highway 101 stays more inland to Paso Robles. California State Route 227 provides a route to Highway 101 from San Luis Obispo south to Arroyo Grande. Bicycling is increasing as a mode of transportation. The Bill Roalman (Morro Street) Bicycle Boulevard gives priority to bicycle traffic while a special bicycle traffic signal (one of only a handful in the United States) allows bicyclists their own phase in traffic flow. The SLO County Bicycle Coalition offers a free bicycle valet service during the weekly Farmers’ Market. In 2007, the city was designated as a Bicycle Friendly Community at the Silver level by the League of American Bicyclists. The city provides parking in three multistory parking structures downtown. Street parking downtown is metered except on Sundays and holidays. The city’s innovative Racks with Plaques program has increased bike racks in the downtown area and has cut down on parking congestion, benefitting the enviorment as well.

The Madonna Inn is a famous local landmark. Established by Alex Madonna in 1958, the inn is famously eccentric. The Fremont Theater, a historic Art Deco theater from the 1940s, still plays first run movies on the huge screen. Murals adorn the walls of the main theater while neon swirls light the ceiling. The Palm Theatre boasts solar heating and is home to the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. Another destination is Bubblegum Alley. Since about 1960, people have been sticking chewed gum on the walls of this alley. The doctor’s office on the corner of Santa Rosa and Pacific streets is one of very few commercial buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. San Luis also has a Carnegie Library which is now home to the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum. Lots of mystery surrounds the “underground city”, or the series of tunnels that exists beneath the city. One of the largest Mardi Gras parades West of the Mississippi used to be held in San Luis Obispo, but it has been canceled recently because of difficulties related to crowd control and alcohol. Cal Poly’s open house, Poly Royal, was held annually from 1933 to 1990. It was canceled in 1945 due to war rationing. It began as a showand-tell for students to display their projects. It traces its origins to the 1904 Farmer’s Institute and Picnic Basket. By the 1980s, as the college became “the most popular...university in the 19-campus CSU system”, Poly Royal began drawing over 100,000 people from throughout the state, including 126,000 people in 1985. Concerts, parties, and other entertainment were added and it earned $3–4 million in revenue. Following a “mini-riot” in 1989 at an off-campus apartment during Poly Royal, the events in 1990 would cancel the event “indefinitely.” Two nights of rioting on April 28–29 led to 127 arrests, over 100 injuries and 14 police injuries on top of “several hundred thousand dollars” worth of damage. A liquor store near campus, Campus Bottle, was destroyed by revelers demanding alcohol. The second night was much larger than the first as people were leaving a concert on campus and parties off-campus were broken up and revelers flooded the streets. Mayor Dunin called the events “the worst experience in the history of San Luis Obispo.” The name Poly Royal returned in 2001 as “Open House Presents Poly Royal”, a scaled down version that was designed for students and parents.

> Shell Beach, a popular place for college students in the area.

> A rainbow appears over nearby Avila Beach.

> Happy Valley Road offers rolling hills and green fields.

> Fog rolls over Laguna Lake, where people can fish or boat.

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Destination: SLO San Luis Obispo has been home of several other events, including a stop on the way of the Olympic Flame Relay, the Tour of California bicycle race, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, an annual Mozart festival, held every July, and a long-standing Christmas Parade. Another attraction is the development of Edna Valley into a well-known wine region. Just south of the city, people can spend an afternoon wine tasting several wineries in the area with a very short drive. The wine region extends north beyond Paso Robles (30 miles north) and 70 miles south to Santa Ynez. During Summer months, local residents and visitors congregate in the Mission Plaza for a free outdoor concert every Friday evening. The event is called Concerts in the Plaza. Other noteworthy events include the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, Festival Mosaic, and the Plein Air Festival. San Luis Obispo hosts a Farmer’s Market every Thursday night from 6-9PM on Higuera Street, between Osos and Nipomo Streets. During this weekly event, the street is closed to vehicle tra fic while vendors sell food and goods and various visual and music artists perform for the crowds. Since June 2000, the first Thursday of every month is The Bike Happening (also known as Bike Nite) in San Luis Obispo. People gather after the Farmer’s Market at the Mission Plaza with their bikes. The bikers then go around on multiple circuits on the main streets of downtown adhering to the traffic laws (for the most part). The ride is considered a fun/social ride meant to encourage people to get back on their bikes and to have fun. Each Bike Happening has a theme and a large portion of the crowd is in some costume adherent to the theme. One of the cultural focal centers of San Luis Obispo is the Christopher Cohen Performing Arts Center built on the Cal Poly Campus, which was constructed utilizing the donations of local businesses and individuals. The Performing Arts Center consists of multiple venues, including the original Spanos Theatre, where Cal Poly students perform their productions.

The fire department of San Luis Obispo was first organized in 1872 and now has 45 full-time firefighters and four fire stations (as of 2007). The SLO City Fire Stations are staffed with three-man ALS engine companies and a four-man ALS Truck company. Each apparatus has at least one paramedic on duty each day. The department responds to over 4,500 calls each year. The San Luis Obispo City Fire Department also maintains a bike medic program which is used at the Farmers’ Market and other special events throughout the city. Four members of the Fire Department are also on the San Luis Obispo SWAT Team as SWAT Medics and respond using Squad 1 (an ALS equipped ambulance which also carries some light rescue gear and other specialty tools) The frontline members of the department are represented by the San Luis Obispo City Firefighters’ IAFF Local 3523. In June 1990 City Councilman Jerry Reiss proposed a city ordinance to ban smoking in all indoor public areas. Following a failed effort by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to defeat the ordinance, the City Council voted 4–1 in favor on June 19, 1990 with only Mayor Ron Dunin dissenting. As a result, on August 2, 1990, San Luis Obispo became the first municipality in the world to ban smoking in all public buildings, including bars and restaurants. This statute has been a catalyst worldwide in anti-smoking legislation. In April, 2010, San Luis Obispo strengthened its anti-smoking legislation, making smoking in public, excepting for certain conditions, a citable offense beginning on June 20, 2010. In 1982, following public hearings, the City Council approved an ordinance forbidding the construction of “drive-through” businesses. In-NOut Burger opened a restaurant in the nearby town of Atascadero because of the ban. In 2008 the City Council voted 3–2 to keep the ban, and to this day there are no “drive-throughs”.

“The ride is considered a fun/social ride meant to encourage people to get back on their bikes and to have fun.”

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>Located on the Central Coast, SLO is 3.5 hours from San Francisco, and 3 hours from Los Angeles.

> The Bill Roalman (Morro Street) bicycle boulevard, where Bike Night participants ride.


Six of San Luis Obispo County’s top ten employers, as shown below, fall in the classification of Services, four fall in Public Administration. Downtown San Luis Obispo is centered around the carefully restored Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. The downtown area also has many eclectic shops and boutiques. New downtown shopping centers have been added in recent years. The Court Street Center and Downtown Center house stores that belong to nationwide chains such as Pottery Barn. One of the primary draws of this area for students, visitors, and residents alike is the plethora of outdoor sports such as hiking, kayaking, surfing, windsurfing, skimboarding, diving, sailing, and kite boarding. Scenes from the 1990 film My Blue Heaven were filmed in commercial areas of San Luis Obispo. Scenes from the 2002 film “Murder by Numbers” were filmed in and around San Luis Obispo. Southwest of the town center, several large shopping centers have developed since 2003. Takken’s Shoes is headquartered in San Luis Obispo. Ernie Ball’s Music Man factory is located in San Luis Obispo. All public K-12 institutions in San Luis Obispo are operated by San Luis Coastal Unified School District, which contains seven elementary schools, and one middle school.

The 2010 United States Census reported that San Luis Obispo had a population of 45,119. The population density was 3,489.4 people per square mile (1,347.3/km²). The racial makeup of San Luis Obispo was 38,117 (84.5%) White, 523 (1.2%) African American, 275 (0.6%) Native American, 2,350 (5.2%) Asian, 65 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 1,973 (4.4%) from other races, and 1,816 (4.0%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6,626 persons (14.7%). The Census reported that 43,937 people (97.4% of the population) lived in households, 967 (2.1%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 215 (0.5%) were institutionalized. There were 19,193 households, out of which 3,178 (16.6%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 5,690 (29.6%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 1,336 (7.0%) had a female householder with no husband present, 586 (3.1%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 1,104 (5.8%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 124 (0.6%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 6,213 households (32.4%) were made up of individuals and 1,957 (10.2%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29.

There are 18,639 households out of which 17.7% have children under the age of 18 living with them. 31.3% are married couples living together, 7.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 58.7% are nonfamilies. 32.7% of all households are made up of individuals and 9.5% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.27 and the average family size is 2.86. In the city the population is spread out with 14.2% under the age of 18, 33.6% from 18 to 24, 23.7% from 25 to 44, 16.5% from 45 to 64, and 12.1% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 26 years. For every 100 females there are 105.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 106.3 males age 18 and over. The median income for a household in the city is $31,926, and the median income for a family is $56,319. The median household income in San Luis Obispo County is $60,534, and the median family income is $72,327. Males have a median income of $41,915 versus $27,407 for females. The per capita income for the city is $20,386. 26.6% of the population and 7.1% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 9.3% of those under the age of 18 and 4.6% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

> A beautiful sunset over the ocean at Avila Beach.

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