The Happiest City in America: San Luis Obispo
I’m sitting here wondering how I can do justice to not only my old college town, but my grandfather’s old college town, a family favorite vacation spot, and the well-known “Happiest City in America”! Whew! Pressure!
There are many things that make San Luis Obispo, or SLO to locals (pronounced “slow”), the happiest place outside of Disneyland. Green rolling hills, super easy access to both the ocean with gorgeous beaches and coastal mountains, abundant wineries, open spaces, a historic downtown district, a Spanish mission, the largest Farmer’s Market in California, bubblegum alley (if you see a blue and red “91” higher up on the wall, that was my orientation group’s gum!), perfect weather, kooky coffee houses, a highly-esteemed university, every outdoor recreation you can think of, a classic hippy-California laid back vibe, and now I’m out of breath… All these things keep me coming back to this city again and again! How do I even fit it all in?! Did I even mention that just the county has more diversity in native plant species than the whole of the state of Alaska?
Just off the 101 freeway in central California, SLO never fails to disappoint–even when it comes to bad puns! From “SLOme sweet SLOme” to “I bike SLO” to “Livin’ the SLO life” we have a lot of fun with our perfectly appropriate name. There’s no going fast in this peaceful town and there are so many small, funny details to everything you’d miss out if you tried!
I have a feeling this is going to be a bit of a long post but if you don’t find what you need, or get tired of looking for it, or are curious about something feel free to comment or email me. I have so much random knowledge and recommendations and tips that won’t all fit in this one post. I’ll follow up later probably, but until then please feel free to ask anything!
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly or Cal Poly SLO for short–NOT to be mistaken for Cal Poly Pomona on pain of death, WE are the original after all) is a four-year university first established in 1901. We are well known for our architecture, engineering, and agriculture programs but everything else is pretty competitive too! The science behind Jurassic Park was first thought up here, Weird Al Yankovic recorded a song in one of our bathrooms, Jamba Juice began as a senior project here, the aerospace engineering students sent up a satellite, and we build the back half of the Cal Poly Rose Float for the New Year’s Day Rose Parade, as well as grow most of the flowers for it, on campus every year (all student run). Can you tell I was a freshman orientation leader for a few years? Largest student run orientation program in the country! WOW--Week of Welcome represent!
In addition to all the cool programs, the campus is worth a visit just for how pretty it all is! There’s a “P” up on the hillside you can hike to for a great view of the entire valley from behind the “red bricks” (freshman dorms made out of red bricks, how original). Occasionally it’s painted for a specific holiday like green for St. Patrick’s or rainbow for Pride Week. On April 20th some clever students went up with paper and spelled out “pot,” which wasn’t taken down by officials before everyone could see it. But I’ve also seen “philanthropy” and “peace” spelled out up there.
The gym is the largest college gym on the West Coast (I know, it took almost my entire four years there for them to build it) and they have day passes for the public if you want to check out its awesomeness, swim laps in the regular pool, or BBQ and play beach volleyball by the leisure pool. There are often turkeys roosting in the trees by the old math and science building, deer walk around in the early mornings, and there’s the occasional mountain lion in Poly Canyon Village. Another cool hike from campus is the Architecture Graveyard. A pretty flat hike down an access road in a canyon that goes to an old site for architecture senior projects. Crazy to beautiful to functional with great views. All can be had out there, often with the company of some of the school horses wandering around as it doubles as one of the many pastures.
Cal Poly sells fresh produce in its campus markets and downtown every Thursday, has u-pick on most Saturdays, eggs from the poultry unit, beef and pork from those respective units, plants from the Poly Plant Shop, and the horse and sheep units are easy to get to and free to wander around with fall horse shows and a spring rodeo now hosted in the football stadium! Students breed, train, and sell Thoroughbred and Quarter Horses so spring always has foals to pet and squeal over with auctions for trained cow horses in the summer.
I’ll leave it at that for now, but again, feel free to ask anything as I could go on. And on. And on. And… you get the picture!
Historic downtown San Luis Obispo is home to tree-lined streets, original brick buildings, the old California mission–Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, and a million unique small businesses, many of them family-owned. There is a children’s museum full of hands-on displays and experiments perfect for children of all ages, a cafe on every corner–each with its own special vibe, restaurants, olive oil tasting, a tree-lined creek to walk along, used books and records, fro yo, comics, specialty, crafts, socks, tea, frames, antiques, nature and science, clothing boutiques, excellent public transportation, and also… Ross: Dress for Less. They’ve been hiring since before 2008.
I usually went downtown for the famous Farmer’s Market every Thursday on Higuera Street from 6 to 9pm. I’d get BBQ ribs from Mo’s booth or from the musically inclined McClintock’s booth, seasonal veggies for the week from all the great vendors I made friends with, seasoned almonds (tasting and buying!), and a beautiful homemade pie or (during strawberry season) a brownie topped with ice cream and strawberries.
Otherwise I was at one of my two favorite coffee shops: Kreuzberg or Linnaea’s. Kreuzberg is great if you want to laze on a couch, browse some books, go to an event, or people watch while Linnaea’s was perfect for studying or socializing on a sunny day as they have a gorgeous little garden area in the back and a wide open front window facing Garden St.
Louisa’s Place has been voted best breakfast for years now and I won’t argue, everything there is fantastic! You’d better get there early though as it’s literally a hole in the wall and seating is quite limited–though a more small town/community atmosphere usually results as everyone starts talking to everyone. Just across the way, Firestone Grill is every locals destination if you want a mile high perfect tri-tip sandwich on toasted, golden, buttery bread. Watch me drool over their seasoned basket of fries too! …Is it time to eat yet?
The Secret Garden is an outdoor store on the creek selling organic and fair-trade teas, herbs, spices, and essential oils–just keep an eye on the sky at sunset as birds go there to roost and can be a tad messy at the door. I give thanks every day because they recently started shipping their products so I can still get my favorites here in SoCal! But truly my favorite store to walk through is Beverly’s. Not only can you use it to walk from Monterey St. to Higuera St., they have every type of craft material and oddity you can dream of. Armor helmets, whittling, a huge fabric and pattern selection, paints, jewelry, flowers, paper, and I’ll stop now. All you artists will just have to wander around for yourselves!
Typical of any college town, the nightlife consists of bars scattered all over town. Green beer for St. Patrick’s and a 6am opening time two days a year: St. Patrick’s Day and Cal Poly graduation day! You can tell your folks you’re at The Library and omit the fact that at this particular library you’re taking the three-in-a-row Statue of Liberty shots and every Thursday night at The Grad is the ever more popular country line dancing night. The town itself closes between 6pm and 8pm but the bars are hopping until our state mandated closing time (2am) and there is SLO Safe Ride to take you nicely home again.
SLO has such a unique, laid-back atmosphere–even when it’s busy– that you can’t help but feel relaxed from the moment the 101 rounds the corner to go inland from Avila Beach. There’s something for everyone and a million great day trips to be had! In a later post I’ll be touching more on the other things to do in SLO (not downtown or on campus) and on a few of the scenic, adventurous, and relaxing day trips you can embark on from a base here.
As always feel free to ask all of the questions on your mind and have a fantabulous week! I love you all!