San Luis Obispo. If you’re not from California, you may never have heard of this small town with a big heart. It is conveniently located along the historic Highway 1 coastal route, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, making it an easy stopover for those traveling the iconic Golden State coastline.
The Catholic monks who founded their small seaside mission here in the 18th century could not have known what it would become. Or, oddly enough, about its acronym alias – SLO, as the locals call it – would seem to be 250 years later.
Take it SLO
The pace of life here is just a little slower, the air a lot milder, and the local lifestyle just seems more low-key and intentional than what you’ll find in most Californias. There is a palpable sense of pride among the people who call SLO home and a pervasive air of genuine hospitality wherever you go.
As the world emerges from the pandemic and people increasingly favor slower, more sustainable styles of travel, this scenic coastal destination is set to make a big impact. Not only in terms of the tourism it attracts, but by successfully modeling sustainable methods in terms of land, water and culture conservation, minimizing carbon emissions and implementing innovative infrastructure d ‘renewable energy.
Although “sustainability” has become a buzzword lately, here it is noticeably a point of pride and a shared ethic among community members. Residents and authorities seem to have realized early on the rarity of the coastal gem they inhabit and are continuing the decades-long work to preserve its integrity.
It’s an undercurrent you can feel whether you’re stopping in one of the family-run shops downtown or in the local restaurants; visit one of the surrounding farms and vineyards; visit the famous weekly Farmer’s Market (which people travel hundreds of miles to attend and plan their weekends) or stay at one of SLO’s distinctive hotels.
Although actually large enough to classify as a city of around 47,000, SLO has managed to retain a true small town feel. It’s something you certainly feel on a visit, as friends and colleagues greet each other while walking down the street and strangers often discover during conversions that they have only a few degrees of social separation between them. .
The Best of California Living
Occupying prime real estate just miles from the ocean, this particular location enjoys a Mediterranean marine climate with year-round sunshine, which supports all sorts of impressive agricultural achievements, including a world-class wine region. which rivals its more well-known neighbors, such as Paso Robles.
From downtown to the railroad district, you’ll come across quaint historic buildings, small businesses and restaurants, public artwork and murals (a refreshing change from the usual graffiti), and encounter San Creek. Luis Obispo by 18 miles, which is what drew the founding brothers here and still runs through downtown. And, in some of the oldest residential areas, discover adorable, well-preserved and charmingly redesigned versions of historic Victorian homes. And, really, the best way to explore the region’s nuances is on foot.
To help citizens reduce carbon emissions, while encouraging individual health and well-being benefits, the city has been developed to be as walkable and bikeable as possible, with footbridges and cycle paths connecting different parts of the city. You’ll find bike racks set up at all trailheads, in front of most businesses, and just about anywhere you can think of.
Downtown provides easy access to over 55 miles of multi-use trails, which traverse over 3,500 combined acres of designated open space and are popular with hikers, cyclists, dog owners, equestrians and other adventurers. With its idyllic climate and stunning scenery, this place is a paradise for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. Active types can enjoy many miles of dirt trails that offer scenic views and backcountry roads that wind through scenic vineyards, ranches, and farmland.
A particular point of pride in the region is the preservation of the Morros (often referred to as the “Nine Sisters”), a chain of ancient volcanic peaks, which are now dormant and covered in greenery and form the distinctive hills and valleys that have collectively formed. Microclimate and terroir of SLO.
As is always the case, one of the main roles of tourism is to inject investment back into the local economy. But, when staying in SLO, travelers will find that their hotel stays automatically contribute to some of the city’s integrated environmental conservation efforts.
Through the ‘Tree Keys‘, by simply staying at one of the 40 local hotels in the area, guests are contributing to efforts to plant 10,000 new trees in the city. A portion of their room fee automatically goes towards funding the project, which is largely run by volunteers and made possible through a partnership with EcoSLO’s “Urban Tree Planting” initiative.
At the ASBL City Farm SLO, an educational and experimental agricultural site run mainly by volunteers, residents and visitors come to discover what it really takes to produce their food, establish a link with the land and get involved in the process. It is a small-scale operation that tests and models regenerative, sustainable, pesticide-free, and environmentally friendly farming methods that could greatly benefit the world on a larger scale.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s involvement—one of only three polytechnics in the California State University system—in the community is also beneficial, with agricultural, plant, and animal studies being among its major areas and a educational approach focused on “learning by doing”, which puts students to work solving real-world problems.
Eat in town
You’ll find that most restaurants in town buy directly from local farmers, both on principle and because the produce is incredibly better than what you’ll get from traditional food vendors. So, you’ll find dishes here that are fresher, riper, and with a richer (dare I say, explosive!) flavor, which are largely organically grown and packed with more nutrients provided by the old volcanic soil in the region.
Wherever you dine in town, it’s likely that at least some of your meal’s ingredients are locally grown, essentially farm-to-table. And, honestly, once you’ve tried a green pea or a tomato that tastes different from anything you bought in a supermarket, it’s hard to go back. The vegetables here can have a completely different flavor than you associate with them, and the local produce has been known to make converts of former vegetarians.
You’ll also notice that SLO’s eco-responsible restaurants provide either non-plastic, biodegradable utensils or the traditional, washable variety, and paper straws are ubiquitous everywhere you go. Many places also offer filtered water refill stations so that anyone carrying their reusable bottles can easily stay hydrated and avoid turning to single-use plastics.
For more information, visit visitslo.com.